Betfred Championship: Race For The Top Four

In arguably the Championship’s most exciting and wide-ranging battle for the top four, teams from 2nd to 6th all have a chance of making it to the last ever Qualfiiers.

League leaders Toronto Wolfpack have all but booked their place in the middle eights with a nine-point gap between themselves and fifth-placed London Broncos.

Toulouse Olympique and Featherstone Rovers, both on 24 points, are second and third in the table respectively while Halifax sit in the last Qualifiers spot with 23 points.

Outside of the top four are the full-time big-hitters London and Leigh Centurions, both on 22 points.

With six games remaining, it’s certainly all to play for and this is where we go through each club’s run-in as they aim to seal a place in the top four.

Keep an eye out for the games that are listed in bold, those are the potential make-or-break ties..

Toulouse Olympique (2nd) – 24 points

Fixtures: Rochdale (A), Sheffield (A), London (H), Barrow (A), Halifax (A), Dewsbury (H)

They threw away their chance of Qualifiers rugby last season with a collapse in the final few games of the regular campaign. Will Toulouse make the same mistake once again? It could be a case of déjà vu as Halifax visit the Stade Ernest Argeles, as they did last year, in an attempt to ambush Olympique’s top four plans.

The next two games shouldn’t be too much of a problem for Toulouse, although they have history against Rochdale. The Hornets gained promotion to the Championship by beating Sylvain Houles’ men in a playoff two seasons ago. Rochdale would love nothing more than to strengthen their own survival bid while wrecking Toulouse’s Super League hopes.

Olympique’s meetings against London, Barrow and Halifax will undoubtedly tell us if they are ready for Qualifiers action. You would expect Toulouse to beat London at home but their visit to Craven Park a week later could potentially be where it all goes wrong. The Raiders’ home form has been vital this year, with 12 of their 13 points coming in Cumbria. They are no pushovers and if Toulouse underestimate their part-time counterparts then the French club will be playing a risky game.

Following the Raiders clash, Toulouse visit the MBi Shay. Richard Marshall’s side have played an absolute blinder this year and Olympique should expect a real ding-dong as tensions rise towards the end of the regular season.

The final game of Toulouse’s campaign comes on home turf against Dewsbury. Many will see this as an easy win for the hosts but nothing can be taken for granted in the Championship, as the French side will know all too well.

Featherstone Rovers (3rd) – 24 points

Fixtures: Sheffield (A), Rochdale (H), Halifax (A), Swinton (A), London (H), Toronto (A)

Featherstone have a mixed bag of fixtures to end the regular season. Similar to Toulouse, they face both Sheffield and Rochdale in the first two games before meeting a fellow top four competitor in Halifax. The two West Yorkshire clubs have a rivalry spanning years and this year’s Summer Bash game was an absolute thriller for the neutral. The next instalment between the teams will take place at the MBi Shay and you shouldn’t expect anything less than a cracker.

After taking on Fax, Rovers face Swinton Lions away and London Broncos at home. The Lions will be fighting for every point from now until the end of the season and they will be coming up against their former coach John Duffy and star player Shaun Robinson. A victory for Swinton at Heywood Road would certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons at both ends of the league table but Featherstone will rightly be big favourites.

The Rovers end their Championship campaign with matches against London and Toronto away. As the race will be so tight until the end, a defeat to the Broncos could be costly for Featherstone who may then have to go to Toronto and get something. If Featherstone make the top four, those two games will set them up nicely for a tough Qualifiers campaign.

Halifax (4th) – 23 points

Fixtures: Batley (H), Barrow (A), Featherstone (H), London (A), Toulouse (H), Rochdale (H)

You look at the run-in and think ‘ouch!’. Although Halifax have four home games under their belt for the remainder of the campaign, it’s certainly not going to be easy for the part-timers – especially when they have got London and Leigh breathing down their necks. They will be targeting a good victory against Batley this weekend but despite the Bulldogs’ injuries, you still have to be wary of their talent in the pack.

