Well, where to start? The 2011/12 off-season was far from a period of quiet preparation for many teams. Hull KR signed Misi Taulapapa from Sheffield, only to turn their back on him at the last minute. Their near neighbours Hull FC were left in a right old financial state by their former Board of Directors, before finding out that they had unnecessarily tried to ‘cover up’ Martin Gleeson’s failed drugs test, causing a spectacular backfire on their part. St Helens and Warrington proudly showed off their new stadium developments, only before having to patch up the roofs quick sharp after some high winds. London Broncos struggled to count to 5 and had to release Australian Jarrad Hickey before he even played a game due to exceeding the non-federation trained players quota. Oh, and 4 days before the new season, they have yet to secure any kit sponsors and still haven’t released a full squad list to the media. Lovely stuff.
As you are most probably aware, it has been recently announced by the RFL that Stobart have agreed a unique sponsorship deal to become the new title sponsors of SuperLeague for the next three seasons. No money has changed hands, but in return for the naming rights Stobart have decked out 100 of their trucks in eye-catching SuperLeague livery, essentially becoming moving adverts for our game right across England and France. It’s a risky move but the clubs voted in favour of it, and I think it could pay off big time. Meanwhile the RFL are still free to secure sponsorship with other companies for the game, like the multi-million pound deal with Elonex with the electrical sponsors boards… Well done RFL I say!
Now, on to the Rugby. I won’t do a full club-by-club breakdown, as that has been done elsewhere on this fine site, but here’s what I think… All the pre-season training camps are finished, all the 2012 squads are finalised (bar London Broncos, of course), and all of the trail games have been played with some eye-catching results. There have been some real quality signings this year. St Helens & Warrington have signed proven quality from the NRL, Bradford and Wigan have gone for the younger more speculative NRL bargains but could pay handsome rewards, while Widnes and Wakefield have effectively signed two brand new squads!
As for the league table, I think that come September 2012, it will look quite similar as it did in September 2011. The top 8 I think will remain the same too, in what order remains to be seen though. I think teams like Catalan (or is it Catalans again this year?) and Hull KR will rely on their home form to earn them big points, while the bottom 6 will be a complete dogfight for precious points wherever they can get them. Here’s my predicted 2012 SuperLeague final table:
2. St Helens
7. Hull FC
8. Hull KR
And here are my other SuperLeague predictions:
Champions: St Helens. Dare I say it? I think Saints will end their 5 year Old Trafford hoodoo against Warrington. They have a fantastic nucleus of academy players who really stepped up to the mark last season, falling just 80 minutes short of glory. These kids are now a year older, wiser and stronger, and the vastly experienced Lance Hohia will ably lead them around the field. A memorable maiden season in their fantastic new home at Langtree Park beckons for them.
Challenge Cup: Warrington. This team may seem to struggle in the SuperLeague play-offs, but they certainly know how to win this one. A third Challenge Cup in 4 years beckons for the Wolves, beating Wigan in a thrilling Wembley Final.
Man of Steel: James Roby. Or if it isn’t him, it’ll be Mick Monaghan. Both players will be crucial to their respective teams campaigns. (Hardly an astounding revelation, I know.)
Top Tryscorer: Sam Tomkins. Super Sam is no stranger to the limelight, and this season will be no different.
I think I might have a cheeky fiver on those predictions… What do you think?
One thing is for sure, Rugby League is back and we certainly won’t be short changed. I’ll be at Leeds v Hull KR on Friday night and Bradford v Catalans on Sunday. Where will you be?
P.S. Keep an eye out for my Championships preview, coming soon!