‘We’ve been shocking all year’ – Super League relegation goes to final night

Split image of relegation-threatened Super League side

Betfred Super League relegation battle
Date: Friday, 13 September Kick-off: 19:45 BST
Coverage: Commentary and regular updates from all three key matches on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra

A social media blackout, a “crazy amount of belief” and a “table that does not lie” – welcome to the closest Super League relegation fight ever.

Four clubs, equal on points with one game to go, are all at risk of the drop.

One coach has simply labelled “the ramifications” of the do-or-die night on Friday the 13th as “destructive”.

BBC Sport looks at how Wakefield and London, two sides that face each other in a relegation showdown, as well as Huddersfield and Hull KR are dealing with the biggest week of their season.

Super League relegation

How they line up on ‘fright night’

‘No need to ram message down players’ throats’

A social media blackout has been imposed on Wakefield’s players as head coach Chris Chester tries to get them to focus on the game and not its consequences.

“The players know enormity of what is at stake on Friday night,” he told BBC Radio Leeds.

“The social media blackout is to take pressure away from them and have them solely focused on getting a result.

“It (relegation) has not been discussed. They don’t need me ramming it down their throats.

“The one thing the guys will be on Friday is ready.”

A boost for Wakefield, who have struggled for long periods with an injury-hit squad, is that 33-year-old England centre Ryan Atkins is due to make his long-awaited return.

Atkins, who started his career with Trinity in 2006 before going on to spent a decade at Warrington, was to complete his more next season but Trinity brought his switch forward.

“He’s been a real positive influence on the group for the last three or four weeks since he’s been here,” Chester said. “He’s played in all the big games and knows what to say.”

What it will take to stay up? Wakefield’s home game against London Broncos has been billed as a relegation showdown, and victory certainly means Wakefield stay in Super League. If London beat Wakefield for the third time this season, then Trinity would go down if both Huddersfield or Hull KR win.

So, how do Wakefield find themselves facing the drop?

BBC rugby league reporter Matt Newsum

“Injuries have been the crux of Wakefield’s struggles against the drop, robbing Chester’s side of several major performers like prolific winger Tom Johnstone for pretty much the whole season, prop David Fifita for large chunks and as well as influential back-rower Tinirau Arona at a key time.

“Injuries have not helped their loss of form, with an alarming late-season slump remaining a concern for Chester – who at least acquired smart loan signings such as Morgan Escare for the run-in.”

‘An absolute write-off of a season’

Jermaine McGillvary

England winger Jermaine McGillvary said the players take responsibility for the relegation trouble Huddersfield Giants finds themselves in.

The winger said they “need to stand up and be counted” when they host Catalans Dragons, a side they have failed to beat in their last three meetings.

“The table doesn’t lie, we deserve to be where we are,” McGillvary said.

“I’m not sulking because I think we deserve to be higher, we have been shocking all year. The season has been an absolute write-off regardless of what happens.

“Everyone is hurting, not just the players but staff, fans and everyone involved. It’s all our, the playing staff’s, fault.”

The “positive”, the long-serving Giants winger added, is that they remain in control of their destiny.

“There are three other teams in the situation as well and it is still in our own hands,” he said.

“If we get a win against Catalans we stay up. It is all down to us.”

What it will take to stay up? A win at home against Catalans Dragons, a side who have nothing to play for, assures survival. Defeats for London or Hull KR will also mean they are safe – even if they fail to triumph themselves.

They cannot afford to lose by 13 or more points than Rovers, as that would swing their points difference.

What’s been behind Huddersfield’s woes, leaving them third from bottom and in real danger of relegation after 28 games?

BBC rugby league reporter Matt Newsum

“Huddersfield lost key playmaker Danny Brough last winter – coincidentally to Wakefield – and their chopping and changing in the halves since has not helped their attacking rhythm.

“They have one of the best wingers in the competition in McGillvary, who has again stood up with 16 tries, but it is defensively where Giants have struggled – conceding second most points in the league. Injuries have also hampered the Giants, limiting the outings for powerful forwards such as Joe Wardle and Seb Ikahihifo.”

