It was moving weekend in the qualifiers as the hopefuls entered the penultimate round of fixtures all hoping that they could perform and that other results would go their way.
All Championship sides had Super League opposition and while the top flight sides were all favourites with the bookies there was every chance of a few upsets. On Saturday the leaders Salford were in London, Hull KR at Toulouse and Widnes at the Wolfpack.
Sundays game saw the Leeds Rhinos travel the short distance to Halifax to try and take a critical step on their road to Super League 2019.
After the other Qualifiers results over the weekend the Rhinos travelled to winless Halifax in the knowledge that while a win wouldn’t guarantee them Super League in 2019, a big win would get them within touching distance as they prepare to take on Toronto Wolfpack in the last round.
A loss for the Rhinos, unthinkable for football manager Sinfield and their travelling fans, could conceivably see them ending up in the dreaded Million Pound Game.
Halifax, already out of the promotion equasion were simply there to be a thorn in the Rhinos side and hoped to inflict as much pain as they could on their old enemy.
With the London Broncos ripping up the form book earlier in the afternoon, Widnes’s hopes of a Million Pound game slot had slipped further below the horizon. Mathematically they weren’t out of it, but they knew that they needed a big win over the Toronto Wolfpack in Canada.
Toronto were now increasingly desperate for a win and went into the game knowing that they would have to go to Headingley to play the Leeds Rhinos on the last weekend with two consecutive losses meaning that they, themselves, could drop out of the Million Pound Game.
It couldn’t have been any more tense.
As dead rubber games go, this one wasn’t going to bounce very high.
The only thing that it had going for it was that it was the dress rehearsal for the playoff semi-final in a fortnights time as fourth placed Warrington Wolves played hosts to Minor Premiers St Helens in a game which neither coach wanted to loose, but more importantly, didn’t want to give any clues as to their thoughts for the upcoming crucial encounter.
Warrington had been made slight favourites for the win as Saints announced a pack line-up with a different look to it compared to the regular season. Saints won the last meeting by just 14-12 after a much larger 30-12 win in March.
What we didn’t expect was two fully committed sides slogging it out for the pride of the win.
With the Wigan Warriors securing second spot in Suepr League last night, it was the yurn of the Castleford Tigers to ensure that they finished the Super Eights in third spot and a trip to the DW in the play-off semi-finals.
The opposition was Wakefield Trinity who could take guarantee themselves fifth spot with a victory over their opponents from ten miles up the road, for the second year running.
Castleford have emerged victorious from the last ten meetings between these two sides, including both encounters in 2018, 24-4 at the Jungle in April, and 11-6 in Wakefield a month earlier.
Wigan Warriors knew that they needed a win from tonights game to secure second spot in the league and a home play-off semi-final, probably against the Castleford Tigers. The Giants, who recorded a 20-12 win over the Warriors at the John Smith’s Stadium in mid-July.
Wigan named Sam Tomkins in the halves with Morgan Escare at full-back after losing Thomas Leuluai through injury. The Giants were without a few players through injury and with nothing to lose, and relentless Huddersfield rain, they could be forgiven for not going into the game with all guns blazing.
With two rounds left in the Super League Super Eights there is little left to play for except the jostling for places. Wigan need one more win to guarantee a home play-off tie and will be looking to seal that in Thursday night’s game away at Huddersfield while a win for Castleford against Wakefield will guarantee them third spot and an away game at Wigan with Warrington travelling to St Helens.
The Super Eights Qualifiers are far more exciting with Leeds Rhinos, Hull KR and Salford Red Devils all just one win away from securing Super League for 2019. A three horse race for the Million Pound Game is developing between Toulouse, Toronto and London which has pushed the RFL to announce a 19:00 kick-off for the crucial end of season game.
Second placed Bardford Bulls needed a win to keep the pressure on the league leading York City Knights as they travelled to Vestacare Stadium to take on an Oldham side currently sitting in fifth place in the table.
The likelihood was that the Bulls would need to win the play-offs to gain promotion to the Championship and it was important that they got the win today to boost their confidence going into the end of season competition.
Oldham knew that they needed the win to enhance their play-off chances, the stage was set for a cracker.
Round five delivered on drama in the Super League Qualifiers as two sides made big strides to maintain their Super League status while the Widnes Vikings threw themselves the thinnest of lifelines by recording their first win of the competition.
Two of the games were won by narrow margins while the others were competitive and there was plenty of controversy throughout the weekend with incidents of alleged biting, dodgy try decisions, red and yellow cards and refereeing controversy.
It’s clear that all eight sides are getting nervy.
Both the Toronto Wolfpack and Toulouse Olympique XIII came into this fifth round Qualifiers fixtures on four points but two places apart on the league ladder due to points difference. It was a crucial game with the winner putting themselves in pole position for being the home side in the Million Pound game, the loser more likely to be playing their rugby in the Championship in 2019.
This was the third meeting between the two teams, Toronto winning the game at the Magic Weekend in May by 43-30 and narrowly winning the game in France in April by 24-22. Toulouse had a disappointing loss in London last time out, while Toronto lost to Salford. Both sides had a point to prove.