engage Super League Round 22 Preview

It’s a tough job is this predicting business, but Round 22 of the engage Super League poses perhaps my toughest test yet.nnAll six games are virtually impossible to call, with two derbies, a play-off head-to-head and a top-three clash this weekend.nnWigan v St HelensnnThe Friday night Sky game needs no introduction. St Helens make their first and only trip of the regular season to the JJB Stadium, as Wigan go in search of their first derby win of Super League XIII (kick-off 8pm).nnSt Helens are in majestic form, shooting to the summit of the table after 14 straight games in all competitions. They cruised past Castleford last Friday night, winning 68-14 in yet another convincing performance. nnOn Sunday, Wigan fell victim to Hull KR‘s first win in six games. They let a 12-point lead slip at Craven Park to go down 39-22 and slip to fifth place.nnEvery rugby league fan knows that form goes out the window for derby games, especially one as huge as Wigan v Saints. Recent results shouldn’t usually be used as an indicator for derbies, although 14 straight wins for the Knowsley Road club must be reason to believe in a Saints victory here.nnBrian Noble will be without captain Sean O’Loughlin. The loose forward aggravated his shoulder blade against Hull KR last week, while centre Phil Bailey (hamstring) and Paul Prescott (back) remain absentees. Wigan will be looking to reverse their fortunes against their arch rivals in this game, having conceded a massive 103 points in the two meetings this season.nnDaniel Anderson could welcome back kiwi prop Jason Cayless, from a knee injury, as scrum-half Sean Long will make his 300th appearance for St Helens against his former club.nnThe only doubt in Saints fans’ minds will be the crucial Challenge Cup semi-final against Leeds, and the possibility of that prospect hanging in the backs of the players’ minds. That is, however, the only thing that could get in the way of a third derby win from three for Saints. Wigan are more than capable of upsetting the top sides, but a home win would admittedly be the biggest of upsets.nnLes Catalans v LeedsnnAt the start of this season, who thought a Leeds visit to the south of France would have taken such significance? Well it does this weekend, and with Mick Potter’s Les Catalans just a point off first place, a home win on Saturday night could see the Perpignan outfit hit top spot for the first time in their three-year existence.nnLeeds picked up just their second win from five last Friday night, with a resounding 46-8 win over West Yorkshire neighbours Huddersfield.nnMeanwhile, Clint Greenshields‘ last-play try sealed a dramatic 32-26 win over Harlequins, during which a mass brawl broke out. Adam Mogg was found guilty of punching and has consequently been banned for the visit of Leeds.nnWith Mogg suspended, Thomas Bosc will switch to stand-off, Casey McGuire will move to scrum-half, while hooker Aaron Gorrell set to return to action following two months out with injury.nnBrian McLennan will, for the first time this season, have to make do without full-back Brent Webb, after the kiwi star sustained a back injury in training. Webb is one of just two players to have appeared in all 21 of the reigning champions’ Super League matches this season, with this setback threatening to rule him out of the Cup semi against St Helens the weekend after.nnHooker Matt Diskin has recovered from an elbow injury, second-rower Ian Kirke will feature for the first time since the 34-6 victory over Les Catalans in February, although prop Ryan Bailey is sidelined.nnWinning in France has this season become harder than ever before, although no-one can doubt Leeds are capable of winning. The key question here is how much will Leeds be saving themselves for the massive cup semi in two weekends time, which is why I’ve gone for a Catalans win. Don’t be surprised if I’m wrong, though.nnHuddersfield v WarringtonnnThe live Saturday evening fixture on Sky sees fourth-placed Warrington travel across the Pennines to face eleventh-placed Huddersfield (kick-off 6pm).nnWarrington grabbed an important win at home to Bradford last Friday night, edging through 32-28 in a vital top six match-up. This was James Lowes’ fifth win from six, while Huddersfield caretaker bosses Keiron Purtill and Paul Anderson have gone through entirely different fortunes of late.nnThe Giants’ 46-8 defeat at Leeds last Friday was their fourth in six, and they will have to come up with something special here to avoid their fifth loss from seven.nnNeither side has any major injury worries, although Warrington full-back Stuart Reardon is in the dock after being charged with assault and using violence to gain entry to a Bradford property. Reardon was arrested on the morning of July 13, and has not been named in Lowes’ initial 19-man squad.nnWarrington are in form, and have a top six spot to play for. On the other hand, Huddersfield are out of form and have nothing but pride to play for with their play-off hopes over. An away win is probable in this match-up.nnBradford v WakefieldnnOn Sunday, Wakefield make the short trip to the Grattan Stadium to face Bradford, in arguably the most pivotal game in the play-off race so far this season.nnBoth sides are desperately in search of form. Bradford’s loss at Warrington last weekend was their second on the bounce, while Wakefield’s unexpected 26-18 home defeat to Hull FC was their third on the bounce, after a decent run of form just a month ago.nnJohn Kear’s side are another with a cup semi-final looming the weekend after, Bradford have key home advantage, and are seldom overturned on home turf. More importantly than anything, though, is the fact that this fixture really matters to Steve McNamara’s side. And when something matters to Bradford, they generally deliver the goods.nnHarlequins v CastlefordnnPerhaps the only game this weekend with little to no significance is Castleford’s trip to the Twickenham Stoop to face Harlequins.nnCastleford are aiming to climb off the bottom of the Super League table, but are still four points adrift of Huddersfield and Hull FC, while the side from the capital have narrower play-off aspirations with each week that passes, following four straight defeats.nnQuins head coach Brian McDermott has a majorly depleted squad to choose from, and is missing Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Rikki Sheriffe, David Howell and Michael Worrincy after they were handed one-match suspensions for their part in the brawl against Les Catalans. Meanwhile, Tony Clubb will also serve a one-match ban for a dangerous high tackle in the same game.nnA home win here is expected, but any result except a draw between Bradford and Wakefield means they will stay four points off sixth spot, which is why this game takes on such small importance.nnIt is more than likely, however, that Harlequins’ suspension-hit squad could fall to defeat here.nnHull FC v Hull KRnnThe last fixture of the weekend is the small matter of the only cross-city derby in Super League, as Hull KR make the trip across Hull to the KC Stadium.nnThe Black & Whites have a point to prove, after finding themselves on the losing end in both derbies this season. They were narrowly beaten 11-10 at Craven Park and 22-17 over the Millennium Magic weekend in Cardiff, so will be keen to put that right in their first home derby of the season.nnRichard Agar’s charges do have the cup semi-final versus Wakefield the weekend after, though, so FC fans will be concerned that that will be preying on their minds during this fixture. However, they will still need no motivation for this game, and will have taken some confidence from their first win from four at Wakefield last Saturday.nnRovers won last Sunday, too, upsetting Wigan at Craven Park after five straight defeats. Head coach Justin Morgan will be without utility back Daniel Fitzhenry, who suffered a bicep/pectoral injury in the win over Wigan, while New Zealand international wingman Jake Webster (neck) and second rower Ben Galea (ankle) also out for the trip to arch rivals FC.nnnAs hard as it was, I’ve still been brave enough to compile a list of predictions. One thing’s for sure this weekend, though, they won’t all go the way I’ve forecasted.nnMy Predictions:nnWigan v St HelensAway WinnLes Catalans v Leeds – Home WinnHuddersfield v Warrington – Away WinnBradford v Wakefield – Home WinnHarlequins v Castleford – Home WinnHull FC v Hull KRHome Win

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