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Meditating on the play-offs

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George Riley George Riley | 17:03 UK time, Thursday, 9 September 2010

Pretty much every Super League play-off series since the concept was first introduced has been "the most eagerly-anticipated".

So unwilling am I to break with tradition, I'm going to repeat that claim this year - and I doubt you'll find many who disagree.

The defending champions scraping in to the top four, a Welsh side making the play-offs for the first time in history and an opening-round local derby provide the basic ingredients to whet the appetite of any sports fan.

While Leeds hope to win an unprecedented fourth straight Grand Final from an unfamiliarly low position, and while Hull FC and Hull KR exchange blood and thunder at the KC, it is the end of season presence of Brian Noble's Crusaders that most catches the eye.

Noble probably won't be in charge at the Welsh club next year and, while he'll not make his plans public until the dust has settled on this season, I understand Iestyn Harris has already been told the job is his if Noble does indeed move on. Crusaders will probably be seen as the end-of-season whipping boys and are expected to be walloped by Huddersfield but Noble quite simply doesn't care and is adamant that whatever happens from here on in should not detract from an outstanding achievement.

"We have snuck up on a few people, we were most people's bets to finish 14th, let alone eighth and we've got better as the year's gone on," he says. "It is a fabulous success story on behalf of the players and I think we have enough in us to ruffle a few feathers."

Crusaders' rise from a worrying start is also a shot in the arm for the RFL, who took a punt on the club to expand the sport into Wales.

No team has been able to live with Wigan over the course of this season, but September marks a clean slate on the road to Old Trafford.

Crusaders take part in a yoga session

Not the usual routine for the Crusaders

It's been a somewhat unusual build-up to the Wrexham side's first play-off appearance, too. Crusaders held a yoga session on their training ground on Thursday and the sight of a Super League squad performing the ancient art together days before the biggest game in the club's history marks a real turnaround in the club's standing and image.

"We didn't even have a training ground until two months into the season," recalls Noble. "We even cheered when we got some training bibs."

While Crusaders have been meditating, play-off opponents Huddersfield have been navigating. Or not. Barry, the Giants' kitman, caused a bit of a scare after last weekend's win over the Catalans Dragons by misreading the road signs out of Perpignan and driving the team kit all the way to Geneva!

Warrington are the only side who can complete the double this year and we will find out just how strong their claims are when they open the play-offs at St Helens. Having celebrated Ryan Atkins' engagement to girlfriend Issy with the Wolves boys in Leeds last weekend, I can confirm they are taking things very seriously. That evening began by watching the fiery Hull FC versus Leeds contest at the KC, including the early dismissal of Lee Radford for doing what many a Super League forward must have been tempted to do in the past and take a few swings at Ryan Bailey.

A couple of the more mischievous members of my Saturday night viewing party suggested that other Super League players might even have a whip round to pay Radford's fine!

More severe than being hit to the tune of £300 in his pocket was the subsequent one-match ban that ruled Radford out of the play-off derby. I was more than a little surprised to see that ban overturned on appeal this week, on the basis that "only one of the punches thrown by Radford had made contact".

So if you have a poor aim it seems you could well get off...

That Leeds win not only helped patch up the Wembley wounds from the previous weekend's mauling by the Wolves but, more importantly, snuck the Rhinos into the top four, thus handing them an extra play-off life.

Leeds, like most other Super League clubs, held their annual awards night this week, with in-form Danny McGuire named Player of the Year ahead of Jamie Jones-Buchanan. I don't think Leeds have the depth to do it again this year, especially in the absence of Jamie Peacock, who underwent knee surgery on Thursday, but in the electric McGuire they have a real wildcard.

"We've been used to finishing top two so this is unusual," says veteran centre Keith Senior, who was this week named in the Super League Dream Team once more. (Indeed my Dream Team predications in last week's blog were uncharacteristically accurate).

"We still have a very good chance of making it four titles on the trot," insists Senior.

"Wembley was devastating, I took it very hard. We were confident and didn't deliver. Warrington showed us how to play the game. We've taken it on chin, kicked ourselves up the backside and we're getting on with it. It's a great test of our character and to see how much desire there is in the team to get back to the Grand Final."

First up for the champions is the trip that nobody wants this season - a match with Michael Maguire's seemingly untouchable Wigan. Sean O'Loughlin, though, has reminded the runaway table-toppers that "we've always just come up short in the play-offs and haven't had that ability over the last few years to go that one step further".


  • Comment number 1.

    Week 1:
    Wire to beat Saints, Leeds to beat Wigan.
    Hull FC to beat Hull KR, Hudds to beat Cru-cru-crusaders

    Week 2:
    Hudds to beat Wigan
    Saints to beat Hull

    Week 3:
    Wire to beat Hudds
    Leeds to beat Saints

    Wire to beat Leeds.

    I thank you.

  • Comment number 2.

    I wouldn't be writing off the Crusaders v Huddersfield, they have a good solid team and will be up for it, it will be the best match of the first weekend imo.

  • Comment number 3.

    Realistically, any of the top 4 can win on their day. Just hope the Wire can get the monkey off their back by beating Saints!

  • Comment number 4.

    Yoga as portrayed here is a physical exercise, meditation is a mental exercise. Meditation is generally done without motion, sometimes at the end of a yoga session.

    In India 2500-odd years ago, a yogi was someone spiritually developed through meditation, the term was gradually corrupted as knowledge of higher meditations was lost. Yoga exercises developed out of teaching re posture for meditation and observation (rather than control) of the breath (anapana), but should not be confused with serious meditation.

    That said, yoga exercises can help clear and concentrate the mind, come on Yogaders!

  • Comment number 5.

    George, aren't your comments about the highly skilled, intelligent and clean living Mr Bailey a little harsh?

    ...or may be not....

  • Comment number 6.

    As far as anybody in Hull is concerned you can forget the Grand Final, forget the Challenge Cup and forget the Play offs, Hull v Rovers in a do or die fixture is the biggest game in Rugby League since the 1980 cup final at Wembley.

  • Comment number 7.

    I'll go for all four ties being away wins. I don't know about last years playoffs starting off as eagerly anticipated, i remember thinking they were a bit of a damp squib! However this year, it really is mouthwatering.

    Also, i just can't see Wigan winning the big one!

  • Comment number 8.

    4 home wins, leeds wont trouble wigan, cru wont trouble hudds and i just fancy saints and hull to sneak it with home advantage.

    wire to beat hull
    hudds to beat leeds

    wigan beat hudds
    saints beat wire

    wigan vs saints grand final


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