Not long remains before Super League is divided in two, and with so much left to play for, this round will be just as competitive as any that has come before it. Rugby League columnist Raj Bains takes us through the best bets of the weekend...
"Captain and club legend Danny McGuire has announced he is to leave the side at the end of the season, and expressed his desire to go out on a high. The way they're playing, tonight could be the start of that for him."
It's interesting, given how this new(ish) league format works, that so few teams have eased off knowing where they'll be placed once the split takes place. Castleford, so far ahead at the top, could've quite easily taken a round or two off and rested their squad ahead of the Super8s and play-offs, but haven't looked at all tempted. The same can be said of teams towards the bottom who, rather than accept their fate, have used these last few weeks to try and play themselves in to form to varying degrees of success.
Perhaps that, more than anything else, is the sort of justification and endorsement the RFL have been seeking for this change, as ownership meetings come around and alterations are suggested. It's far from perfect, but there's an argument to be made that there's more right with it than wrong, which might just be enough to see them stick with it a while longer.
Leeds Rhinos vs Hull FC
Friday 14th July, 20:00
This is one of the great rivalries in the league, with Leeds on top in recent years. A bit of a bogey side for Hull, this is a dress rehearsal for their upcoming Challenge Cup semi-final, so it'll be interesting to see how both coaches go about their business. While it might be tempting to mix up their ranks and adopt a variation in tactics to throw the scent off before the knockout game, these are still two huge points as far as the league season and top four are concerned, so any gambles will have to be measured.
Hull are attempting to play themselves in to their highest gear as the season rumbles on, which is something they failed to achieve last year, when they flatly ran out of steam. They know players are departing this season too, so will want to challenge at Old Trafford at the very least while the core of this squad is still together. Headingley has not been a happy hunting ground for them, however, so a win away there would be an incredible statement of intent, and show just how serious they about competing until the very end this season.
Leeds, meanwhile, have been quietly impressive in recent weeks, with their large victory away at Salford coming completely out of the blue. Many expected a more competitive encounter, but the Rhinos were a class above, and displayed the type of ruthlessness that's been missing from the seven times champion side the past two campaigns. Captain and club legend Danny McGuire has announced he is to leave the side at the end of the season, and expressed his desire to go out on a high. The way they're playing, tonight could be the start of that for him.
Leeds Rhinos to beat Hull FC by 1-12pts @ 21/10
Huddersfield Giants vs Leigh Centurions
Friday 14th July, 20:00
As the Giants have improved, Leigh have regressed. There's a freedom and verve about this Huddersfield side that they'd not had previously, and even with Jake Mamo missing for the rest of the year, they don't look as if they'll be struggling, especially if they manage to sneak inside the top half of the split.
Leigh, meanwhile, look like a side who've had a slight crisis of confidence. Not as physical and imposing as they were when the season started, they'll be hoping they can come through the Middle8s unscathed and bolster their squad in the off-season, to have another crack at Super League next time out.
In truth, there's no shame in needing a season or two to settle in the top flight, but with promotion and relegation reintroduced in such a dangerous format, there's every chance of being caught out. At home, this should be a comfortable Giants win, especially if they want to make any sort of impression in the Super8s.
Huddersfield Giants to beat Leigh Centurions by +13pts @ 8/11
Widnes Vikings vs Wakefield Trinity
Friday 14th July, 20:00
Widnes have found their feet as the season has gone on a little better, but they'll need to up their level of performance yet again if they're wanting to avoid the Million Pound Game or relegation. Losing key players has hurt them, and they didn't recruit well enough to replace what had gone. With more big names due out of the club again this off-season, it's a telling period for the club, especially if they don't have Super League status to fall back on as a recruitment tool.
Wakefield, meanwhile, are one of the league's most fun sides to watch. Free flowing going forwards and questionable at the back, they've been involved in a few high scoring spectacles that've been fantastic for the neautral viewers. Injuries have harmed their assault on the top four, but with games left in the Super8s, they'll be a match for anyone at their best, especially if they find a way of tightening up their defence.
Widnes will be playing for pride at home, and Wakefield don't tend to be as good away from Belle Vue as they are at home, so this could be tighter than most may expect. Trinity will win, but they might not do it by the margin you'd anticipate, with Widnes capable of making them work for their two points.
Wakefield Trinity to beat Widnes Vikings by 1-12pts @ 21/10