It’s the first week of the 2023 Super League play-offs, with both ‘Eliminator’ games televised across Sky Sports and Channel 4. The winners of the two games will progress onto the semi-finals, where Wigan Warriors and Catalans Dragons await, while for this week’s losers, the season is over.
Hull KR v Leigh Leopards (Friday, 8pm, Sky Sports Main Event & Sky Sports Arena)
The first of the eliminators brings about a Challenge Cup final re-match, and with it the fifth meeting between KR and Leigh this year.
It’ll also be the third at Craven Park, with KR snatching home advantage at the eleventh hour on the final night of the regular season.
Robins boss Willie Peters makes two changes from their big 56-12 win at Wakefield Trinity, with both Rhys Kennedy and Jimmy Keinhorst back in contention. Germany international Keinhorst – who will leave at the end of the year – has been absent for the last two weeks with an ankle injury.
The two KR men to miss out are Dean Hadley – who pulled up with a calf injury in the warm-up at Wakefield – and Rowan Milnes.
Leigh meanwhile name the same 21-man squad as they did for their narrow defeat to Wigan Warriors, though notably captain John Asiata is one of them, and hasn’t played for the last two weeks with a hamstring strain.
The Leopards had already confirmed that Asiata’s injury was worse than first feared, and that they didn’t expect him to be involved again this season. Unless he’s made a miraculous recovery, any appearance at Craven Park on Friday would be being made by going above and beyond to push through the pain barrier.
Zak Hardaker definitely won’t be involved having had surgery on his broken thumb yesterday. He will remain out for the rest of 2023, however long that looks for Adrian Lam’s men.
Positively, Frankie Halton also missed the game against Wigan, but is expected to return to contention for the 18-man squad come Friday, and Dream Team prop Tom Amone last night saw a one-match ban overturned on appeal, so is free to play.
Hull KR: Ryan, Opacic, Kenny-Dowall, Hall, Abdull, Sue, Parcell, King, Linnett, Minchella, Litten, Kennedy, Batchelor, Storton, Keinhorst, Lewis, Senior, Luckley, Aydin, Walker, Schneider
Leigh: Briscoe, Chamberlain, Charnley, Mellor, Lam, Amone, Ipape, Mulhern, Wardle, Hughes, Asiata, Nakubuwai, Reynolds, Holmes, O’Brien, Davis, Nisbet, O’Donnell, Seumanufagai, Halton, Gildart
Prediction: It’s difficult to go against the grain on this one. KR are flying at the minute, and have hit form at the right time of the year with very few issues within their squad. Leigh on the other hand already operate with a small pack, and losing influential characters within that at this time of the season is really unlucky, but will always cause problems. They got blown away last time out at Craven Park, and it’s the Robins we’re backing here on home soil, by around 16 points.
St Helens v Warrington Wolves (Saturday, 12.45pm, Sky Sports Arena & Channel 4)
Come Saturday afternoon, and the second ‘eliminator’, it’s a local derby as St Helens – on a ‘drive for five’ – welcome Warrington to the Totally Wicked Stadium.
The pair only met in the penultimate round of the regular season, with Saints coming out on top in a tight contest at the Halliwell Jones Stadium. This meeting was only confirmed on the final night, as Paul Wellens’ side remained third on points difference and finished outside the top two for the first time since 2017 while the Wolves officially cemented their top six spot late on.
This time around, the hosts will bid a fond farewell to two greats in James Roby and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook. Both will play their final home game before retirement, with the latter admitting it’s going to be an emotional one for him.
Wellens makes just one change to the pack, and it’s enforced, with George Delaney hit with a one-game ban by the Match Review Panel on Monday following their final night victory against Hull FC. Dan Norman replaces him, and both he and Will Hopoate could make their final Saints appearances, confirmed as leaving the club at the end of the campaign.
The big news from the Warrington camp is that there’s no Josh Thewlis, who hasn’t recovered from a dead leg in time to be involved on Saturday. Alongside teammate Matty Nicholson, Thewlis yesterday was named on the shortlist for the Super League Young Player of the Year award, and will be a big miss.
He drops out of the squad from last week’s win at Huddersfield Giants alongside another youngster in Adam Holroyd. Veterans Peter Mata’utia and Greg Minikin – both of whom will depart at the season’s end – come back in.
St Helens: Welsby, Makinson, Hopoate, Percival, Bennison, Lomax, Dodd, Walmsley, Roby, Lees, Mata’utia, Batchelor, Knowles, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Sironen, Bell, Norman, Davies, Royle, Hurrell, Mbye
Warrington: Ashton, Bullock, Clark, Crowther, Currie, Drinkwater, Dudson, Dufty, Harrison, Hayes, Kasiano, Mata’utia, Mikaele, Minikin, Nicholson, Philbin, Ratchford, Russell, Walker, Williams, Wrench
Prediction: Warrington go into this clash away from home as the underdogs, though have a pretty impressive record against Saints when it comes to knockout games in recent times, unbeaten since 2008. We think that will change this time around though, especially with the emotional motivation the Red Vee will have in wanting to do it for veterans Roby and McCarthy-Scarsbrook. We’ll go for Wellens’ side by 7.