The Super League playoffs are ridiculously complicated and beautifully simple. The simple bit is this: the teams higher up the table get an easier pathway, with more chances to get to the final. The complicated bit will take another 1303 words to explain.
So here goes…
After 27 weekly rounds, the top eight for the playoffs look like this:
1 St Helens
2 Wigan Warriors
3 Huddersfield Giants
4 Castleford Tigers
5 Warrington Wolves
6 Leeds Rhinos
7 Catalans Dragons
8 Widnes Vikings
It’s easier to work through the potential permutations with predictions (see below), but broadly speaking, the top 4 play each other, with the winner moving to the semi final and the losers getting another bash. The losers play the winners of the games involving the bottom 4 – the losers of those games go out.
Then it gets more complicated. The highest placed team to have won in round 1 gets to use the controversial Club Call system, where they pick which team they want to play at home in the semi final. From there, the next highest placed winner from round 1 plays at home against the other team left standing at this stage. The winners of these games go to Old Trafford for the Grand Final.
Got all that? Nope, me neither. It’s always easier with teams instead of “the highest placed team from round 1”, so I’ll put some predictions against the games and, hopefully, illuminate the system.
The Super League Play Off System
Round has two sections; the qualifying play off (QPO) and the elimination play off (EPO). The names give it away really. The QPO is played between the top 4 teams, with the winners qualifying for the semi final. The EPO is the bottom 4 teams, with the losers being eliminated.
Qualifying Play Off
The top two teams get home advantage, with 1 v 4 and 2 v 3 the match ups.
A) Saints v Castleford (19 September)
B) Wigan v Huddersfield (18 September)
Game A: Castleford have lost all the big games this year (Challenge Cup final, last week v Catalans when they could’ve won the League Leaders Shield) and have lost both games against Saints this year. For me, the Tigers are second favourites.
Game B: No one wants to go to Wigan at this time of year. The Giants may be unbeaten in 7, but Wigan’s win against Warrington had the hallmarks of a side hitting form at the right time. Wigan for the win.
So that’s Saints and Wigan to Round 3 with a week off to recover, Cas and Huddersfield into Round 2 to face the winners of the…
Elimination Play Off
Similar to the Qualification Play Off, home advantage goes to the top teams, with 5 v 8 and 6 v 7 the games. These games are usually a waste of time. There isn’t enough quality in Super League to have eight teams in the playoffs and it’s usually the case that the bottom two teams go out.
C) Warrington v Widnes
D) Leeds v Catalans
Game C: Warrington to put a cricket score on Widnes.
Game D: Catalans are a spiky old bunch and get up the nose of most coaches. Sadly they don’t travel too well and would only really stand a chance if it was in France. It’s not, it’s in Leeds, and despite their poor form recently, Leeds will win this.
Wolves and Rhinos head onwards. Vikings and Dragons head homewards.
Known as the Preliminary Semi Finals (PSF), the two games in this round are up in the air until after Round 1.
Preliminary Semi Finals 1
The highest ranked loser from game A and B v lowest ranked winner from game C) and D). Using my predictions, Huddersfield (finished 3rd) will play Leeds (finished 6th) at Huddersfield.
E) Huddersfield v Leeds
Preliminary Semi Final 2
The lowest ranked loser from game A) and B) play highest ranked winner from game C) and D). So this is Castleford at home to Warrington.
F) Castleford v Warrington
Game E is tricky. They drew in March in Huddersfield and the Giants shaded it by 2 points in Leeds. Another close game is on the cards, but Leeds tend to get it right on the big day. Sinfield, Peacock, McGuire, Burrow… these guys know how to win big games. Leeds get my vote.
Game F is another where I’m going for the away win. The Tigers stuffed Warrington earlier in the year, before taking a bit of a hiding in the return fixture – although it was the week before Wembley. I’ve been writing Cas off all year (and been wrong all year), but few teams have an answer when Warrington start to run hot. I’ll put this down as being one of the games of the playoff series.
Leeds and Warrington to give the semi finals a predictable look.
Club Call Round
Here’s where it gets fun/ridiculous/daft/entertaining/insert your own description. Club Call is the RFL’s way of adding a gimmick to playoffs to avoid it become depressingly predictable. Give the highest ranked team to win in Round 1 a chance to pick who they want to play in the semi final. If it sounds like something you did at school, that’s because it is.
From the above predictions, we’ve got (regular season standings in brackets) Saints (1), Wigan (2), Warrington (5) and Leeds (6) left in the comp. Saints were the highest placed team to win in Round 1, so Nathan Brown and his chairman Eamonn McManus get to pic who they play at home.
Semi Final 1
At this stage in the competition it’s a bit like being asked to shoot your son or stab your daughter. Saints will pick Leeds, not because they think it’s an easier game, but because they finished the lowest in the regular season.
G) St Helens v Leeds
Semi Final 2
Wigan, as the next highest placed team to win in Round 1, will play at home against Warrington.
H) Wigan v Warrington
Saints have beaten Leeds twice this year in the league and turned in a great performance a few weeks back to win by a point at Headingley. Leeds, however, beat them in the cup. Injuries and suspensions could play a part at this point, but, for all the reasons outlined in Game E, I’ll back Leeds.
Wigan and Warrington find it hard to play in dull games against each other. The Grand Final 2013 was one of my favourite games of the year while the battle in the last round this year was epic. I rate, I mean, I really rate, Wigan’s coach Shaun Wane and it’s no surprise NRL teams are sniffing around him. Tony Smith I’m less of a fan of. In a game where small details matter, I think Wane will outfox the rubber faced Aussie.
Wigan Warriors v Leeds Rhinos in the Grand Final.
J) Wigan v Leeds
Last year’s winners v this year’s Challenge Cup winners. A battle between the two biggest clubs in the land. There’s great match ups all over the park, world class players facing each other and plenty of big match experience. The two best coaches in Super League plotting against each other and only one of them can win.
Leeds have it all, and if they keep everyone fit, they have the forwards to set a platform and the backs to win the game. But Wigan have shown they’re afraid of nobody. Sean O’Loughlin is a colossus of the game and they keep churning out amazing youngsters who play like veterans.
I’ll be at the Grand Final, and if it’s this game, I’d put my two quid on Wigan. But only just.
Just For Fun
I’d be amazed if this pans out as predicted, but hopefully it’s help illuminate what can be a complicated playoff system. Any thoughts on how you would improve it? I’d kill the club call and drop back to the (equally complicated, but slightly better) top 5 playoff system.