The Magic Weekend and its future might be stealing the headlines this week, but the rugby league summer moves to Blackpool for a full set of Championship games this weekend.
While some, myself included, question the integrity of having one additional fixture in the schedule, there’s no denying that there are some intriguing match ups set for the Summer Bash in Blackpool.
On Saturday, the headline match sees Toronto Wolfpack take on Leigh Centurions (Saturday, 7.30pm) – there’s no end to the links between these two clubs thanks to former coaches and players, with the Wolfpack boasting a raft of former Leythers, while their Player of the Year from their debut season in 2017, Craig Hall, now turns out for Leigh.
Leigh looked in an almost impossible situation after losing five of their first six games of the season, including the season opener against the Wolfpack at Leigh Sports Village, particularly given some of the fixtures that still remained to play, such as this Summer Bash battle.
But a remarkable run of 11 straight wins since, including nine in the league, has brought Kieron Purtill’s men within two points of a top four place.
Toronto boast a five point lead at the top of the table and are odds on favourites now to enter The Qualifiers as league leaders, though London Broncos, Toulouse and Featherstone now all sit on 20 points, two ahead of Leigh.
Paul Rowley’s side have dropped just three points all season, but Leigh will be keen to show their credentials as they look to reach the top four and have a tilt at regaining the Super League status they lost in the Million Pound Game defeat to Catalans last autumn.
Win or lose, Leigh know that only two of the four teams around them can win, as they all play each other.
Halifax, who sit a point behind Leigh with a game in hand, have a key game against Featherstone (Saturday, 5.15pm) where a win would tighten up that race for the top four which is almost certainly now between the current top six.
Richard Marshall’s men have been quietly getting on with their business outside of the spotlight of the top four, and have lost the same number of games as three of the top four.
They have impressed in their two seasons in The Qualifiers, having sneaked in last year on the final day, and a win over Featherstone will move them just a point behind John Duffy’s men with a game in hand.
For Duffy and Rovers, they will see this as an opportunity to consolidate their top four berth with eight games to go after this weekend.
A win for Featherstone would move them up to at least third, as the two teams above them, London and Toulouse take each other on in Blackpool (Sunday, 1pm).
After an eye-catching start, the Broncos had a bit of a wobble, including defeats to Toulouse, Leigh (x3 – one in Challenge Cup) and Halifax, but have got back on track with back to back wins over Sheffield to move up to second in the table.
With their next game a trip to Canada to face Toronto, the Broncos will be keen to avenge their earlier season loss to the Frenchmen, who themselves will be wanting to pick up a win having lost to the Wolfpack at Magic Weekend.
At the other end of the table, winless Swinton could move off the bottom of the Championship table if they beat closest rivals Rochdale (Sunday, 3.15pm) by 20 points or more.
The Lions have managed just two draws all season, both against Barrow, the latest coming last Sunday.
After a disrupted start to the season due to postponements and financial worries, Rochdale have picked up two wins and will be keen to get a win over the Lions to create some breathing space between them and the bottom spot.
Hornets currently sit two points behind Sheffield, who occupy 10th spot, just above the relegation zone. The Eagles face a tricky Blackpool test against Barrow Raiders, in a game which opens up the weekend (Saturday 3pm).
Barrow have had an impressive return to the Championship, beating Leigh and drawing with Toronto, to help them to 11 points from their 14 games, and a win against Sheffield will certainly consolidate their mid-table position.
The final game of the weekend sees Batley take on local rivals Dewsbury (5.30pm).
The Bulldogs will still have ambitions to cling on to the coat tails of the top six, and they will do so if they can manage a win over a Rams side that ended a miserable run of defeats with a credible 22-all draw at Halifax last weekend.
After an encouraging first four weeks of the season, the Rams lost 10 games in a row before stopping the rot.
A win over the Bulldogs at last year’s Summer Bash kickstarted their revival under Neil Kelly, and he’ll be hoping for more of the same in 2018.
All games will be covered by us here on Love Rugby League and you can of course watch the games live on Sky Sports.