Eye On Rugby League by Tony Williams
If this time last week someone had suggested that Hull Kingston Rovers might not be the team that makes the step up to Super League I would have wondered what they based such a belief on. The Robins topped the LHF National League One table undefeated, had reached the semi finals of the Powergen Challenge Cup and the final of the Northern Rail Cup.
Well that's all still true, but Leigh Centurions' sensational victory at Bloomfield Road has blown the promotion race wide open. The Leythers have shown that Hull KR can be beaten, especially on a one-off cup final stage which mirrors the NL1 Grand Final. Leigh will now have their sights set on a return to Super League.
Although the men from Hilton Park have had a patchy season so far, this could be the thing that kick starts their stuttering campaign. It could also be the thing that derails the Robins' previously perfect campaign. Hull KR will have to now do something they haven't had to do all season – pick themselves up from defeat.
But the fight for the NL1 title is far from a two horse race. Second spot in NL1 is currently occupied by Widnes Vikings who will also be in with a shout at the business end of the season. The Vikings will face Hull KR on Sunday hoping to add to the Rovers' misery and stake their own claim for promotion.
Meanwhile Leigh will face Whitehaven, who are the outsiders to take the NL1 title, to make it a pair of fascinating fixtures. A loss could end Haven's interest in the promotion race while a win could put them back on track for a competitive end to the season.
Hull KR, Widnes and Leigh are the three favourites to win promotion, with Whitehaven not quite out of it yet. With three or four teams giving it their best to take the NL1 title it's going to be great for the neutral supporter. And considering that from 2008 there will no longer be a promotion race we should all enjoy it while we can.
The Play-Off Race
The race for the engage Super League play-offs is almost as gripping as the promotion race. With the top four in Super League virtually certain there are two play-off places which are up for grabs. These are currently occupied by Warrington Wolves and Salford City Reds, but Castleford Tigers, Huddersfield Giants, Harlequins and now even Wigan Warriors could all make it.
Warrington have been an inconsistent side so far this term and will need to rectify that if they hope to hang on to their fifth position. The game with Wigan on Sunday will be a tough test for them, especially with the Warriors showing the sort of form that could see them snatch a play-off sport right at the last.
Salford have not looked a bad team over the last two weeks despite losses to Hull and Wigan, and in my opinion they are more than capable of grabbing fifth place from the Wolves. Castleford have also demonstrated such with their 31-30 win over Leeds, as did Huddersfield with that tremendous fightback at Wakefield, as have Harlequins with a more than creditable shoeing at St Helens.
These are all quality sides if recent results are anything to go by. If I had to make a prediction, it would be that Salford take fifth place, with the final play-off position occupied by either Wigan or Castleford. From a personal point of view I hope it is the Tigers who make it to show that promotion is a worthwhile exercise.
In any case, the battle for play-off places is going to make great viewing over the next few weeks, and let's hope that whoever gets there can make an impression on the play-off itself.
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