Super League’s 21st season is about to get underway as champions Leeds host Warrington on Thursday evening, and isn’t it good to have it rugby league back?
The league’s new structure is now a year old, meaning there’s no excuses this time around for teams not being fully prepared for what’s ahead, so here’s hoping for the same entertainment we had along the way to the Grand Final in October.
Magic Weekend is making a return to Newcastle after a very successful event, and with an increased salary cap for the Championship sides, we could be set for the most memorable season yet.
Here is our club-by-club preview for the upcoming Super League season.
Last Season: 5th – Super League Super 8’s
Coach: Daryl Powell
Captain: Michael Shenton
Key Player: Luke Gale
Outs: Michael Channing (Featherstone Rovers), James Clare (Bradford Bulls), Steve Crossley (Bradford Bulls), Liam Finn (Wakefield Wildcats), Ashley Gibson (Wakefield Wildcats), Jordan Tansey (Wakefield Wildcats), Scott Wheeldon (Sheffield Eagles)
There were questions at the start of last season as to whether Castleford would suffer from second season syndrome under Daryl Powell, but those were swiftly answered with a resounding no following a commendable 5th place finish. In the end, Castleford probably considered themselves unlucky not to make the top four in 2015, and that is testament to Powell and his staff as to the brilliant job they are doing at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle.
The luxury Castleford have for 2016, that they haven’t had in previous years, is that they have managed to keep hold of the majority of their star players and a major rebuild wasn’t necessary this off-season. Luke Gale, a surprise omission to some from the England tests against New Zealand, will be looking to prove a point to Steve McNamara as to why he should have been selected, and that can only be good news for Castleford.
Life after Justin Carney may be difficult at first given the winger’s strike record, but the Tigers have recruited well in the form of Joel Monaghan as his replacement, and that makes them well positioned to be one of the team’s fighting it out to make the top four spots in 2016.
Squad: 1. Luke Dorn 2. Joel Monaghan 3. Jake Webster 4. Michael Shenton 5. Denny Solomona 6. Ben Roberts 7. Luke Gale 8. Andy Lynch 9. Adam Milner 10. Grant Millington 11. Oliver Holmes 12. Mike McMeeken 13. Nathan Massey 14. Lee Jewitt 15. Paul McShane 16. Matt Cook 17. Junior Moors 18. Ryan Hampshire 19. Ben Crooks 20. Frankie Mariano 21. Ryan Boyle 22. Gadwin Springer 23. Will Maher 24. Greg Minikin 25. Jy Hitchcox 26. Ash Robson 27. Tom Holmes 28. Kieran Gill 29. Brandon Westerman
Last Season: 7th – Super League Super 8’s
Coach: Laurent Frayssinous
Key Player: Todd Carney
Ins: Paul Aiton (Leeds Rhinos), Jodie Broughton (Huddersfield Giants), Justin Horo (Manly Sea Eagles), Richard Myler (Warrington Wolves), Pat Richards (Wests Tigers), Glenn Stewart (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Dave Taylor (Gold Coast Titans)
Outs: Benjamin Garcia (Penrith Panthers), Ian Henderson (Sydney Roosters), Kevin Larroyer (Hull Kingston Rovers), Jeff Lima (Canberra Raiders), Michael Oldfield (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Mathias Pala (released), Gadwin Springer (Castleford Tigers), Zeb Taia (Gold Coast Titans), Elliot Whitehead (Canberra Raiders)
In the end, halfbacks Scott Dureau and Todd Carney were never on the field enough for the French side, and it showed with very inconsistent form. When you couple that with their usual sloppy away form, it ultimately resulted in the club never really being in the fight for the top four places.
There has been a lot of change in playing personnel at the Stade Gilbert Brutus, with the likes of Zeb Taia, Scott Dureau and Elliot Whitehead all departing for Australia. So a lot of Catalans’ chances in 2016 will rely on the new signings, that include Richie Myler and Pat Richards, gelling quickly on the field. If that does happen, and they can improve their results on the road, there’s no reason why the Dragons can’t trouble the teams above them in 2016.
