Super League history is blessed with one or two truly exhilarating play-off races when multiple teams vied for those coveted play-off spots swapping places in the league week on week. With that in mind, here’s the five best play-off races in Super League history.
Teams like Castleford and Hull FC started the season well whilst Hull KR and especially Leeds struggled to get going. But the turnarounds of the Robins and the Rhinos has saw them force their way into an unlikely play-off battle where only two of the four teams could make it going into the final weeks of the season and three could squeeze in going into the final round of fixtures. With a scenario that change week on week thanks to shock results, this play-off race kept us on our toes for weeks and the conclusion was thrilling as Daryl Powell’s future team denied his Castleford team a place in the top six with a thrilling game in the final round.
I always think play-off races can be helped by the way fixtures fall and that was certainly the case in 2011. As Warrington and Wigan battled it out for the League Leaders’ Shield, Hull FC, Hull KR and Castleford were vying for the final two play-off spots. As the season drew to a close, the three sides kept swapping positions before Hull KR and Castleford met on the final day of the season knowing that the winner would be guaranteed a place in the eight. A narrow win for the Robins saw them sneak in and climb as high as seventh whilst the Tigers missed out.
The entire complexion of the top five always appeared to be in a state of flux in 2019. Yes, St Helens ran away with top spot, but beneath them everything changed week to week. Warrington initially looked like certainties for second place before they began to dwindle. Hull FC climbed the ladder and appeared to be likely runners up before slipping away themselves. Eventually Wigan nicked second spot having been in a battle royal to even make the top five earlier in the season. Beneath them Warrington and Hull became entangled in a battle with Castleford for fourth and fifth spot. Remarkably, having been as high as second, Hull were the side to drop out on points difference alone.
In 2009, 12 of the 14 teams enjoyed extended time inside the play-off places. In a topsy turvy season, Hull FC were second after five games whilst Harlequins were a mainstay in the top four before both lost their way and slipped down the table. That gave other sides a chance of clawing their way back in. Under Tony Smith, Warrington shrugged off their abysmal start to force their way into the top eight but it wouldn’t last. They dropped to 10th as Bradford’s superb end of season form looked set to carry them to eighth as they looked to maintain their record of featuring in every play-off series to date. To everyone’s surprise, the written off Catalans Dragons beat St Helens away in the final round of fixtures to sneak in leaving Bradford devastated. Remarkably, the Dragons would then get as far as the semi-finals.
As the season drew to a close in 2017, the teams from third to sixth constantly changed places. This was down to the Super 8s system and how it forced teams in and around each other on the league ladder to play against one another. So, one week it would be Wakefield who sat comfortably in the top four, then Wigan, then Hull FC and then Saints. The picture just kept changing with narrow defeats and controversial moments forcing teams in and out of the top four. Wakefield’s story is a particularly heart-breaking one, they appeared set for play-off rugby before a bizarre try against Saints saw them lose ground. Then a one-point defeat at the hands of Hull ended their Old Trafford dreams.