This has been a heartening year for rugby league expansionists, with Catalans Dragons becoming the first non-English winners of the Challenge Cup in the sports 123-year history. On Sunday the Wolfpack, formed two years ago, face the Broncos to determine who replaces Widnes in Super League in 2019.
Read more Toronto started Sunday in one of the Qualifiers three automatic promotion places but knew if Hull KR beat Widnes by 14 points or more they would be forced to go through the play‑off of fourth versus fifth. It was clear early on that would be Torontos fate, with the Robins beating the relegated Vikings 30-0.
Danny McGuire has been instrumental in Hull KRs attempts to survive in their first season back in Super League, and here the half-back had a hand in three tries which put them 20-0 up by half-time against a Widnes side who exit Super League having not beaten a top-flight team since April.
It means Hull KR join Leeds and Salford as the three Qualifiers sides guaranteed top-flight rugby in 2019, with Super League now shifting its focus to the play-offs this week. The runaway league leaders, St Helens, head into the semi-finals favourites to become champions for a seventh time – they host Warrington in the first play-off game on Thursday.
On Friday second-placed Wigan welcome third-placed Castleford, who will be aiming to reach the Grand Final for a second successive year. The Warriors begin that game favourites, though, having won their past seven games on the run-in to the play-offs, as they aim to send their long-serving coach, Shaun Wane, out with another title before he departs for Scottish rugby union.
The winners meet at Old Trafford on Saturday 13 October, before British rugby league again revamps its domestic structure over the winter.
1: Rhinos were fortunate not to get dragged into the Million Pound game. They could have lost at Widnes in the Qualifiers and got lucky late on against Salford. Of 21 competitive games since the end of April they won eight: four were against lower division teams and they beat relegated Widnes three times. From winning the Grand Final to losing at home against Toronto and securing safety on points difference in less than a year is a truly calamitous decline.
2: The defeat by Toronto was arguably Rhinos worst of the summer era. Wolfpack werent particularly good, but less bad than a Rhinos side which missed too many tackles, gave away needless penalties, had a player sin-binned and made a frustrating succession of errors. Rhinos again let a lead slip late on and are badly lacking a playmaker, some big forwards and on-field leadership.
3: Other than retaining Betfred Super League status the only positive from Leeds 2018 campaign is its over. The challenge now is to ensure nothing like it happens again. The club are keeping tight-lipped, but sources suggest recruits lined up – one in particular – will add real quality to the group if deals can be done. An overhaul is needed, but contracted players will only leave if another club wants them or they agree a pay off. That in turn limits the ability to make signings.
4: The transition from the Golden Generation was handled badly. Recruitment hasnt been good enough, but a new coach is coming in, two signings are already confirmed and Kevin Sinfield has been appointed to deal with recruitment and oversee the rugby department. So, belatedly, issues arising over the past three years are being addressed.
5: Richie Myler was Rhinos official player of the year, with Jamie Jones-Buchanan second and Tom Briscoe third. Hard to argue, but this writer would have gone 1: Tom Briscoe, 2: Myler, 3: Ryan Hall.