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Super League final four has a familiar look to it

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George Riley George Riley | 09:57 UK time, Thursday, 27 September 2012

So here we go.

Four teams are bidding for two places in the Super League Grand Final. And yet again it is the familiar faces fighting the business end of the rugby league year.

The final four comprises the two best sides over the regular season and last year's two Grand Finalists. We appear set for a fitting finale and potentially a dramatic denouement.

Wigan and St Helens are the sides with home advantage after a week off. And it is the Warriors who have chosen to play Leeds Rhinos, sending Warrington Wolves to Saints.

Wigan's Sam Tomkins and Leeds' Zak Hardaker

Wigan and Leeds have already squared off in the Challenge Cup semi-finals this season. Photo: Getty

Wigan remain favourites to go all the way having finished top of the pile after 27 weeks, a massive 10 points clear of Leeds. Challenge Cup winners Warrington saw their hopes diminish with a surprise opening-week loss at home to Saints and, after hammering Hull, must now win at Langtree Park to avoid falling just short again.

Shaun Wane's Wigan had this year's dubious Club Call honour. As highest-ranked qualifiers from week one, they chose to play Leeds, rather than the Wolves. It was the obvious call to make, but I'm sure few people at Wigan were keen to announce that they wanted to play the defending champions.

The Club Call element of the play-offs remains a somewhat derided gimmick. For those who are afforded the privilege, it can prove a double-edged sword, too, given the added incentive it provides their opponents to prove them wrong.

There will also be a bit more spice after Wane commented publicly on half-back Danny McGuire's high tackle at Catalan Dragons last week. McGuire was, as expected, suspended for this weekend's crucial fixture, but Leeds coach Brian McDermott and his captain, Kevin Sinfield, feel Wane was wrong to comment on the case before it had been heard.

McDermott feels the disciplinary system itself needs looking at anyway. He believes incidents where there is a perceived lack of malice need to be judged differently.

The performance in Perpignan has given McDermott's side the chance to rescue another disjointed season with an unexpected Old Trafford run. Leeds seem to thrive in the end-of-season adversity they create for themselves, while Saints, too, have the knack of knowing how to get to a Grand Final.

Wigan and Warrington, for all their regular-season dominance of the last two years, do not have that. And that is what makes this final four so appetising. If this was the middle of the season, I'd expect Wigan to wallop Leeds and Warrington to win at Saints.

In three fixtures between Saints and Warrington this year, the home side has never won. But it isn't the middle of the season. It is knockout football, the intensity and sudden-death nature of which produces all manner of unexpected plays, panics, adrenalin rushes and emotions for the 34 players on the pitch.

Next week also sees Super League's most influential player of the year crowned at the Man of Steel awards. After being controversially pipped by Rangi Chase last year, Sam Tomkins is again the frontrunner in a three-man shortlist.

The England full-back is up against two of his international team-mates in Saints hooker James Roby and Warrington forward Ben Westwood.

Roby is a hugely popular and respected figure amongst Super League players, while Westwood's tireless and fearless performances in a variety of positions for Warrington make this a shortlist that few would disagree with.

But his outstanding performances this season and his apparent increased maturity on and off the field make Tomkins a big favourite.

Finally this week, a few words for the family and friends of Terry Newton who would have loved to see two of his former clubs Wigan and Leeds go at it this weekend. Two years ago this week, we lost one of Britain's best rugby league players in tragic circumstances.

The sport has not forgotten Tez and programmes such as State of Mind have started work to improve the mental health of those involved within the game and alter perceptions and enhance understanding of mental illness.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I fail to see the problem with club call.

    If it didn't exist, Wigan would still be playing Leeds, and every Wigan fan I know would still still have been praying that Hull beat Wire so that Wigan did not have to play Leeds.

    Losing McGuire is a massive blow, and unless Sinfield provides the same kicking masterclass that was evident in Perpignan, I'd expect Wigan to get the win.

  • Comment number 2.

    Here's hoping for a wigan Warrington final...

  • Comment number 3.

    The most "open" SoooperDoooper League ever!

    YAWN!!!!!!!

    Wake me up when the competion IS a competition

  • Comment number 4.

    Nice blog George. Hope Terry Newtons death means that other players who suffer can be identified and helped at an early stage.

    I still think all the playoff games should be pure knockout. Means every game has both sides trying not to lose. Finishing higher up the league gives you the home tie advantage and the easier route to the final so no need for repeat games and second chances.

