|Super 8s Qualifiers: Hull KR v Huddersfield|
|Venue: KC Lightstream Stadium Date: Saturday, 24 September Kick-off: 12:30 BST Coverage: Full commentary on BBC Radio Humberside and BBC Radio Leeds|
Leigh’s promotion to the Super League has been celebrated as a success for the current Super 8s format.
The Leythers became the first Championship club to climb back to the elite level since the old franchise system was scrapped and a “three groups of eight” end-of-season set-up was introduced for 2015.
Their achievement means one of Hull KR, Huddersfield Giants and Salford Red Devils – three of the four top-flight sides that ended up in the middle tier known as the Qualifiers – will drop out.
Rovers or Giants can ensure their spot with victory in Saturday’s “shoot-out” between the pair, while the loser will ponder the uncertainty of the Million Pound Game – a tussle between fourth and fifth in the table to decide the remaining Super League place.
‘Game to be relished’
From a purely sporting perspective, the return of promotion and relegation has given the format a new lease of life in 2016, perhaps outdoing Super League itself for excitement and incident.
The quirk of the fixture list to pair Huddersfield and Hull KR in the final game of the campaign has set up a dramatic finale for coaches, fans and players alike.
“These games are the reason we play,” Rovers half-back Terry Campese told BBC Sport.
Campese, who has played State of Origin for New South Wales, for Australia and spent 12 NRL seasons at Canberra, has placed great significance on Saturday’s encounter.
“The pressure, whoever handles it the best gets through,” the 32-year-old added. “It’s exciting, nerve-wracking, everything all in one.
“It’s not like the loser has a repercussion but if you do lose you’re in the Million Pound Game, which is a scary thought.”
Jobs at stake
While the media will lap up the tense excitement and a neutral audience could be enticed into following the game, there is a darker side to the events that could unfold over the next few weekends.
Super League clubs work on Super League budgets, not just in terms of playing staff but behind the scenes from coaching to commercial.
Relegation to the Championship, where the financial rewards are much lower, forces clubs to make financial cuts.
“There’s a lot more behind the scenes,” Campese added. “There are a lot of backroom staff that also lose their jobs and it’s a lot of money you miss out on.
Huddersfield hooker Ryan Hinchcliffe says the end-of-season stakes are huge on a private and professional level.
“We’ve invested a huge amount,” he said after Sunday’s win against Leeds kept their hopes alive.
The 31-year-old had been at NRL side Melbourne Storm for six years, winning premiership and World Club Challenge honours, but opted to bring his family to the other side of the world to play.
“This Qualifiers concept is a stressful one and the stress that goes along with it is not a nice thing,” he said.
Uncertainty is tough for everyone involved, but particularly the import players.
Some travel thousands of miles with families in tow to continue their careers in Super League, bedding into British life.
“My kids started school over here,” Campese said. “They don’t grow up with family back home like cousins, aunties, uncles, nan and pops etc. It’s a big investment for us.
“We want to put our best foot forward, do right by the club that takes a gamble on us.”
Such distractions have prompted Giants boss Rick Stone to try to shield his players.
“Everyone keeps telling you [about relegation],” he told BBC Radio Leeds. “It’s hard for the players to get it out of their heads.
“They’ve got a lot of their life invested in what they’re doing at the moment, so we’ve tried to focus on the process rather than worry about the ramifications.”
The notion of relegation is alien to Australian rugby league audiences, with a “closed-shop” National Rugby League and the most high profile feeder leagues in New South Wales and Queensland existing on the fringes.
It makes Saturday’s game and the possibility of a one-off match to stay in the division even more significant – even for those who have the experience of playing in the the game’s showpiece event in Britain and down under.
“I’ve played Grand Finals, World Club Challenges,” Hinchcliffe added. “There’s nothing that compares to playing for your contract, playing for your futures.
“The pressure of that is big, and if anyone says they’ve not been feeling any pressure I don’t think they’re telling the truth.”
In terms of the table, there is little to statistically separate the teams, with an identical record and only a four-point advantage for Hull KR on points difference.
Rovers, hosts on Saturday, have even been bolstered by the return from retirement of veteran prop, multiple Super League winner and former Man of Steel Jamie Peacock, 38, for the tail end of this critical period.
His presence, added to Campese’s return from injury, has given the Robins hope of staving off the drop.
Huddersfield arrive in East Hull having ended Leeds’ 100% record in The Qualifiers, bouncing back from a wake-up call defeat by Leigh the previous week.
Campese summed up the situation that faces both sides on Saturday lunchtime: “Everyone knows that if we win we’re safe, if we don’t we’re playing again the following week.
“We have to worry about what is in our hands and work on what we can.”