‘Relegation causes destruction’

Tony Smith on the sideline for Hull KR

Hull KR boss Tony Smith has refused to let his players get paralysed by fear as they try secure the club’s Super League status with a trip to play-off-bound Salford Red Devils.

A late Jay Pitts try for London in their 20-16 win against Rovers a week earlier set up the final-night drama for the four clubs, when a Broncos defeat would have relegated them and spared Smith’s men as well as Huddersfield and Wakefield.

“We understand the ramifications of this week, as we understood the ramifications of last week,” he told BBC Radio Humberside.

“It is not being taken lightly but we are not going to sit around an worry about things when we have to take them into our own hands.

“The best way to do things is in a positive manner, with a smile on your face and looking forward to the challenge rather than feel like the pressure is getting to us.”

Smith, who suffered relegation in his first season as coach in Britain with Huddersfield in 2001, said the drop would “cause destruction”.

“It can hurt, and hurt clubs for many years,” he said.

“We are determined to get things great here over the next few years and we will regardless of which competition, but we certainly want to be in Super League and have that as our starting position.”

What it will take to stay up? Stopping Salford’s seven-game winning run is a good place to start. If they upset the form guide in Greater Manchester they survive. But they could still lose and stay up, even if bottom club London Broncos win. That would involve Huddersfield losing at home to Catalans by 13 points more.

But why, with one of Super League’s leading coaches, are Hull KR dicing with relegation?

BBC rugby league reporter Matt Newsum

“Hull Kingston Rovers gambled on sacking veteran super coach Tim Sheens and bringing in Tony Smith, who has eked out some impressive results since arriving. Inconsistency, however, has plagued them.

“A bit like their city neighbours, you never know what to expect. Danny McGuire’s brains and guile work when the pack is firing, and the Robins are certainly capable if scoring points but as recent defeats from winning positions by relegation rivals Huddersfield and London show, they can struggle to finish teams off – and that lack of ruthlessness has cost them.”

Broncos ‘know’ they can survive

London Broncos celebrate

Half-back Brock Lamb flew in to London to aide in their salvation – the former Newcastle Knights and Sydney Roosters play-maker just wishes he could have made it to the UK capital sooner.

The 22-year-old says the Broncos, the club with Super League’s smallest budget which has tried to stay in the top flight by keeping the promotion-winning side together, have quickly become “family”.

Resilience has been the hallmark of their campaign, and the 20-16 win over Hull KR to set up the desperate relegation situation on Friday night is the finest example of how they have defied the odds this season.

“The belief in the side at the moment is crazy,” Lamb told BBC Radio London. “It is a good squad and we just want to win.

“It is the last time this team will ever play together. We have people leaving and some staying. We want to send them out with a bang and hopefully stay up to do it for the club and the fans.

“I wish I had come here earlier so I could have experienced it from the start. It has been awesome in the last six weeks because everybody just believes. We have had a few poor games but the next training day everyone is ready to rip in again. Everyone knows we can do it.”

What it will take to stay up? Beating relegation rivals Wakefield in West Yorkshire is realistically the only thing that will keep London Broncos from making an immediate return to the Championship.

They were tipped to be easy pickings in Super League this season, but will London really escape relegation?

BBC rugby league reporter Matt Newsum

“London Broncos were barely expected to win a game this season let alone be in with a shout of survival. While they have shipped plenty of points, they have remained pretty competitive.

“They are not the biggest, or strongest, but they have won games and hurt teams by out-enthusing opponents, smothering them with aggressive line speed and then hitting them with quick breaks from a pacy back-line.

“Their fans have stuck with them, there is some pride in how their ‘behind-the-eight-ball’ side has got accustomed to Super League given their unexpected promotion.

“Unlike their fellow strugglers, they will not be dreading the end-of-season review, whatever happens. They have also recruited smartly for an end-of-season boost, as ex-Newcastle Knights and Sydney Roosters half-back Brock Lamb has already formed a smart understanding with lock Luke Yates – his former Knights team-mate.”

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