In complete contrast to the events in the two previous playoff matches in the Super League played on Thursday and Friday, Saturday's two eliminator matches were undecided right up to the final whistle, with all the teams involved knowing that there would no second chances.
First up were Warrington Wolves against Widnes Vikings, which most pundits had expected to be a comfortable victory for the Wolves, especially on their home patch. The game itself turned out to be anything but although the result was as expected in the end, ensuring that Warrington can still harbour hopes of their third consecutive appearance in the Grand Final itself. An extremely narrow 22-19 win for Warrington was only possible thanks to an amazing comeback from the home team that included a Joel Monaghan hat-trick of tries, after trailing by 18-0 approaching half time.
The early lead for Widnes owed much to three try assists from the ever consistent Kevin Brown, as he set up Paddy Flynn twice in addition to Rhys Hanbury. All three tries were converted by Danny Tickle. Warrington had trimmed the deficit to 19- 6 thanks to the first of Monaghan's scores by the time that the teams had turned round, with the extra point for the Vikings coming from a drop goal by Brown. It proved to be their final score of the game as they were shut out in the second half as the Wolves took control.
Monaghan reduced the arrears further with a second try shortly into the second half, and when that was added to by Rhys Evans in the 48th minute the advantage was down to only three points as the otherwise faultless Stefan Ratchford for once missed his conversion. He regained his accuracy to convert Monaghan's third try in the 56th minute, as Warrington finally took the lead and it remained that way to the end. The Wolves will be anxious to see how bad the injury to Matty Russell proves to be as he was stretchered off the field in the second half.
Challenge Cup winning Leeds Rhinos may have had five of their players named in the Super League Dream Team for 2014 compared to the Catalan Dragons' one, but reputations mattered not as the Rhinos will have to wait another season to regain the Super League trophy after losing 24-20 in a dramatic finish at Headingley. The Catalans' Sam Williams scored the last minute try that saw his side through.
The Tykes have had a major dip in form in recent weeks that has resulted in a five match Super League run of defeats prior to the match up with the Catalan Dragons, yet had been expected to come good against the notoriously poor travelling French side. However, the corresponding match in the normal season had finished 32-31 to Leeds so that was perhaps a better form guide.
The home side led 14-6 at half time thanks to tries from Carl Ablett and centre Kallum Watkins, who displayed some nifty footballing skills for his effort. The Catalans had briefly drawn level in between through a converted try from Williams and had Vincent Duport placed on report (they will have to wait and see if that rules him out of the next match).
The Dragons were in no mood to give Leeds an easy passage and reduced the lead to only two points when Zeb Taia leapt highest to a high kick to cross the line, with Thomas Bosc converting the try. That momentum was built on when they went in front with only 24 minutes to go as Louis Anderson powered through the Rhinos' defence to score. They almost scored again when Morgan Escare was only denied by some last ditch tackling by Leeds' full back Zak Hardaker. That seemed to be a decisive moment as Jamie Jones-Buchanan went over for Leeds to see them 20-18 ahead and time fast running out for the French side. That was until Williams' late score. #RugbyThe next set of matches in the playoffs will see Castleford play Warrington on Thursday night and Huddersfield host Catalans next Friday night. Wigan and St Helens lie in wait for the victors of the two ties in the semi finals, with the Grand Final to be played at Manchester's Old Trafford on 11th October.