Play-offs in focus

The road to the Grand Final starts this weekend with the first round of play-offs. Jordan Fiddes casts a critical eye across the eight contenders bidding to make it to Old Trafford and the game's ultimate prize

By Jordan Fiddes.   Last Updated: 13/09/12 5:10pm

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Wigan Warriors

Coach: Shaun Wane

Key Men: Sam Tomkins, Thomas Leuluai

Last Year: Beaten by St.Helens in the semi-final

Odds to win Grand Final: 5/4

This year's League Leaders Shield winners are rightly short-priced to win the Grand Final in 2012, however Warrington pip them to favourites for the crown.

Michael Mcllorum's suspension is a setback but the timely return of Thomas Leuluai from injury will be a major boost. The little general broke his leg in this year's England vs Exiles series but made his comeback last week against St.Helens, scoring the game's opening try.

Wigan's form may have dipped slightly in recent weeks, losing to Leeds Rhinos in the Challenge Cup semi-sinal and to arch-rivals Saints in the final league game of the season, but a team with the likes of Sam Tomkins and Brett Finch in the ranks should never be written off.

Tomkins will be a front-runner for the Man of Steel award again this year and he will be desperate to help his team regain the trophy they had taken from them last year.

Prediction: Grand Final runners-up

Warrington Wolves

Coach: Tony Smith

Key Men: Lee Briers, Ben Westwood

Last Year: Beaten by Leeds Rhinos in the semi-final

Odds: 6/5

Warrington are the form team going into the 2012 play-offs. It could be argued they have all the requirements to win this year's Grand Final.

The coach, Tony Smith, has been there and done it with the Rhinos and they now have the squad that could go all the way.

Smith has wisely rotated his squad this year and it looks to have paid off as Warrington appear unbeatable leading to the play-offs. Going from the "nearly men" in recent years, the Grand Final has proved one game too far for the Wolves but I predict this could be their year.

Lee Briers remains the marshal but he now has top quality generals around him with the likes of Richie Myler, Ryan Atkins and Michael Monaghan all proving their worth this season.

Not only that, but they have the hard-working forwards setting the platform, led by the seemingly ever-youthful partnership of Adrian Morley and Gareth Carvell.

Ben Westwood is receiving numerous plaudits for his performances of late and it will be mighty hard for any team to beat the Wolves again this year.

Prediction: Champions

St.Helens

Coach: Mike Rush (acting head coach)

Key Men: James Roby, Lance Hohaia

Last Year: Lost in Grand Final

Odds: 8/1

St.Helens have lost the last five Grand Finals in a row, could 2012 finally be their year?

They had a slow start but the hammering of Leeds in March was the kick-start to their season in 2012. Since then, they have gone on to win 16 of their 22 matches in Super League which certainly is Grand Final form.

James Roby has once again been instrumental in the Saints ranks and with Lance Hohaia alongside him, St.Helens look a dominant force. Hohaia is a World Cup Winner and he seems to have fitted in perfectly with the St.Helens' expansive style of play.

I'm not sure they have the depth in their squad that Wigan and Warrington can call upon, but another year in Super League for the likes of Jonny Lomax and Josh Jones will only prove beneficial.

Once again, I predict that the Grand Final will be a game too far for the Saints but they could certainly be a good outside bet at 8/1.

Prediction: Semi-finals

Stevo previews play-offs

Catalan Dragons

Coach: Trent Robinson

Key Men: Scott Dureau, Remi Casty

Last Year: Lost to Wigan in Preliminary Semi-Final

Odds: 20/1

What a year for the Catalan Dragons. Finishing fourth is an outstanding achievement for the men from the south of France and Remi Casty became the first Frenchmen to be included in the Super League Dream Team at prop.

He is just one of a number of players in the Catalan team to receive plaudits from all over Super League.

Not even the injury to Leon Pryce has slowed the Dragons down and they are in great form coming into the play-offs.

For all their hard work, they have been rewarded with a trip to the DW Stadium to face Wigan. This might be a tough game but finishing fourth means they get a second chance, at home. I don't think many teams would welcome a trip to France in the middle of the play-offs so that will work in their favour.

Trent Robinson has announced that 2012 will be his last year at the Stade Gilbert but all the travelling they face may make it very difficult for them to reach Old Trafford to give him the perfect send-off.

Prediction: Semi-finals

Leeds Rhinos

Coach: Brian McDermott

Key Men: Kallum Watkins, Rob Burrow

Last Year: Champions

Odds: 10/1

They've done it before, can they do it again? Just like last year, everything points to a disappointing end to a disappointing season for the Rhinos, but they are the current Champions.

They certainly have the firepower and the potential return of Danny McGuire would give them a much needed boost.

Leeds have stuttered all year but there are many comparisons to that of last year; losing the Challenge Cup final and finishing in the lower ranks of the play-offs.

I don't think many teams will take the Rhinos lightly as they did last year however.

They certainly have the players, most of them youngsters, to go all the way. Zak Hardaker has been a revelation since his move to full-back and Kallum Watkins has proved his try-scoring ability once he has kept injury-free.

However, Leeds would have to win three three games before reaching Old Trafford and it is a huge ask to repeat their run of last year.

Prediction: Knocked out at the first hurdle

Hull FC

Coach: Peter Gentle

Key Men: Tom Briscoe, Willie Manu

Last Year: Beaten by Leeds in 1st Round Qualifying

Odds: 40/1

2012 had all the makings of a good year for Hull FC, yet their form has been very sketchy at times.

They have, however, had a good couple of wins prior to the play-offs and notched some notable wins during the 2012 season. They beat both Leeds and St.Helens early on in the season, yet they seem to have struggled to gain momentum.

One shining light has been the form of England winger Tom Briscoe who has consistently performed at the top level this season. They will need all their players to be at the top of their game in the play-offs if they are to progress.

On a more positive note, the Black and Whites have a number of big signings lined up for next season which will make them more realistic contenders for silverware.

Prediction: Preliminary semi-finals

Huddersfield Giants

Coach: Paul Anderson

Key Men: Danny Brough, Eorl Crabtree

Last Year: Beaten by Warrington in 1st Round Qualifying

Odds: 50/1

What happened to the Giants? After such a promising start to the season, Huddersfield have felt such a fall from grace, even Big Eorl had a headache.

In the early months of Super League 2012, Huddersfield were the team to beat and being touted as early favourites for the League Leaders shield. The loss in France in early May seemed to have hit them a lot harder than it did other teams.

They have only notched up a handful of wins since then and they only just scraped into the play-offs. They finished the season on a high with a good win against Leeds but other than that, 2012 is a season to forget.

Losing their coach Nathan Brown mid-season hasn't helped and it will take a lot for Paul Anderson to give his players a boost for the play-offs.

Prediction: Out at the first hurdle

Wakefield Trinity Wildcats

Coach: Richard Agar

Key Men: Tim Smith, Ali Lauitiiti

Last Year: 1st year in the play-offs

Odds: 100/1

Few could have predicted Wakefield Trinity Wildcats finishing in the play-offs this season but their inclusion is well-deserved.

Tim Smith has worked his troops around the field to perfection and after seven straight wins they now play with such confidence, it will take a massive effort to beat them.

They made a number of acquisitions in the off-season, with Ali Lauitiiti one of the big success stories.

The Wildcats obviously have a tough route to Old Trafford but they could certainly make an impact on the play-offs this year. I don't think they can go all the way but their first game at Headingley will be a lot tighter than many will be assuming.

Prediction: Preliminary semi-finals

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