The 20th season of Super League gets underway on Thursday night, as Widnes host Wigan.
Champions St Helens get their campaign underway on Friday against Catalans as the competition reverts back to 12 teams after six years.
Much has been made of the game’s re-structuring and the so-called new era, which will see the leagues split after 23 games.
The 12 Super League teams will play each other home and away, plus the Magic Weekend fixture, before the top eight split away to continue their points tally’s for a further seven games.
The top four after the 30 games will then go in to a straight shoot-out in the semi-finals for a place in the 2015 Super League Grand Final.
The bottom four clubs after 23 games will join the top four clubs from the Championship in the so-called “middle 8”.
They will also play a further seven games, with the top three in that mini-league earning their place in Super League for 2016. The teams who finish in 4th and 5th will then face-off in the million pound game for the 12th and final Super League spot for next season.
Here is our club-by-club preview of Super League XX.
Last Season: 4th
Coach: Daryl Powell
Captain: Michael Shenton
Key Player: Ben Roberts
Outs: Daryl Clark (Warrington), Kirk Dixon (retired), Jamie Ellis, Craig Huby (both Huddersfield), Dan Fleming (Bradford), Weller Hauraki (Salford), Richard Owen (Wakefield), Ben Reynolds (Leigh), Garreth Carvell (Featherstone), Lee Gilmour (Wakefield)
Castleford were undoubtedly one of the stories of 2014, coming within 80 minutes of snatching the league leaders’ shield, something which even their most ardent supporters wouldn’t have predicted this time last year. A trip to Wembley too – where they were beaten by Leeds in the Challenge Cup final – added to what was a season to remember for Tigers fans.
The fear is that they will suffer from second (full) season syndrome under Daryl Powell, whose already high coaching stock continues to rise. Those fears have come about following the high profile departures of last season’s Man of Steel, Daryl Clark, and long-serving Craig Huby (to Huddersfield) and Kirk Dixon (through retirement).
A lot will depend on just how well Powell can cope with Scott Moore, who had a relatively uneventful and solid year at London last year, and how much of an impact Samoa World Cup star Ben Roberts can have, but the Tigers will be fancied to make the top eight.
Squad: 1 Luke Dorn, 2 James Clare, 3 Jake Webster, 4 Michael Shenton, 5 Justin Carney, 6 Ben Roberts, 7 Luke Gale, 8 Andy Lynch, 9 Adam Milner, 10 Grant Millington, 11 Oliver Holmes, 12 Matt Cook, 13 Nathan Massey, 14 Lee Jewitt, 15 Ryan Boyle, 16 Junior Moors, 17 Scott Moore, 18 Frankie Mariano, 19 Scott Wheeldon, 20 Denny Solomona, 21 Liam Finn, 22 Jordan Tansey, 23 Michael Channing, 24 Mike McMeeken, 25 Steve Crossley, 26 Ashley Gibson, 27 Ash Robson, 28 Will Maher, 29 Jordan Howden, 30 Brandon Westerman, 31 Brandon Moore, 32 Tom Holmes.
Last Season: 7th
Coach: Laurent Frayssinous
Captain: Remi Casty & Greg Mounis
Key Player: Todd Carney
The new structure means that Catalans can ill-afford a repeat of the slow start that almost cost Laurent Frayssinous his job in 2014. Their recruitment suggests that they could well be a force, with Todd Carney, Willie Tonga and the returning Remi Casty all adding star quality to a side that performed well in the second half of the season.
Elliott Whitehead’s impressive form earned him a place in the England Four Nations squad, and Scott Dureau will be hoping to return to the form he showed in 2013. Finishing in the top eight, and being able to keep tabs with the big boys, will be key to the long-term success of the Dragons franchise.
Three home games in the first four should mean the Dragons get off to a start that will ease them towards an expected top eight finish, but a few early defeats and they could be looking over their shoulder.
Squad: 1 Morgan Escaré, 2 Vincent Duport, 3 Ben Pomeroy, 4 Willie Tonga , 5 Michael Oldfield, 6 Todd Carney, 7 Scott Dureau, 8 Olivier Elima, 9 Ian Henderson, 10 Rémi Casty, 11 Zeb Taia, 12 Louis Anderson, 13 Greg Mounis , 14 Thomas Bosc, 15 Jeff Lima, 16 Eloi Pelissier, 17 Elliott Whitehead, 18 Ben Garcia, 19 Mathias Pala, 20 Damien Cardace, 21 Julian Bousquet, 22 Gadwin Springer, 23 Antoni Maria, 24 Jason Baitieri, 25 Joan Guasch.
