What Castleford Tigers, Leeds Rhinos and Hull KR need to do to reach Super League play-offs

IT IS often said that rugby league’s saving grace is that the players always deliver.

The true stars of the sport, away from all the irritating inertia and nonsense occurring off the field, they stand up and produce what matters most: enthralling, entertaining action to capture the imagination.

Thankfully, that has already been true plenty of times as Betfred Super League heads towards the business end of the season. Some of the games of late have left us feeling the play-offs have started early: parts of Magic Weekend delivered such fixtures while Hull KR’s win over Castleford Tigers on Friday was another example of a gripping encounter enhanced by a rousing big-match atmosphere.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

As we approach the final regular round before the play-offs do indeed begin, matters are only going to intensify further.

Although the top four has been decided, with Catalans Dragons worthy winners of the League Leaders’ Shield for the first time – chapeau Steve McNamara – champions St Helens handily-placed tucked in just behind, Warrington Wolves looking sharp in third and Wigan Warriors somewhat limping into fourth, the remaining two places are up for grabs. With just 80 minutes left, it’s a three-way shoot-out between Hull KR (fifth), Leeds Rhinos (sixth) and Castleford Tigers (seventh).

Although the win percentage ruling makes things more complicated than when dealing with old money (points), the permutations are still simple.

If Castleford lose against Warrington at Wheldon Road on Thursday, their season is over. But if they win, they are in.

Their famous, atmospheric old ground is built for such occasions; will Sweet Caroline belt out once more in what will be Daryl Powell’s final game there as head coach before he departs, ironically, for Warrington?

Hull KR's Kane Linnett is congratulated on scoring a try against Castleford on Friday (Picture: Dean Atkins/SWpix.com)

Tigers arguably have the toughest task given they face the highest-ranked opponents but they know they have it in their powers to produce the performance needed.

Much will depend on whether their Man of Steel Paul McShane is fit in time for the test. It is one of those rare occasions where, even if the England hooker is only 50 per cent fit, you sense it is worth throwing him out there.

Everything is set for a thumping night at Wheldon Road; it is not only Powell leaving for Warrington in 2022 but long-serving second-row Oli Holmes and their increasingly dependable utility back Pete Mata’utia while veteran prop Grant Millington will want a proper send-off, too, before heading home to Australia.

In the interest of fairness, there is an argument that Castleford’s game should be scheduled on Friday at 7.45pm, just like Leeds versus Hull KR.

Castelford's Suaia Matagi is tackled by Hull KR's Matt Parcell. (Picture: Dean Atkins/SWpix.com)

However, that was never likely going to be the case with broadcasting demands. If Castleford lose, Leeds and Rovers will both be secure in the top six without needing to kick a ball.

For the sake, then, of ensuring the drama continues, it would be great to see Cas’ fulfil their part of the bargain, leaving Rhinos and KR to fight it out for a winner-takes-all showdown under the lights at Headingley.

It has the makings of a thrilling dénouement to the regular season.

KR’s playing style has won them an army of new fans and Leeds are busted in terms of injuries but it still remains too close to call. So, over to those players...