Editor’s predictions for Super League 2021 season

James Gordon

John Bateman (13) of Wigan Warriors in action during the game

The days are getting longer, the weather’s getting better, the vaccination roll out is continuing at pace and Super League is back!

An end of March start really ought to catch on – and it’s champions St Helens who kick things off against Salford at Headingley at 6pm.

Here are my predictions for the season ahead:

1. Wigan

The heartbreaking manner in which they lost last season’s Grand Final will no doubt act as extra motivation for Adrian Lam’s side this term. They have managed to keep their best players and have added a superstar in John Bateman, as well as an exciting prospect in Jai Field. There are some question marks over their depth in the outside backs, but as is often the case with Wigan, we will no doubt see some youngsters come through and make a name for themselves in chasing success in 2021.

Key man: Jackson Hastings

Best signing: John Bateman

One to watch: Umyla Hanley

2. St Helens

It would take a brave man to best against St Helens securing a third consecutive Super League crown. They have been the dominant side of recent years, particularly in the regular season, and even though they were pipped by their arch-rivals for the League Leaders’ Shield, they had the last laugh. Their recruitment was done early and is as impressive as it is understated; they’ve kept their quality and while their NRL signings haven’t been the most talked about, they may turn out to be the most shrewd.

Key man: Jonny Lomax

Best signing: Sione Mata’utia

One to watch: Lewis Dodd

3. Leeds

The Challenge Cup holders have moved out of their transitional phase and are a much different prospect to the one just under two years ago, when Richard Agar was initially placed in temporary charge. They’ve gained some stability back, the signing of Kyle Eastmond has potential to be the best of the year, and the likes of Richie Myler have stepped up to the fore. Zane Tetevano is a powerful addition and their top young talent, like Ash Handley and Harry Newman, are now maturing from promising players to international candidates. Even with the early injury blow suffered by Jack Walker, you feel there is enough versatility and quality in the Leeds squad to cope.

Key man: Luke Gale

Best signing: Kyle Eastmond

One to watch: Sam Walters

4. Warrington

Steve Price will be desperate to say farewell with that elusive Super League trophy. The signing of Greg Inglis will make the headlines, while Gareth Widdop will be hoping to put a disappointing 2020 behind him and make the sort of impact expected of him 12 months ago. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Warrington this year will be how they can integrate their young players, having decided to let go a number of players that were previously adding depth to their squad. It may well be the last chance saloon for some of the players in their squad too, ahead of what is likely to be a re-build under a new coach for 2022 and beyond.

Key man: Gareth Widdop

Best signing: Greg Inglis

One to watch: Eribe Doro

5. Catalans

Though the Dragons sometimes flatter to deceive, making them tougher to predict, they showed enough last year to suggest they can deal with the issues caused by travelling and if they can get all their games in, they should make the play-off places. Expecting Sam Tomkins to have a big year ahead of the World Cup, and this may well be the year we see the Catalans’ youth development work come to fruition – with a number of French youngsters added to the first team squad and expecting to get numbers, as they look for the next generation of Remi Castys, Thomas Boscs and Greg Mounis’.

Key man: Sam Tomkins

Best signing: Gil Dudson

One to watch: Mathieu Laguerre

6. Huddersfield

The Giants are my tip for the final play-off spot, though in truth, below the top four, anything could happen. Ian Watson has mixed it with the big boys at Salford, and having recruited strongly around Aidan Sezer, the Giants could well challenge for silverware. Huddersfield have got a core of homegrown talent too, and it will be fascinating to see how the flexibility that offers Watson, in comparison to his Salford days, will impact on his side’s ability to compete week in, week out.

Key man: Aidan Sezer

Best signing: Luke Yates

One to watch: Ronan Michael

7. Hull

New coach Brett Hodgson inherits a settled squad that has seen just one major addition in Josh Reynolds. His half-back partnership with Marc Sneyd could light up Super League, while the mercurial Jake Connor’s move to the full-back role will likely be a move to watch. As ever with Hull, they have the ingredients to win things – and Hodgson may well fancy their chances of slipping under the radar.

Key man: Jake Connor

Best signing: Josh Reynolds

One to watch: Ben McNamara

8. Castleford

It’s Daryl Powell’s final season and he will want to say farewell in a positive manner. In Niall Evalds, Jake Trueman, Danny Richardson and Paul McShane, they have an exciting all-English spine – if they keep them all fit, then they can be a match for anyone. Injuries have already troubled the squad heading in to the season. Powell may well fancy a tilt at Challenge Cup success as his best chance of ending the year with any silverware.

Key man: Jake Trueman

Best signing: Niall Evalds

One to watch: Lewis Bienek

9. Salford

Salford’s squad looks as strong as it has done for many years, particularly in terms of depth. The range of options they have means that they should be able to deal with the format of this season. A lot will depend on how Richard Marshall settles in to his first full-time role as a Super League head coach, and whether he can find the right style and a settled line-up to kick-on. Have looked at this prediction and felt a little harsh, but Salford have proven over the past couple of years, that they quite enjoy the underdog tag, and they are more than capable of reaching the top six.

Key man: Tui Lolohea

Best signing: Morgan Escare

One to watch: Sam Luckley

10. Wakefield

Chris Chester’s side had a difficult campaign last time out, and their progress this season will hinge on whether the likes of David Fifita can find the form of a few years ago. New signing Mason Lino is a bit of an unknown quantity, and their success may well also depend on how much of an impact he can have alongside Jacob Miller, who they will hopefully keep fit for large parts of the year. Trinity will be desperate not to get embroiled in a relegation battle, especially as their long battle in seeing progress with stadium improvements appears to be nearing a positive end.

Key man: Jacob Miller

Best signing: Mason Lino

One to watch: Brad Walker

11. Hull KR

Tony Smith’s side won hearts in 2020 with their style of play, which the coach said was down to the removal of the jeopardy caused by relegation. They won’t have that luxury this year, but hopefully they’ll still find a way to put performances together like the ones against Wigan and St Helens. They have some experience around a youthful squad, with a number of those youngsters likely to carry the weight on their shoulders. If they can perform above expectations, then the future may look bright for the Robins. Expect new signing Brad Takairangi to play predominantly at stand off to help guide this young team around the park.

Key man: Shaun Kenny-Dowall

Best signing: Brad Takairangi

One to watch: Muizz Mustapha

12. Leigh

Super League’s newboys enter the season with nothing to lose. They still have two quota spots to fill, and getting some bodies in those may well prove pivotal. They do lack quality in some areas, in comparison with other sides, but there are players who may feel they have points to prove, as well as youngsters wanting to make a name for themselves. Nathan Peats is an eye-catching capture, and they have recruited plenty of other players with Super League experience. If John Duffy’s men can funnel the energy of people writing them off in to an underdog spirit, then expect them to push survival all the way to the death – as London did back in 2019.

Key man: Nathan Peats

Best signing: Nathan Peats

One to watch: Craig Mullen

Grand Final winners: Wigan
Challenge Cup winners: Huddersfield
Man of Steel: Aidan Sezer
Relegated: Leigh
Promoted from Championship: Featherstone