Last Season: 3rd
Coach: Paul Anderson
Captain: Danny Brough
Key Player: Danny Brough
Huddersfield have established themselves as a regular play-off team, and there’s nothing to suggest that this season will be anything different. They have once again retained the core of a strong and largely British squad, and that stability could well be an asset as all 12 clubs enter a season of the unknown.
Though there are people within the Giants club who are privately worried about a slow start, and they face tough trips to Wigan and Leeds in the opening three games. The new format does not lend itself well to playing catch up.
Shaun Lunt has the ability to be the best hooker in the league, and as long as Danny Brough can stay injury free, the Giants should be worrying more about how they are going to reach a first Grand Final, rather than if they’re going to make the eight.
Squad: 1. Scott Grix, 2. Jermanie McGillvary, 3. Leroy Cudjoe, 4. Joe Wardle, 5. Aaron Murphy, 6. Danny Brough, 7. Luke Robinson, 8. Eorl Crabtree, 9. Shaun Lunt, 10. Craig Huby, 11. Brett Ferres, 12. Jack Hughes, 13. Chris Bailey, 14. Michael Lawrence, 15. Craig Kopczak, 16. Kyle Wood, 17. Ukuma Ta’ai, 18. Jodie Broughton, 19. Anthony Mullally, 20. Jamie Ellis, 21. Jacob Fairbank, 22. Jake Connor, 23. Josh Johnson, 24. Kruise Leeming, 25. Nathan Mason, 26. Ollie Roberts, 27. Mick Learmonth, 28. Tyler Dickinson, 29. Liam Johnson
Last Season: 11th
Coach: Lee Radford
Captain: Gareth Ellis
Key Player: Joe Westerman
In terms of infrastructure and fanbase, Hull should be a top eight side. But they have failed to deliver on the pitch for the past couple of seasons, and the new structure means they cannot afford for that to go on.
Yet again they’ve made wholesale changes, particularly in the halves, which sees Leon Pryce and Marc Sneyd tasked with settling down the Airlie Birds from the middle of the park. Joe Westerman showed at times last season the player that everyone thought he was going to be when he came through at Castleford, while academy products Jamie Shaul, Tom Lineham and Callum Lancaster also give the fans glimpses of hope.
It will be a big test of Lee Radford’s coaching credentials this term, and he could be a victim of the new era if Hull don’t get off to a good start in 2015. They will not want to be playing in the middle eight come August.
Squad: 1. Jamie Shaul, 2. Tom Lineham, 3. Setaimata Sa, 4. Kirk Yeaman, 5. Fetuli Talanoa, 6. Leon Pryce, 7. Marc Sneyd, 8. Mickey Paea, 9. Danny Houghton, 10. Liam Watts, 11. Gareth Ellis, 12. Mark Minichiello, 13. Joe Westerman, 14. Iafeta Paleaaesina, 15. Chris Green, 16. Jordan Thompson, 17. Dean Hadley, 19. Steve Michaels, 20. Curtis Naughton, 21. Richard Whiting, 22. Josh Bowden, 23. James Cunningham, 24. Jack Logan, 25. Jansin Turgut, 26. Jack Downs, 27. Jordan Abdull, 28. Brad Fash, 29. Harry Tyson-Wilson, 30. Bobby Tyson-Wilson, 31. Callum Lancaster, 32. Jordan Rankin, 33. Joe Arundel
Last Season: 9th
Coach: Chris Chester
Captain: Terry Campese
Key Player: Kieran Dixon
Ins: Mitchell Allgood, Ken Sio (both Parramatta), Ryan Bailey (Leeds), Maurice Blair, Albert Kelly (both Gold Coast), John Boudebza (Lezignan), Terry Campese (Canberra), Darrell Goulding (Wigan), Kieran DIxon (London), Josh Mantellato (Newcastle), Tyrone McCarthy (Northern Pride), James Donaldson (Bradford)
The obvious question when looking at Hull KR’s outlook for 2015 is will the new signings gel quickly enough?
