Round 27 in Super League is fast approaching, and with it the culmination of the regular season ahead of what promises to be a pulsating play-off campaign.
The penultimate round – played out over the weekend just gone – delivered some huge results which impacted both ends of the table.
Castleford lost on Friday night, but so did Wakefield, so the relegation race is now officially over with Trinity the ones to drop to the Championship in 2024.
There’s still plenty to play for though, and we look at how all 12 clubs are shaping up ahead of Friday night’s final round of fixtures, with the run down on what’s still at stake.
As mentioned above, everyone of a Cas persuasion can now breathe a huge sigh of relief, and Danny Ward has officially guided them to safety.
Wins against Wakefield and Hull FC were enough, largely thanks to Trinity themselves being unable to put competition points on the board.
The Tigers were made to sweat on Friday night as they lost at Wigan and Wakefield headed to golden point at Leigh, but Leopards ace Gareth O’Brien was their saviour.
Ward’s side travel to Headingley for a dead-rubber with Leeds on Friday night, and they’ll be over the moon that’s the case. That said, improvement is needed in 2024, and a lot of it at that.
Current league position: 11th
Remaining fixture: Leeds (A)
Catalans were the first side to cement their spot in the play-offs this year, leading the way for much of 2023, and only giving up top spot a few weeks ago after defeat at Hull KR.
They’ve since beaten Wakefield and Leeds to keep up to pace with now-leaders Wigan, and more importantly St Helens who are hunting down a spot in the top two.
Steve McNamara’s side ran riot in their last regular home game of the campaign on Saturday against the Rhinos, winning 61-0, and if they can beat Salford away from home on Friday night, they should remain in the top two.
Sat on the same number of competition points, the Dragons are 62 points better off than Saints in terms of difference.
Current league position: 2nd
Remaining fixture: Salford (A)
Challenge Cup finalists in 2022, Huddersfield also featured in the play-offs, but they have had very little to cheer this year and are one of five sides with nothing to play for on Friday but pride.
Ian Watson’s side have lost 15 of their 26 Super League games so far in 2023, though did beat Hull FC away from home comfortably last weekend to ensure they’d remain above the Black and Whites on the ladder.
Veteran Chris McQueen has today announced his retirement, youngster Will Pryce will depart for Australia, and club legend Jermaine McGillvary doesn’t appear to be sticking around in 2024, so the Giants will hope to send those figures off with a win on Friday.
If they do so at home against Warrington, they have a chance to affect the play-off race, as we’ll detail further down in this article.
Current league position: 9th
Remaining fixture: Warrington (H)
Hull will see no less than 11 players depart after Friday’s game at St Helens, as confirmed last week. Tony Smith is going to have to oversee a big re-vamp at the MKM Stadium, but following a really poor 2023, it may not be the worst idea.
FC have really struggled for consistency this year, only putting three league victories together on one occasion. On the flip side of that coin, they’ve endured two horrendous runs.
Losing seven in a row between March and April, they’ve now been beaten in their last five. Avoiding a sixth straight defeat at Saints on Friday night would be a huge surprise. Any Black and Whites fan making that trip deserves huge credit.
Current league position: 10th
Remaining fixture: St Helens (A)
The mood couldn’t be more different on the other side of the city, and when we talk about teams heading into the play-offs in-form, we needn’t look any further than KR.
In the aftermath of their Wembley heartbreak in the Challenge Cup final, the Robins lost away against St Helens on their return to Super League action. Since then though, they’ve won all four of their games to fly into the top six and cement their spot there.
A 12-0 success at home against Salford last Saturday night officially secured a top six berth for Willie Peters’ side, and after a recent victory over Catalans, he was ridiculed by many for openly telling his side to chase down 4th spot for a home play-off tie.
He may well have the last laugh on that one too. We already know it’ll be a cup final re-run in the first round of the play-offs against Leigh Leopards, but a win for KR at Wakefield on Friday combined with a Leigh defeat at home to Wigan could well see the Leopards have to travel to Craven Park. Either way, the Robins will fancy their chances, and are ‘bobbing along’ very nicely.
Current league position: 5th
Remaining fixture: Wakefield (A)
Sky Sports pundit Jon Wilkin recently described Leeds as the ‘biggest flop’ in Super League this year, and you’d be hard pushed to find any reason whatsoever to disagree with him.
Boss Rohan Smith has delivered a promise to the club’s supporters that things will get better in 2024, and anyone of a Rhinos persuasion will be praying that’s the case to the powers that be.
After a 2022 which saw them go all the way to Old Trafford and the Grand Final, not getting into the top six this term is absolutely criminal, as have some of their performances. The latest of which saw them thumped 61-0 by Catalans, a record defeat for the club in the Super League era, one of many damning statistics to come out of 2023 where Leeds are concerned.
They finish off at home to Castleford, bidding farewell to members of the squad including Liam Tindall, Sam Walters and Aidan Sezer.
Current league position: 8th
Remaining fixture: Castleford (H)
Leigh’s success in 2023 has been well documented. They’ve enjoyed a phenomenal first season back in Super League, the club to shake things up at the top table, winning the Challenge Cup for the first time in 52 years.
