After 27 rounds of dramatic – and often controversial – action, 14 have been whittled all the way down to just eight, and the Super League play-offs is almost ready for lift off.
It promises to be one of the most exciting play-off series of all-time, with the likes of Leeds and Warrington – both recent Grand Finalists – knowing they cannot afford any slip-ups, having managed to finish outside of the top four.
And with the Castleford Tigers fairytale story continuing into the play-offs, you can be certain that there is bound to be plenty of excitement and anticipation ahead of it all kicking off this evening. The play-offs are never short of drama – but is 2014 set to be the most unpredictable finals series yet?
The first round of fixtures seems to support that argument nicely; there are four games – and in each and every one, you genuinely cannot be sure who the winner is going to be. Look at the two games featuring the top four first and foremost – starting with tonight’s game between Wigan and Huddersfield.
The Warriors notoriously peak when it comes to this time of the season – they won the Grand Final last year having won just one of their final six regular season games, for example. But they face a Huddersfield side that have the best form of anyone in the entire competition; over the last 12 games, nobody has picked up more points than they have (19). They’ve even begun to prove they can win without Danny Brough, too – having knocked off St Helens last weekend without their inspirational captain.
Then there’s another trans-Pennine clash on Friday night, as the two sides who were vying for top spot going into the final round of the season lock horns at Langtree Park. The fact St Helens and Castleford have ultimately finished 1st and 4th shows just what a thrilling season this has been – with Cas missing out on the opportunity to finish top after slipping to defeat at Catalan last Saturday.
Nathan Brown’s men have been ravaged by injuries over the last three months, and will be without several of their key men for the remainder of the season. However, they keep grinding out victories when it really matters, and have finished top on merit – the table simply doesn’t lie. Castleford will be keen to show their run to the Challenge Cup final was no fluke though, and with the likes of Dorn, Sneyd and Clark providing the ammunition, there is no guaranteeing which side will earn the coveted week off.
And on Saturday, a hugely compelling pair of fixtures take centre stage, as the elimination play-offs kick off. Warrington v Widnes is always a fixture that grabs the attention of the Rugby League world, but with both teams putting their season on the line on Saturday, it promises to be a spectacular fixture. With Kevin Brown pulling the strings for the Vikings, an upset is very much possible – although Warrington’s play-off pedigree gives them a massive chance, too.
But could the final fixture of the weekend be the most entertaining – and dramatic? Leeds will be the heavy favourites against Catalan Dragons for a number of reasons – perhaps most notably the Dragons’ away form – but Leeds’ own form is far from ideal heading into the play-offs. Five defeats in a row in the league makes for grim reading, and with Morgan Escare keen to prove that he should have been in the Super League Dream Team, the touchpaper has been well and truly lit.
Eight teams, four games – but a whole host of different outcomes regarding the quartet of teams that stand tall come Saturday night. Is everyone excited?