Rugby League Weekly: League Leaders, Crowd Pleasers & Dream Believers

An unpredictable season gears up for a thrilling climax
10:00, 21 Sep 2023

Wigan are favourites to clinch a first League Leaders’ Shield since 2020 as the most unpredictable Betfred Super League season gears up for the thrilling climax it deserves.

League Leaders, the final playoff berth and top try scorer will all be decided in this weekend’s final round, with the Warriors rightly confident of securing two of those. The three teams who have won the last three League Leaders’ Shields, are the three teams who can do it again.

Wigan know a win at Leigh on Friday night will secure top spot, and if that happens then Abbas Miski is likely to become an unlikely winner of Super League’s top try scorer. His five-try show against Castleford last week drew him level on 27 tries with prolific Catalans flyer Tom Johnstone, and one ahead of Josh Charnley, out of nowhere. 
Miski scores in patches - this was his fifth hat-trick of the season - so should Wigan oust the Challenge Cup-winning Leopards, then expect Miski to nudge himself to the top of the charts.

Leigh have dropped off the pace after their thrilling Wembley win, a fourth-placed return is an outstanding effort following promotion, but still a slump from occupying pole position. I expect the Leopards to be fired up for this fierce derby to close out the regular season, but Wigan right now just have too much class. Matt Peet’s side suffered a shock early playoff exit to Leeds this time last year, and will be storm-proofed from that experience to prevent a repeat in the coming weeks. 

If Leigh do get the job done against Wigan then Catalans can reclaim the top spot that looked theirs for so long. The idea for this Dragons side was to sew up the League Leaders’ Shield early to allow their retiring star man Sam Tomkins to wrap his dodgy knee in cotton wool. Such has been their surprise late season unpredictability, that creaking Tomkins has had to play every game. He was at his stunning best in tearing apart the calamitous Leeds Rhinos last weekend, and will look to be so again in a game at Salford that could end the Red Devils’ season. 

Paul Rowley’s men were nilled at Hull KR in their biggest game of the season last weekend as Rovers clinched their top six spot and left Warrington favourites to pip Salford to the final place. Salford must now beat Tomkins and co and hope that Huddersfield do them a favour against Warrington. Rowley tells me he is confident both will happen and his side scrape in, although his main concern this week has been the recovery from Covid of half his first-team squad in an untimely decimation that prompted the last-minute cancellation of the club’s end-of-season awards. 


Salford can beat the Dragons, indeed they did so at home in April, but the Red Devils will need to be at full pelt. And if Catalans and Wigan are both beaten on the road, St Helens can come from third to finish top if they - as you would expect - secure a home win over Hull FC.

Huddersfield will bid an emotional farewell to a host of departing favourites including Chris McQueen and the man the club calls “a modern Giants legend” Jermaine McGillvary, so there’s an outside chance that mystic Rowley may get his wish with a surprise Warrington loss.
Indeed The Wolves must also do without key forward Paul Vaughan after he picked up a four-match ban for trying to pick an opponent up off the floor. On the face of it the incident and ban looked ridiculous. But a law that is there to protect injured players from unnecessary contact is there for a reason, so Vaughan should have known better. 

Having survived relegation, Castleford are set for a wholesale squad restructure after the departures of almost half their squad were confirmed this week. 
Of those to leave, I’m told winger Greg Eden and prop Nathan Massey will sign for Championship leaders Featherstone, but only if Rovers secure promotion to Super League. 
Fev will receive their first League Leaders’ Shield since 2013 on Saturday when they round off the regular season at home to Widnes. They will then have home advantage in the playoff series and struck a big psychological blow last week by winning in Toulouse, who most expect to meet Rovers again in the playoff final at Post Office Road next month.

It’s award season too, with the Betfred Super League Dream Team set to be unveiled next week, and the shortlist revealed for the Woman of Steel. 
Reigning Woman of Steel Tara Stanley is named again on a six-strong shortlist also featuring Jodie Cunningham, Emily Rudge and Shona Hoyle from St Helens, Stanley’s York captain Sinead Peach and Leeds hooker Keara Bennett.

And Sunday sees the Betfred League One season reach a thrilling conclusion live on The Sportsman as we head back to Doncaster for their promotion final against surprise package North Wales Crusaders. 
The Welsh side’s playoff run from sixth has been one of the great sporting underdog stories, having won at Workington, Oldham and Hunslet. Sunday’s win in south Leeds was a colossal upset but one that Carl Forster’s side richly deserved. 
Favourites Doncaster have had a fortnight to rest, but having watched the Crusaders’ win on Sunday, the south Yorkshire side will have seen a team afraid of nobody. 

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