An owner threatening to stop backing the sport, loopholes exploited to avoid playoff bans and six sides fired up to reach Old Trafford.
There is a theatrical edge to the Betfred Super League playoffs this year after one of the most unpredictable and thrilling seasons in the sport’s modern era.
League Leaders Wigan and runners up Catalans get the week off as St Helens host Warrington and Hull KR welcome Leigh in a season climax that feels drenched in spice.
Three clubs could have lifted the League Leaders’ Shield last weekend, with Wigan’s controversial win at Leigh ultimately keeping the Warriors top of the pile.
The result also saw the Leopards slip to fifth and lose home advantage for their playoff with Hull KR.
And with Leigh having seen a try disallowed in the 10-6 defeat, colourful owner Derek Beaumont has since let rip. Head coach Adrian Lam didn’t speak to Sky afterwards - there are conflicting reports over whether Beaumont stopped this from happening - while footage has emerged this week of the Leigh owner’s address to those in hospitality after the game. In it he claimed the referee had robbed his team, adding that rugby league “is not an investable sport anymore. Unless there’s changes, I won’t be investing in it.”
The RFL will look at the comments which were clearly made while still fired up from the game. What Beaumont does very well is to get people talking and writing about the sport and his team and - whatever the potential disciplinary outcome - he may well feel he has succeeded in creating the required buzz ahead of Leigh’s knockout date in east Hull this Friday night.
Can Rovers cause an upset by beating the Betfred Challenge Cup winners? Absolutely. A fearless side is a very dangerous one.
Beaumont was in attendance at the Dream Team media event this week, with his fleet of Leopard-print Lamborghinis barely missable outside the plush Worsley Marriott Hotel. His team dominated the selection, with five players named, of which key forward Tom Amone will now be available to play following a successful appeal against a ban.
Wigan weren’t so lucky as they saw Bevan French, Kaide Ellis and Harvie Hill all pick up suspensions, but thanks to a ludicrous loophole all three will be free to play in their semi-final next week. The trio are allowed to serve their bans in Sunday’s reserve Grand Final - a game they would not have played in anyway - in a loose piece of legislation that really needs tightening. Warrington, Wakefield, Castleford and Hull have also adopted a similar approach to avoid bans this year.
Another talking point amongst players and coaches at the Dream Team event was the state of the St Helens pitch which has looked worse for wear since the summer. Head coach Paul Wellens is pretty concerned about it, although not enough to accept the tongue-in-cheek offer from Warrington captain Stefan Ratchford to move the match to the Wolves ground this weekend instead.
Warrington feel they can be a real danger to Saints in this game, having scraped into the playoffs in sixth. If the Wire attack fires, they can score a lot of points, but the concern for those backing the Wolves will be how many they are likely to concede against the champions.
The four candidates for Coach of the Year were confirmed this week too, with Adrian Lam, Paul Rowley, Matt Peet and Steve McNamara in for the prestigious prize. That list includes the last three winners, with only Rowley not having been recognised to date.
But were there oversights? No Wellens, despite the defending champions being two wins away from a return to Old Trafford for a shot at a record fifth successive Grand Final triumph, and no Willie Peters despite Hull KR’s stunning top-four finish.
A surprise shortlist? On the face of it perhaps, but Saints have suffered their most defeats this season in six years despite finishing level on points with the top two Wigan and Catalans. Wellens and Saints were very slow starters, leading some to even question whether the club had got their coaching appointment wrong.
Wellens won’t be bothered one iota by this perceived snub if his side triumph under the Old Trafford lights once more. As for Peters, if Rovers do beat Leigh to set-up an unlikely playoff semi-final, then his omission looks even more baffling.
Rowley’s inclusion, despite missing out on the playoffs, acknowledges how he has managed to get a consistent level of performance from a small squad on a tight budget. The Salford boss was this week hit with a big fine from the RFL though, a £4000 bill heading his way for criticising match officials.
Outside of the top flight, Doncaster are finally celebrating promotion to the Betfred Championship after a dominant display against North Wales Crusaders in front of The Sportsman cameras, a fantastic moment for their likeable and loyal CEO Carl Hall.
This weekend sees the battle for promotion to Super League kick off as Bradford host York and Sheffield play London in the Betfred Championship playoffs. The top two - Featherstone and Toulouse - get the weekend off and are favourites to meet in the Grand Final.
Brisbane look to dethrone Penrith in the glittering NRL Grand Final, with the Broncos assistant Lee Briers telling me he is very confident they can prevent the Panthers from winning the title for a third successive year. Briers has enjoyed a memorable first year Down Under and flies back next week ahead of the England series against Tonga.
While the women’s Grand Final next weekend will be contested by Leeds and York Valkyrie again, after a dramatic golden-point extra-time win for the Rhinos over St Helens.
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