With games spread over three days, round eighteen of the Betfred Championship would, once again, do little to assist in our understanding of the play-off places as Toronto Wolfpack tightened their grip on the minor premiership, sweeping aside all before them.
The game of the weekend saw Toulouse visit Toronto on Saturday afternoon but their match had been preceded on Friday night by the Eagles at home to Rochdale and the Widnes Vikings playing the Bulldogs.
Sundays highlight looked like being the game between the Bulls and Halifaxas York went to Swinton, Featherstone hosted Barrow and Leigh visited Dewsbury.
The two sides who seem to play each other more times than some people have hot dinners, met again at Odsal Stadium as seventh placed Bradford Bulls met a Halifax side currently two points adrift of them in eighth.
Halifax knocked the Bulls out of the Challenge Cup on the 2nd June to set themselves up with a semi-final against St Helens, and also won the league match in Blackpool at the Summer Bash by 21-14. Bradford took the points in April with a 33-26 away win and needed a win this afternoon to even honours over the season with their near neighbours.
Both sides has a myriad of changes as they re-shuffled their sides looking for a crucial two points to keep in touch with the league leaders and a play-off spot.
Queensland and New South Wales travelled the breadth of Australia for the second game of this year’s State of Origin series, both with pressing reasons to win. Victory for the Queenslanders would see them retain the title from last year. New South Wales needed a win to keep the series alive for a series decider in their home territory of Sydney.
As it turned out, it was the Blues who dominated throughout the game, including periods of torrential rain, to keep their Origin hopes alive in front of a stadium-record crowd in Perth.
The sides placed third and fourth in Super League had a massive play-off four pointer in a sunny Perpignan. A win for the Dragons would lift them above the Airlie Birds and into third spot, while a victory for the visitors would enable them to open up a four point gap over fourth and a six point margin over fifth spot, making them the clear favourites to secure a top five finish.
Steve McNamara’s side had Sam Moa and Michael McIlorum back in their side, but were without talisman Tony Gigot and the suspended Jason Baitieri. Sika Manu and Josh Griffin returned for FC, as did Josh Bowden who was rested last time out, but Mark Minichiello was absent with a groin strain.
There was little to choose between the sides on paper, it just depended on which side would blow the hottest in the French sunshine.
It was top against bottom as St Helens hosted the Leeds Rhinos, Richard Agars side arriving at the Totally Wicked Stadium on a hiding to nothing. The bookies could only see one outcome, the continued relentless charge of the home side to the minor premiership.
Saints took a surprising loss to the London Broncos a fortnight ago out after resting several players for their trip south but they made amends with a big win against the Huddersfield Giants last weekend. The Rhinos lost to the Warriors last weekend and are now desperate for the points after Londons win against Hull KR last night.
Both sides made a couple of changes to last weekends sides, Kallum Watkins named in the Leeds second row for his penultimate game before departing for Australia.
After stunning victories for both sides last week, the two sides at the bottom of the table had the four pointer to end all four pointers, a game which would lift one of the sides into tenth place, and more importantly leave the loser anchored at the base of the table.
This was a truly crucial game for both sides, it could be the difference between survival and relegation, the winner having something to kick on from, the loser left reeling from the loss.
Ben Hellewell replaced Matt Fleming for Danny Ward’s home side as they looked to make it three wins on the bounce, while KR coach Tony Smith was without Mitch Garbutt and gave debuts to loan signings Daniel Murray, Harvey Livett and Luis Johnson.
Round Seventeen of the Betfred Championship would throw up a shock or two in a high scoring weekend which would leave us with more questions about the play-off places than answers.
The top two played on Saturday afternoon with Toulouse Olympique at home to Swinton while the Toronto Wolfpack took on the Dewsbury Rams.
There were some interesting fixtures on Sunday afternoon with Bradford at Leigh, high-flying Featherstone against play-off outsiders Widnes, Halifax at Barrow and Sheffield travelling to Batley. The one real home banker of the afternoon was York’s game against Rochdale.
The Bradford Bulls travelled to the Leigh Sports Village to take in a Centurions side seeking to capitalise on Toulouse's shock defeat at the hands of Swinton yesterday and close the gap on second spot to just two points. The Bulls also had it all to play for and knew that a win would get them level on league points with their opponents, but with a chasm between their points differences it would require a massive victory to take their place on the ladder.
John Kear had Crossley and Garside back in his side with Farrell, Webster and Roche missing out. John Duffy’s Leigh were looking for their third consecutive win and a seventh victory in their last eight as one of the form sides in the division.
After last weekends sensational win over league leaders St Helens, the London Broncos travelled to the South of France to take on a Catalans Dragons side looking to cement themselves into the play-off places as we move into the second half of the season.
Danny Wards went into the game knowing that a win would lift them level on points with Hull KR and the Leeds Rhinos as the race to avoid the drop intensifies over the coming rounds. It was a massive game for both sides, and one that neither could afford to lose.
The Dragons were favourites to deny the Broncos a second consecutive win but this London side had plenty of bottle and is up for any challenge.
Another crucial basement battle for the Leeds Rhinos as they welcomed the old enemy, Wigan Warriors, to Headingley for a four pointer. An unlikley twenty-seven point victory for the Rhinos would lift them above the Warriors into eighth, a twenty-four point win for the visitors would lift them to the dizzy heights of sixth, there was plenty to play for.
The Rhinos started with the same seventeen that nilled Wakefield last time out and made it back to back wins for the first time in 2019. Wigan scraped a scrappy one point win over Hull KR last week and came into the game without Zak Hardaker through injury and Taulima Tautai, who was in court today pleading guilty to a drink driving charge.
The Rhinos were slight favourites with the bookies, but on paper, there was little to choose between the two sides.