Inside RL: Trapdoor favourites are already in position

Paul Anderson

Paul Anderson

1
Have your say

ANOTHER FOUR wins should see Castleford Tigers and Leeds Rhinos safe from relegation.

It’s not a healthy preoccupation, but – with the trapdoor back in place – the focus in First Utility Super League is not so much on the top of the table as the bottom.

The current format adds to that. As Leeds and Wigan Warriors have proved over the last three years, the first 27 rounds are just a qualifying competition for when the real business begins in September.

Probably five clubs – Huddersfield Giants, Warrington Wolves, Leeds, Wigan and St Helens – are guaranteed a place in the play-offs and it doesn’t really matter if they drop a couple of points here and there.

The word has already come out of Giants’ camp that they aren’t too bothered about repeating last year’s top of the table finish and indeed the league leaders haven’t gone on to win at Old Trafford since Wigan in 2010.

The teams battling for the final three places in the top-eight are probably also casting an eye over their shoulder at the foot of the table and it’s down there that every point counts.

London are widely assumed to be doomed, though apparently there were signs of improvement in their performance at Bradford Bulls last weekend.

Of the rest, Hull, Hull KR and Salford Red Devils are too good to be dragged into a relegation dogfight, but the others face a nervous few months.

Widnes’ good opening – two wins so far – has given them a head start, but there will be concern in Perpignan as Catalan Dragons, hit by injuries and suspensions, wait to get off the mark.

Pressure is mounting on coach Laurent Frayssinous and he will find it tough to hang on if they lose at another side yet to break their duck, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, on Sunday.

Catalan have a good enough squad to get out of trouble, but they need somebody to pull them together and provoke a better response.

There’s a possibility Catalan and London could go down this year, which would wipe out years of good work and do massive harm to the sport’s image.

Chances are, Catalan won’t. Wakefield and Bradford still look the most likely sides to be joining London in the Kingstone Press Championship next year and at this stage, how that will pan out is anybody’s guess.

The Bradford situation seems to change on a daily basis and with lawyers apparently now involved, anything could happen.

The squad Bulls fielded against London last Sunday was strong enough to mount a top-eight challenge, but apparently several of them now want to follow Jarrod Sammut and Nick Scruton out of the club – and who could blame them, given the uncertainty at Provident Stadium? Bulls will certainly be up against it if they lose any more key men or get a run of injuries, which will almost certainly happen at some stage. That said, if they win at Hull tomorrow and Wakefield lose to Catalan, Bulls’ six point deduction, for entering administration, will have been wiped out. Wakefield will improve once they get some troops back from injury and recent recruits have time to settle in, so there are tense times ahead.

It’s undeniably exciting, but relegation also raises some ethical questions – over the use of loan players for example – and forces clubs into desperate, short-term measures. The outcome is unknown, but what is certain is that there will be some drastic decisions taken over the next few months.

Headingley rugby ground's famous South Stand

Date set for Leeds Rhinos’ final match in front of Headingley’s South Stand