Two Bald Men Fighting Over A Comb
Thursday night’s clash between Wigan and Warrington is a repeat of last year’s Grand Final. As a consequence it will no doubt be hyped into the stratosphere by Eddie And The Dreamers. However, the stark reality is that both the Warriors and the Wolves have had endured a disastrous 2017 and both are scrambling around trying to salvage something from its wreckage.
Most likely to achieve that aim are Wigan. They’ve been a shadow of the side which won the title last term as injuries have taken their toll. Yet with coach Shaun Wane’s salary cap finally being allowed out of that locked gym they are showing signs of improvement, categorised by a gritty 26-10 win in Perpignan against Catalans Dragons last time out. They are now certain to make the Super 8s, which seemed in doubt a few short weeks ago when they had not won for eight league matches, and though it would take a huge effort cannot be ruled out of a late bid for the top four if they can find the consistency that has often been their trademark.
Meanwhile Warrington will have their participation in the Super 8 Qualifiers, less grandly known as the Middle 8s, confirmed if they fail to win at the DW Stadium. And there is no reason to believe in any other likely outcome. Tony Smith’s side have won just seven of their 21 league games so far and have been in freefall since their epic World Club Series win over Brisbane back in February. They’ll probably be too strong for the best that the Championship can offer but, like Leeds before them in 2016, they can only look back on 2017 as an unqualified failure in every regard.
Salford Wobbling As Super 8s Draw Near
By contrast to Wigan and Warrington 2017 has been a relative triumph for Salford Red Devils. Routinely giggled at for splurging huge amounts of cash on big names only to fall in a heap some time around June, the AJ Bell Stadium side have got their act together in a big way this season under Ian Watson. With just two games to play until the start of the Super 8s they sit third in the table, with every chance of making the final four less than 12 months on from scoring two tries in as many minutes to rescue themselves from relegation in the Million Pound Game.
Yet as Watson prepares to take his side to the home of table-topping Castleford Tigers this weekend he might reflect that the job is not quite done. Salford have lost three of their last four league games and, if we believe that losing becomes as much of a habit as winning, are one of the current top four sides most vulnerable to a Super 8s revival from sleeping giants Wigan and Saints in particular. Few would be surprised if the Tigers juggernaut rolled on here and left Watson’s side in an ever more precarious position within the four, but a victory at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle would send a firm message to those below that Salford are for real and will not be easily shifted.
Absurdly, Castleford have a genuine opportunity to seal their place in the top four before the Super 8s even begin. A win in this one backed up by victory in the south of France next week could, should other results go their way, seal their place. Not that Daryl Powell will be focusing on that. His mind will be sharply focused on securing the League Leaders Shield, which in itself would be a remarkable achievement regardless of what happens come semi-final time. The Tigers have an eight-point lead over second-placed Leeds with the teams set to meet again in the Super 8s. The foot should stay on the pedal for now but it might not be too long before Powell can start to use his side’s games as preparation for knockout football.