The play-offs traditionally produce the best rugby of the year. Plenty of Super League’s greatest games have come in September and October including the top-drawer semi-finals between Warrington and Leeds as well as Castleford’s battle with St Helens or even the war of attrition that was the 2007 Grand Final qualifier.
These games all live in our memory but what about the classic encounters we don’t recall? Today we’re recapping five underrated play-off games that you should go back and re-watch especially after two terrific games over the weekend as Leeds beat Catalans and Salford downed Huddersfield as both progressed to the semi-finals.
Wigan Warriors 26-27 Leeds Rhinos 2010
An end-to-end battle with expansive rugby, powerful forward play, controversy and endless drama, this game simply had everything. The contest needed little introduction with the Champions taking on the Champions-elect in a repeat of the 1998 Grand Final. Favourites Wigan stormed into a 14-0 lead before two superb Leeds tries helped bring the Rhinos back level. The two teams then traded outstanding four-pointers leaving the score 26-24 in Leeds’ favour. After some failed attempts at goal from Pat Richards, he eventually pulled Wigan level before Kevin Sinfield again nudged the Rhinos ahead with a drop goal. So, Wigan then threw everything at the reigning Champions. An all or nothing play down the left from Wigan saw Leeds scramble well, but a late tackle from Scott Donald gave Wigan a chance to win it with a penalty. Richards missed it and the Rhinos moved into the semi-finals.
St Helens 26-28 Bradford Bulls 2002
In 2002, the top two met after years of fierce rivalry with a place at Old Trafford up for grabs. To the surprise of many, the league leaders St Helens were blown away by an inspired Bradford performance in the first half. Tries from James Lowes, Brandon Costin, Lesley Vainikolo and Daniel Gartner left the Bulls 24-4 ahead. But a scintillating Saints comeback saw the favourites claw back to within a couple of points. Mike Forshaw’s 61st minute try seemed to wrap up Bradford’s place in the decider, but they say you should never write off the Saints and Anthony Stewart’s 77th minute try gave goal kicker Paul Sculthorpe a chance to level the scores. He dragged his attempt wide leaving the league leaders’ Grand Final hopes in peril as the Bulls marched on to Manchester.
St Helens 14-10 Wigan Warriors 2009
With Old Trafford at stake, the two biggest rivals in Super League butted heads at Knowsley Roads. Unsurprisingly, the main focus was of course on the prospect of playing in the Grand Final but there were subplots a plenty adorning the game including the battle between two outstanding youngsters in the shape of Kyle Eastmond and Sam Tomkins. The Saints started the better when Francis Meli’s try gave them a 4-0 lead before the two teams traded scores along with the lead to leave St Helens 10-6 ahead. A second for Meli nudged the favourites further in front. Wigan weren’t going to die wondering by any means and a superb Pat Richards try gave them a chance of snatching the win. But the stubbornness of the St Helens defence saw them hang onto their place in the Grand Final.
St Helens 13-18 Warrington Wolves 2018
St Helens had dominated the league in 2018 with 26 wins from 30 games but after a curious slip up against Catalans in the Challenge Cup semi-final, there were a few doubts lingering over them as they hosted Warrington. After a first half dominated by defence, Saints went into the sheds with a slender but bizarre 3-2 lead. A scrappy try from Luke Douglas made things real rosy for the red v but a magnificent score from Jack Hughes gave Warrington hope and left the score at 9-6. Another Danny Richardson penalty increased the Saints lead to 11-6 only for a potent Tom Lineham finish to give Warrington the lead once Tyrone Roberts converted the score from the touchline. Then, instead of looking for a try, Richardson completed a hattrick of drop goals to nudge the Saints ahead again as the topsy turvy encounter continued. But Warrington would have the last laugh when Tom Lineham scored a magnificent second to pull Warrington ahead again and they held on to claim a place at Old Trafford.
Leeds Rhinos 18-16 Hull FC 2017
When you think about the 2017 play-offs, most look to the other semi-final and Castleford’s dramatic golden point victory over St Helens as well as Leeds’ dismantling of the Tigers at Old Trafford. But the other semi-final was quite the contest as well. The forwards knocked seven bells out of each other down the middle with both sides looking to play off the cuff rugby. Leeds started the better with two early tries from Stevie Ward and Anthony Mullaly. A superb Hull comeback looked set to take the Black and Whites to their second Grand Final but a magnificent long range try built by Brad Singleton and Ryan Hall and finished off by Liam Sutcliffe levelled the scores before Kallum Watkins’ conversion fired Leeds into the lead once more. Then some sterling defence from the Rhinos saw them hold on for the win.