Talking RL: Race is going to the wire

Rough stuff in the Wigan-Saints derby last week
Rough stuff in the Wigan-Saints derby last week

BLIMEY, maybe organisers wished they’d never brought in the play-offs system! Four teams split by one point, with one round to go, and two of them playing each other ... it couldn’t be much tighter.

Clubs inevitably want the £100,000 prize money on offer for finishing top, but players and coaches also attach plenty of kudos to finishing top.

The League Leaders’ Shield is not just a hubcap to them, and rightly so.

It is a reward for consistency over 30 rounds. A prize for grinding through dips in form, posting more points than their rivals.

When the Grand Final concept was launched, organisers needed to belittle the honour of finishing top, in order to give the Old Trafford showcase more prestige.

I get that.

But now the GF is well-established and universally-loved, it’s right that those who finish the season in the No.1 spot get some honour, too. Because there’s no real advantage to finishing top than second.

We know which four teams will be in the new, straight-forward, slimmed-down play-offs series, but we don’t know yet who will play who.

And where.

But Wigan can assure they’re back at the DW if they win tomorrow.

Elsewhere, for many clubs, this weekend is the end of the line.

Forget big-spending, mis-firing Warrington – Catalans have been the biggest disappointment.

At times, they’ve shown what they’re capable of – but their inability to win in England has again held them back.

Hull FC have predictably been poor – at least KR had a Wembley appearance to show for the year – while Widnes seem to be content to exist in that mid-table mediocrity.

Elsewhere, Salford have lurched from one crisis to another, but I do hope they get the win this weekend – if only so Adrian Morley can bow out with a victory.

IT’S a nice idea to put George Williams in the England squad, just for the experience.

It’s hard to disagree with Shaun Wane’s assessment that his young, but fast-maturing, stand-off isn’t quite ready for the international stage.

Putting him in the panel, asking Gareth Widdop to take him under his wing, would seem a great idea.

But there’s a problem.

Steve McNamara doesn’t have an unlimited squad. As far as I’m aware it’s a 23-man panel.

And after you’ve picked your first-choice 17-man squad, it only leaves space for an extra two front-rowers, one forward, one hooker, one halfback and one back.

There’s no space to take someone along for the experience.

And on England, the only major absentee so far in George Burgess. It’s a big blow, yes, but thankfully we’ve the cover – James Graham, Chris Hill and Alex Walmsley aren’t bad options, while Mike Cooper and Tom Burgess will also have eyes on places. Personally, I’d love to see Tony Clubb in that reckoning, too.

I WROTE earlier this week that I had a degree of sympathy for Leigh, after their poor Super 8s campaign denied them a chance of promotion to Super League.

But I don’t share the opinion that the system is unfair on the Centurions.

Leigh have lost five of their six Super 8s games, two of them to Championship rivals. Sure, they had previously blitzed the season... but who’s to say Bradford didn’t play the system smarter and aim to peak at the business end?

A sprinter who breaks records in qualifying still needs to perform in the final if he wants a medal. And it’s the same in rugby league.

Meanwhile, some are suggesting the Super 8s format could be improved.

Tinker it here, tweak it there... no. Let’s give the current format time to settle before we make changes.

GOOD luck to Wigan’s Under-19s in their Grand Final tomorrow.

I disagree with the RFL’s rule that the host club must stage the game at the first-team’s ground – when Orrell is adequate enough – but thankfully, common-sense has prevailed and Warriors are putting the game as a curtain-raiser.