This weekend we’re looking ahead to two great semi-finals as Wigan host Leeds in a repeat of the inaugural Grand Final back in 1998 whilst St Helens take on the fairytale chasing Salford in a repeat of the 2019 decider.
But what are the best semi-finals in Super League history?
Well, we’ve taken a look back and ranked the five best. For this list we’re looking exclusively at normal semi-finals rather than the preliminary and qualifying finals that existed in the top five and previous variant of the top six play-off systems.
5. Wigan Warriors 12-13 Leeds Rhinos 2012
This semi-final wasn’t like the vast majority of Super League semi-finals especially as the victorious side scored less tries than their opponents on the night, but the defence, commitment and unwillingness to give each other an inch made for the perfect summation of what play-off rugby is all about. The story started with an immediate twist as Wigan attacked and Kallum Watkins intercepted to speed away for a shock try. From there it was “death by a thousand cuts” for Wigan according to Sky commentator Brian Carney as Kevin Sinfield kicked two penalties and a drop goal to make it 11-0 at the break. Wigan in the second half showed their attacking quality with two lovely tries the second of which looked like a potential winner from Pat Richards who also nailed the subsequent goal to make it 12-11. But there was one last twist in the tale when Sinfield’s bomb was spilt resulting in an offside penalty which he turned into the winning points.
4. St Helens 13-18 Warrington Wolves 2018
It’s surprising how many play-off games have seen someone score 13 points, but this time they weren’t the winners as St Helens lost to Warrington despite being overwhelming favourites. In this one, Tyrone Roberts got the ball rolling with a penalty to make it 2-0 but soon Danny Richardson levelled matters a few minutes later before giving Saints the lead with a drop goal just before halftime. Then Luke Douglas got a try just after halftime to make it 9-2. Jack Hughes pulled a try back to make it 9-6 which prompted Richardson to kick another goal to make it 11-6. However, the up and down contest continued with a try from Tom Lineham which have the Wolves a 12-11 lead but a pair of Richardson drop goals gave the Saints the lead once again. Richardson and the Saints were seemingly headed to Old Trafford until Lineham came up with another terrific finish to give the Wolves the win against the odds.
3. Leeds Rhinos 20-13 St Helens 2015
Another terrific semi-final where a team scored 13 points. The Saints arrived at the treble chasing Rhinos and scored the first try of the game through an outstanding effort from James Roby before they added to their lead with a penalty. However, things were all square soon enough after a lovely set play down the left with Kallum Watkins teeing up Zak Hardaker before a Sinfield penalty levelled matters. The Saints then notched a drop goal before scoring in the corner through Mark Percival as they seemed headed to the Grand Final until a Sinfield 40/20 on his last Headingley appearance turned the tide of the game. Shortly after that, Ryan Hall powered over and Sinfield’s conversion made it 14-13. This prompted the Saints to chase the game but they pushed too hard with Watkins intercepting to wrap up the win.
2. Castleford Tigers 23-22 St Helens 2017
To many this game is what play-off rugby is all about. The drama in this game was supreme though it started as if Cas were set to run away with it as Zak Hardaker scored after a minute. That made it 6-0 and a Luke Gale goal made it 8-0 but a pair of tries from the Saints just before the break gave them a surprise halftime lead. This prompted the Tigers to go up the gears with two terrific tries from Luke Gale and Adam Milner giving them a 20-10 lead. Then came 10 minutes of madness. The Saints scored three tries in 8 minutes to take the lead. There was drama when the attempt at goal after Percival’s try missed to level matters but Ryan Morgan would score to give the Saints the lead. Again the conversion would be missed and it would prove costly when Morgan gave away a penalty which Gale used to send the game to extra time – the first play-off game to head into golden point in which Gale earned legendary status with a decisive drop goal.
1. Warrington Wolves 24-26 Leeds Rhinos 2011
This game could be considered the greatest in Super League history. Massive underdogs Leeds came to Warrington and started fast with a Danny McGuire grubber leading to a Carl Ablett try. However, league leaders Warrington stemmed the tide with two tries of their own to make it 12-6 at the break. At the start of the second half, the Wolves looked to blow Leeds away until Ryan Hall intercepted their first attack to level matters. Warrington again took the lead with a powerful Matt King effort before Leeds came up with two terrific tries to turn a six point deficit into a six point lead. Rob Burrow sparked things into life with his break backed up by McGuire and Hall to score before Burrow was then the beneficiary of a Brent Webb break to make it 24-18. A Chris Riley try levelled matters. Late in the game both sides had tries disallowed from King and hat-trick chasing Hall. Sinfield missed a long range penalty before he nailed his next chance which came when his drop goal attempt was blocked by an offside Richie Myler. The “hero of Headingley” as Eddie Hemmings said, nailed the penalty to win the game.