So after a season overshadowed by re-structuring talk, commercial worries and Dr Koukash, it’s play-off time, and it promises to be an exciting few weeks.
We’re often told that there should be less teams in Super League to intensify the competition – well we’re left with the eight best teams in the competition, slugging it out over a month to find the ultimate champion.
Huddersfield have had a tremendous season, and for my money, are the team to beat in the play-offs. Everyone has expected them to slip at various points in the season, and they haven’t done so.
Many will point to their lack of big-game experience, particularly in comparison to the likes of Leeds and St Helens, but it certainly adds greater intrigue.
For rugby league in this country, a gripping play-off campaign leading in to the World Cup is a must.
What we want is nine enthralling games; games that capture the imagination of not only all rugby league fans, but beyond that. It has been eluded to elsewhere, but the sport is now entering perhaps the most pivotal three months of its lifetime.
So how will it all pan out?
Huddersfield v Wigan (Thursday, 8pm)
Wobbling Wigan, for all their bad press, are the only unbeaten side in knockout rugby this season, given their Challenge Cup success, and they travel to Huddersfield on Thursday for what promises to be a mouth-watering play-off opener.
The Giants don’t seem to have let any pressure get to them yet, but will the increased weight of expectation hamper them in front of their home crowd on Thursday?
Prediction: Huddersfield by 6
Hull v Catalan (Friday, 8pm)
Hull will have been relieved to earn a home tie in the play-offs – their defeat to St Helens had presented the Dragons with the chance to reverse this tie, but the Dragons failed to secure the point they needed in their last regular season game against Warrington.
It’s a do-or-die clash, and for one of these teams, it will be their last game of 2013. Hull have beaten the Dragons home and away this season, including their Challenge Cup quarter-final victory back in July.
Prediction: Hull by 6
Warrington v Leeds (Saturday, 3pm)
Warrington face Leeds on Saturday in the other “loser gets another chance” play-off, and here’s hoping that the format of the play-offs and the knowledge of having that second chance doesn’t affect the intensity of either game.
The Wolves will no doubt use their Dream Team snub as motivation for the Rhinos clash, and they also have last year’s Super League Grand Final defeat to think about. Tony Smith’s men did it the long way last season, losing their play-off opener to St Helens, and then having to beat Hull and Saints to make it to Old Trafford.
Leeds of course have been doing it the hard way for years – this is the first time they’ve finished in the top four since 2010.
Prediction: Warrington by 8
St Helens v Hull KR (Saturday, 5pm)
Are St Helens this season’s dark horses? They’ve finished in the fifth spot from which Leeds have ended victorious in each of the last two years, and will be keen to get back to Old Trafford – 2012 ended a run of six straight Grand Final appearances for Saints.
After a slow start, Nathan Brown’s men have been hitting some sort of form heading in to the play-offs, with only one defeat in their last seven – at home to Warrington.
Michael Dobson will wave farewell to Hull KR, who have beaten Saints three times this season, if they don’t manage to make that four.
Prediction: St Helens by 10
Let us know your play-off predictions below.