It has been 68 days since a rugby league ball was last kicked in competitive anger. That is quite short for a usual off season, but you could be forgiven for thinking it has been twice as long considering the absolute carry on that has been happening over the last ten weeks.
London, Wakefield and Bradford have once again been flirting with the debt collectors. Dr Koukash and Mr Lenegan have been flirting with anyone who will listen, and Sky Sports have upped their flirting game with the RFL now that the hot young BT Sports are on the scene, leaving poor Premier Sports out like a jilted ex. Am I stretching this analogy too far?
No? Good, I’ll carry on. Dr Koukash this week said of the new Sky deal, which is worth over £200m and runs until 2021: “I voted against it, because I didn’t think it is the right one. You don’t marry the first girl you meet. You go out with them, you sleep with them, you try them, but don’t commit to the long-term relationship until you’re sure there’s no one else better.”
The thing is though, Sky Sports and the RFL are already in a committed long term relationship and have been for over 20 years. They know the sport inside out, they revolutionised it in 1995 and it looks as though they may possibly help do it again in 2015. They know the sports broadcasting market inside out and they know how much our game is worth, which is why they offered this deal at the time they did. BT Sport may look all shiny and exciting, but their TV deal with English Rugby Union doesn’t compare all that favourably and their coverage isn’t pulling up any trees either. Sky Sports have offered the RFL a deal above its market value thanks to BT Sports’ presence, and there is a lot to be said for the sanctity of marriage…
Its fantastic we now also have a title sponsor and an impressive portfolio of associate sponsors involved with Super League in 2014, hopefully a legacy of the fantastic World Cup we hosted a little over 10 weeks ago. Welcome to the sport First:Utility and Alcatel and too many others to mention here!
Now, finally, we can get back to enjoying what it is we are all actually here for. Forget the balance sheets for a minute, forget the rebel club Chairmen, forget the looming restructure. Lets play some good old fashioned Rugby League…
I know it’s a cliché that gets totted out every February, but I think we are in for a fantastic season now there is literally everything to fight for. Plenty of changes at the top will mix things up no doubt. Contenders Wigan have lost superstar Sam Tomkins and Warrington are facing life without club legend Lee Briers on the field. Leeds have strengthened an already outstanding back line with England international Tom Briscoe and St Helens have done some fantastic business, now boasting a real mean pack with a genuine scrum half in Luke Walsh playing behind it. Last season’s league leaders Huddersfield amazingly continue to be underrated by pundits everywhere. Baffling.
Then we have the pretenders – Catalan will be strong at home once again, Hull FC are a bit of an unknown quantity under rookie coach Lee Radford, Hull KR have lost the influential Mick Dobson. Widnes have made some shrewd signings and last year’s wooden spooners Salford have quietly gone about their business…
Unsurprisingly, the four I imagine to be battling to avoid the two drop spots are the four club who could least afford the dreaded trapdoor. Castleford however should be relatively safe under the leadership of Daryl Powell, despite losing star man Rangi Chase, but then I think its going to be an excitingly desperate dogfight right to the very death for London, Bradford and Wakefield. Though I sincerely hope it won’t be a literal death for any of them…
So then, neck on the line… Here are my predictions for the 2014 First:Utility Super League and Tetley’s Challenge Cup:
3. St Helens
8. Hull FC
10. Hull KR
CC – St Helens (Beating Leeds)
GF – Wigan (Beating Huddersfield)
Lovely stuff. What do you think…?