Chris Chester has had a good old clear out and Rovers have been busy recruiting from Down Under, adding a number of players who, on their day, can be real quality. It might be that one of their recruits from the UK, Kieran Dixon, could prove the difference between them finishing in or out of the top eight, and they have been there or thereabouts now for the past seven seasons.
Based on their past references, a couple of the new signings, like Albert Kelly and Ryan Bailey, could go either way though Rovers will no doubt be more than happy to enter the season as relative unknown quantities. They face Leeds, Wigan and Warrington in the first three games, which may not be a bad thing – as it gets their squad up against the best, and also means that by the time they play some of their expected rivals for a top eight finish, the squad may have gelled a bit more.
Squad: 1. Kieran Dixon, 2. Ben Cockayne, 3. Darrell Goulding, 4. Josh Mantellato, 5. Ken Sio, 6. Maurice Blair, 7. Albert Kelly, 8. Adam Walker, 9. Keal Carlile, 10. Michael Weyman, 11. Kevin Larroyer, 12. Graeme Horne, 13. Tyrone McCarthy, 14. Mitchell Allgood, 15. James Donaldson, 16. Ryan Bailey, 17. Greg Burke, 18. Liam Salter, 19. Kris Welham, 20. James Green, 21. Aaron Ollett, 22. Jordan Cox, 23. Terry Campese, 24. John Boudebza, 25. Macauley Hallett, 26. Sonny Esslemont, 27. Josh Guzdek, 28. Connor Robinson, 29. Matthew Marsh, 30. Steven Holker
Last Season: 6th
Coach: Brian McDermott
Captain: Kevin Sinfield
Key Player: Zak Hardaker
Ins: Adam Cuthbertson (Newcastle)
Leeds won’t be able to pounce for the Super League title from fifth this season, so expect to see a different approach from them.
Zak Hardaker could be the stand-out player in the competition as he looks to take more responsibility off the ageing shoulders of McGuire, Burrow and Sinfield. It’s the significant progress of Liam Sutcliffe and Brad Singleton which could make the difference for the Rhinos this season, two players who will be the link between Sinfield and co’s incredible dynasty and the future.
What we don’t know is how possible a winning run will be at the end of the season in the new era – with the last seven games all against top eight competition, plus a semi-final and the Grand Final back to back, might mean that the Rhinos need to make sure they set their stall out for a top four berth early on.
Squad: 1 Zak Hardaker, 2 Tom Briscoe, 3 Kallum Watkins, 4 Joel Moon, 5 Ryan Hall, 6 Danny McGuire, 7 Rob Burrow, 8 Kylie Leuluai, 9 Paul Aiton, 10 Jamie Peacock, 11 Jamie Jones-Buchanan, 12 Carl Ablett, 13 Kevin Sinfield, 14 Stevie Ward, 15 Brett Delaney, 16 Mitch Achurch, 17 Adam Cuthbertson, 18 Liam Sutcliffe, 19 Brad Singleton, 20 Jimmy Keinhorst, 21 Josh Walters, 22 Andy Yates, 23 Elliot Minchella, 24 Robbie Ward
SALFORD RED DEVILS
Last Season: 10th
Coach: Iestyn Harris
Captain: Harrison Hansen
Key Player: Kevin Locke
Ins: Michael Dobson (Newcastle), Carl Forster (St Helens), George Griffin (London), Matt Groat (St George), Weller Hauraki (Castleford), Liam Hood (Hunslet), Ben Jones-Bishop (Leeds), Luke Menzies (Swinton), Cory Paterson (Wests), Scott Taylor (Wigan)
Outs: Andrew Dixon (Leigh), Mat Ashurst (Wakefield), Stuart Howarth, Marc Sneyd (both Hull), Danny Williams, Jake Mullaney (both Bradford), Gareth Owen (Oldham), Steve Rapira (Mackay Cutters), Francis Meli (retired)
Salford are perhaps only a top class hooker short of a full jigsaw for ambitious owner Dr Koukash, who will be demanding his side are eating at the top table come August.
That could spell trouble for Iestyn Harris, who must make sure the Red Devils have got enough points on the board before a run of five away games in the last seven matches before the split.
The return to Super League of Michael Dobson, to provide a steady and effective partner to the enigmatic Rangi Chase, and with Kevin Locke and Mason Caton-Brown in the backs, the Red Devils certainly have a line-up on paper to trouble the best in the league – but as we all know, the game isn’t played on paper.
