Weary Widnes prepare for the final push
Sunday 04 August 2002
Considering the welcome clubs gave to the decision to expand the number of places in Super League's end-of-season play-offs from five to six, it is remarkable that nobody seems to want to lay claim to that extra opportunity.
It is virtually certain, with eight rounds to play, that the top five slots will be filled, in some order, by Bradford, St Helens, Wigan, Leeds and Hull. The team that will occupy the final place is anybody's guess, not least because of the failure of candidates to advance a convincing claim in recent weeks, but this afternoon's game between Widnes and London is likely to have a big bearing on the issue.
Widnes made a wonderful start to life in Super League but reality has started to bite, notably at Wigan last weekend, when they looked a weary side with little left in the locker. Their coach, Neil Kelly, has tried to freshen them up this week by taking them to an outdoor-activities centre on Anglesey, but no amount of kayaking will put them back on course if the depth is not there.
In any case, Kelly has been equivocal about how good an idea it is to finish sixth. On the one hand it would set the seal on a marvellous season; on the other it would ensure a tougher draw next year and might raise false expectations.
Widnes' defeat at the JJB left the way open for London to move into the play-off zone. Incredibly, they lost at home to the bottom club, Wakefield, after leading 18-0. Despite that collapse, the Broncos coach, Tony Rea, has kept the same side for the trip north, with the exception of the injured Dom Peters. The club had a boost this week with the re-signing of their captain, Jason Hetherington, and he could steady them sufficiently to lay claim to that play-off place. Just behind Widnes and London lurk Castleford, who are at home to Halifax today.
Down in the Northern Ford Premiership, who have made the decision to split into two for next season, there are two landmarks today: Swinton return to home soil after 10 years in exile, playing their first game at Moor Lane against Doncaster, whilst Bobbie Goulding makes his debut for his eighth club, Leigh, at home to Featherstone.
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