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Super League: Thrilling three-way battle for League Leaders' Shield heads into penultimate weekend

As a thrilling Super League season nears its conclusion, the race for the 2023 League Leaders' Shield is set up for one of its most entertaining climaxes in years.

Leaders Wigan Warriors, along with second-placed Catalans Dragons and third-placed St Helens are level on points with just two games of the regular season remaining.

With all to play for as the behemoths of the 2023 campaign battle it out for silverware ahead of the post-season play-off battle, BBC Sport takes a look at what is at stake at the top of Super League.

The lay of the land

Wigan, Catalans and St Helens are all level on 36 points with an equal amount of wins and losses headed into the final two games of the 2023 regular Super League season
Wigan, Catalans and St Helens are all level on 36 points with an equal amount of wins and losses headed into the final two games of the 2023 regular Super League season

Incredibly, Wigan, Catalans and St Helens have all registered an identical amount of wins and losses heading into the final fortnight and can only be separated by points difference.

The Cherry and Whites and St Helens have carried in a remarkable run of form with the end of the 2023 campaign in sight, with both winning their past seven Super League matches.

Catalans, meanwhile, have lost two of their past three, teeing up one of the most memorable pursuits of top spot in recent memory.

It is only Saints - holders of the League Leaders' Shield - who will finish the season with home advantage, however.

After facing a trip to play-off chasing Warrington on Friday, they welcome Hull FC to the Totally Wicked Stadium on the final day.

Wigan host Castleford on Friday before a tough fixture away at town rivals Leigh on 22 September, while Catalans take on Leeds at home on Saturday before a trip to Salford to see out the regular season.

'This season shows every game really does matter'

1st - Wigan Warriors

Fixtures - Castleford (H) Fri, Leigh (A) 22 September

Wigan's thumping 50-0 victory in hot conditions at Leeds Rhinos last weekend restored their position in top spot courtesy of their commanding points difference as they pursue a sixth League Leaders' Shield.

In addition, their emphatic win at Headingley meant they matched St Helens' run of seven wins on the bounce and set down a marker.

Head coach Matt Peet went on to sign a new bumper four-year deal on Wednesday.

It is rich reward for a man who steered his side to the Challenge Cup in his first season in charge last year and has navigated the Cherry and Whites to top spot despite a run of four defeats from five games in May and June.

Asked by BBC Radio Manchester what the battle with Catalans and St Helens meant, Peet said: "It's what everyone's always wanted for Super League.

"It's brilliant for the sport. The league table at the moment is what the salary cap was introduced for. I remember at times we were looking at the NRL and talking about how competitive that was as well.

"Now we can say that we've reached that point where a lot of teams can beat one another and more importantly every game matters.

"For a long time we've used that as a strap line but it's not always been the case. It's no doubt at the moment that every game has an impact and that's what spectators and players and coaches want to be involved in."

'We have to finish the season playing well'

2nd - Catalans Dragons

Fixtures - Leeds (H) Sat, Salford (A) 22 September

Catalans led the way for much of the middle of the season and commanded a four-point lead at the Super League summit following their hard-fought win over Challenge Cup-winning Leigh in August.

What a difference two bumps in the road can have.

That victory was immediately followed by losses to Wigan and Hull KR, opening up the door to the Warriors and a resurgent St Helens side.

Dragons boss Steve McNamara is realistic about their situation, having seen their side lose their lead at the top, but still anticipates a thrilling race to the end.

"I'm really excited, it's down to the last two games, we're joint top of the competition with two other teams and it's a fantastic end to the season," he said.

"We're all aware of the situation with points and points difference, of course, but you have to concentrate on what you need to do first to play well, then if you play well, you'll win the game.

"If you win the game, then it depends how well you've done those things as to how many you win by. The opposition will have a lot to say about it as well.

"We want to finish first, if we can't finish first then second. And if not second then third.

"Whatever the situation we have to finish the season playing well, like we have done for the majority of this season.

"In good form, if that's first, second or third, then we'll attack it well."

'I'm immensely proud of the position we're in'

3rd - St Helens

Fixtures - Warrington (A) Fri, Hull FC (H) 22 September

First seasons in management can be a wild ride. Just ask St Helens boss Paul Wellens.

From the glory of beating NRL Premiers Penrith Panthers in February - becoming the first Super League side to win the World Club Challenge in Australia since 1994 - to the trials and tribulations of a bruising league campaign.

Wellens took over from Kristian Woolf with the club coming off the back of four Super League Grand Final titles in a row.

But their defence of that dynasty got off to a stuttering start as they lost five of their first 10 games. They went on to get knocked out of the Challenge Cup by Leigh on golden point, during which they lost Agnatius Paasi and Alex Walmsley to long-term injuries.

A row over the way the pair were injured followed, but Wellens maintained his depleted side's focus as they won seven on the bounce after that chastening defeat to transform their season.

"We've had some really tough challenges this year. The trip to Australia at the start of the year was a tough challenge itself," Wellens told BBC Sport.

"Having to perform the way we did was tough but then we were on a really emotional high and after coming back we had to get into the week-to-week grind of Super League straight away.

"That was challenging for everyone involved in the club but particularly the players. What we've done is overcome that and sometimes picked up victories when we haven't played well but we've also had inconsistencies like a lot of teams have where we haven't picked up results.

"We've had injuries and suspensions and other things which come through over the course of the year so I'm immensely proud that we find ourselves in the position we do."