Squad: 1.Kevin Locke, 2.Ben Jones-Bishop, 3.Josh Griffin, 4.Junior Sa’u, 5.Greg Johnson, 6.Rangi Chase, 7.Michael Dobson, 8.Adrian Morley, 9.Tommy Lee, 10.Lama Tasi, 11.Harrison Hansen, 12.Weller Hauraki, 13.Gareth Hock, 14.Theo Fages, 15.Darrell Griffin, 16.Scott Taylor, 17.Jordan Walne, 18.Mason Caton-Brown, 19.Niall Evalds, 20.Adam Walne, 21.Tony Puletua, 22.Jason Walton, 23.Andrew Dixon, 24.Liam Hood, 25.George Griffin, 26.Carl Forster, 27.Luke Menzies, 28.Jon Ford, 29.Brad England, 30.Matty Gee
Last Season: 1st (champions)
Coach: Keiron Cunningham
Captain: Jon Wilkin
Key Player: Luke Walsh
Outs: Paul Clough (Bradford), Carl Forster (Salford), Ade Gardner (retired), Willie Manu (Sydney), Iosia Soliola (Canberra), Gary Wheeler (Warrington), Anthony Laffranchi (retired), Shannon McDonnell (Wests)
It seems bizarre to think that Saints could enter this season with a point to prove, despite finishing top and being crowned Super League champions in 2014.
Insiders feel a little let down by the lack of coverage and respect following a Grand Final win that was marred by Ben Flower’s red card.
So they’ll set out to do it all and again, this time under new head coach Keiron Cunningham, and they’ve got all the tools in their armoury to do it. Travis Burns comes in to provide a steady partner for Luke Walsh, whose return from injury will be a decisive factor in Saints season, and as champions, they should go in to 2015 as the team to beat.
Squad: 1. Jonny Lomax, 2. Thomas Makinson, 3. Jordan Turner, 4. Josh Jones, 5. Adam Swift, 6. Travis Burns, 7. Luke Walsh, 8. Mose Masoe, 9. James Roby, 10. Kyle Amor, 11. Atelea Vea, 12. Jon Wilkin, 13. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 14. Alex Walmsley, 15. Mark Flanagan, 16. Lance Hohaia, 17. Mark Percival, 18. Luke Thompson, 19. Greg Richards, 20. Paul Wellens, 21. Joe Greenwood, 22. Matty Dawson, 23. Anthony Walker, 24. Jordan Hand, 25. Andre Savelio, 26. Lewis Charnock, 27. Dave Hewitt, 28. Jack Ashworth, 29. Olly Davies, 30. Matty Fleming, 31. Matty Fozard.
Last Season: 12th
Coach: James Webster
Captain: Danny Kirmond
Key Player: Paul McShane
Wakefield won’t mind that most people are writing them off for a place in the top eight, and that could make them dangerous.
Under James Webster, they are capable on their day of causing an upset, although it is likely that they’ll be spending the final games of their season fighting off the likes of Leigh and Featherstone, rather than challenging Wigan and Warrington (and others) for the title.
Jacob Miller comes in from Hull with a point to prove, alongside Tim Smith, himself with a few people to prove wrong following his uninspiring spell at Salford. Whether they have got enough quality, let alone depth, to make a serious challenge on a top eight place, remains to be seen.
Squad: 1. Craig Hall, 2. Chris Riley, 3. Dean Collis, 4. Reece Lyne, 5. Richard Owen, 6. Jacob Miller, 7. Tim Smith, 8. Nick Scruton, 9. Paul McShane, 10. Scott Anderson, 11. Ali Lauitiiti, 12. Daniel Kirmond, 13. Danny Washbrook, 14. Pita Godinet, 15. Matt Ryan, 16. Mickael Simon, 17. Matty Ashurst, 18. Daniel Smith, 19. Jon Molloy, 20. Jarrod Sammut, 21. Max Jowitt, 22. Jordan Crowther, 23. Lopini Paea, 24. Tom Johnstone, 25. Ian Kirke, 26. Chris Annakin, 27. Kyle Trout
Last Season: 5th
Coach: Tony Smith
Captain: Joel Monaghan
Key Player: Daryl Clark
Warrington finished out of the top three for the first time since 2009 last season and reaching the Grand Final from fifth proved just beyond their grasp as they narrowly went down to Wigan in the play-offs.
