Super League play-off battle hots up

Huddersfield coach Paul Anderson, left, is taking plenty of positives into the Wakefield game

Huddersfield coach Paul Anderson, left, is taking plenty of positives into the Wakefield game

First published in National Sport News © by

Castleford and Huddersfield can add to the log jam at the top of the First Utility Super League on Sunday but most eyes will be on the hotly-contested battle for the final play-off spot.

Just four points separate the top five clubs after St Helens and Leeds both suffered surprise defeats on Friday night, while four teams have a chance of overhauling Widnes in eighth place.

Only relegated Bradford and London Broncos have nothing tangible to play for as Super League enters the final straight of one of the most competitive seasons in the history of summer rugby.

Most interest in round 23 will centre on the Stobart Stadium, where Widnes host their nearest rivals Hull KR, who can leapfrog the Vikings into eighth place with victory over Denis Betts' Challenge Cup semi-finalists.

Hull KR caretaker coach Chris Chester says his players are treating the game as a winner-takes-all encounter, describing it as the club's biggest match of the season.

"It's like a play-off game for us and we've been preparing the best we can to get the win," Chester said.

"I would agree with those saying that it's a must-win game. If we lose, it puts us three points behind Widnes with four games remaining and it would be a tough ask to claw back those points.

"It's a massive game for the club and we need to win to keep our chances of reaching the top eight alive. If we do get the two points, it's in our hands from there and that's all we can ask for."

Widnes, who have never been in the Super League play-offs, will be hoping to put one foot in the eight before they concentrate on their tilt at Wembley.

Wakefield, who were battling relegation when James Webster took over as coach two months ago, are now just a point behind Hull KR after losing just one of their last seven matches.

They will go into their clash with Huddersfield on a high following their sensational win at Warrington and will be looking to extend their unbeaten home record under Webster.

Giants coach Paul Anderson, who expects to have hooker Shaun Lunt back from a two-month injury lay-off, is warning his players to expect a stern test but insists they should take confidence from last week's emphatic win over Catalan Dragons.

"We took a lot of positives from the game against a very good, physical Catalan team last weekend," Anderson said. "It was probably our most complete performance for a long time, which was pleasing. We can now build some confidence off the back of it.

"There's a lot at stake this weekend, Wakefield are in a rich vein of form. They are playing with confidence and they appear to be enjoying themselves.

"We know we've got to turn up with the same vigour and endeavour we showed against Catalan and we need to make sure that we do the things we do well. We know if we do that then, we are a match for anybody."

Castleford coach Daryl Powell, who has continually rotated his big squad all season to great effect, is expected to rest more players for the visit of relegated London Broncos as he eyes his side's Cup semi-final duel with Widnes next Sunday.

Prop Andy Lynch and hooker Daryl Clark, two of their most impressive performers this year, are among those who will get the chance to put their feet up as their team-mates look to keep the pressure on the pacesetters at the top of the table.

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