Leeds-Saints monopoly set to end

Leeds and St Helens may be battling it out in the Grand Final for a third successive year, but 2009 has seen some new kids on the block threaten to end their recent dominance.

Saints of course have missed out on being crowned Super League champions for the past two years, despite finishing as league leaders on both occasions, and they will be looking to return the favour against the Rhinos at Old Trafford on Saturday.

Mick Potter has received his share of criticism this year, but he’s 80 minutes from leading Saints to glory in his debut year, while Brian McClennan has avoided second season syndrome.

One man who will also be looking to avoid that in 2010 is newly awarded Super League Coach of the Year Nathan Brown, who collected the gong at an awards ceremony on Monday after a superb first season in charge at Huddersfield.

He has transformed the Giants in to potential title challengers, and their third placed finish was just reward for a fine season which also saw them reach a second Challenge Cup final in three years. Full-back Brett Hodgson capped a fine year by winning the Man of Steel and firmly establishing himself as the signing of the season.

And while the familiar sight of Leeds and Saints running out in the big game awaits us on Saturday, Huddersfield are one of a clutch of teams threatening to end the mini-era of dominance from the big two.

Both the Rhinos and St Helens have brought through a large number of academy products – from previous Man of Steel winners James Graham and James Roby to Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire at Leeds – and combined them with shrewd imports and a few old heads.

Huddersfield received recognition for bringing through the likes of Michael Lawrence and Leroy Cudjoe, while Hull KR will undoubtedly be pleased by the progress of their home-grown star in Kris Welham. The 2010 season will provide a great challenge for both Huddersfield and Rovers as they look to consolidate their places in the top four of the table.

But they will be threatened by Warrington, who under coach Tony Smith look like they could finally realise their potential as a rugby league force. Richie Myler, Ryan Atkins and David Solomona are three superb additions to an already talented squad, and despite missing out on the play-offs this term, the Wolves will be looking to keep riding the wave that was brought by their much needed morale-boosting Wembley win in August.

It’s unfair to ignore the quietly improving Wakefield while Kevin Walters’ Catalans could be dangerous if they find the sort of consistency away from home that served them well in their plucky play-off run.

Wigan are as yet an unknown quantity while Bradford will be hoping to stop the slide which has seen them go from play-off certainties to a bottom half team in the space of two seasons.

The removal of relegation – and the subsequent excitement – might just be forgiven if Super League can turn itself in to a competitive, hard-fought competition at the top of the table, and on the face of it, 2010 could just be the best year yet.

More significance should still be given to the league champions though, although I’m sure that will be far from the minds of the 70,000 supporters who will be in attendance on Saturday. See you there.

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