Since their introduction in 1998 the play-offs have added drama, intensity and excitement that makes Super League one of the most entertaining competitions in sport when it comes to end of season spectacles.
With a Grand Final spot at Old Trafford at stake, one of the most nail-biting games of the season for players, coaches and fans are the semi-finals – knowing that your club is either 80 minutes away from a chance at writing its name in the history books or falling at the final hurdle.
Will Warrington, Hull, Wigan and St Helens be able to produce more epic semi-finals like the five below this weekend?
Warrington Wolves 24-26 Leeds Rhinos (2011)
After winning the League Leaders’ Shield and easing past Huddersfield in their first play-off game, Warrington selected Leeds as their ‘club call’ opponents and went into the game as favourites to reach their first Grand Final.
It was a pulsating semi-final with little to separate the two sides. With the scores level at 24 apiece both sides had tries disallowed in the final ten minutes by the video referee.
With the game heading for extra time, attention shifted to Kevin Sinfield and Lee Briers as to who would seal a late drop-goal to send their team to Old Trafford.
Three minutes were left on the clock when Sinfield made an attempt for the one-pointer which was unruly charged down by Wolves’ Richie Myler who referee Steve Ganson deemed to have been offside and awarded Leeds a penalty.
Despite the best attempts from the home crowd at the Halliwell Jones Stadium to distract Sinfield, the Leeds captain held his nerve to slot over the penalty and give Leeds a famous win.
St Helens 10-8 Leeds Rhinos (2007)
A game based on defence, League Leaders St Helens booked their place at Old Trafford with a narrow win over Leeds.
Saints led 8-6 at the break but Kevin Sinfield soon levelled the scores with a penalty after the interval.
The Rhinos enjoyed more of the possession in the second-half but couldn’t break the Saints’ defence and went behind again with 15 minutes remaining as Matty Smith converted a penalty.
St Helens held on for the win but Leeds bounced back to win the elimination semi-final the following week against Wigan and then beat Saints at Old Trafford with a 33-6 victory.
Wigan Warriors 12-13 Leeds Rhinos (2012)
A famous victory at the DW Stadium for Leeds which saw them reach Old Trafford and go on to win the competition from a fifth placed finish for the second consecutive season.
With five minutes remaining Wigan led 12-11 and looked set to reach the Grand Final.
Sinfield’s high-kick was fumbled by Wigan’s Jack Murphy giving Leeds possession on the Warriors’ try line. Two tackles later and Liam Farrell was penalised for being offside giving Sinfield the opportunity to kick for goal and put the Rhinos ahead.
Wigan’s Brett Finch then missed a last-gasp drop-goal attempt to level the scores and take the game into extra time giving Leeds a dramatic win.
Leeds Rhinos 22-23 Wigan Warriors (2003)
A Danny Tickle drop-goal three minutes from time was enough to send Wigan to Old Trafford in a pulsating semi-final.
A superb solo try from Brian Carney, converted by Andy Farrell, put Wigan 22-20 ahead before a Kevin Sinfield 35-metre penalty levelled the scores with ten minutes remaining.
Tickle’s drop-goal then nudged Wigan back in front and despite late pressure on their own try line, the Warriors held on for a dramatic win.
Wigan Warriors 16-12 Warrington Wolves (2014)
One of the most nail-biting finishes to a play-off semi-final in recent seasons took place between Wigan and Warrington at the DW Stadium in 2014.
With little to separate the sides, the scores remained level at 12 points apiece heading into the last 15 minutes and ,with both teams’ defences remaining resilient and drop-goal attempts going wayward, neither side looked like they would make the breakthrough.
With two minutes remaining Joe Burgess scrambled his way through five helpless Warrington defenders to go over in the corner and send Wigan to Old Trafford.
Winning is everything in sport.
The reason athletes train, work and push themselves so hard is to be the best, to fulfil their potential and to reap the rewards that success brings.
Another big component of sport however is defeat and the contrast in emotions between the Hull FC and Warrington players at full-time at Wembley Stadium on Saturday told the whole story.
For Hull it was the club’s first ever Challenge Cup win at Wembley and banished the memories of painful defeats in 2008 and 2013. It was also a just reward for the outstanding improvement the side has made this season and possibly the first part of a lucrative treble.
For Warrington however the players collapsed on the pitch dejected, despondent and forlorn. This was no ordinary defeat and the Wolves were, and still are, hurting.
In the most nail-biting Challenge Cup final for more than a decade, Warrington will feel they did more than enough to win the trophy. They kept Hull scoreless for an hour with some gruelling defending and were leading 10-6 with seven minutes left on the clock. Even in the dying minutes had it not been for a last-ditch, heroic tackle from Danny Houghton on Ben Currie the colours on the ribbons of the trophy would be primrose and blue.
Warrington’s biggest challenge now is bouncing back. But amidst the disappointment and cup final heartache, how do the Wolves pick themselves up?
At the start of this year new England and Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett said it took him a month to get over the Broncos’ agonising 17-16 NRL Grand Final defeat to North Queensland last season.
But Warrington don’t have a month. They don’t have a pre-season or a whole new campaign to readjust and start afresh.
Sitting second in the table and just one point behind leaders Hull, they are still well placed to compete for the League Leaders’ Shield and Old Trafford glory next month.
Their four remaining Super 8s fixtures are daunting however with a difficult trip to Catalans this Saturday followed by a local derby against Widnes before top-of-the-table clashes against Wigan and Hull.
The Wolves’ top-four spot is assured but they will be eager not to drop-off during the business end of the season and to push for an all important home tie in the play-offs by finishing first or second.
A key positive for Warrington is that head coach Tony Smith has been in this situation before. In 2005 he saw his Leeds side suffer a demoralising 25-24 Challenge Cup final defeat to -you guessed it – Hull at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
That defeat did not deter the Rhinos that season however who finished second in the league, beat St Helens to book their Grand Final place before losing 15-6 to rivals Bradford at Old Trafford.
Winning the Grand Final after suffering Challenge Cup final misery is not unheard of however with Leeds bouncing back to lift the Super League crown in both 2011 and 2012.
Moreover, Castleford would have claimed the League Leaders’ Shield in 2014 after Wembley defeat had they not lost to Catalans in the final game of the regular season.
Last season, Hull KR responded to their 50-0 Wembley drubbing to Leeds by winning their four remaining Middle 8s games to assure their Super League spot – albeit against weaker opposition.
With key creative players Chris Sandow and Kurt Gidley now on the sidelines and Ben Westwood ruled out for the rest of the campaign, Warrington have even more hurdles to overcome if they are to finish the season on a high.
The Wolves now have to quickly put their Wembley pain behind them and channel the experience into a hunger that will drive them to their first ever Super League title.
After all, overcoming adversity is the true sign of champions.