Thursday, 29 September 2016

The Play-offs Part 5 - Million Pound Game/Championship Shield Final

The Play-offs Part 5 - Million Pound Game/Championship Shield Final

Later in this blog I’ll round off the Championship Shield with my thoughts on that Final but before then I’ll focus on possibly the biggest game of the 2016 rugby league season ... the Million Pound Game.

(KC Lightstream Stadium, Saturday, 1 October – 15:00pm)

Dubbed by some in the media as a bigger match than the Grand Final, I agree there’s some truth in that.  This will be the first time that two current Super League teams will compete against each other in this game for the final Super League spot of 2017.

This will be a tense game and I’ll be surprised if there hasn’t been a handful of sin-bins by full time as both sides will be desperate to hold on to their coveted Super League status.

Some fans argue that the current format of the top three divisions each splitting into two or three leagues of eight doesn’t work but I think the introduction of this game at the end of the season was ingenious and I think why was it never introduced in previous formats earlier?

The fact that this game could seriously affect players and staffs careers for the club that loses shows just how much is on the line for these two teams.  This game could easily be the highlight of the weekend.

Hull Kingston Rovers

The side from East Hull have never ceased to surprise me this season.  They had an awful start to the campaign winning just one point from their first six games which saw them sever ties with the then coach Chris Chester and go throughout the rest of the season with a temporary coach in charge in James Webster.

I was there when they lost at home to Oldham in the Challenge Cup and it was at that point that I thought there would be no way back for this side.  Lo and behold they now find themselves here in the Million Pound game fighting for their Super League lives.

They brought in Jamie Peacock as their Football Manager, which is nothing unusual, but then announced he would be sworn in as an extra player to cover injuries and give the side some oomph in the final few games to rescue their season.  To me that screams desperation but it may just pay off in the end.

I think the fact that they have already secured a coach in Tim Sheens show some level of progress for next season and beyond and I feel having the home advantage in such a big game will see them through this weekend.

Round 1 – Hull Kingston Rovers 58-18 Batley Bulldogs
Round 2 – Leeds Rhinos 22-18 Hull Kingston Rovers
Round 3 – Salford Red Devils 12-29 Hull Kingston Rovers
Round 4 – Hull Kingston Rovers 18-25 Leigh Centurions
Round 5 – London Broncos 18-58 Hull Kingston Rovers
Round 6 – Featherstone Rovers 24-32 Hull Kingston Rovers
Round 7 – Hull Kingston Rovers 22-23 Huddersfield Giants

Salford Red Devils

Salford have been the marmite of rugby league over the last two seasons – you either love them or hate them.  It is unfortunate that they find themselves in this situation after a decent start to their 2016 campaign and if they had been able to keep the six points they had deducted half way through the season they would have just scraped into the Super 8’s on points difference and it would have been Wakefield playing in the Qualifiers.

But at the same time, they are the instigators of their own downfall.  If they hadn’t broken the rules they were accused and found guilty of breaking then they wouldn’t be playing for their Super League lives in this Million Pound game.

For me, if Salford lose this game on Saturday it would have a much bigger impact on them than their opponents going into next season and beyond.  I would expect Hull KR to regroup and mount a reasonable challenge to get their Super League place back next season but Salford could turn out to be another Bradford Bulls and maybe slip up even further.

Particularly if the close-season rumours come true and their billionaire money-man Marwan Koukash pulls his money out of the club then they really would be in trouble.

Round 1 – Salford Red Devils 32-12 Huddersfield Giants
Round 2 – Leigh Centurions 32-26 Salford Red Devils
Round 3 – Salford Red Devils 12-29 Hull Kingston Rovers
Round 4 – Leeds Rhinos 30-8 Salford Red Devils
Round 5 – Salford Red Devils 70-16 Featherstone Rovers
Round 6 – Salford Red Devils 16-19 London Broncos
Round 7 – Batley Bulldogs 14-42 Salford Red Devils

MY PREDICTION – Hull KR to win by 6+ points

(Odsal Stadium, Sunday, 2 October – 15:00pm)

The final game of the weekend sees the culmination of the Championship as Bradford and Sheffield meet in the Championship Shield Final.

This game will probably mark the end of a season to forget for both sides but will go some way of restoring a little bit of pride for whoever comes out victorious.

Bradford Bulls

I read an article this week that said if Bradford can win this game it will be their first trophy in TEN years!  That seems incredible when you think how successful the club was not that long ago in the early years of Super League.

A lot has happened since then and even though they came very close to rejoining the elite last season with a losing appearance in the inaugural Million Pound Game, this season has clearly been a disappointment for everyone at the club.

Despite letting Dewsbury add some credibility to the score line in their semi final last weekend, the Bulls were far too strong for their opponents and won through to Sunday’s Final to continue a fine run in the Championship Shield this season.

Another win would surely only mask some very large cracks within the club this year but it should give them the platform to build and push on for next year’s campaign.

Round 1 – Whitehaven 18-46 Bradford Bulls
Round 2 – Bradford Bulls 44-22 Halifax RLFC
Round 3 – Bradford Bulls 83-0 Oldham Roughyeds
Round 4 – Dewsbury Rams 26-36 Bradford Bulls
Round 5 – Bradford Bulls 36-28 Swinton Lions
Round 6 – Workington Town 30-26 Bradford Bulls
Round 7 – Bradford Bulls 80-0 Sheffield Eagles
Semi Final – Bradford Bulls 36-22 Dewsbury Rams

Sheffield Eagles

I won’t lie.  I was slightly surprised that Sheffield managed to pull off a victory over Halifax in last Sunday’s other Semi Final, but fair play to the Eagles for pulling off such a win.  It was a game in which they were never behind and at one point were leading 26-0.

Saying that, like Bradford’s, this season will have also been a disappointment for Mark Aston’s side but they have the chance now to put a bit of icing on their cake and win another piece of silverware.  Having mixed it with the big boys of Super League last season, Sheffield fans would have been expecting more of the same this year, especially after going full time, but it hasn’t quite worked out for one reason or another.

Going back to Odsal will be a big task for the Eagles though, particularly after suffering such a heavy defeat on their last visit only two weeks ago, and I feel Bradford will have too much for them this time around as well.

Round 1 – Halifax RLFC 28-48 Sheffield Eagles
Round 2 – Sheffield Eagles 48-16 Whitehaven
Round 3 – Sheffield Eagles 38-40 Swinton Lions
Round 4 – Oldham Roughyeds 24-54 Sheffield Eagles
Round 5 – Sheffield Eagles 62-0 Workington Town
Round 6 – Sheffield Eagles 22-38 Dewsbury Rams
Round 7 – Bradford Bulls 80-0 Sheffield Eagles
Semi Final – Halifax RLFC 32-46 Sheffield Eagles

MY PREDICTION – Bradford to win by 10+ points

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