It’s hard to argue that the Super 8s has been anything other than a controversial addition to the rugby league landscape. However, despite an announcement in June that the Super League would be returning to a one-up, one-down structure in 2019, there still seems to be some uncertainty as to whether the largely unpopular set-up, first introduced in 2015, will in fact be scrapped. It seems that with the clubs unable to come to any sort of agreement over the ultimate format of the competition, Super 8s could live on for another year at least.
However, while the administrators slug it out, the 2018 Super 8s are set to get underway, with the first round of matches featuring Widnes v London and Leeds v Toulouse in The Qualifiers, and Wigan v Castleford in the Super League.
Despite the general unhappiness over the issues of equity and engagement that have been generated by the Super 8s, the format does nevertheless present some interesting betting opportunities for punters, particularly in The Qualifiers when Super League sides come up against Championship rivals; as it is not always easy to find a solid form line when clubs from different competitions are facing off against each other. For instance, with only 3 wins on the board in Super League this season, are the Vikings really worth an odds-on price of 1-2 against the Broncos, currently sitting in 2nd place in The Championship and priced at 7-4 in round 1?
Outright betting on the final outcome of the Super 8s at most UK betting sites is, however, generally a more straightforward proposition. For instance, the current price of 4-5 on St Helens taking out the League Leaders’ Shield looks about right (albeit not especially enticing for the punter), despite their shock 16-35 loss to the Catalans in the Challenge Cup semi-final. With a 10-point lead in the Super League and the advantageous draw it has earned for finishing in top spot, it’s hard to see the Saints not taking out the League Leaders’ Shield for the eighth time. The next best in this market is Wigan at 5-1, Castleford at 7-1, then Hull and Leeds at 8-1. So in the bookies’ minds at least, St Helens are the clear-cut favourites with daylight between Saints and its rivals.
St Helens are also the outright favourite in the markets for reaching the Grand Final and Grand Final winners. They are odds-on at 1-3 to make it to Old Trafford, and 11-10 to take out a sixth Grand Final win. There is some more enticing value around in these markets, however. Second placed Wigan is at present 5-4 to make the Grand Final, and 4-1 to win it, while Warrington are currently 7-4 to get there and 9-2 to win it all.
You can also get 7-4 on fourth-placed Castelford reaching the Old Trafford final, and 5-1 on its coming out on top. Beyond the current top four, however, only Hull is really given even a remote chance of winning the Grand Final at a best price of 40-1 (although some online sports books have them as low as 25-1).
If you’re looking for a punt on The Qualifiers, the market here is fairly open at this stage, although you can of course expect to see some big movers once the fixtures begin. Leeds Rhinos are unsurprisingly favourite to top the table and retain their Super League place at 6-4. Hull KR is next best to keep its place at 7-2, followed by Salford at 4-1.
Of the current Championship sides, the bookies think Toronto Wolfpack has the best chance of coming out on top and winning a seat at the top table at a price of 9-2, followed by the Broncos at 25-1 and Toulouse at 33-1.
In terms of winning automatic promotion to the Super League (by way of finishing in the top 3 in The Qualifiers), the Rhinos have been given extraordinarily short odds-on favourite at 1-12, followed by Hull KR at 1-3 and Salford at 4-6. The bookies also have the Wolfpack well and truly in the frame at 4-5, while London and Toulouse are given outside chances of getting to the Super League automatically at 12-1 and 20-1 respectively.
Whether this is to the last edition of the Super 8s remains to be seen, but in the meantime, there are still plenty of games — and no doubt, a number of upsets — to come before this season’s winners and losers can be confirmed.