Exclusive: Sky Sports’ Jon Wilkin outlines six major talking points ahead of new Super League season

Ross Heppenstall
Jon Wilkin Super League Sky Sports Alamy

Sky Sports pundit Jon Wilkin

Who can stop Wigan Warriors retaining their Super League title?

Can St Helens bounce back from last year and win a fifth Grand Final in six seasons?

What kind of challenges will the likes of Warrington Wolves, Hull Kingston Rovers and Leeds Rhinos pose?

And which head coach is under the most pressure heading into the new campaign?

Here, Sky Sports pundit Jon Wilkin exclusively outlines to Love Rugby League his major talking points ahead of the 2024 season, which kicks off on Thursday with a Hull derby at the MKM Stadium. 

Wigan bid for world domination

Matt Peet Wigan Warriors Alamy Wigan coach Matt Peet celebrates their 2023 Grand Final victory with the fans

Wigan remain the dominant force and it’s up to the likes of St Helens, Catalans and a few other clubs to challenge them.

Saints will be strong again and, at the Super League launch in Manchester last Thursday, it was interesting to hear Paul Wellens and Matt Peet talking about their friendship.

They meet up regularly for coffees and to chat about rugby league – despite being rival head coaches of two sworn enemies.

I really enjoyed listening to these young English head coaches speaking so openly about wanting each other to do well.

Matt talked about being genuinely pleased for Wello in winning the World Club Challenge last year and now Wello is hoping Matt’s Wigan team can overcome Penrith on Saturday week.

That’s a real step change because Wigan doing well and beating Penrith is in all our interests.

These two guys support each other and it feels like an evolution of the culture within the game.

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Coaches under pressure

Ian Watson will be looking to improve massively by starting quickly.

He’s now four years into a project at Huddersfield Giants and has not really got it to where it needs to be.

For me Huddersfield and Leeds Rhinos were the two biggest flops of 2023.

Watson knows he’s got to do better and Rohan Smith will realise that finishing eighth last year was not acceptable.

Their key players know it, Gary Hetherington knows it and the fans know it.

Sam Burgess will be under huge scrutiny at Warrington but a measure of how good a coach he is will come over the course of 2024, not the first couple of months.

Sam’s coming here to prove himself as a coach and then go back to work in the NRL – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

It’s actually sensible because Warrington are well resourced with a lot of talent but have underachieved.

Willie Peters will be looking to do something similar, as the likes of Justin Holbrook have done in recent years.

Hull FC are a puzzle for me and I just think their recruitment has been poor.

I don’t see an identity there and what have they done this year? They got rid of their best player from 2023 in Adam Swift.

That’s good news for Huddersfield but Hull FC, much like Leeds, need to be a lot better this year.

It will be interesting to see how teams are faring six to eight weeks into the season.

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Bottom of the table

With London Broncos inevitably going down, what does that mean for Salford and Castleford, who are potentially the weaker sides in Super League?

They have just got a free pass because they won’t make the play-offs or get relegated – and they know that.

Potential young star of 2024

George Delaney St Helens Alamy George Delaney on the charge for St Helens

People accuse me of bias because I’m an ex-St Helens player but keep an eye on George Delaney this year. Every single club in the NRL is interested in this young front-rower.

He’s one of the best young prospects in the British game and jumps off the page to me whenever I watch him play.

I like Sam Walters at Wigan too and it was a crazy decision by Leeds Rhinos to let him go. When Sam’s back fit, he will be one to watch.

Encouragingly, many of the star players in our competition are homegrown English talents, the likes of George Williams, Jack Welsby and maybe Harry Smith, Lewis Dodd, Harry Newman and Ash Handley.

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IMG overhaul of the game

What we have tried before hasn’t worked, so maybe this is the system to genuinely develop clubs’ facilities and infrastructure.

Evidently, it seems to be working because clubs appear to have upped their game in every sense.

Not just by investing in players but also their commercial and media approach.

Perhaps this IMG grading system will cultivate an approach where your marketing strategy is as important as winning at the weekend.

It’s almost abhorrent as a sports fan to hear that, but we’ve been waiting too long for certain clubs to raise their game.

Now they simply do or they won’t be in Super League.

Compare clubs like Toulouse, Featherstone, York and, maybe in time, Doncaster and Newcastle, to the likes of Castleford and Salford.

Under IMG’s grading system, suddenly all of them have got to be better.

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Increased television coverage of Super League

Paul Wellens, BBC Sport There will be more Super League on TV than ever before in 2024

Sky Sports are showing every game and that’s an unreal investment in a very challenging broadcast market.

To put so much resource in is the biggest show of support for rugby league that you could get from a broadcaster.

The BBC showing 15 games as well on free-to-air is valuable too, especially having that connection with the casual rugby league fan.

These broadcast deals are massive for the visibility of the sport and takes it to a place it has never been before.

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