Now the dust has settled on the 2019 Super League season, here’s a look back at which sides impressed and who fell short.
Five wins in their opening six games of the season suggested Castleford could be real contenders for silverware, but inconsistency in results ultimately ensured that the Tigers finished the season empty-handed. The rugby on display from Daryl Powell’s side was good to watch, but aside from their bright start to the year, they were only able to claim back-to-back league wins on two separate occasions for the remainder of the campaign, which therein lies the problem. The performances of Liam Watts and Jake Trueman were particularly impressive, and with Danny Richardson onboard for 2020, there could be more exciting rugby and raised expectations in store.
Five straight defeats to end the campaign, a historic game at the Camp Nou and Chairman Bernard Gausch criticising some of his experienced players for their disruptive attitude; it’s safe to say that 2019 hasn’t been plain sailing for the Dragons! Catalans’ spine was far more balanced compared to 12 months ago, but the same problems still remain. Steve McNamara’s men lost 11 of 16 away from home this term, and unless they can find an ability to win on their travels, a play-off spot in 2020 could be beyond reach.
Another side who were dragged into a relegation scrap early on in the season and never really did enough to get themselves comfortably clear of the drop, Huddersfield will be hoping to improve on their 10th place finish when 2020 comes around. Simon Woolford’s side struggled defensively, ending up with the second worst total in the competition for points conceded, and although the likes of Lee Gaskell and Darnell McIntosh were shining lights offensively, the Giants were always facing an uphill battle. Easily the most impressive afternoon of their campaign came during their 55-2 Magic Weekend win over Hull FC, but if they want more days like that, a new dimension in the halves could be what Woolford’s side require.
Given the wealth of attacking threats at his disposal, head coach Lee Radford will be more disappointed than most to have missed out on a play-off spot. A top five spot was seemingly assured heading into the final month of the season, but a run of four consecutive defeats allowed Castleford to steal fifth spot on points difference. Albert Kelly and Jamie Shaul’s absence for a number of weeks was heavily felt, and the Airlie Birds forward pack were just as unfortunate injury-wise. The young players who stepped in did so with real quality and maturity, but they will still be disappointed to have concluded their season before knockout rugby got underway.
Hull KR were previously relegated to the Championship in 2016, and they came mightily close to a repeat once more in 2019. Despite the ecstasy of a last-gasp derby day win on the opening weekend of the season, KR rarely found much rhythm results-wise, and six defeats in seven games prompted the club to replace Tim Sheens with Tony Smith in mid-June. The Robins were only really handed a heavily scoreline on three occasions over the course of the campaign, but they also conceded more than 30 points on 10 separate occasions. They have already recruited heavily to try and add more steel and backbone, so it remains to be seen whether their incoming signings can have the desired impact on their defensive rearguard.
It was a season of two halves for Leeds. After 10 defeats in their opening 14 games, head coach Dave Furner was shown the exit door and replaced by Richard Agar, who managed to steady the ship and just about guide the Rhinos to top-flight survival. Given the wealth of talent at their disposal, Leeds majorly underachieved, make no mistake about it. Agar knows that keeping hold of Trent Merrin will be a major boost next season; the 30-year-old is the best enforcer in the Leeds ranks at present, and a huge amount of pressure will be placed on his shoulders. However, the entire Rhinos setup will be under no illusions that they cannot afford another slow start to the campaign.
They were the side written off by many at the start of the campaign, but London came within 80 minutes of achieving the unthinkable and surviving for a second season in the top-flight. The Broncos stuck with the core of the side that got promoted and, while other teams took time to gel, the Broncos’ familiarity was a huge bonus in the early weeks of the season. Danny Ward’s side took a number of major scalps – toppling Leeds at Headingley, winning twice away at Catalans, and beating champions St Helens twice on home soil – but ultimately it was not enough to stop them being demoted to the second tier. Nevertheless, it has been a season to be proud of for the Londoners.
Salford Red Devils
Tipped to be in another relegation scrap, Salford can comfortably take home the ‘surprise package’ title after upsetting the odds and making it all the way to the Grand Final. Led by the sensational Jackson Hastings and backed up by a pack of seasoned players who have largely gone under the radar in past seasons, Ian Watson will have been delighted that his side hit form at the right stage of the season, racking up eight successive wins heading into the play-offs. They couldn’t finish the season with Old Trafford success, and a number of their bigger names have already confirmed their departures, but if the Red Devils can retain the nucleus of their squad and integrate their new signings quickly, they have every chance of enjoying another relatively successful campaign in 2020.
Had it not been for an impressive Wembley display by Warrington back in August, Justin Holbrook would be heading back to Australia with a treble to his name, but it still proved to be an incredible campaign for the men in red and white. Saints finished the season as top points scorers, had the best defence in the competition by a county mile and ended the season with just three league defeats. There were no visible areas of weakness for the Saints in 2019, and you get the impression that incoming coach Kristian Woolf will be relishing the chance to work with such a talented squad as they target back-to-back Super League triumphs.
Wakefield, for all their talent and attacking endeavour, were ultimately left to rue a lack of consistency as they were forced to preserve their Super League status in the final game of the regular season, consigning London to the second tier in the process. Chris Chester’s side were entertaining to watch – only Hull FC and Huddersfield fans saw more point per game on average than Trinity’s 45.8 – but their biggest flaw was an inability to close out tight games. Eight of Wakefield’s regular season defeats were by less than eight points, and they key to success in 2020 will be finding a formula to turn those narrow losses into competition points.
They achieved their fourth Challenge Cup triumph in a decade and secured a play-off spot, but despite that, there is still an overriding sense of disappointment around the Halliwell Jones Stadium about what could’ve been. They were all set for a top three finish, but seven defeats in their final eight regular season games meant they were forced into an ultimately unsuccessful play-off eliminator against Castleford. Steve Price’s side severely lacked creativity when Blake Austin was sidelined through injury, but with Gareth Widdop arriving in time for the new campaign, the Wolves might just have found their missing piece of the jigsaw.
Despite failing to reach either Old Trafford or Wembley, Adrian Lam’s side can look back on 2019 with real pride and will look ahead to 2020 with real optimism. The emergence of Morgan Smithies, Ollie Partington and Liam Byrne bodes well for the future of the Warriors forward pack, while Bevan French has already shown signs of what he is capable of. The rugby produced during their run of 12 wins in 13 games towards the back end of the campaign was a sheer delight to watch, and with Jackson Hastings’ creative input being added to the mix next year, expect the Warriors to have their eyes on silverware.