Five things we learned from this week #33

Cas squad throws up questions

Daryl Powell’s decision to play a weakened squad on Friday was certainly a controversial one, and wasn’t without its critics. Powell rested nine first teamers, including the likes of Zak Hardaker, Michael Shenton and Grant Millington, as his side were beaten 48-16 by Hull. Arguably the result would have been much different had Cas had a full-strength side out, which could have ultimately changed the complexion of the playoffs.

Whether it was the right thing to do or not, the Tigers have earned the right to play a weakened side. They’ve worked hard all year to reach the highs they have, so you can’t blame Powell for giving players a break a week before their biggest game of the season. I can guarantee any other side in their position would do the same thing.

A new champion will be crowned

With Wigan not making the top four, we will see a new Super League champion in 2018. But who will it be? I genuinely think, for once, there isn’t a definite favourite. Cas will be backed by the bookies but the other three are all capable on their day.

The upcoming semi-finals are tough to call but if I had to pick winners, I’d go for Castleford and Leeds. The Tigers have been way too consistent all year to let it slip now, while the Rhinos have enough ‘big game’ experience to extinguish the Black and Whites’ flare and enthusiasm. The one thing I would say about the league leaders is that Luke Gale’s inclusion will be vital. Should he make the side then they should win pretty comfortably, however they may struggle if he misses out.

Million Pound Game decided

So, Catalans or Leigh? The Dragons’ loss at the weekend condemned them to the Million Pound Game, where either them or the Centurions will be relegated at the Leigh Sports Village. I think a big congratulations are in order for Widnes, who beat Catalans on Saturday to ensure their own survival in next year’s competition. They played with more desire and passion than the Dragons and were worthy winners. I look forward to seeing them compete again next season.

Huddersfield Giants 22-29 Catalans Dragons

Cowboys look to weather the Storm

There’s been a huge focus on the Super 8’s this weekend, but there’s a Storm coming in the southern hemisphere, literally. Minor premiers Melbourne will play 2015 champions North Queensland in the NRL Grand Final with the Cowboys coming in as major underdogs.

Paul Green’s side finished eighth in the table, literally scraping their way into the playoffs after St George relinquished their place with a loss in the final round of fixtures. Since then, however, they haven’t looked back, beating Cronulla, Parramatta and Sydney to reach Sunday’s final, even without influential captains Jonathan Thurston and Matt Scott. It will be a tall order to beat the ever-impressive Storm, but they have the capabilities to pull off a huge upset.

PNG will be full of confidence

Papua New Guinea definitely aren’t one of the ‘poster’ teams for the World Cup. They will, however, be looking for an upset at the tournament after the country’s own club side won it’s first major trophy on Sunday. The PNG Hunters beat the Sunshine Coast Falcons, Melbourne’s feeder club, 12-10 to claim the 2018 Intrust Super Cup.

The victory gives the Kumuls plenty of momentum going into the World Cup, as a good chunk of their side will be made up of Hunters players. Game-winning halfback Ase Boas will be sure to feature, as will forwards Wellington and Stanton Albert, Enoch Maki and up-and-coming fullback Stargroth Amean. They’re certainly far from the favourites but I’m backing PNG to surprise plenty of people. Watch this space.