The last regular season round of Super League is finally upon us, with the split already decided. While these games might not seem like much, these two points could still make all the difference down the line. Our rugby league columnist Raj Bains takes us through Round 23.
"There's a slight injury crisis at the Rhinos at present, with short term injuries stacking up in key positions, robbing them of their competitive spine."
Few clubs manage to dictate the news in rugby league quite like the Leeds Rhinos. Having announced that Danny McGuire is to leave the club last week, the seven time Super League champions shared that his next destination will be Hull Kingston Rovers, with his former teammate Jamie Peacock behind his recruitment on a two-year deal. Before long, news broke that McGuire's long-term partner in the halves at Leeds, the diminutive scrum half Rob Burrow, would be retiring at the end of this season, opting to take on a role in player development within the club at the close of this campaign.
Then came a press release regarding young prospect Jack Walker, who'd impressed in his first few Super League matches at full-back, announcing that the club had failed to come to terms on a professional deal for the academy graduate, having refused to guarantee him a starting berth in his first choice position. There is, interestingly, plenty of talk that his head may have been turned by another club, with Warrington Wolves heavily linked. Last, but not least, the club then revealed hooker Brad Dwyer would be joining from Wire in 2018 on a two-year deal, which would provide cover for Matt Parcell that Rob Burrow had been providing.
There are 12 other clubs in the division, but over the past week or so, you could be forgiven for not knowing...
Wigan Warriors vs Leeds Rhinos
Friday 21st July, 20:00
Live on SkySports
Wigan have got players back and Leeds are one of the form sides in the competition, but this won't be the competitive match we all want it to be, unfortunately. There's a slight injury crisis at the Rhinos at present, with short term injuries stacking up in key positions, robbing them of their competitive spine.
There'll be plenty of young Leeds academy players on show to deputise, and they'll be hoping they fit in as well as come of Wigan's youngsters did when they went through their own period of struggle. With the semi-final of the Challenge Cup to come next week, too, this might actually be a blessing in disguise for a Rhinos side who'll be well rested before facing off against Hull for a place at Wembley.
Wigan will win, and they'll win big. If they don't, some serious questions will have to be asked why not.
Wigan Warriors to beat Leeds Rhinos by +19pts @ 10/11
Hull FC vs Huddersfield Giants
Friday 21st July, 20:00
There's not much to play for where Huddersfield find themselves. With such a small chance of top-four action and the play-offs, they'll just be pleased to avoid a second season in the Qualifiers, concentrating on how they can kick on back up the league next season. Hull, meanwhile, will have one eye on their cup semi against Leeds next week too, so this might not be the most motivated meeting of the season.
It's a good chance, with Leeds weakened and away to Wigan, for the home side to close the gap on their Yorkshire rivals, so it'll be interesting to see where their priorities lie with so many meaningful games still to come. Knowing their coach, it'll be likely that they go all out in both games, hoping for the best.
While it won't be the prettiest game to watch, it should be pretty close as a result. Hull will likely sneak the win on their own patch, but don't expect either team to hit their highest gear at any stage.
Hull FC to beat Huddersfield Giants by +13pts @ 5/4
Wakefield Trinty vs St Helens
Sunday 23rd July, 15:00
As good as Saints have been since Justin Holbrook came in, Wakefield have still been better. Having come through a slight slump and started playing some fantastic rugby again, there's a real ambition about Trinity, who seem determined on gatecrashing the top four and play-offs.
Both sides play an expansive style of attacking rugby, with speed and trickery located within both backlines, but there could be a bit of a contest up the middle, too. There is a similarity in how dynamic each side likes their pack to be, and with the smaller, faster players backing up and playing off the shoulder of the bigger men so regularly, this could be one of those games where the forwards take centre stage.
One of the last games to be played at Belle Vue - as things stand - Wakefield will have every motivation to give their fans and stadium the best possible send off they can. It will likely be close, but don't underestimate Wakey's ability to mix it with the bigger sides and knick this game.
Wakefield Trinity to beat St Helens by 1-12pts @ 5/2