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globalrugbyleague - Sun, 06 Jul 2008 11:52:00 GMT
Let's be honest. The top three places in the engage Super League have been pretty much consolidated. The other three, however, are anything but decided.

With eight rounds of the regular season to play, a six-point chasm now lies between the play-off hunters and the elite group of Leeds, St Helens and this year’s surprise packet, Les Catalans.

The odds are heavily stacked against those three sides throwing away a top three place, but the situation below still hangs very much in the balance for all clubs concerned.

Wigan v Leeds

Leeds returned to their winning ways last Saturday, edging out Castleford 18-12, but face a much sterner test on Friday night with a trip to Wigan (live on Sky, kick-off 7.30pm).

Following back-to-back defeats before that win, Leeds boss Brian McLennan knows any more slip-ups could cost them dearly in the race for top spot, with St Helens and Les Catalans just two and three points behind, respectively.

Having seemed unstoppable for the vast majority of the season, each game is now a must-win even for the league leaders.

Aussie centre Phil Bailey is still missing for Wigan with hamstring trouble, while prop Iafeta Palaeeasina is sidelined, after limping off with a knee injury last Friday.

Youngster Lee Mossop, debutant in last week's 38-20 over Harlequins, keeps his place and hooker Michael McIlorum returns to the squad.

Meanwhile, Leeds welcome back Jamie Peacock, Gareth Ellis, Keith Senior, Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow and Kevin Sinfield after they played in England's 58-6 win over France last Friday night.

Nick Scruton is still suspended after his dismissal against St Helens a fortnight ago, while Carl Ablett returns from injury and teenagers Danny Allan and Danny Williams retain their places in the squad.

Having gone through a bad patch two weeks ago, Leeds will be desperate to return to their usual selves.

However, only Les Catalans have come away from the JJB Stadium with a win this season, so Leeds will require another scintillating display.

Harlequins v St Helens

On Saturday night, second-placed St Helens make the trip to the capital to face Harlequins, looking to make it 13 straight wins in all competitions.

The form team of Super League demolished Huddersfield 46-16 last Sunday, despite having seven stars on international duty for England.

Scrum-half Sean Long is expected to feature, despite a dead leg forcing him off early in the Huddersfield game.

His half-back partner Leon Pryce was rested last Sunday, but has been named in the 19-man squad for this weekend.

Lee Gilmour will not make the trip down south if his girlfriend has not given birth by the weekend, while Chris Flannery is Daniel Anderson's biggest doubt.

The return of skipper Rob Purdham and winger Rikki Sheriffe give Harlequins head coach Brian McDermott a big boost, but centre David Howell is still out with a groin injury and scrum-half Danny Orr is also sidelined with a hamstring injury he sustained in training.

St Helens are expected to cruise this one and pick up their tenth straight league win, although the London club have already upset Leeds at home three weeks ago, so it's not quite a foregone conclusion.

Huddersfield v Bradford

Having struggled a few weeks ago, suffering injury after injury, Bradford have bounced back with two wins from two recently, both home wins over both Hull teams.

They now look to make it three on the run with a visit to the Galpharm Stadium this Sunday, as they start life after Shontayne Hape.

Piece by piece their squad is returning to full strength. Captain and first-choice goal-kicker Paul Deacon may return this weekend, but is still a doubt, Nero could return at centre, while winger Tame Tupou and second-rower Glenn Morrison will be out of action for the season's remainder.

In contrast, Huddersfield have no realistic play-off hopes, with each game relatively meaningless with the threat of relegation removed.

They have no real injury worries, and must already have one eye on next season, as this one draws to a pointless close.

Hape will be sorely missed at Odsal, but his absence is highly unlikely to get in the way of a Bradford victory this weekend.

Warrington v Wakefield

Arguably the most crucial match of the weekend is Wakefield's visit to the Halliwell Jones Stadium on Sunday.

The two sides are neck-and-neck in the Super League table on 20 points, with only 15 points separating them on points difference.

Warrington snatched a last-gasp win at Hull FC last Sunday, while Wakefield threw away a 14-12 half-time lead to go down 30-14 at home to Les Catalans.

Warrington hooker Mark Gleeson is out with a foot injury, while Wakefield coach John Kear has a strong squad to pick from.

A win in this fixture is crucial, with either team desperate to pull away from the other.

In their last six games, both sides have won three and lost three, which is why home advantage could be the key to this one.

Hull FC v Les Catalans

The defeat at home to Warrington last weekend effectively put an end to the Airlie Birds' play-off aspirations, and they now lie nine points behind the top six.

They have the Challenge Cup semi-final against Wakefield later this month, so won't be expected to go all-out in their remaining Super League matches, which is why Les Catalans should pick up a win in this one.

Motu Tony, Tommy Lee, Peter Cusack, Paul King and Todd Byrne are still out with injuries, but are all making steady recoveries for John Agar's side.

The KC Stadium is never an easy place to travel to, but the French side have won five in a row, and are brimming with confidence.

The Perpignan outfit have remained in the UK all week after the win over Wakefield on Tuesday night, and head coach Mick Potter has no selection problems for the trip to Hull.

His side will be expected to build on their excellent away form this season.

Hull KR v Castleford

Two sides badly out of form are Hull KR and Castleford. Rovers have lost four on the trot now, while Castleford have won just three games all season.

KR's play-off hopes have taken a big turn for the worse of late, and after last Sunday's 40-20 loss at Bradford, Justin Morgan's side have fallen four points adrift of the other play-off hunters.

In fairness, this is just the fixture the side from east Hull needed, so they are nailed-on to pick up two points here, while Terry Matterson's side will believe they can pull off a shock after running Leeds close at Headingley last Friday.


Castleford are without Craig Huby and Ryan Clayton due to shoulder injuries, while vice-captain Awen Guttenbeil is also missing with a leg injury.

On the other hand, Rovers have no fresh injury worries, so should ease to a win in this one.

The light at the end of the tunnel is coming for Super League XIII's regular season now, with the fight for fourth, fifth and sixth place definitely not over. Predict at your peril.

My Predictions:

Wigan v Leeds - Away Win
Harlequins v St Helens - Away Win
Huddersfield v Bradford - Away Win
Warrington v Wakefield - Home Win
Hull FC v Les Catalans - Away Win
Hull KR v Castleford - Home Win - Read More, Here