THE battle for fifth spot in Super League is going down to the wire and seems to be developing into a two-horse race between Saints and Catalan.
Only one point separates the clubs and with the final two fixtures now ‘on ice’ until after the Tetley’s Challenge Cup Final between Hull FC and Wigan Warriors on Saturday, players and fans will have had time to consider all the permutations.
Neither team can say with any degree of certainty that they will pick up maximum points from their remaining games – fifth-placed Saints entertaining high-flying Warringon Wolves a week on Friday before travelling to Hull FC seven days later and the French outfit visiting fourth-placed Leeds and then ringing down the curtain on their season with a home match against the Wire.
Mathematically, Hull FC and their cross-city rivals, Kingston Rovers, who lie seventh and eighth in the table respectively, can still overtake
Saints and the Dragons but this is a tough ask.
Saints kept alive their slim hopes of a top-four finish as the make-up of the Super League play-off series was confirmed.
They made it five wins in a row with a 26-12 victory at Wakefield while Castleford’s 46-34 win over Bradford ensured a top-eight finish for both Hull and Hull KR and meant the Bulls will miss out on the play-offs for a fifth successive year.
Saints, who have never finished below fifth since the advent of summer rugby in 1996, were outside the top eight two months ago but a seventh win in eight matches has put them just four points behind fourth-placed Leeds with two rounds to go.
Anthony Laffranchi, Adam Swift, the returning Sia Soliola, Jonny Lomax and Lance Hohaia were the tryscorers as Saints condemned Wakefield to a fifth consecutive defeat.
“We have won five in a row and a couple before that so we are doing some good things well and the players are getting more consistent too,” said head coach Nathan Brown.
“There are lots of things to be happy about but today some things stood out we have to work on.”
England half-back Rangi Chase scored a solo try and was involved in five others as Castleford snuffed out the Bulls’ lingering top-eight hopes.
Bradford suffered a blow before kick-off when scrum-half Luke Gale pulled out with a hamstring injury but Jarrod Sammut stepped into the breach to score two of his side’s six tries in a valiant effort which fell just short.
Huddersfield could lift the league leaders’ shield before playing another game after rivals Warrington and Wigan both suffered defeats at the weekend.
They won 26-12 at bottom club London Broncos on Saturday to open up a three-point gap on Warrington and then watched third-placed Wigan lose more ground by losing 22-8 to Catalan Dragons in Perpignan.
It was Wigan’s fifth defeat in seven league matches, a worrying loss of form to take into Saturday’s Challenge Cup final against Hull.
If Warrington lose to Saints in their next league match on Friday week, the Giants will be guaranteed to finish top of the league for the first time for 81 years with two matches to spare.
g Lance Hohaia says he is fully focused on Saints despite not playing regular first team rugby. “Nathan is still figuring out where I into the team,” said the Kiwi ace.