After the Wembley high though, as probably expected by the majority, times have been tough with a stretched squad and a fixture list which threw up games against Catalans and Saints in their last six as well as a trip to beaten Challenge Cup finalists Hull KR.
Losing all three of those games, Adrian Lam’s side beat Huddersfield at the Leopards’ Den in two parts, needed due to the now-infamous floodlight failure. They also – just about – beat Wakefield last time out in golden point to finally officially secure their top six spot.
It’s looked for the majority of the season that the Leopards would finish in the top four, but given how rampant Hull KR look at the moment, you get the feeling Leigh may need to pull off a shock win against Wigan on Friday to stay there and earn the home advantage in the play-offs, particularly as the points swing needed is only 35.
For complete clarity, if the sides somehow end up with the same competition points and points difference, it’ll be decided by Points percentage (points scored divided by points conceded multiplied by 100).
Current league position: 4th
Remaining fixture: Wigan (H)
Salford Red Devils
Salford kept their play-off dreams alive with a golden point win at home against Warrington in Round 26, and when the Wolves lost to Saints last Friday night, the Red Devils knew that a win at Hull KR the day after would propel them into the top six.
As we’ve already detailed, it didn’t pan out that way, and Paul Rowley’s side went on to lose 12-0 at Craven Park with the play-off race becoming slightly clearer, down to a two-team shoot-out on the final day.
The Red Devils realistically must beat a Catalans side at home who are still chasing the League Leaders’ Shield, or at the least a top two spot. Given Warrington’s significantly superior points difference, and the fact the Wolves take on Huddersfield, you get the feeling Salford may be chasing a lost cause.
They’re doing so with a depleted squad too, with illness continuing to plague the Greater Manchester outfit in the build-up to their showdown with the Dragons. Never say never, but Salford missed a big opportunity in losing out at KR, that’s a fact.
Current league position: 7th
Remaining fixture: Catalans (H)
Since their Challenge Cup exit at the semi-final stage to Leigh in July, Saints have been relentless, winning all eight of their Super League fixtures and building up a head of steam in the run-in to the play-offs.
In that run, they’ve seen off Salford, Hull KR, Leigh and most recently Warrington. Three of those four will be in the play-offs, and on current form, you wouldn’t back against the Red Vee against any of those.
‘Never write off the Saints’ is the infamous old saying, we haven’t done all season and certainly won’t be doing anytime soon.
Paul Wellens’ side look re-energised, and you’d fancy them to finish strong with a a final regular season game at home against Hull FC. If Catalans – or Wigan for that matter – slip, they’ll be ready to leap into that top two and hand themselves a week off.
Current league position: 3rd
Remaining fixture: Hull FC (H)
With their relegation now officially confirmed, you get the feeling that Wakefield left it too late in the season to rally, but the four wins in six they picked up between June and July really did have Castleford worried.
Nonetheless, after a spirited performance at Leigh which ultimately ended in a 20-19 defeat to put survival beyond Trinity, players were left slumped to the turf in tears with outgoing CEO Michael Carter confronted by angry travelling supporters at the Leigh Sports Village post-match.
Whatever the reason is, those internally at the club are left planning for the Championship. Their 2023 ends with a home clash against KR, though we’re not sure Mark Applegarth’s side will be in the right frame of mind to stop the Robins on their quest for 4th spot.
Current league position: 12th
Remaining fixtures: Hull KR (H)
Having won their first eight games of the season with Daryl Powell at the helm, it seems ludicrous that Warrington head into the final round of fixtures still needing to win to secure their spot in the top six.
Equally though, when you consider how poor they’ve been for such a large chunk of the season, it seems ludicrous that they’re still in with a very good shout of getting into the play-offs.
If a game summed up the season for the Wolves it was probably their defeat to Saints last time out, a real game of two halves where they turned up for the second 40 and could have easily won the game had it not been for some slack mistakes in attack.
We expect Gary Chambers will guide his side into the play-offs, but how far they can go remains to be seen. Incoming boss Sam Burgess will be watching from afar with a vested interest. A strange, strange year at the Halliwell Jones Stadium. They’ll head to Huddersfield without Paul Vaughan, referred to a tribunal and set to be hit with a lengthy ban.
Current league position: 6th
Remaining fixture: Huddersfield (A)
Like bitter rivals Saints, Wigan were dumped out of the Challenge Cup at the semi-final stage, but have since powered on and adopted a relentless mentality.
Matt Peet’s side have now won eight Super League fixtures in a row after Friday night’s demolition job on Castleford at the DW Stadium which saw winger Abbas Miski cross for five tries.
They look strong favourites to pick up a first League Leaders’ Shield since 2020. Sat on the same number of competition points as both Catalans and St Helens, the Warriors have a far superior points difference, so victory at Leigh in front of the Sky Sports cameras on Friday would more than likely bring silverware.
The Cherry and Whites were able to give a much-needed rest to Liam Farrell and Brad O’Neill against Cas, with Harry Smith also withdrawn at half time. Barring a shock, the full squad will have a week off before their play-off run begins, with all eyes on a first Old Trafford trip since 2018.
Current league position: 1st
Remaining fixture: Leigh (A)