Play-off picture getting clearer

The play-off picture is beginning to take a far more conclusive look as the regular season draws to a close, with four teams set to fight over the three remaining places.nnThe top three is as it was, with Leeds two points ahead of St Helens, who sit one point ahead of Les Catalans.nnThe French outfit all but sealed third place with their 30-14 win at Wakefield on Tuesday night. Considering they had eleven first-teamers playing in Friday night’s 56-8 Test defeat to England, the victory was made even more impressive by their comeback from a 14-10 half-time deficit to score 20 unanswered second-half points.nnIt would take a huge capitulation for Mick Potter’s side to finish anywhere below third, with a shot at first or second not as optimistic as first thought.nnThe defeat meant it was Wakefield’s turn this week to drop out of the top six, with Bradford and Warrington falling victim to that in weeks previous.nnBradford trailed 16-6 midway through the first half, but recovered to dispose of an ultimately flat Hull KR side 40-20, in centre Shontayne Hape’s farewell appearance.nnHaving gone through a troubled few weeks during which they picked up just four points from seven games, Steve McNamara’s side have improved drastically over the last fortnight, and after two home wins from two over both Hull clubs, sit in fifth place, just a point behind Wigan.nnMoving from West to East Yorkshire, Warrington were snatching a last-gasp victory from the hands of Hull FC at the KC Stadium, virtually killing off any hopes of a late play-off charge from the Black & Whites.nnThey looked to be going down to a 22-18 defeat, but with the last play of the game, Aussie centre Matt King touched down to level the scores, before Chris Hicks added the match-winning conversion after the sound of the hooter.nnWarrington are only above Wakefield because of a slightly healthier points difference, but the win will have done them the world of good after last weekend’s humiliating 52-14 loss at Les Catalans, and head coach James Lowes will be glad to see sixth place again.nnAbove Bradford, Warrington and Wakefield (all on 20 points) is Wigan, who made a winning return to the JJB Stadium on Friday night, having spent six weeks away from home turf because of pitch maintenance work.nnAfter a blistering first half from Harlequins, Brian Noble’s men found themselves 16-6 down with only three minutes of the first half remaining. However, four quick-fire tries in an eight-minute spell either side of the break, one from youngster Joel Tomkins Joel Tomkins right on the hooter, gave the Cherry & Whites an 18-16 interval lead.nnThey sauntered on to grab a 38-20 win, and now sit one point ahead of the three play-off chasers behind them with a game in hand at home to Huddersfield later this month. It would be a big shock for them not to be on the top six mix at the end of the season.nnIn comparison, it would now be a bit of a surprise to see Harlequins or Hull KR make the play-offs. They were both right in the thick of the play-off action not so long ago.nnBut with Rovers’ defeat at Bradford their fourth on the bounce, and Harlequins’ loss at Wigan their fourth loss from six, these two sides are starting to get stranded more towards the bottom of the table. With tough run-ins on the horizon, they both need something special to catch up with the teams above them.nnAt the very top of the table, Leeds clung on to top spot on Saturday night with a win over neighbours Castleford at Headingley.nnCastleford were on their way to a second upset over the champions. They even held a 12-0 second-half lead, but eventually went down 18-12 to a depleted Leeds side, who had six first-teamers out on international duty, and continue to lie four points adrift at the bottom of the table.nnAnother squad beset by players out on England duty was St Helens, but it hardly got in their way as they romped to a 46-16 success over Huddersfield on Sunday.nnIn recent weeks, the Challenge Cup holders have really closed in on once runaway leaders Leeds. This win was their ninth consecutive win, and Leeds’ points difference is now only 32 points better off than St Helens.nnHuddersfield haven’t won once away from home this season, with their only away point coming in a 24-24 draw at Hull KR back in March, so it’s no wonder they’ve failed miserably to mount a play-off challenge.nnThings are as tight at the top as they have been this season and, for the first time in Super League XIII, the top half of the table has begun to break away from the bottom half.

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