The regular Super League season is over and attention now turns to the end-of-season Play-Offs and rugby league fans can watch every match live on Sky Sports.
With the top eight teams in the table going through a post-season so labyrinthine it makes the obstruction rule seem straightforward, fortunately Sport On The Box’s Mike Martin has studied the format so you don’t have to.
The top four and the ‘next four’ are initially split from each other, with the top four meeting in the Qualifying Play-offs on Thursday and Friday, though even the losers of those matches will get another chance to reach the Grand Final next month in Manchester.
Wigan host Huddersfield at the DW Stadium on Thursday evening, before League Leaders’ Shield winners St Helens face Castleford the following day at Langtree Park.
Saints laboured to the Shield, losing their last two regular season matches against Warrington and Huddersfield, but Castleford’s defeat in Perpignan on Saturday handed the Lancashire side top spot.
Indeed, the final table was extremely close, with only three points separating St Helens from fifth-place Warrington.
Wigan are in form going into Thursday evening’s match, having won their last two matches against Leeds and Warrington.
Though their recent away form has been poor, the match being at home suggests they are favourites against Huddersfield, whose own recent form has been inconsistent.
Castleford travel to St Helens determined not to be put off their stride by the double disappointment of missing out on the Challenge Cup and the League Leaders’ Shield. Head coach Daryl Powell said: “We can’t be derailed by something we didn’t get.
“Obviously we are disappointed. We had an opportunity to do something really special as Castleford have never finished top of the competition.”
Saints may be without prop Alex Walmsley, who was sent off against Huddersfield on Friday for a high tackle and could receive a suspension of two or three matches.
The winners of these two matches advance straight to the third week and the semi finals, while the losers must face the winners of Saturday’s two Elimination Play-Offs.
Saturday afternoon viewing sees a local derby as Warrington face Widnes at the Halliwell Jones Stadium. Widnes have had a decent campaign and in the end comfortably saw off challengers for eighth place and the final play-off berth.
The regular season offers few clues as to which way the fixture will go, with both meetings ending in comfortable home wins.
The Saturday tea-time game sees Catalans visit Leeds at Headingley. Despite winning the Challenge Cup in August, Leeds have had an indifferent league season, finishing just sixth and without a win in Super League match since July 25.
Leeds, though, have shown themselves to be past masters of pacing themselves for the play-offs, twice winning the Super League title despite only finishing fifth in the league standings in 2011 and 2012.
They also have the experience of veteran prop Jamie Peacock, who is considered among the favourites for the Man of Steel award at the ripe old age of 36.
It is do-or-die on Saturday, with the losers of the two Elimination Play-Offs left to ponder next season’s campaign.
The winners will face the Qualifying Play-Off losers next week, with the fixtures determined by the final league positions.
Sky Sports is the only place to see all nine games live from the Play-off stages to the Grand Final of Super League XIX on October 11 as the UK’s premier rugby league domestic competition draws to an exciting climax this September and October.
Live coverage of every match will be fronted, as ever, by the ‘Eddie & Stevo’ partnership of Eddie Hemmings and Mike Stephenson, alongside expert analysts including Brian Carney and Phil Clarke, while reports come from Bill Arthur and Rod Studd.
All of Sky Sports’ live coverage can be viewed online via Sky Go (subscribers only), and alongside exclusive online videos, reports and interviews via the Sky Sports website, rugby league fans can also get further insight and analysis during the Play-offs via the usual magazine programmes Boots ‘n’ All, Back Chat, Full Time and Super League Superstars.
BBC Sport will be broadcasting free-to-air highlights of all four stages of the Super League XIX Play-offs with highlights shows every Sunday on BBC Two, available on BBC iPlayer shortly afterwards.
Tanya Arnold presents four one-hour shows, starting on Sunday, September 21 at 6.30pm on BBC Two, featuring the best of the action from every play-off contest right through to the Grand Final in October.
BBC Radio 5 live Sports Extra will have live commentaries throughout the Play-offs with George Riley and Stuart Pyke, plus the BBC Sport website will be the place to find live streaming of BBC Two’s highlights programmes, plus all the latest news, features, video and live text commentary.
.WEEK 1 Thursday 18th September WIGAN WARRIORS v HUDDERSFIELD GIANTS – Qualifier Kick-off: 20:00 LIVE: 7.30pm-10.15pm Sky Sports 1 Friday 19th September ST HELENS v CASTLEFORD TIGERS – Qualifier Kick-off: 20:00 LIVE: 7.30pm-10.15pm Sky Sports 1 Saturday 20th September WARRINGTON WOLVES v WIDNES VIKINGS – Eliminator Kick-off: 14:45 LIVE: 2.30pm-5.00pm Sky Sports 3 LEEDS RHINOS v CATALAN DRAGONS – Eliminator Kick-off: 17:15 LIVE: 5.00pm-7.30pm Sky Sports 3 Sunday 21st September Super League Play-offs: Qualifiers & Eliminators Highlights: 6.30pm-7.30pm BBC Two (12.25am in Scotland)
WEEK 2 Thursday 25th September CASTLEFORD TIGERS v WARRINGTON WOLVES – Preliminary Semi Final Kick-off: 20:00 LIVE: 7.30pm-10.15pm Sky Sports 1 Friday 26th September HUDDERSFIELD GIANTS v CATALAN DRAGONS – Preliminary Semi Final Kick-off: 20:00 LIVE: 7.30pm-10.15pm Sky Sports 1 Sunday 28th September Super League Play-offs: Preliminary Semi Finals Highlights: 5.30pm-6.30pm BBC Two
WEEK 3 Thursday 2nd October ST HELENS v CATALAN DRAGONS – Semi Final Kick-off: 20:00 LIVE: 7.30pm-10.15pm Sky Sports 1 Friday 3rd October WIGAN WARRIORS v WARRINGTON WOLVES – Semi Final Kick-off: 20:00 LIVE: 7.30pm-10.15pm Sky Sports 2 Sunday 4th October Super League Play-offs: Semi Finals Highlights: 5.05pm-6.05pm BBC Two
WEEK 4 Saturday 11th October Super League XIX Grand Final Kick-off: 18:00 LIVE: 5.30pm-8.30pm Sky Sports 1 Sunday 12th October Super League XIX Grand Final Highlights: BBC Two