William Hill Play-Off Previews
Warrington Wolves v Leeds Rhinos Preview
Friday 20:00 – live on Sky Sports 1
The Warrington Wolves tackle their chosen Clubcall opponents, the Leeds Rhinos, at the Halliwell Jones stadium, looking to secure a place in the biggest game in Super League, the Grand Final.
The Wolves have not enjoyed the best of it against the Rhinos in the 16 year history of the Super League having won only 11 of their 37 previous meetings. However, Tony Smith’s men have been victorious in each of their last 11 consecutive league games and after having beaten the Rhinos twice already this season, look well worth their 1/6 favourites price.
The visitors though are a team in form. Selected by the Wolves as opposition for this qualifying semi-final due to their fifth place finish in this year’s Super League, the Rhinos have already put Hull FC and Huddersfield Giants to the sword in the play-offs. Priced at 7/2, the Yorkshiremen are battle-hardened after three weeks of knock-out rugby and if Warrington are not at the races, Leeds will be there to take advantage.
Warrington and England forward Ben Westwood is set to return to action after more than a month out with a knee injury, leaving front rower Paul Wood as the club’s only absentee. Westwood’s captain and international colleague Adrian Morley says that the title favourites will feel the benefit of the 30 year old’s return. "He's been absolutely fantastic. We certainly have missed him when he's not been playing. It will give everyone a boost now he's back in the mix." Westwood can be backed at 20/1 to mark his return with the first try of the game or 11/4 that he crosses the try line at any point in the game.
The Rhinos are almost back to full strength with the availability of Carl Ablett who has missed the last two games with a knock to the head. His return is likely to mean Brett Delaney switching back to the pack while teenager Zak Hardaker will remain at centre. Hardaker scored a hat-trick of tries in Leeds’ 34-28 victory over Huddersfield Last Friday and the Pontefract youngster is 10/1 to bag the first try. Another key contributor to Leeds’ progress is New Zealand international Brent Webb. The Kiwi notched up a couple of tries at the Galpharm and is 5/4 to score at anytime against Warrington.
The handicap betting for this all-important clash reflects Warrington’s dominance over the Rhinos over the last 18 months. In the last three meetings between the sides Tony Smith’s men have been rampant, running in 20 tries. The spread for this game is 12 points, so Warrington -12 is 4/5 while Leeds +5 is EVS. If the Wolves can reproduce the scorelines from this campaign, a 40-24 victory at the Halliwell Jones and a 42-6 rout at Headingley, then they will cover the spread convincingly. The alternative handicaps of Warrington -16 and -20 can be backed at 13/10 and 2/1 respectively while if you feel a closer contest in the cards Leeds +8 at 13/10 should be considered.
Leeds coach Brian McDermott believes the impetus is with his side as they travel across the Pennines. “The energy levels are brilliant and the players are bouncing. We've got some form behind us and there's a buoyant mood.” McDermott is clever enough to know that a quick start is essential if his players are to emerge victorious come Friday night.
St Helens v Wigan Warriors Preview
Saturday 18:00 – live on Sky Sports 1
In a repeat of last year’s Super League Grand Final, arch enemies St Helens and Wigan will do battle at the Stobart stadium with a place in this year’s showpiece final at stake. Saturday’s qualifying semi-final will be the sixth meeting of the teams already this season and it could be argued, the most important.
The visitors won three consecutive games against Saints after the pair shared a mesmerising Millennium Magic draw on the opening weekend of the season. One of those victories was the Challenge Cup semi-final at the Halliwell Jones, where Wigan blew away their rivals with a blistering opening salvo that St Helens could never recover from. The match betting for this match is close but Wigan have been given the nod as favourites at 4/6.
The last meeting between the two sides was just a fortnight ago when Saints ran out deserved 26-18 winners at the DW Stadium. It was a victory which helped instil extra confidence into the St Helens camp and gave them home advantage for this week’s do-or-die game. Priced at 6/5 to triumph here, the hosts have lost their last two home meetings with their old rivals but will feel fresh and rested from their weekend off and should come out firing.
St Helens head coach Royce Simmons has no fresh injury concerns ahead of the match with Leon Pryce and Gary Wheeler welcomed back into the fold. Paul Wellens needs one try to reach 200 career touchdowns, a feat which would see him move into joint seventh place in the list of all-time St Helens try-scorers.
Centre Joel Tomkins is fit enough to be named in Wigan’s 19-man squad and Prop Lee Mossop is also expected to return after aggravating a hamstring injury in last Sunday's warm-up. Widnes bound Ben Cross has suffered a second stress fracture of his broken arm and will be replaced by Eamon O’Carroll.
In what is widely expected to be a tough, tight, bruising affair, the narrow margin of the handicap market comes as no surprise. Set at just two points, St Helens +2 and Wigan -2 are both priced at 10/11.
Wigan are looking to become only the fourth team to win the Cup and Grand Final double, last achieved by their rivals St Helens in 2006.
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All prices subject to fluctuation. Prices correct as at 4.00pm 29/09/2011. William Hill rules apply. Over 18s only. For advice and information visit www.gambleaware.co.uk