The domestic season may be over with clubs having turned their thoughts to season ticket sales, while the players are enjoying hard –earned holidays with their families and resting their battered bodies, but the rugby league scene is far from hibernation with plenty going on to get the fans talking.

We’ve had a look back at the news over the last week to pick up on stories which you might have missed, to ensure that you keep your finger on the pulse of what is happening inside the greatest game.

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The eagerly anticipated opening fixture of the three match test series against New Zealand saw England in Hull at the KCOM Stadium for the crucial first instalment.

England won the mid-season game against the Kiwi’s in Denver by 36-18 but would have to do without the likes of Gareth Widdop, Luke Gale and Ryan Hall. New Zealand travelled to England on the back of a two point victory over Australia a fortnight ago and made just one change to that winning side.

The tourists were the slight favourites with the bookies but there was little to choose between the two sides, the stage was set for a classic.

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With no Wigan or Warrington players, eight debuts and a late call up for Richie Myler at half-back to replace the injured Luke Gale, there was little about tonight’s England game against France at the Leigh Sports Village could barely be classed as a full-blooded warm-up for the impending three match series against New Zealand. Debutants Shaul, Johnstone, Lyne and Holmes made the starting line up while all four substitues for England would also gain their first cap for a side with just one loss in their last six matches as they came up against a France side who themselves have only managed one win in their last six outings. Places were up for grabs for the New Zealand series as Wayne Bennett took a last look at his side in what should be a realtively straighforward run out in Leigh.
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A place in the Championship was up for grabs as Leon Pryce’s Workington Town travelled down the M6 to take on Stuart Littler’s Swinton Lions in the last game of the domestic season. Having finished bottom of the Championship ladder the Lions knew that they would be up against as they welcomed the side who pushed York and Bradford all the way in Championship One and now hoped to join them in the second tier next season. This crucial game was being held at Swintons home ground of Haywood Road in Sale as the lower division side were forced to travel. The two sides last met over two years ago when Swinton won by 19-12, but with Swinton not having won in their last four, this was anyones game as the Lions took on the Marras.
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It seems like just yesterday, in the frozen depths of winter, that Super League XXIII got underway with twelve clubs brimming full of hope and expectation. The race is already run for ten of those original dozen hopefuls, but tonight, at the Theatre of Dreams, either the Wigan Warriors or the Warrington Wolves would cap their season with the ultimate silverware and the title of ‘Champions’. It was sure to be an emotionally charged night, regardless of the eventual winner. Warrington were looking to end a sixty-three year wait with their first title in over six decades, while Wigan would say a fond farewell to their coach Shaun Wane after seven trophy laden years in charge. The bookies had the double W’s of Wigan as favourites to emerge victors, but the Wolves fans were in attendance filled with hope an belief that it really could be their year.
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There is just one show in town this weekend, the town being Manchester, and the show being the Super League Grand Final between the Warrington Wolves and the Wigan Warriors. Last weekend’s underdogs Warrington overcame the odds to secure their fourth final in eight years and will be looking to do the same on Saturday night against the 2018 favourites, Wigan Warriors. The Warriors are seeking their fifth title from ten attempts while Warrington have yet to lift the trophy after twenty-one years of trying.

Wigan are odds on favourites with the bookies to repeat their 2013 and 2016 results by beating the Wolves and condemning them to the losers medals in both major competitions this season, them having lost to the Catalans Dragons at Wembley in August.

There is one other game this weekend, to be played on Sunday afternoon, as Swinton and Workington Town play-off for a place in next seasons Championship.

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They say defence wins games. That certainly proved the case for Championship coach of the year Danny Ward’s London team in Toronto.

 

In a tense and exciting game that managed to avoid any tries at all, the Broncos won a Super League place in 2019 by two penalty goals to one – or four points to two.

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It was second against third for the remaining place in the Grand Final as the Wigan Warriors took on the Castleford Tigers In Shaun Wane’s farewell game at the DW Stadium. Next Saturday night, and a Old Trafford date with the Warrington Wolves awaited and while the home side were slight favourites, few were confident about whether this would be Castleford second year in the showpiece final or Wigan’s tenth return.

 

Castleford needed to overcome the disappointment of last weeks nilling at St Helens to overcome a confident and well drilled Wigan. The Warriors had their big guns back in the side including Sam Tomkins and skipper O’Loughlin. Castleford were missing a few first choice picks but still put out a strong looking side.

 

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It was sudden death football as the Warrington Wolves travelled to the Totally Wicked Stadium to take on the highly fancied St Helens in the first Super Eights Play-Off, for a place in the Grand Final at Old Trafford in nine days time.  Few gave the Wolves much hope of making their fourth appearance in seven years, with the smart money being lumped on St Helens first return since they last lifted the trophy in 2014, to record a record eleventh appearance in the showpiece final. Both coaches made several changes from the sides which met a fortnight ago when Saints were clear winners. But this was a different matter, at the end of a long season it was a night of knock-out football, and there were nerves on both sides as they looked to secure the ultimate prize.
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The penultimate weekend of the 2018 domestic season will determine the Super League Grand Finalists, which side will join Salford, Leeds and Hull KR from the Qualifiers in the top flight next season, who wins the Championship Shield and which Championship One side will be playing in the Championship in 2019.

There are play-off semi-finals on Thursday and Friday evenings with the Million Pound game, the Shield final, and the Championship One play-off final on Sunday afternoon and evening.

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