The SuperLeague season launched at the Etihad Stadium yesterday, and despite the BBC’s best attempts to scupper any positivity the game dares to generate, it is finally once again time to get down to business. After yet another typically turbulent off-season with Salford’s well documented financial troubles and raised eyebrows at the RFL’s sponsorship approach (I happen to think a group of sponsors is better than one big title sponsor, though I know many disagree) we are finally ready to let our sport do its best business, and that’s on the pitch.
There have been many changes for 2013 with 4 new rule interpretations, a new Championship league structure with three brand new clubs and a controversial dual-registration system now in play, and not least a new ball that will all surely contribute to some surprises in the opening rounds of the season.
In the SuperLeague, Warrington have taken to bold decision to bring in no new recruits for 2013, instead relying on the same squad that got them to Wembley Old Trafford in 2012. It’s a calculated risk with the likes of Lee Briers and Adrian Morley not getting any younger, but that settled squad packed with proven quality should bring results, especially in the early stages of the season while everybody else settles in to their own strides.
Wigan have lost some big players from their squad in Finch, Leuluai and Hock and a brand new halfback partnership in Matty Smith and Blake Green will take time to click into top gear, but any squad that contains Sam Tomkins will always be exciting to watch. After an interesting start they should still be a top 4 team.
Last season’s Champions are aiming for a third consecutive title for a second time, though I’m sure they will want to do it from higher than 5th again! And with the signings they have made, there is certainly no reason why they can’t. Their pack has been bolstered with Mitch Achurch, and in the backline they have some of the most exciting talent in the league. Hall and Moon should bag 50 tries between them this season.
Hull FC have made a lot of noises in the off-season, and have backed them up with signings like Gareth Ellis and Daniel Holdsworth to try and break in to the top 4, though I feel they will just miss out. Saints will have a lot to say under new Coach Nathan Brown after a rollercoaster debut season at Langree Park, while Wakefield, Huddersfield, Hull KR, Catalan and Bradford have strengthened astutely, though one won’t make the 8…
Castleford have made a lot of new signings to try and support Rangi Chase, but beyond their starting 17 they are struggling for quality and will once again miss out on the 8. London will undoubtedly improve under Broncos legend Tony Rea and Widnes have pulled off a major coup in signing Gareth Hock, but will it be enough? And as for Salford, well I think they will be thankful just to get a team out! Vievers and Long will do a great job just to finish off the bottom, hopefully their new savior Dr Koukash will steer them to a much brighter future in 2014.
Champions: Warrington (Beating Leeds at Old Trafford)
Challenge Cup Winners: Leeds (Beating Hull FC at Wembley)
Man of Steel: Kevin Sinfield
Top Tryscorer: Ryan Hall
In the Championship, Featherstone continue to make great strides both on and off the field and it is surely only a matter of time before the promised land of SuperLeague beckons. I expect them to reclaim the Championship trophy from Sheffield Eagles who have made some interesting signings, but they will be pushed all the way by a strong Leigh outfit with Halifax not far behind. The three promoted Cumbrian sides will be sure to make an impression on the league table while Batley are always tough to beat at the famous LoveRugbyLeague.com Stadium! Keighley, York, Dewsbury and Swinton will look to make it into the new top-8 play-off system, but Hunslet and Doncaster certainly won’t be pushovers!
Champions: Featherstone (Beating Leigh at Warrington)
Northern Rail Cup Winners: Featherstone (Beating Leigh at Blackpool)
Challenge Cup run: Sheffield
Player of the Year: Martin Aspinwall
Top Tryscorer: Rob Worrincy
Championship 1 kicks off its most geographically diverse season ever. With Hemel Stags, Oxford RL and University of Gloucestershire All Golds (UGAG) all entering the semi-pro arena, it is set to be an excitingly unpredictable year. Two of rugby league’s oldest clubs in Oldham and Rochdale will do battle with the rest of the relative newcomers, but they will not have it all their own way. North Wales Crusaders play an expansive care free style of rugby under their legendary coach Clive Griffiths and are my tip for the top, with their Welsh rivals from Neath look to make the play-offs. London Skolars and Gateshead are now the considered as veterans of the league and will look to compliment their fantastic community work off the field with a successful season on it.
North Wales Crusaders
South Wales Scorpions
University of Gloucestershire All Golds
Champions: North Wales Crusaders (Beating Oldham at Warrington)
Player of the Year: Jono Smith (Crusaders)
Top Tryscorer: Rob Massam (Crusaders)
I think I might have a cheeky fiver on those predictions… What do you think?
One thing is for sure, Extraordinary Rugby League is back from Thursday night with Halifax v Sheffield on Premier Sports, before Leeds v Hull FC on Friday night and St Helens v Huddersfield Giants on Saturday night, both on Sky Sports HD. With games like that on TV we certainly won’t be short changed.