Rugby league opinion: Clubs set for dramatic finish

Jake Emmitt of Leigh during the Challenge Cup quarter final at Warrington
Jake Emmitt of Leigh during the Challenge Cup quarter final at Warrington

The big four all meet later this week but there is arguably more interest in Super League’s bottom four as the new Super 8s begin to come into focus.

There is still much confusion about the game’s revolutionary new format but all should become clear over the next month as clubs jockey for positions ahead of the big split into three divisions.

The race to avoid the bottom four in Super League is so tight that even sixth-placed Catalans Dragons are not yet safe, especially with only one home game left, and their trips to Salford and Widnes are looming as make-or-break fixtures.

It would have been unthinkable at the start of the year but Warrington are flirting with danger after winning just one of their last four matches and they have play both of last year’s Grand Finalists, Wigan and St Helens, in the run-in.

Only three points separate Warrington from 10th-placed Widnes and it is equally tight in the battle for the fourth spot in the Championship.

Bradford, Leigh and Sheffield Eagles are virtually assured of their places in the Qualifiers but it is still a three-way fight between Halifax, Featherstone and London Broncos for the remaining spot.

Leigh’s performances in the Challenge Cup this year have added to the excitement ahead of the Qualifiers, which organisers will no doubt claim already justifies their decision to introduce the controversial new system.

The Centurions could not quite follow up their knockout wins over Salford and Wakefield but they certainly made Warrington fight all the way for their place in the last four and, if they could carry that form into the Qualifiers, Fuifui Moimoi and company will claim some more scalps.

Wakefield look the most vulnerable of the current Super League clubs but new coach Brian Smith is already making his presence felt and, with an injection of new blood and the imminent return from injury of a host of experienced forwards, he could yet transform their season.

It is worth re-iterating that only clubs in the top eight, which continues as Super League, and the bottom eight, which become the Championship Shield, carry forward points accrued during the initial 23-match programme, with those in the Qualifiers starting from scratch.

However, finishing positions before the split could be crucial with the most successful clubs receiving four home fixtures as opposed to three.

The table-toppers in the Championship, for instance, will be at home to the runners-up which makes Bradford’s clash with Leigh in the penultimate round of the regular season even more significant.

Perhaps it is not quite true that every minute matters, as the organisers would have us believe, but for most clubs every point accrued over the next month could prove priceless.