    As for the games I think Wigan will beat Leeds and Saints will beat Wire. I would love to see a Rhinos v Wolves repeat of the Challenge Cup final but I just can't see it. I would bet on Saints in the final though as I think this could be their year.

    Man of steel always seems a bit of a lottery as all three players have been outstanding. I would pick Tomkins for the hollywood wow factor, Roby for the class and Westwood for the consistency.

  • Comment number 5.

    I'll be staying up late to watch both games live on satellite TV here in Malaysia. A Wigan Warrington final would be just tops, but I think St Helens will be the tougher game. What odds are the bookmakers taking on another Leeds - St Helens final?

  • Comment number 6.

    The clubcall gimmic is just that and should really be dropped, it just doesn't make any sense, and i also think it should be a straight knock-out with no weeks off - I don't think it really helps anyone.

    As for Wigan being favourites, nobody read the script last year when it was supposed to be us & Wire in the final so I'm not assuming anything until the hooter blows for the 4th time tomorrow night !

    & as for MoS, I seriously doubt Sam'll get it, it was simple peevishness & an "anyone but Tomkins" attitude last year and he's not played as well this year, I'd probably give it to Westwood.

    And finally, yes, we are seeing a bit of "the usual suspects" in the top 4 or 5 each year which worries me as dropping P&R was supposed to stop this happening. Let's see if Widnes can actually step up to the mark & prove they're worthy of the licence in the next couple of years or I'd say there has to be a reconsideration (and I'm actually in favour of the licencing mechanism for the stability it gives, but something might need to be done about evening out talent).

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm mixed on club call. It is a gimmick but it gets media time. I would like it to go to week one of the play offs and then have a straight knock out over 3 weeks.

    Man of Steel could be any of the three named. They have all had great seasons and hopefully the right man wins it.

  • Comment number 8.

    I really have no problem with club call. If a team of lesser quality made the semis, it would be very useful to be able to pick them. As the best sides usually make up the four, there isn't really any advantage.
    I'm picking Wigan v Saints in the final. McGuire's being out won't help Leed's in its tough agssignment and Wire seem to have gone off the boil at the wrong time of the season.

  • Comment number 9.

    @Christopher Talbot

    "It is a gimmick but it gets media time"

    You can say that again. It gets media coverage saying how ridiculous it is and is yet another example of the RFL messing things up when leaving things alone, for once, just once, would have been much better.

    Wigan v Warrington please, but it could be Leeds v Saints (again). And for those who keep banging on about the 'same old clubs', it has taken Warrington over 10 years to become serious contenders. Before then Bradford were in the 'big four'. Using Warrington as an example, I see no reason - if a club is well managed over the long term - why a team like Hull FC or Catalans could not muscle their way in as serious Grand Final contenders.

    Really looking forward to the weekends matches!

  • Comment number 10.

    Wigan Saints please. Although can make a case for any of the four there getting to the final (which makes me wonder about comment 3 a bit?).

    Wigan Leeds will be closer than the bookies think, although Wigan should win. Saints the hoodoo team for Wire and I hope they win as I think that'll make it easier for Wigan in the final.

    As for the play-offs - just make it top 4. If you want the revenue then play each other once and top two play final. Might make Leeds try a bit harder in the regular season rather than just making sure they get to the play-offs ;-P

  • Comment number 11.

    What a surprise. Leeds 'One forward pass every set' Rhinos at Old Trafford again. Sick of the sight. Got rid of Webb before they had the wage bill checked. Want to see a proper competition? Stuff Eddie and Stevo and watch the NRL.

  • Comment number 12.

    Well, so much for Wigan being favourites! As indeed were Warrington last year but both made the mistake of choosing Leeds. They should have left Leeds to us (Saints) as we are great at beating Leeds anywhere but in a final at Old Trafford.

    I suppose if people are tired of Leeds getting to a GF then the trick is for their club, coaching staff and players to play better than Leeds at the right time of the year to make sure they don't get there! That's the idea.

    And comparing to the NRL is all well and good but they have their own version of Leeds in Melbourne Storm who have won a few titles themselves in recent years and are back in the GF again on Sunday. C'mon you Doggies!

  • Comment number 13.

    Yep Leeds have got it right. Make sure you hit the play-offs in your best form. Stuff the league.

    Works for them.

  • Comment number 14.

    I see boring tactics won again. Both teams guilty of the worst aspects of the game. Leeds are just better proponents of it.

    RL is my game but that was ,IMO, not entertaing, and by the attendance it was probably what people expected.

    As I write I hope the Wire /Saints match is a far more open game.

 

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