It seems like just yesterday, in the frozen depths of winter, that Super League XXIII got underway with twelve clubs brimming full of hope and expectation. The race is already run for ten of those original dozen hopefuls, but tonight, at the Theatre of Dreams, either the Wigan Warriors or the Warrington Wolves would cap their season with the ultimate silverware and the title of ‘Champions’.
It was sure to be an emotionally charged night, regardless of the eventual winner. Warrington were looking to end a sixty-three year wait with their first title in over six decades, while Wigan would say a fond farewell to their coach Shaun Wane after seven trophy laden years in charge.
The bookies had the double W’s of Wigan as favourites to emerge victors, but the Wolves fans were in attendance filled with hope an belief that it really could be their year.
There is just one show in town this weekend, the town being Manchester, and the show being the Super League Grand Final between the Warrington Wolves and the Wigan Warriors. Last weekend’s underdogs Warrington overcame the odds to secure their fourth final in eight years and will be looking to do the same on Saturday night against the 2018 favourites, Wigan Warriors. The Warriors are seeking their fifth title from ten attempts while Warrington have yet to lift the trophy after twenty-one years of trying.
Wigan are odds on favourites with the bookies to repeat their 2013 and 2016 results by beating the Wolves and condemning them to the losers medals in both major competitions this season, them having lost to the Catalans Dragons at Wembley in August.
There is one other game this weekend, to be played on Sunday afternoon, as Swinton and Workington Town play-off for a place in next seasons Championship.
It was second against third for the remaining place in the Grand Final as the Wigan Warriors took on the Castleford Tigers In Shaun Wane’s farewell game at the DW Stadium. Next Saturday night, and a Old Trafford date with the Warrington Wolves awaited and while the home side were slight favourites, few were confident about whether this would be Castleford second year in the showpiece final or Wigan’s tenth return.
Castleford needed to overcome the disappointment of last weeks nilling at St Helens to overcome a confident and well drilled Wigan. The Warriors had their big guns back in the side including Sam Tomkins and skipper O’Loughlin. Castleford were missing a few first choice picks but still put out a strong looking side.
It was sudden death football as the Warrington Wolves travelled to the Totally Wicked Stadium to take on the highly fancied St Helens in the first Super Eights Play-Off, for a place in the Grand Final at Old Trafford in nine days time.
Few gave the Wolves much hope of making their fourth appearance in seven years, with the smart money being lumped on St Helens first return since they last lifted the trophy in 2014, to record a record eleventh appearance in the showpiece final.
Both coaches made several changes from the sides which met a fortnight ago when Saints were clear winners. But this was a different matter, at the end of a long season it was a night of knock-out football, and there were nerves on both sides as they looked to secure the ultimate prize.
The penultimate weekend of the 2018 domestic season will determine the Super League Grand Finalists, which side will join Salford, Leeds and Hull KR from the Qualifiers in the top flight next season, who wins the Championship Shield and which Championship One side will be playing in the Championship in 2019.
There are play-off semi-finals on Thursday and Friday evenings with the Million Pound game, the Shield final, and the Championship One play-off final on Sunday afternoon and evening.
The near sell-out 83,500 capacity ANZ Stadium in Sydney was the focus as the top two teams it the NRL competition, minor premiers Sydney Rooster took on the runners-up, Melbourne Storm, in the 2018 Grand Final. The first time that these two sides had met in a Grand Final.
The two sides met just once during the reguar season, the Storm winning by 9-8 in late June thanks to a Cameron Smith drop goal with two minutes remaining, but the Roosters were boosted by the inclusion on Cooper Cronk who had been a major doubt.
The Roosters were slight favourites with the bookies, but there was very little in it, the stage was set for a sensational finale to the Australian season.
With Halifax already out of the running for promotion to Super League, their task was to try and deny London Broncos the result which would guarantee them a place in the Million Pound Game next weekend.
A loss by less than twenty-five points would be enough to see them finish fifth, and be the away side in the play-off, but a win of sixteen or more would put them into fourth spot and have them praying for a Widnes Vikings victory over Hull KR on Sunday afternoon to give them the home advantage.
Danny Ward had his troops well drilled for the game and intended to increase Halifax’s Qualifiers misery by keeping them winless in seven.
With the Salford Red Devils guaranteeing themselves Super League rugby in 2019, tonight it was the turn of the Leeds Rhinos and Toronto Wolfpack to bite their nails and be the masters of their own destiny.
A Toronto win by more than thirty-two points would guarantee them back-to-back promotions and entry into the top flight,while potentially pushing the Rhinos into the Million Pound Game. A Rhinos win, draw, or loss by less than thirty-two points would mean that the Rhinos would be safe and it would probably be Toronto in the end of season decider, most likely as the away side.
The first ever meeting between these two sides couldn’t have come at a more crucial time for both clubs.
The Super Eights Qualifiers were occupying centre stage in the final weekend of the competition with everything on the line for six sides, all of whom were seeking the guarantee of Super League football in 2019, but all of whom could slip into the Million Pound Game or in five cases, finish the season in sixth place.
With four games over four days the picture would gradually become clearer as the permutations reduced. The opening game of the weekend was the Salford Red Devils hosting Toulouse Olympique XIII at the AJ Bell Stadium. A win for the Red Devils would guarantee them safety, but a win for Toulouse could spell disaster for Salford and propel Toulouse into the crucial top three positions. It promised to be a nervous night at the start of a nail biting weekend.