Then comes a trip to Craven Park as Fax start a tricky four-match spell which sees them face three of their fellow Qualifiers-chasing rivals. The Raiders are known for their strength on home turf and Paul Crarey’s side get to welcome three of the five teams listed in this article to Cumbria.

Games against Featherstone, London and Toulouse follow for Fax, who will be aiming to get at least two wins from those fixtures. Marshall’s men will be happy facing any side at the Shay and as they found a second wind last year to finish the regular season, they will be aiming to replicate that feat once again. Any worries about facing full-time teams seem to have gone out of the window nowadays and that can only work in the favour of both Fax and Featherstone.

Rochdale are the final team to come to the Shay in the regular season and even by then, there will probably be one or two spots in the Qualifiers still up for grabs.

London Broncos (5th) – 22 points

Fixtures: Swinton (H), Batley (A), Toulouse (A), Halifax (H), Featherstone (A), Barrow (A)

London need to make up ground on the teams above them but they will have to do the majority of the work on the road. Four out of the Broncos’ remaining six games come away from Trailfinders, with trips to Batley, Toulouse, Featherstone and Barrow on the horizon. They start their run to the end of the season by welcoming Swinton Lions to Ealing before two consecutive away fixtures at Batley and Toulouse. As mentioned previously, the Lions won’t be rolling over and having their bellies tickled due to their own situation at the bottom end of the table. But London should have too much power for the strugglers from Sale.

Batley have got injury problems and were beaten by Sheffield in their last home game. You can never write off the Bulldogs on home turf though and London will know that it won’t be easy against their pack.

A strong showing in Toulouse will be required before heading back to the capital to play Halifax. Olympique will be favourites for that contest and will likely come out victorious but London will see it as the perfect opportunity to cut the gap, or increase it depending on how the previous results pan out.

The Broncos’ final home game comes against Fax and it could go one of two ways. It could turn out to be a real battle and a low-scoring contest between two edgy sides who know what is at risk for every mistake. And on the other hand, given that both like to throw the ball around expansively, it could be an absolute points-fest. Either way it’s got all the makings of a classic between two top four competitors.

London end their term on the road with fixtures against Featherstone and Barrow and it would be cruel for any side to go through a campaign and then slip up right at the end.
However, trips to the LD Nutrition Stadium and Craven Park are never easy and you would doubt London will have it all their own way in those contests.

Leigh Centurions (6th) – 22 points

Fixtures: Dewsbury (A), Toronto (A), Batley (A), Rochdale (A), Swinton (H), Sheffield (H)

Look at the lack of bold font in that run-in! Leigh have been in-and-around the top four since the appointment of Kieron Purtill, first as interim coach and then permanently. The Centurions have a good opportunity in their final six games to push on and make their way back to the Qualifiers. Playing against five part-time teams certainly helps their cause but those sides have nothing to lose and plenty to gain.

Leigh travel to Dewsbury this weekend as they start their quest for a top four place. The Rams will certainly be up for upsetting the Centurions’ applecart but it will take a big effort from Neil Kelly’s men.

What could possibly go wrong in Leigh’s following fixture when they meet up with their old friends, the Toronto Wolfpack, at Lamport Stadium? Their Summer Bash game caused controversy as Ben Reynolds missed a penalty goal to level the scores after the hooter had sounded. Then, there was this.

Will the bad blood spill over once again?

The Centurions visit Batley and Rochdale before hosting Swinton and Sheffield to end the regular season. As many of the teams chasing a Qualifiers spot still have to play each other, it’s the perfect scenario for the Centurions who can swoop on in if they get the job done.

Purtill’s side will be rubbing their hands when they look at the run-ins of other teams but that means nothing if they can’t get the results at the Leigh Sports Village. Batley won’t want to be pushed into a relegation scrap while Rochdale, Swinton and Sheffield are already in one. They will be fighting tooth and nail for a ‘bonus’ win against the Centurions, who should be wary of that fact.