Yates’ verdict: Expect to see Saints in play-offs

John Yates expects St Helens to challenge for the title again this year
John Yates expects St Helens to challenge for the title again this year

Results in the regular Betfred Super League season have been so unpredictable that at this moment in time only Gypsy Rose Lee could possibly predict who will take centre stage in the Old Trafford Grand Final on Saturday, October 7.

But I will carry out my own piece of crystal ball gazing and try to unravel from the Super 8s fixtures released on Wednesday the four clubs I expect to reach at least the semi-final stage.

Castleford Tigers are a racing certainty, having already established a 10-point cushion after the first 23 games.

They will be without the country’s leading try scorer Greg Eden, who is suffering from a shoulder problem, for several weeks and Kevin Larrayer will also miss the opening pair of matches due to a suspension for what is kindly described in the sport as a ‘squirrel grab tackle’ but that shouldn’t hinder their progress to the last four.

Both, of course, will be marked absent when Saints come to town next Thursday - and the latter will be hoping to take full advantage by overturning their previous defeats at the Jungle this season which came in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup

(53-10) and a league fixture (16-12).

It would be a major boost for Justin Holbrook’s side if they avoid a third successive defeat at the Jungle and set them on course for the kind of run-in achieved 12 months ago - one defeat in seven matches and good enough to catapult them into the last four where they eventually went down 18-10 to Warrington Wolves at the Halliwell-Jones Stadium.

Having only finished sixth in the regular season, it means St Helens face one more match away than at home - and while form on their travels this year leaves a lot to be desired - I have a hunch they will make the latter stages of the competition.

Neighbours Wigan Warriors are also sending out the right messages and like Saints they are quite capable of making a late surge to reach the final four and possibly retain their title.

The derby day result at the Totally Wicked Stadium could also be crucial and arriving on Friday, September 1, it means that the host’s Aussie new boy, Ben Barba, currently serving a 12-match ban for a drugs offence Down Under, will be available for selection - and what a mouth-watering debut that is likely to be!

Leeds Rhinos, Hull FC, Salford Red Devils and Wakefield Trinity are the only three other genuine top four contenders in my view but the Loiners are the best bet - and you can ignore last week’s nilling at Wigan where they more or less surrendered the points by fielding a far from full strength team ahead of their Challenge Cup semi-final against Hull FC at Doncaster this Saturday.

I was a little reluctant to ignore the challenge of Salford who have not been in the best of form in recent weeks but they produced a sizzling performance at St Helens a few weeks ago and extremely unlucky to go down 25-24.

If they can regain that level of performance, then maybe they can sneak into the top four but like Hull FC they face a cup semi-final this weekend which could have a bearing on the rest of the league season depending on the outcome.

It’s a tough call but I’ll stick to Cas, Leeds, Saints and Wigan as the four to battle it out for a place at Old Trafford