Round nineteen defeats for the Leeds Rhinos and Huddersfield Giants have left the door open for a rejuvinated Catalans Dragons to leapfrog both into the top eight. All that stood in their way for this afternoons game in Perpignan was the Castleford Tigers who themselves would go third with a win in the scorching south of France.
Castleford thrashed the Dragons at the Men-A-Hose Jungle with a 41-0 scoreline in mid-April but ten weeks later they visited a side brimming with confidence after winning eight of their ten games since the sides last met.
There was very little to choose between the sides for the bookies, the Dragons given a slender two point start on the coupon.
Once again, Saints had the luxury of naming an unchanged side to take on the quiet men of Super League, Wakefield Trinity. The visitors are methodically going about their business of ensuring a middle eights finish and knew that although a win at the Totally Wicked Stadium would be a surprise, it would almost guarantee their place in the Super Eights.
Wakefield were the victors when the two sides met back in round eleven, by 24-20, and after three wins in their last four outings they were high on confidence. Saints progress at the top of the table seems relentless and they came into the game unbeaten since that loss to Trinity in mid-April.
When Leeds Rhinos and Wigan Warriors met in round eleven at Headingley it was the Warriors who scraped a one point victory thanks to a forty metre Sam Tomkins drop goal in the seventy fifth minute.
After five consecutive Super League losses the Rhinos had become embroiled into the middle eights dogfight, and anything other than the two points could see them slip into the danger zone after a disappointing season.
Wigan had their own problems, and themselves have struggled since the announcement that coach Wane would be departing at the end of the season. Still sitting second in the league a win would consolidate their league position as the split approaches.
There are just five rounds of Super League remaining before the split into the middle eights,and while it looks almost certain that St Helens will enter the second phase of the season at the top of the pile, there are just six points covering places six to ten meaning that the fight to avoid the dreaded middle eights is well and truly alive.
There is one Super League game on Thursday night, four on Friday night and the remaining game at the Catalans Dragons on Saturday evening.
There are some exciting ties in the Championship too, none more so than the grudge match between Toronto Wolfpack and Leigh Centurions on Saturday night.
Round eighteen of the Betfred Championship was played over Saturday and Sunday with Sheffield facing Featherstone on Saturday afternoon and Toronto playing Barrow later in the evening. The remainder of the games took place on Sunday with London kicking off at 15:00 and the remaining games avoiding a clash with the World Cup football.
The remaining games saw Leigh at Dewsbury, Halifax entertain Batley and Toulouse at basement side Rochdale.
The race for the top four was hotting up faster than the English summer.
After New South Wales won the opening State of Origin in Melbourne proceedings moved to the ANZ Stadium in Sydney, the heart of Blues country, for round two in the three match series.
It was State against State, and mate against mate, with Queensland knowing that only a win would suffice in front of a sell-out and hostile crowd.
Matt Prior came into the Blues line-up in place of Campbell-Gillard as the only change, while Billy Slater was back in the Queensland line-up at full-back for Morgan, with Kalyn Ponga replacing Millford on the bench.
England were favourites against a New Zealand side which contained a number of debutants as the two sides played an expansionist test at the Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado. It was the first full test match in the USA as preparations got underway for the 2025 World Cup.
Wayne Bennett was without a few first choice players but still named a very strong side including five players from the NRL, but he also had a couple of players making their England debuts.
Castleford and Wigan played their re-arranged fixture from a wintery round six in the June heat, with Wigan being without their England stars, Bateman and O’Loughlin, who had de-camped to Denver for tomorrow’s test against New Zealand.
A win for the Tigers would get them within a point of their opponents and into third spot but a win for the Warriors would enable them to narrow the margin on the league leaders, St Helens, to four points.
Castleford were very slight favourites with the bookies based on home advantage but it would be a brave person who’d pick a winner before the kick off.
Third placed Warrington Wolves visited sixth placed Wakefield Trinity on a sunny Sunday afternoon in West Yorkshire with both sides desperate for the points. Warrington were looking to overcome last weeks home loss to Castleford while Wakefield needed to maintain the pressure on the top four and not lose momentum.
Warrington were 34-24 winners when the sides met at the Halliwell-Jones at the end of March but Trinity have won three out of their last four outings including the brilliant 32-16 win over Wigan Warriors last time out.
Wakefield were unchanged from last week, while Warrington replaced Joe Philbin with Dominic Crosby on the bench.
It was the weekend of five one-sided games, and a thriller in the south of France, as the Championship moved into round seventeen as the jostle continued for top four places and a chance at Super League for 2019.
The two games on Saturday saw Leigh Centurions travel to Toulouse for the afternoon game while Toronto Wolfpack took on the Dewsbury Rams in the evening. The remainder of the games were played on Sunday afternoon when; Sheffield were at Batley, Barrow at Featherstone, London entertained Rochdale while Halifax travelled to Swinton.