|Dates: 12-27 November Coverage: Highlights on BBC Two, commentaries on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra and local radio plus live text on the BBC Sport website|
It has been a long season for Super League clubs, who would normally be returning to pre-season training rather than completing the play-off phase at this point of any other year.
After a four-and-a-half month enforced sabbatical because of Covid-19, the elongated campaign is now at the crunch stage, the point where seasons are ended and champions are crowned.
Six teams will compete for the right to be Grand Final winners on Friday, 27 November.
This is how they will get there.
The regular season table, curtailed prematurely to push on with a meaningful finish to the campaign, ended with Wigan winning the League Leaders’ Shield on win percentage, pipping St Helens in their bid to win a third minor premiership in a row.
Reward for finishing in the top two for those clubs is the chance to sit out the first week of the play-offs.
Instead, the clubs who finished third to sixth – Warrington, Catalans, Leeds and Hull FC – are involved in two eliminator games.
Warrington, in third, play Hull FC on Thursday at the Halliwell Jones, with Catalans facing Leeds on Friday at the same venue.
For the winners, the journey continues. The losers are out.
Having rested up, Wigan and St Helens enter the fray at the semi-final stage next week.
As the highest ranked team, Wigan will host the lowest ranked winners from the opening round on Thursday, 19 November, while St Helens will entertain the other opening round winner the following night.
The two winners then head to Hull’s KCOM Stadium on Friday, 27 November for the Grand Final.
The contenders – team by team
Adrian Lam’s side hit form at the right time, winning their past four games including victories over St Helens and Warrington to clinch the League Leaders’ Shield.
They have plenty of play-off experience, and X factor – from the livewire Bevan French, to centre Oliver Gildart and playmaker Jackson Hastings. In Sam Powell they have one of the most consistent hookers and a pack happy to mix it with anyone.
St Helens looked invincible post-restart after some shaky moments early in the season, but defeat by Wigan in the run-in showed they are fallible after all.
They have mostly been a model of consistency, led by Alex Walmsley and James Graham up front, with the spine of James Roby, Jonny Lomax, Theo Fages and Lachlan Coote playing off that go-forward. In winger Regan Grace, they also have a match-winner.
Steve Price’s side have been there or thereabouts all season, and have consistently been involved come play-off time for at least a decade now. Going all the way is their next challenge though.
They possess seasoned veterans of the knock-out phase such as Stefan Ratchford, Chris Hill and Daryl Clark; a potentially world-class halves pairing in Gareth Widdop and Blake Austin, plus youthful promise in Matty Ashton, Ellis Robson and Danny Walker. The ingredients are there.
The Dragons have never quite got it right at play-off time, even when Laurent Frayssinous led them to within 80 minutes of Old Trafford back in 2014.
Steve McNamara has certainly assembled a team capable of success, but their travelling exploits – though a consistent issue – put them at a disadvantage. Still, key members such as Sam Tomkins, brother Joel and hooker Micky McIlorum have all won the competition, and James Maloney is a two-time NRL Grand Final winner. They have big game experience.
Leeds have already put one trophy in the cabinet for 2020 by beating Salford in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley, but finding that energy again for a play-off bid is one of the toughest mental challenges for any team.
The Rhinos are the summer era’s most successful Grand Final team, with their last triumph coming in 2017. Their star half-back Luke Gale was on the losing Castleford side that night, but he showed he can control a game in these awkward autumn/winter conditions in their Challenge Cup semi-final win over Wigan. It was a perfect exhibition of wet weather rugby. It tends to be that way come play-off time.
Hull FC can be brilliant, which is what makes them such a difficult team to read coming into the play-offs. It is knock-out rugby, rising to the challenge, and they have players capable of this.
Andy Last has generated some form from the Black and Whites, winning four of their final five games to squeeze them into the top six. In Marc Sneyd they have a game-manager, in Jake Connor a game-breaker. Their pack can intimidate with big Pacific islanders such as Manu Ma’u and Ligi Lao, while Josh Griffin, Mahe Fonua, Ratu Naulago and Bureta Faraimo are a blockbusting three-quarter line.
How to follow on the BBC
The first round of the play-offs will be shown as highlights on the Super League Show, with highlights of the semis and final on BBC Two across the United Kingdom. Broadcast times are to be confirmed.
Radio commentary of the eliminators will be available on BBC local radio, with the semi-finals and final available on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra.
Live text commentary will also be available on the BBC Sport website for all the games in the play-off series.