Most pivotal weekend yet?

Five games remain (six for Wigan and Huddersfield) in the regular season of Super League XIII, and the cut-off below the top seven has been effectively finalised, with fourth, fifth and sixth place all to fight for.nnWith Hull KR losing their first Humberside derby of the season, and Harlequins’ thumping at home to rock-bottom Castleford, five points now lies between sixth-placed Bradford and eighth-placed Hull KR, with just ten points left to play.nnIt now appears an impossible task for Hull KR and Harlequins to beat Bradford or Wakefield to sixth spot, and that’s if they don’t climb above out-of-sorts Wigan in fourth.nnI suggested a few weeks ago that the bottom three play-off places looked set to be contested by Wigan, Warrington, Wakefield and Bradford. This weekend seems to have proved that assumption right, with the bottom five in the Super League table almost certainly cast off from the top six.nnHarlequins still had slim hopes of making the play-offs before Sunday’s humiliating home defeat to Castleford, but a 66-12 trouncing distinguished all those hopes with any pride that may have remained intact at the Twickenham Stoop.nnGranted, Brian McDermott was missing five first-team regulars from his side as a result of their respective suspensions picked up after the mass brawl at Les Catalans the week previous. However, losing 66-12 on your own patch is still always an embarrassment, not least against a side who had won just once on the road before.nnPerhaps the paranoia of missing out on a Super League license on Tuesday could go some way to explaining this random hammering from Castleford, which included hat-tricks from Michael Shenton, Luke Dorn and Richard Owen. The result can’t have done any harm to their license application, or their pride for that matter.nnAnother side to have their play-off aspirations all but killed off on Sunday were Hull KR, who threw away an 18-16 half-time lead to go down 44-18 to arch rivals Hull FC at the KC Stadium. Following a 22-17 defeat at Millennium Magic and an 11-10 defeat at Craven Park earlier in the season, Black & Whites fans finally got one over on their east Hull counterparts, and now trail Rovers by just two points in the table.nnRovers are now five points behind Bradford in sixth, and would effectively need to win all five of their remaining games and hope Bradford slip up more than twice. Not a likely sequence of events, not even for the most optimistic of Robins fans.nnAs for Richard Agar’s FC, they’ve found the perfect form to take into this Sunday’s Carnegie Challenge semi-final against Wakefield, a win at Wakefield followed by a derby win.nnDespite having a game in hand over Castleford (a Friday night trip to Wigan on Friday night) Huddersfield are far from escaping the embarrassment of finishing bottom of the pile, and sit just two points ahead of their West Yorkshire rivals.nnHaving stunned Bradford a fortnight ago with a 25-24 win, they have since capitulated with a heavy loss at Leeds and a narrow 19-18 defeat at home to Warrington on Sunday, a result made all the more hard to take after taking an early 18-6 lead.nnBradford fans will be no doubt infuriated by the Giants’ collapse since beating them two Sundays ago, while Warrington fans will have been thankful for this latest Huddersfield capitulation as their side picked up their fifth win from six under new head coach James Lowes.nnThat impressive set of results has seen Warrington jump three points above neighbours Wigan into fifth. It could well prove to be the run of form which earned them a home tie with Wigan, as opposed to a much tougher trip to the JJB Stadium come play-off time.nnIn terms of the lower end of the play-off picture, sixth-placed Bradford’s 24-10 win on Sunday over seventh-placed Wakefield – coming back from a 6-0 half-time deficit – was a crucial one for coach Steve McNamara.nnMcNamara was under intense scrutiny just a few weeks back, after some terrible luck with injuries, a shock cup exit, and an awful run of league results. This vital win precedes an easier schedule of fixtures compared to that of Warrington, Wigan and Wakefield, and should ease the pressure McNamara, if only a little.nnThe Odsal side trail fifth-placed Wigan by just a point (although Wigan do have a game in hand), while Wakefield have all the work to do if they are to sneak into the play-offs now, especially after a run of four straight defeats. Not exactly the right form to take into a cup semi.nnAbove Bradford and Wakefield is Wigan, who have dropped to fifth after two straight defeats, the latest a 46-12 home defeat to league leaders and fierce rivals St Helens on Friday night.nnBrian Noble’s side did look set to wrap up fourth place with a few more wins, but a loss at Hull KR last week and this derby defeat have seen them drop below Warrington. Even a win in their game in hand at home to Huddersfield this Friday night won’t take them back above Warrington, and a home play-off tie now looks a much more distant dream.nnThey could still take fourth spot back off Warrington, but could just as quickly drop out of the top six completely, especially with trips to Les Catalans and St Helens on the horizon, not to mention another visit of Leeds. Nothing’s quite settled at the JJB Stadium yet. Then again, it never really was was it?nnOn Saturday night, Les Catalans’ dream of a top two finish took a hammer blow, after a superb second-half display from Leeds earned them a 37-24 win in the south of France.nnA win for the French side would have taken them into second, a point above the reigning champions and level on 34 points with St Helens. They had strung together six straight wins, but with five games to play they now trail the top two by three points, and look destined for a home play-off match with either Bradford, Wigan or maybe Wakefield.nnLeeds look to have put a troubled spell (including a shock three losses from four) behind them, and now head to the cup semi-final with St Helens with much-improved confidence. They sit level on points with Saints, and trail only by virtue of points difference.nnSt Helens grabbed their 15th straight win with Friday night’s win at Wigan, and look likely to finish top or second at the very least.nnWith five rounds left to play, the engage Super League has finally appeared to have separated into the three crucial groups: the top two, the play-off pack, and the castaways.nnEvery time I make an assumption like that, though, something proves it wrong. Luckily for me, next weekend is cup semi-final weekend, with just the one league fixture, so for once my assumption can’t go quite as pear-shaped as usual.

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