With just two rounds of both the Betfred Super League and Championship left to play before the split into the Super Eights we thought it was about time that we speculated on the likely make-up of that all-important Middle Eights Qualifiers competition.
The bottom four sides in Super League join the top four in the Championship for a seven game mini league which will see the top three clubs into Super League for the 2019 season and the teams finishing in fourth and fifth spot playing off in a sudden death ‘Million Pound Game’ for the remaining Super League place.
With Widnes Vikings and Salford Red Devils already confirmed, they could be joined by two from; Hull KR, Leeds Rhinos, Huddersfield Giants, Catalans Dragons or Wakefield Trinity. In the Championship the only side guaranteed a Middle Eights place is Toronto with three from; Toulouse, Featherstone Rovers, London Broncos, Halifax, or Leigh Centurions joining them.
Once again there were some big scores as the top six battled to squeeze into just four positions and make it into the middle eights by the split at the end of round twenty-three.
The game of the round was the visit of Halifax to London with both sides knowing that a loss could deal a fatal blow to their Middle Eights aspirations, and in the Broncos case make qualification a very big ask.
Elsewhere Batley were in Canada to take on the Bulldogs, Toulouse travelled to Barrow needing a win to ease their worries and Leigh were at bottom club Rochdale where a big win was required to help their points difference. Sheffield played Dewsbury and Featherstone visited Swinton in the remaining games.
The Leeds Rhinos have pulled up a stool and ordered a drink in the last chance saloon as they entertain a Wakefield Trinity side for whom the two points are equally as crucial as they attempted to guarantee their position in the top eight.
A win for the Rhinos would leave them in ninth spot but just a point behind their opponents and two points behind the Catalans Dragons and Huddersfield Giants and extend them a lifeline to avoid the dreaded middle eights for the second time in three years.
An expectant Headingley held their breath to see if their returning hero Kevin Sinfield could record his first victory at the helm of the side for which he won so many playing honours.
Depending on results elsewhere in Super League, a win for the Catalans Dragons could see them secure a top eight finish in their round twenty-one game. Standing in their way were a Warrington Wolves side, themselves wanting the points to guarantee that they would go into the Super Eights in a top four play-off place and with a shot at getting to the Grand Final.
Wolves coach Steve Price has made two changes to his side with Harvey Livett and Ben Pomeroy returning in place of Dominic Crosby and Morgan Smith. The Dragons were against the odds to get the win with the bookies favouring the Wolves as Steve McNamara named an unchanged seventeen from the side which beat Wakefield last week.
Ahead of kick-off there were nerves on both sides for a crucial encounter.
There are just three rounds of the regular season of Super League 2018 left before the split into the Super Eights and all eyes will be on two games this weekend as the Huddersfield Giants host Wigan Warriors and Leeds Rhinos welcome Wakefield Trinity to Headingley. The Giants currently have the all-important eighth Super Eights position with the Rhinos, under the fledgling control of Sinfield and Lowes will be desperate for them to slip up.
The Championship is also hotting up with just three games remaining.Leigh Centurions need a big win at Rochdale and to keep in touch with the top four, and London Broncos eyeing up a four pointer to jump back into the four if they can win at home against Halifax on Sunday afternoon.
With the series win already in the bag it was a tough choice for Blues coach Brad Fittler whether to push for the whitewash or blood a number of inexpereinced players and prepare for the future. The opted for the former making just one enforced change to his seventeen with Sims replacing Campbell-Gillard, out with a fractured jaw.
Queensland threw the dice with five changes to the starting line up including the recall of scrum half Daly Cherry-Evans after three years in the Origin wilderness. Greg Inglis had failed to make enough progress on his broken thumb and the skipper missed out while Oates, Arrow, and Papalii were all named in the starting thirteen.
The Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane would ensure a partisan Queensland crowd, with most wondering whether their side could restore some Maroon pride and bid a fond farewell to the retiring Billy Slater.
Round Twenty of the Betfred Championship gave the Toronto Wolfpack their opportunity to secure top spot going in to the middle eights but also threw up a game between Halifax and Featherstone Rovers which would go some way to determining who would join them in the top four.
Elsewhere Toulouse and London had their own top four, four pointer, as the two sides met in the South of France.
Leigh knew that anything other than a victory at Batley would be a disaster while Dewsbury faced Barrow and Rochdale hosted Swinton in the competition for the lower places.
The game of the twentieth round drew the SKY cameras to the DW Stadium as second placed Wigan Warriors hosted third placed Warrington Wolves with both sides looking to consolidate their top four spots ahead of the split into the Super Eights.
This is the fourth 2018 meeting between the two sides with the Wolves having been the victors on two previous occasions, the last meeting being their 23-0 win in the Challenge Cup on the 2nd June.
A rejuvinated Warriors were favourites with the bookies, but the Wolves are a side who have a recent habit of beating their hosts.
Two sides with very different needs met in the Thursday fixture at the John Smith’s Stadium in Huddersfield.
The two points on offer would lift the Giants into seventh place in the Super League and push the Leeds Rhinos into a middle eights position. Hull FC would remain in touch with the top four if they could get the win, but a loss could see them with five points to make up to get into the play off positions.
Danny Brough was back from another suspension for the Giants while Hull FC were still suffering from a massive injury and suspension list. Although the Airlie Birds were the bookies favourites, the promise was of a close match.
Round nineteen of the Betfred Championship saw the continued march of the Toronto Wolfpack, Toulouse Olympique, Featherstone Rovers and Halifax into the middle eights while London Broncos kept themselves within touching distance, awaiting a slip up from one of the sides above them.
The match of the weekend was in Toronto where the Leigh Centurions were the visitors but there were plenty of points scored elsewhere throughout the division.