French side Toulouse Olympique XIII rolled into the Halton Stadium to take on a Widnes Viking side who are treading water in 2019 after their pre-season punitive points deduction. A win would temporarily lift Toulouse into second spot ahead of the remaining fixtures but a loss would leave the door open for Leigh and Featherstone to overtake them and demote them to fifth come the end of the weekend.
A win for Widnes would lift them above the Dewsbury Rams into eleventh spot and come closer to guaranteeing their Championship spot for the 2020 season when they will look to launch their bid to return to Super League.
James Child was in the middle with the whistle, he must have been delighted when he was allocated a French side for the second weekend running.
The Rhinos made just one change from the side which demolished the Huddersfield Giants last time out as they took on a Catalans Dragons who were paying the price for on-field indiscipline against the Warrington Wolves.
The Rhinos made one change with Luke Briscoe replacing his brother Tom on the wing after the later was ruled out for the rest of the season. The Dragons were without the services of key players Sam Tomkins and Michael McIlorum, both serving suspensions.
The Rhinos lost the early season game in the south of France bit won the last time the sides met at Headingley Stadium by a 31-12 margin. A win would further ease the Rhinos relegation worries but a loss would put them right back in the mix. The Dragons came into the game desperate for a win to maintain their top five aspirations.
St Helens took the minor premiers crown with their win, and a Warrington Wolves loss, last weekend. The outcome of the game was therefore much more important for the Wire who were looking to cement their second place, while Saints were playing for pride.
The two sides met as recently as round twenty, when Saints were 21-10 winners at the Halliwell-Jones, despite trailing by 4-0 at the interval and not scoring their first point until the hour mark. Saints were looking for a hat-trick of 2019 wins against their near neighbours after also picking up a 38-12 win in round 10, in tonight's Challenge Cup dress rehearsal.
After the ‘battle of Stade Gilbert Brutus’ last weekend the home side made eight changes including the addition of a number of youngsters. Saints made just a couple of changes to their starting line-up with Jonny Lomax and Matty Costello into the side.
There were just five rounds of the Betfred Championship remaining as we headed into round twenty-three. Toronto Wolfpack were already guaranteed top spot but had a tricky looking trip to Odsal to face the Bradford Bulls, While second placed York City Knights also had a long journey up to Barrow.
The Eagles looked to keep their slim hopes of a play-off place alive with a home game against the Widnes Vikings on Friday night with third placed Toulouse away at Halifax. Fourth placed Leigh centurions could take a step closer to a play-off berth with a home game against a Swinton Lions side which has shocked a few this season while Featherstone desperately needed a win at Dewsbury. The final game saw the already relegated Rochdale Hornets at home to an almost safe Batley Bulldogs.
Should the Warrington Wolves fail to win at the Catalan Dragons in the Saturday evening kick-off would end their forlorn hopes of the minor premiership and hand the first trophy of the season to St Helens.
More importantly a win would lift the Wolves six points clear of fourth place and put them within a couple of wins of a guaranteed home play-off berth. The Dragons knew that a win would lift them into the top five, at least until tomorrow’s game for the Castleford Tigers.
The Dragons welcomed the return of Greg Bird, Kenny Edwards and Samisoni Langi while the Wolves would hove to do without the services of the injured free-scoring Josh Charnley.
Two sides, both deeply mired in the relegation battle, were pitted against one another at the John Smith’s Stadium as the Huddersfield Giants and Leeds Rhinos met in front of a bumper crowd with a crucial two points at stake.
The Giants were looking to consolidate their eighth place and get within four points of the play-off places. Leeds Rhinos could leapfrog the Giants into eighth with an eight point winning margin, providing that Wakefield didn’t spring a surprise and beat St Helens. A loss for the Rhinos could see them end the weekend in bottom place, should Hull KR and the London Broncos win their respective games.
Fouth placed Wigan Warriors travelled to third placed Hull FC as they looked to close the gap to just two points as the race for the play-off places hots up. A win for Hull would lift them six points clear of the Warriors and aid their claim to a top five finish while Wigan knew that defeat could see them end the weekend outside the play-off places.
Lee Radford juggled the side which missed out on Wembley last weekend with Masi Matongo replacing the injured Sika Manu. Adrian Lam could call on the services of Sean O’Loughlin and Joe Burgess while Thomas Leuluai passed a late fitness test to take up his spot in the line-up.
FC won by a single point in extra time the last time that the two sides met, way back in February.
Of the two 1895 Cup semi-finals, the match at the Leigh Sports Village between the Centurions and Widnes Vikings was the one to get the juices flowing. Two sides with a Super League pedigree, both desperate to get to Wembley, would need to overcome wet conditions to progress.
It’s honours shared in 2019 with both sides winning their home fixtures. The Vikings won the game in April by 30-12 while Leigh picked up the points by 36-22 in May. If it hadn’t been for Widnes points penalty before the season started then they would have only been separated by two league positions.
The stage was set for a classic semi-final, it was down to the two teams to deliver.
Seventh placed Sheffield Eagles and tenth placed Batley Bulldogs were drawn against one another for the chance of a trip to Wembley and the 1895 Cup Final on the 24th August. The Eagles made it this far thanks to a 32-28 win over Doncaster while Batley needed the golden point for a 17-16 win over the York City Knights.
There were wet conditions at the Olympic Legacy Park but the 4G pitch would neutralise the worst of them and an open game was promised.
The Eagles have won both games between these two sides in 2019, most notably by 54-24 when the two sides met in June.
Super League’s top side were up against the Betfred Championships eighth placed side in what was billed, pre kick-off as the most one-sided Challenge Cup semi-final in recent history as St Helens took on Halifax RLFC.
It’s over ten years since St Helens have played in a Challenge Cup final, last winning in 2008, but even longer since Halifax have figured. They were last in a final in the 1987-88 season when they lost to Wigan, having beaten St Helens the season before to lift the trophy for the last time.
Saints rested the majority of their squad last weekend and lost to the London Broncos but they were massive favourites to beat a Halifax side who have won their last two, most notably last weekend with a big win over the Widnes Vikings.