Rivalry rises to a new level this Easter

Tonight there will be four Super League matches taking place taking place in Round 8 of this season’s competition, which has been labelled the ‘Rivals’ Round’ by Super League, while two more games will take place tomorrow.

And I think it’s fair to say that never has there been more at stake in an Easter round of fixtures than we’ll see today and tomorrow.

All the games can justifiably be described as ‘derby’ fixtures, even though, in the case of the Catalans and Toulouse, the two clubs are almost 130 miles distant from each other.

And France is where the fixtures will begin, with the first ever Super League game between two French clubs kicking off at 7.30pm (BST). The match will be broadcast by Sky Sports and it will be crucial for both clubs, with Toulouse battling to get off the bottom of the Super League table, while the Dragons will be hoping to go joint top of the league, at least until the Saints-Wigan clash tomorrow, if they can clinch victory.

For the Dragons, Sam Tomkins will be missing, so we can expect to see Arthur Mourgue (above) at fullback, where the battle between him and Olympique’s fullback Olly Ashall-Bott will play a crucial role in the outcome of the game.

Dragons winger Fouad Yaha needs three tries to draw level with Vincent Duport as the club’s all-time leading tryscorer while Toulouse captain Tony Gigot will be playing his 150th Super League game.

In a Zoomcast earlier this week I spoke with League Express correspondents Steve Brady and Mike Rylance about this game and the general state of Rugby League in France.

The second game tonight brings Wakefield Trinity and Castleford Tigers together at the Be Well Support Stadium (Belle Vue), with the Tigers coming into the game after having won 16 successive games against their neighbours. Trinity’s last victory against the Tigers was a 24-22 away win on 8 February, 2015 and last season they defeated Trinity 23-18 in Round 20 of Super League on 21 August. That latter game was the first defeat Trinity’s current coach, Willie Poching, would suffer in his interim role when he took over the reins at the club last season.

Wakefield climbed into the top six with their televised Super League victory at Warrington and Poching will be anxious for his side not to fall back outside the play-off positions.

For tonight’s game he will be without Jacob Miller, with Lee Gaskell likely to retain his position in the halves alongside Mason Lino, but Tom Johnstone is likely to be back on the wing with David Fifita back in the front row.

Castleford winger Greg Eden (above) scored two tries in the Tigers’ Challenge Cup defeat at Hull Kingston Rovers and he now needs just one more try to have scored 100 touchdowns for the club. This game would be a great one for him to achieve that milestone, although tonight’s result looks too close to call.

And the same is true of tonight’s clash at Headingley, with Leeds Rhinos due to host Huddersfield Giants, with the Rhinos desperate to gain their second win of the season, while the Giants, who also face St Helens on Monday, could be sitting at the top of the table on Monday evening with two victories, if other results also go their way.

The Giants have won five out of seven Super League games this season, losing only at Wigan and Hull FC. And with Chris Hill, who is proving to have been an inspired signing this season, leading from the front and making his 500th career appearance, there is plenty to look forward to for both sets of supporters, with Hill leading the Giants’ charge against the much younger Rhinos’ enforcer Mikolaj Oledzki, while Leeds captain Kruise Leeming (above) will have a great battle against his opposite number Danny Levi.

The prospect is for a thrilling, close game, reflecting the fact that in the last four clashes between these two clubs, three of those games were settled by a single point, while the winning margin in the last game was only six points. In tonight’s game, Tom Briscoe will make his 200th appearance for Leeds and his 300th Super League appearance, while Blake Austin will make his 200th career appearance.

Also tonight, Warrington Wolves will host Salford Red Devils at the Halliwell Jones Stadium and the Wolves will be desperate to reverse a run of five successive defeats in all competitions.

Their new coach Daryl Powell began life at the Wolves with three successive wins, but since then it has all been downhill for Warrington, with successive home defeats in the Cup and in Super League against Wakefield Trinity, which has seen them drop out of the top six.

Both teams have six points from their seven matches so far, and victory for either side could see them moving into the top six, depending on results elsewhere. The game could be significant for Salford’s Marc Sneyd (above), who needs three points to draw level with former Salford halfback Michael Dobson in joint tenth place in the list of Super League’s all-time leading scorers.

On Friday the first game of the day will see Hull Kingston Rovers playing host to Hull FC in a sellout clash at Sowell Group Craven Park.

The Robins are fresh from a convincing Challenge Cup victory over Castleford Tigers and they will be anticipating this game with relish to see whether they can draw level with their near neighbours in the Super League table on eight points, although to go above the black and whites they would need to win by an unlikely 28 points.

Rovers will be without the outstanding Mikey Lewis at halfback, following the injury he sustained against Castleford, but Rowan Milnes (above) is a more than capable stand in. Hull will want to bounce back from their disappointing Cup defeat to Huddersfield last Saturday and they look to be back at full strength, with Carlos Tuimavave a strong possibility to return to their side.

Luke Gale, who has taken over the goalkicking duties for his side, needs eight points to reach 2,000 points for his career, while, for the Robins, fellow goalkicker Lachlan Coote needs just six points to reach 1,000 for his career.

The second game of Good Friday will see a monumental clash between St Helens and Wigan Warriors at the Totally Wicked Stadium. Ironically, both sides go into this game with only one defeat all season, with each defeat having come against French clubs in Toulouse (St Helens) and Catalans (Wigan). Neither side has suffered a defeat against another English club.

St Helens will go into the game as favourites, but Wigan have potential matchwinners in Jai Field and Bevan French. However, they will be light in the threequarters, with Zak Hardaker having been dropped for disciplinary reasons and Liam Marshall also being out of the squad, while St Helens are missing Regan Grace and Sione Mata’utia missing from their top 13 squad numbers.

Saints have won eight of their last ten games against Wigan and they will be confident of maintaining that momentum but, under their new coach Matty Peet (above), Wigan have adopted a more adventurous style of play than they had last season, while, under Kristian Woolf, St Helens have adopted a more structured style of play with a strong emphasis on defence, although Saints winger Tommy Makinson (above) has seen enough of the ball this season to have already scored ten Super League tries, making him the joint top Super League tryscorer, just one ahead of Wigan’s Jai Field.

On Friday night the winner of this game will sit alone in first place at the top of the Super League table. What more motivation could the two teams have?

For the Round 8 21-man squads, see https://www.totalrl.com/21-man-squads-for-betfred-super-league-round-8/

MARTYN SADLER is the editor of League Express. He writes a weekly column, ‘Talking Rugby League’, and in the next edition he will review both of Friday’s Super League games.