Warrington Wolves (9th in Super League)
Warrington finished off last season with a Grand Final loss and looked as though they would come back even stronger this season with the addition of Kevin Brown and Kurt Gidley to their already star-studded squad. However, quite the opposite happened with Warrington losing their first six games in Super League and although they have had purple patches through the season they couldn’t quite recover well enough from their dire start and mini-collapses throughout the season, finishing one point outside the top 8.
Key Men: Chris Hill and Ashton Sims. After lacking a dominant pack for much of the season, the two front rowers will need to get their side on the front foot against the other middle 8 sides because if they get a sniff of an upset they will be desperate to capitalise.
Verdict: Their main issue this season has been losing momentum at key points in games due to their under-performing pack, however, playing against inferior sides Warrington should be able to dominate and let their talented backs pile the points on. They’ll have a battle on their hands for the top spot but they should definitely get into the top two places.
Catalans Dragons (10th in Super League)
Prior to the start of the season, Catalans looked to have everything in place to mount a challenge for the title after bringing in NRL stalwarts Greg Bird and Sam Moa, as well as a classy stand off in Luke Walsh. Their season got derailed by a host of injuries and while the Catalans side have shown flashes of brilliance throughout the season, most notably against Castleford last week, they just haven’t been consistent enough to deserve a spot in the Super 8s.
Key Men: Greg Bird, Remi Casty and Luke Walsh. Walsh’s boot is invaluable for the Catalans Dragons. He’s got one of the best the best kicking games in the league both out of hand and, even more so, off the tee so he’ll be vital when score lines start to get tight. Remi Casty is a Catalans stalwart and will need to make sure his team is buying into the culture of the club and aren’t just playing for the zeros on the end of their contract. If Greg Bird can re-find his form of last year, the Catalans side will have no problem but he hasn’t quite hit those heights just yet.
Verdict: This side really should be winning the qualifiers and most likely will if they can play the way they did 70 minutes of the game last week. They’ll find it easier against inferior teams who they can dominate and, as a result, give their classy backs quick ball to play off and rack up points. In essence, they should be able find their groove and wreak havoc in the remaining games of the season.
Leigh Centurions (11th in Super League)
After being head and shoulders above the rest in Championship last season, the Leigh Centurions have seen their fortunes reversed in the Super League. Although they have had long periods without a win this season, last time out they kept the Salford Red Devils scoreless in a 25-0 win at the Leigh Sports Village and will look to build on that in the Qualifiers. The Centurions boast a squad full of Super League level talent and experience, couple that with youthful exuberance from the likes of Ben Reynolds and Matty Flemming and they look set to keep their place in Super League, although they’ll have to overcome some stern opposition from their rivals of last season; London Broncos, Featherstone Rovers, and Halifax.
Key Man: Micky Higham. The old head is going to be needed to provide much needed stability and pragmatism in the side that is slowly sinking its way back down to the Championship. He might have lost half a yard of pace but he certainly hasn’t lost his skill and will want to keep his hometown club in the top flight for at least another year.
Verdict: They should stay up but are one of the sides that can go either way depending on a few good or bad results early on in the competition – they’ll need to play with confidence because when they’ve been good this season, they’ve been able to pick off some of the best teams in the league.
Widnes Vikings (12th in Super League)
Laying at the foot of the Super League table with only five wins and a draw to their name, Widnes have struggled throughout the season with a dire run of injuries in particular to their playmakers. The Vikings lost their talisman, Kevin Brown, at the end of last season and have struggled to fill the void. They have, however, recently found an apt replacement in Rangi Chase and although he’s a maverick, he’s just the kind of player that thrives in the Qualifiers format. He creates tries for fun and should relish the opportunity to keep his side in the top flight.
Key Men: Rangi Chase and Joe Mellor. The halves have plenty of playmaking and try scoring ability and should be major contributing factors in Widnes staying up – they’ll need some decent forward performances to play off the back of though.
Verdict: Should stay up. No one likes travelling to their artificial pitch so they should have a good home advantage to fall back on if all else fails. They should pick up wins against the Championship sides but will struggle if injuries hit and have could potentially be in the Million Pound Game.
Hull KR (1st in Championship)
Hull KR proved their credentials when head and shoulders above the rest for the whole season with only four losses in total, two of which came in the last two games of the season. While the two losses might have cost the Robins some momentum going into the Qualifiers, they should have the quality to challenge for the top four and will prove a stern test for the Super League sides.
Key Man: Shaun Lunt. He dropped down with Hull KR after the disappointment of relegation last season and has been pivotal for Hull KR this season. He will no doubt want to reverse his fortunes this time round and is very well equipped to do so.
Verdict: Hull KR will most probably end up in the Million Pound Game for a second year running although this time they are on the other side of the coin coming from the Championship, they should have an equally good shot at going up – especially on their form when pushing Salford close in the Challenge Cup.
London Broncos (2nd in Championship)
The only side from the south of England in the top two tiers of rugby league and they are doing London proud. After faltering in the early part of the middle of the season, where they dropped to as low as fifth in the league, the Broncos won thirteen of their remaining fourteen games to go four points clear in second. Andrew Henderson has now got a gelled Broncos side and while they might not have stand out Super League talent, they are clearly a force to be reckoned with in the Qualifiers.
Key Men: Jarrod Sammut and William Barthau. The two playmakers have been key for London Broncos and have provided a lot of points for the London side this season. The halfbacks have combined well and have had a large hand in the majority of the Broncos’ wins this season and will need to bring their A-game to ensure the London Broncos have a chance of getting into Super League.
Verdict: The London boys will be there and there abouts again and will most likely fall short, whether it be in the Qualifiers games or the Million Pound Game we’ll have to find out but it would be great to see the London side back in the top flight once more.
Halifax (3rd in Championship)
Halifax managed to sneak into the top four of the Championship with pivotal victories against Toulouse, Featherstone and Hull KR in their last three games. No doubt their recent run of good form both shows their capacity to be able to compete with the best in the Championship and it will be interesting to see how that stretches into the Super League sides. They’re going to need to beat a Super League side to get to the Million Pound Game as well as their Championship counterparts and they’ll probably struggle to do the whole set but there’s no doubt they’ll leave everything on the pitch.
Key Man: Scott Murrell. He’s pivotal for Halifax and always seems to come up with the plays when they need them. A reliable halfback with a vast amount of Super League experience after a seven-year stint at Hull KR, he’ll serve Halifax well in the qualifiers.
Verdict: Although they went on a good run at the end of the Championship season, I can’t see them doing a clean sweep of the Championship sides or beating a Super League side. It’ll probably be 7th or 8th place for the men from Halifax.
Featherstone Rovers (4th in Championship)
The fiery Rovers side have looked dangerous throughout the season but had a rather mixed bag in their last 10 games of the season which started with a loss to London Broncos in the capital city. They’ve got a big pack and an exceptional dual registration deal with the Leeds Rhinos and look set to hold their own in the Qualifiers league. Featherstone have the potential to beat any of the other Championship sides on their day but they’ll need to buck their recent run of form to have any chance of mounting a challenge.
Key Man: Darrell Griffin. At 36 years of age, Darrell Griffin is a season pro in the Super League having made over 300 Super League appearances. He is a massive presence in the Featherstone side and gives them a lot of momentum going forward. It’s not all down to one man though and if he and his team-mates in the forwards can get their side on the front foot, they’ll at least give themselves a chance.
Verdict: It’ll be another year in the Championship for Featherstone next year but they’ll put up a valiant effort in the qualifiers and do have some talent in their ranks that’ll provide some exciting rugby.