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Westwood inspires Wolves win
England forward Ben Westwood grabbed four tries to help Warrington to a resounding 40-20 victory over their grand final conquerors Leeds and take them to within 80 minutes of a return to Old Trafford.
The tough-tackling second-rower was at the heart of an impressive performance from the Wolves, who earned themselves a week off and the right to select their semi-final opponents under the ClubCall system so despised by their coach Tony Smith.
Leeds will still have a chance to keep alive their bid for a hat-trick of titles as they prepare for a home tie in next Friday's preliminary semi-final but they must hope this seven-try defeat does not shake their confidence.
The Rhinos were back to full strength with the return from suspension of prop Ryan Bailey and they were in the game until Westwood completed his second hat-trick of the season six minutes into the second half.
Westwood opened the scoring five minutes into the qualifying play-off after collecting Lee Briers' grubber kick and stretching out of full-back Zak Hardaker's tackle to plant the ball on the line for his first try.
The champions' response was led by livewire hooker Rob Burrow, who carved out two tries in seven minutes.
Centre Kallum Watkins finished off his lightning break and then took another offload from him to combine with winger Ben Jones-Bishop to get skipper Kevin Sinfield over, despite the suspicion of a forward pass in the build-up.
Sinfield struck the upright with his second conversion attempt to leave his side 10-6 in front but it was a tenuous lead and there was little to choose between the two fiercely competitive teams.
Briers was given a warning for sparking a mini brawl by throwing a punch after taking exception to a tackle by Leeds second-rower Carl Ablett but he stayed on the pitch to continue to orchestrate matters.
The Wolves were level on 26 minutes when replacement hooker Michael Monaghan put makeshift scrum-half Simon Grix through a gap and he easily rounded Hardaker.
Stefan Ratchford's second goal nudged his side back in front and they extended their lead in fortuitous circumstances five minutes before the break.
Westwood stormed onto Briers' pass and looked a certain scorer until Hardaker got back to make the tackle on the line.
Unclear whether the England forward managed to get the ball down, video referee Phil Bentham gave him the benefit of the doubt and Briers added the conversion to open up an eight-point lead.
Westwood almost completed his hat-trick two minutes into the second half when he lost the ball in Danny McGuire's tackle short of the line but there was no stopping the second-rower four minutes later when he finished off a break by Michael Monaghan.
It was enough to clinch Westwood the man-of-the-match award but he was pushed closely by Briers, whose 40-20 kick ensured the momentum stayed with his side.
And it was Briers who sealed the win with Warrington's fifth try after Michael Monaghan had worked the ball back from the Leeds line.
Hardaker went over for two tries as the Rhinos attempted to play catch-up, but in between Westwood touched down Briers' kick to score his fourth try and centre Ryan Atkins scored a seventh try six minutes from the end after pouncing on a stray pass from Sinfield.
Adam Swift ran in a hat-trick as rampant St Helens brushed aside Hull KR 46-10 to book their place in the Super League preliminary semi-final.
The contest was effectively over by half-time as the sublime home side ran in six tries before the break.
It was like watching free-flowing St Helens teams of old as they went for the jugular against lame visitors.
Rovers had dominated St Helens on three occasions this season, twice winning during April and then again at Langtree Park in May, but it was all so different this time at the business end of the campaign.
The visiting side got off to a decent start and put the home side under pressure in the early exchanges. They pressed in defence to force an early Saints error and capitalised with a try.
Lincoln Withers, in for injured stand-off Travis Burns who broke his arm in the defeat to Widnes, went very close with a scampering run. A quick play of the ball later and they were over as Liam Salter touched down.
However, that was as good as it got for them as Saints poured forward.
St Helens hit back in devastating fashion with three tries in five minutes.
The first was beautifully created by Jonny Lomax as Francis Meli powered over, and then full-back Lomax stabbed a kick through which Swift pounced on to score.
The Saints onslaught continued when James Roby cut through the poor Rovers tackling and Sia Soliola strolled in from 50 metres.
Nathan Brown's men were on a roll and the Robins were struggling to contain them. Alex Walmsley went close but Rovers stemmed the tide temporarily.
Rhys Lovegrove coughed up a silly mistake at the ruck as Hull KR looked to get back into it, but Saints were in no mood to relent and piled on the pressure.
Saints' Anthony Laffranchi had a try ruled out by video official Ben Thaler after Tony Puletua had knocked on in the build-up.
The next Saints try came after 31 minutes when Lance Hohaia dummied his way through and offloaded to Jordan Turner for another score.
Turner banged over his fourth successful conversion and at 24-4 it was practically game over.
There was no coming back for Rovers as Tommy Makinson dived in for Saints' fifth try and Swift chimed in for good measure to make it 34-4.
Kris Welham thought he had got one back for Rovers after 47 minutes but it was chalked off by Thaler.
Saints replied with another try as Roby connected with Hohaia for a simple score.
Swift was next to benefit for his hat-trick try and it looked like a case of how many more could Saints run in.
But Michael Dobson, who leaves the competition for the NRL and Newcastle, had the final say, converting Craig Hall's effort with minutes to go for his last points for Rovers and in Super League.