Super League play-offs 2011

After a long, hard seven-month slog, the 2011 Super League season is finally over, Warrington having effectively swapped trophies with Wigan by claiming the League Leaders' Shield.

Now attention has turned to the main prize, the Super League Grand Final.

But Warrington and Wigan, the team who finished first and second in the table, will not be there to contest it.

And, instead, for the fourth time in five years, the Grand Final will be between St Helens and Leeds.

Warrington's dream of a first Grand Final ended on Friday night when they were cruelly beaten by a last-minute Leeds penalty from Kevin Sinfield.

And St Helens made history on Sunday when they beat Wigan to ensure that, for the first time since the Grand Final began, it will be contested by two teams from outside the top top two.

Saints' two 26-18 play-off victories over Wigan, to end a year of Warriors' dominance against them, were perhaps no real surprise.

The season-long injury nightmare for new coach Royce Simmons has eased and Saints have found their form nearer the business end of the season, capped by two excellent performances against a tired Wigan side distracted by their success in the Challenge Cup.

But Warrington's failure to make it to Old Trafford looked highly unlikely when they got this year's play-offs rolling on 16 September with a 47-0 win over Huddersfield.

Catalan Dragons then beat Hull KR, before St Helens beat Wigan and Leeds beat Hull that weekend.

Week one consisted of four games, effectively in two pools: the Qualifying Play-offs, for the sides finishing in the top four, and the Elimination Play-offs.

The winners of the two Qualifying Play-offs - Warrington and St Helens - then skipped a week, going straight through to the Qualifying Semi-finals (1/2 October).

SUPER LEAGUE DREAM TEAM 2011

1 S Tomkins (Wigan)

2 Briscoe (Hull)

3 Yeaman (Hull)

4 Carmont (Wigan)

5 J Monaghan (Warrington)

6 Chase (Castleford)

7 Dureau (Catalans)

8 Graham (St Helens)

9 Roby (St Helens)

10 Carvell (Warrington)

11 Westwood (Warrington)

12 Menzies (Catalans)

13 O'Loughlin (Wigan)

In the Elimination Play-offs, sixth-placed Catalan Dragons beat Hull KR, before fifth-placed Leeds beat eighth-placed Hull the next day.

Catalans and Leeds went through to the two Preliminary Semi-finals, where they respectively played Wigan and Huddersfield - the two teams beaten in the Qualifying Play-offs.

The two winners of the Preliminary Semi-finals - Leeds and Wigan - went through to meet the two winners of the Qualification Play-offs.

And Warrington then opted to host Leeds, the lowest-ranked side left in, by virtue of 'ClubCall'.

This controversial new innovation two years ago decrees that the highest-ranked Qualification Play-off winners from week one should then choose the identity of their semi-final opponents.

The other semi then pitches the lowest-ranked Qualification Play-off winners against the team not selected under 'Club Call'.

It sounds complicated but in the two seasons it has been run so far, the RFL have still ended up with a classic Grand Final between the two teams who had finished first and second in the league - with a few extra, very exciting, very well-supported matches along the way - and in that sense the end has clearly justified the means.

Two seasons ago, league leaders Leeds chose Catalan Dragons, who had finished eighth, only to shock Wakefield and Huddersfield on their way to the semis.

Last season St Helens, who had finished second but were then handed the vote when league table toppers Wigan lost to Leeds, chose Huddersfield as their opponents.

But, while both those two matches went according to the formbook, this time round, table-topping Warrington were shocked 26-24 by Leeds at the Halliwell Jones, leaving St Helens to make it two play-off wins over Wigan inside a fortnight on Saturday evening.

WEEK ONE

QUALIFYING PLAY-OFFS

Friday, 16 September

Warrington 47-0 Huddersfield

Sunday, 18 September

Wigan 18-26 St Helens

ELIMINATION PLAY-OFFS

Saturday, 17 September

Catalan Dragons 56-6 Hull KR

Sunday, 18 September

Leeds 42-10 Hull

WEEK TWO

PRELIMINARY SEMI-FINALS

Friday, 23 September

Huddersfield 28-34 Leeds

Sunday, 25 September

Wigan 44-0 Catalan Dragons

WEEK THREE

QUALIFYING SEMI-FINALS

Friday, 30 September

Warrington 24-26 Leeds

Saturday, 1 October

St Helens 26-18 Wigan

WEEK FOUR

GRAND FINAL

Saturday, 8 October:

Leeds v St Helens (Old Trafford, 1800 BST)