They have signed Man of Steel Daryl Clark and blockbusting prop Ashton Sims from the NRL, two new faces that are sure to improve the Wolves line-up, despite the losses of long-serving Michael Monaghan (retired) and Paul Wood (Featherstone).
Having finished top in 2011, and then reached the Grand Final in the following two seasons, could 2015 be the year that Warrington finally claim that elusive Super League title? They’ll certainly be a serious contender.
Squad: 1 Matthew Russell, 2 Rhys Evans, 3 Chris Bridge, 4 Ryan Atkins, 5 Joel Monaghan, 6 Stefan Ratchford, 7 Richard Myler, 8 Chris Hill, 9 Daryl Clark, 10 Ashton Sims, 11 Simon Grix, 12 Ben Westwood, 13 Ben Harrison, 14 Mick Higham, 15 Roy Asotasi, 16 Paul Wood, 17 Ben Currie, 18 James Laithwaite, 19 Anthony England, 20 Gareth O’Brien, 21 Ben Evans, 22 Gene Ormsby, 23 Gary Wheeler, 24 Kevin Penny, 26 Joe Philbin, 27 George King, 28 Toby King, 29 Declan Patton, 30 Tom Walker
Last Season: 8th
Coach: Denis Betts
Captain: Kevin Brown
Key Player: Kevin Brown
Widnes enter their fourth year back in Super League with play-off experience under their belt, having finished in the top eight last season, a good achievement for Denis Betts side.
The Vikings will be one of the group of sides in the bottom half of the table fighting for a top eight spot. They had a magnificent start last season, and they’ll need to repeat that if they are to stand a chance of avoiding the middle eight. But it’ll be tough – their first two games are Wigan (H) and Leeds (A).
Squad: 1. Rhys Hanbury, 2.Paddy Flynn, 3. Cameron Phelps, 4. Stefan Marsh, 5.Patrick Ah Van, 6.Kevin Brown, 7.Joe Mellor, 8.Eamon O’Carroll, 9.Lloyd White, 10.Manase Manuokafoa, 11.Danny Galea, 12.Danny Tickle, 13.Hep Cahill, 14.Chris Dean, 15.Jack Owens, 16.Willie Isa, 17.Chris Clarkson, 18.Paul Johnson, 19.Ben Kavanagh, 20.Dec Hulme, 21.Danny Craven, 22.Liam Carberry, 23.Phil Joseph, 24.Macgraff Leuluai, 25.Alex Gerrard, 26.Tom Gilmore, 27.Grant Gore, 28.Matt Whitley, 29.Ed Chamberlain, 30.Ted Chapelhow, 31.Ryan Ince, 32.Almer Salvilla, 33.Aaron Heremaia, 34. Jay Chapelhow, 35. Gil Dudson
Last Season: 2nd (Grand Finalists)
Coach: Shaun Wane
Captain: Sean O’Loughlin
Key Player: Matty Smith
Wigan have finished in the top four in all but one of the past eight seasons, and they’ll be favourites to do that once again.
Their famous production line keeps churning out quality players, and despite seemingly losing a key player or two every season, somebody new comes to the fore.
Youngster George Williams has been handed the responsibility of the number six shirt, having deputised for the now departed Blake Green so well last season, while the likes of Dan Sarginson have another year under their belt at a top club.
Squad: 1. Matty Bowen, 2. Josh Charnley, 3. Anthony Gelling, 4. Dan Sarginson, 5. Joe Burgess, 6. George Williams, 7. Matty Smith, 8. Dom Crosby, 9. Michael McIlorum, 10. Ben Flower, 11. Joel Tomkins, 12. Liam Farrell, 13. Sean O’Loughlin, 14. John Bateman, 15. Iain Thornley, 16. Sam Powell, 17. Tony Clubb, 20. Ryan Hampshire, 22. Dom Manfredi, 23. Lee Mossop, 24. Taulima Tautai, 25. Larne Patrick, 26. Logan Tomkins, 27. Lewis Tierney, 28. Ryan Sutton, 29. James Greenwood, 30. Rhodri Lloyd, 31. Connor Farrell, 32. Jamie Doran, 33. Rob Lever, 34. Oliver Gildart, 35. Jake Shorrocks