Things are heating up in the Kingstone Press Championship as the race to secure a coveted spot in the inaugural Middle Eights comes to an end.
In a season already full of twists and turns, seven teams have occupied a place in the top four over the course of the campaign. And with just a handful of games remaining before the top four is set, all seven teams are still in contention of having a shot at Super League opposition come August.
With Bradford already securing one of the spots and Leigh needing just one more point to confirm their presence in the Middle Eights, it has left five teams, Sheffield, Halifax, Featherstone, London and Dewsbury scrambling for the two remaining positions. Here is a look at the bridges all five teams must yet cross.
As it stands[table “5” not found /]
Sheffield Eagles[table “6” not found /]
After an incredible start to the season in which they won seven of their first eight matches, Sheffield looked like they had set flight away from the rest of the pack. However, three defeats in six matches after that saw them dragged back into the picture somewhat, although still remaining comfortably in the top four.
With a four point cushion still intact, most shall still expect the Eagles to hold on to their spot. But with four terribly difficult matches, all against teams in the top seven, the Eagles have their work cut out. Their games with Halifax and Featherstone are likely to determine their fate with a win over either of those sides likely to be enough, but two defeats could prove disastrous and leave them needing results against Bradford and at London.
Halifax RLFC[table “7” not found /]
Halifax have been somewhat of an afterthought in the race for the top four. A mixed start to the season left Fax spending their time mid-table as they failed to beat any of the sides around them other than Dewsbury in the opening half of the season.
However, the signs were always there for Richard Marshall’s side, as they closely contested all of those defeats, excluding a heavy defeat at Sheffield.
A look at the table now and Halifax sit in fourth spot and are on course to claim one of those positions for the Middle Eights. Since a tight defeat against Bradford at Summer Bash, Fax have flourished, winning their past five matches. Crucially they have defeated fellow rivals Featherstone, Dewsbury and most recently London in that run, scoring 136 points against their rivals in the process.
Their game with Sheffield is massive, and whilst they have favourable matches against the league’s two bottom sides in Batley and Doncaster, Fax fans won’t want their position to be in the balance by the time they play their local rivals Bradford on the final day of the campaign. Nevertheless, they are the team most likely to be worrying their rivals at the minute.
Featherstone Rovers[table “8” not found /]
It has been a funny old season at Featherstone. With some mightily impressive wins on their travels at Halifax, Dewsbury and London, Rovers had set the platform for a strong push into the top four.
But their home form has been desperately poor against the teams around them, losing convincingly against Leigh, Sheffield, London and Halifax already at the Big Fellas Stadium.
Fev have the luxury of a game in hand over Halifax and Sheffield, but with that match being against Bradford, few will give them hope of capitalising on their match advantage. With tough away trips at Leigh and Sheffield on the horizon, Fev will have to find some big performances to finish in the top four.
Their home games against Dewsbury and Whitehaven, plus their clash at Sheffield appear to be must win games.
London Broncos[table “9” not found /]
When you take into account London’s terrific performance against Sheffield at the Summer Bash and their victory over Leigh a few weeks ago, it is staggering to see them languish in sixth.
Yet, following a heavy defeat to Halifax, their chances of securing a spot in the top four have all but vanished. Given their inferior points difference compared to Halifax and Featherstone, only four victories will realistically give them any chance of securing a top four spot.
Dewsbury Rams[table “10” not found /]
Dewsbury have performed valiantly to keep themselves in the hunt up until this stage of the season. With wins over London and Sheffield under their belt, plus incredibly tight defeats to Leigh and Bradford, they deserve a lot of credit.
However, it will take an effort of epic proportions to make the top four now after recent defeats to Bradford and Halifax, plus a damaging draw at home to Workington.
They can still mathematically make it, but with at least 28 points likely to be needed, the Rams will have to win all of their remaining games, including a victory at Leigh.
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