It's down to the business end of the Super League season with only the top six teams left to do battle during the play-off series!
Don't forget the Super League is now televised into Australia on the weekends during the finals series, and you can this week's games on Saturday 2:30-4:00pm and Sunday 8:45-10:15pm (both on slight delay via Fox Sports 2). Or watch LIVE at 4:30am Saturday for Wigan-Bradford on Fox Sports 2 and 3:30 am Sunday for Catalans v Warrington on Fox Sports 3!
St Helens have again finished the regular season in top place on 43 points, having achieved this feat for the fourth year in a row. Coach Daniel Anderson will certainly leave behind a good record at the Saints when he returns home to Australia at the end of the year.
Leeds Rhinos have finished one point behind in second place on the table, with Brian McClennan's team hoping they can repeat their effort from last year's Grand Final and defeat St Helens to take out the Super League title.
Both St Helens and Leeds have earned a week off along with a second bite of the cherry, and will face each other in a Major Semi Final next week to decide who claims the first spot in the 2008 Grand Final.
So this week we see two sudden death matches involving the other finalists. The winners of each game will face each other in a sudden death Minor Semi Final next week, while this weekend's losers are eliminated and can start planning for 2009.
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On Friday night, the fourth placed Wigan Warriors will host the fifth placed Bradford Bulls at the Stobart Stadium (formerly Halton Stadium, Widnes) due to the JJB Stadium being booked for a football/soccer fixture the next day. Last year the Warriors knocked the Bulls out of the finals with a 25-point second half comeback. Bradford however are the only team to have won the Super League Grand Final having finished outside the top two positions on the league table.
Wigan finished one point ahead of Bradford on the table, courtesy of achieving a draw against leaders St Helens in the final round. Bradford go into the game having won their last three matches and with a points differential 130 points better over the course of the season than that of Wigan. But those details will be cold comfort to whichever team loses this sudden death battle.
Warriors coach Brian Noble has recalled Gareth Hock to the squad following his five-week suspension, and Eamon O'Carrol takes the place of the injured Paul Prescott. The Wigan 19-man squad is: Richard Mathers, Cameron Phelps, Darrell Goulding, George Carmont, Pat Richards, Trent Barrett, Thomas Leuluai, Stuart Fielden, Mickey Higham, Andy Coley, Gareth Hock, Phil Bailey, Harrison Hansen, Iafeta Paleaaesina, Liam Colbon, Eamon O'Carroll, Joel Tomkins, Tim Smith, Michael McIlorum.
Bulls coach Steve McNamara looks to have Glenn Morrison available for this game after suffering what were thought to be season-ending muscle and knee injuries in May, and fullback Michael Platt also returns from suspension. The Bradford 19-man squad is: Michael Platt, James Evans, Paul Sykes, Chris Nero, Semi Tadulala, Ben Jeffries, Paul Deacon, Joe Vagana, Terry Newton, Andy Lynch, Matt Cook, Simon Finnigan, Jamie Langley, Iestyn Harris, David Solomona, Wayne Godwin, Craig Kopczak, Glenn Morrison, Dave Halley.
Your referee is Ashley Klein. This is a real tough game to tip, as either side is capable of good (and bad) form on a given day. The clubs met twice during the regular season and the honours are shared. I tip Bradford in a close one.
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On Saturday night, the third placed Catalans Dragons will host the sixth placed Warrington Wolves at the Stade Gilbert Brutus in Perpignan. The French side finished a clear third on the table in what has been the best of the Dragons' three seasons in Super League, and were guaranteed a home play-off well before the close of the season. The Wolves on the other hand were looking at a home play-off until their recent run of three losses to lower placed teams.
Catalans recent form has been a worry as well, losing their last two games to teams out of the running for the play-offs, and only managing a narrow win the week before over Huddersfield - the team that gave Warrington a final round beating on TV last week. So one of these teams will be looking to recapture their form for the remaining finals, while the other will be left pondering the what ifs...
Dragons coach Mick Potter will be without the injured Cyrille Gossard and David Ferriol for this clash, but welcomes back the dangerous Thomas Bosc to the squad. The Catalans 19-man squad is: Clint Greenshields, Justin Murphy, John Wilson, Adam Mogg, Dimitri Pelo, Thomas Bosc, Casey McGuire, Olivier Elima, Aaron Gorrell, Jerome Guisset, Sebastien Raguin, Jason Croker, Greg Mounis, Dane Carlaw, Vincent Duport, Alex Chan, Jamil Fakir, Remi Casty, Jean Philippe Baile.
Wolves coach James Lowes loses second rower Rob Parker from his squad through a two-match suspension, and there have been injury clouds over the returning Lee Briers (knee), Adrian Morley (stomach) and Paul Rauhihi (back), although at least one of these players will take the field in the final 17. The Warrington 19-man squad is: Chris Hicks, Chris Riley, Martin Gleeson, Matt King, Kevin Penny, Lee Briers, Michael Monaghan, Adrian Morley, Jon Clarke, Paul Rauhihi, Lee Mitchell, Ben Westwood, Matty Blythe, Paul Wood, Mike Cooper, Andrew Bracek, Simon Grix, Ben Harrison, Adam Neal.
Your referee is Steve Ganson. It doesn't look pretty for Warrington, out of form and carrying injuries, heading deep into enemy territory to a ground at which they have never registered a win. The Catalans army should be out in colour and force to celebrate the team's first ever play-off campaign, and I can't see the Wolves spoiling le party!
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