Dave Craven: Five alive in Grand Final stakes as big guns prepare to strike

THE make-up of the Super League play-offs will be decided within just three weeks but trying to figure who will actually then win the Grand Final is certainly a far more difficult task.

Huddersfield Giants in the mood to challenge for honours.
Huddersfield Giants in the mood to challenge for honours.

Ordinarily, by now there is an obvious favourite, possibly two, emerging ... only for Leeds Rhinos to then defy all sensible thinking and win it from fifth again.

There is a chance the champions could finish as high as third this time yet would such an outcome actually be a help or a hindrance?

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It is just one of the many intriguing conundrums springing up from this finale which, arguably, could see as many as five potential Grand Final victors.

That surely is a positive for all those cynics suggesting a 14-team Super League and top-eight play-off system is the work of the devil?

However, this is not my validation of either; I still confidently predict yet again there will be at least three games in the opening weekend of play-offs with one side rattling off 40 points or more.

Eight is too many. If Bradford Bulls, by some miracle, managed to force their way into the cherished spots they will be so physically and mentally spent in doing so that it will be inevitable they crumble at St Helens or perhaps in Perpignan.

Equally so, if Hull KR survive by the skin of their teeth can they then truly do anything telling?

In the four years of this format, only once has the eighth place side ever ventured past the first week and that was Catalan seeing off Wakefield back in 2009.

But at the top, the picture is altogether different.

Huddersfield Giants have given themselves a wonderful chance of finally fulfilling their potential and another win at abject London Broncos tomorrow will put them three points clear with just two games to go. They have shown few signs of weakness so far and have all the requisite tools to reach and win a maiden Grand Final. Granted, their play-off history is wretched with just two wins in eight outings but there’s a certain defiance about this side that suggests that weak underbelly is remedied.

The answers, admittedly, will come in the weeks ahead but their situation is just one of many compelling sub-plots.

What of Wigan Warriors, so comfortably cast aside a week ago by Huddersfield to now presumably miss out on retaining the League Leaders’ Shield they attained last year? They have lost four of their last six league games and Sam Tomkins – his move to New Zealand Warriors all but confirmed – has strangely developed a new-found absenteeism problem, pulling out last week late with a back spasm having missed the previous game with food poisoning.

Wigan, denied a place at Old Trafford last year by Kevin Sinfield’s drop goal, have a real danger of tumbling as low as fourth – yet would they prefer going to Huddersfield first up more than Warrington Wolves?

Firstly, they have a Challenge Cup final against Hull FC next Saturday. Historically it is arduous attempting to win both competitions but maybe they have had their stumble and will yet be revived for a double push.

Warrington missed regaining top spot last night after a shock loss to Widnes. Yet, without their annual Wembley obligations and having experienced a first Grand Final last year, the favourites may still feel more readied than ever to lift the trophy. But then there are the old masters Leeds, quietly amassing wins and each week seeing another established player nearing a timely return.

Equally so, their traditional Old Trafford rivals St Helens have dismissed what has generally been a troublesome campaign to string together four successive victories themselves, a record bettered by no one else.

They must do it the hard way from fifth but have witnessed, to their own chagrin in 2011, Leeds achieve that feat and, therefore, are a canny price at 12/1.

The most difficult conclusion to call so far? Even if their Wembley date will inevitably have its effect, some will fancy Hull at 40/1 to shake it up further still.