Squad: 1. Tony Gigot 2. Jodie Broughton 3. Krisnan Inu 4. Vincent Duport. 5. Pat Richards 6. Todd Carney 7. Richie Myler 8. Louis Anderson 9. Paul Aiton 10. Remi Casty 11. Glenn Stewart 12. Justin Horo 13. Jason Baitieri 14. Dave Taylor 15. Julian Bousquet 16. Eloi Pelissier 17. Greg Mounis 18. Thomas Bosc 19. Olivier Elima 20. Fouad Yaha 21. Morgan Escare 22. Antoni Maria 23. Stan Robin 24. Thibaut Margalet 25. Ugo Perez 26. Jordan Sigismeau 27. Lucas Albert
Last Season: 3rd – Super League Super 8’s
Coach: Paul Anderson
Captain: Danny Brough
Key Player: Danny Brough
If you would have predicted how Huddersfield’s 2015 season was going to pan out, it would have been close to how it occurred in real life. With the Giants’ now established as a regular play-off side, many people thought they could take that final step to reaching their first Grand Final in 2015.
But in typical Huddersfield fashion, they showed great form and potential throughout the season, but as soon as the big pressure games came around, such as Leeds in the Challenge Cup, and Wigan in the play-offs, they folded quite easily.
Paul Anderson has seen that and recruited Ryan Hinchcliffe and Sam Rapira in the hope of toughening up the Giants in 2016. Huddersfield have the quality in the likes of Danny Brough to make an assault on Old Trafford, whether they have the mindset for it this time around is the bigger question. The loss of Brett Ferres to Leeds is a definite blow.
Squad: 1. Scott Grix 2. Jermaine McGillvary 3. Leroy Cudjoe 4. Joe Wardle 5. Aaron Murphy 6. Danny Brough 7. Jamie Ellis 8. Eorl Crabtree 9. Ryan Hinchcliffe 10. Craig Huby 12. Michael Lawrence 13. Larne Patrick 14. Daniel Smith 15. Kyle Wood 16. Sam Rapira 17, Ukuma Ta’ai 18. Jake Connor 19. Josh Johnson 20. Kruise Leeming 21. Nathan Mason 22. Ollie Roberts 23. Luke Robinson 24. Jared Simpson 25. Tyler Dickinson 26. Liam Johnson 27. Mikey Wood 28. Jake Wardle
Last Season: 8th – Super League Super 8’s
Coach: Lee Radford
Captain: Gareth Ellis
Key Player: Marc Sneyd
Ins: Mahe Fonua (Melbourne Storm), Sika Manu (Penrith Panthers), Frank Pritchard (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Scott Taylor (Salford Red Devils), Carlos Tuimavave (Newcastle Knights), Danny Washbrook (Wakefield Wildcats)
Outs: Stuart Howarth (Wakefield Wildcats), Tom Lineham (Warrington Wolves), Mickey Paea (Newcastle Knights), Jordan Rankin (Wests Tigers), Setaimata Sa (Widnes Vikings), Joe Westerman (Warrington Wolves)
Hull FC’s season petered out once it had reached the Super 8 stage and they had beaten city rivals Hull KR to that final top flight spot. With no real chance of making the top four, the Airlie Birds finished the season in 8th despite early season optimism.
Like most seasons, FC made a number of high profile signings in 2015 the hope of getting back towards the top of the table, but that ascend has not materialized yet. They have strengthened again in the off-season, with Frank Pritchard and Scott Taylor being the picks of the bunch, in an attempt to push Hull FC’s forwards to rank alongside Super League’s best.
Whilst home-grown product Tom Lineham has departed for pastures new, it leaves the door open for the likes of of Fetuli Talanoa and Mahe Fonua to step forward. Despite this, it’s difficult to picture this side challenging just yet, so another season of battling to make the eight may be the path for Hull FC in 2016.
Squad: 1. Jamie Shaul 2. Mahe Fonua 3. Carlos Tuimavave 4. Jack Logan 5. Fetuli Talanoa 6. Leon Pryce 7. Marc Sneyd 8. Scott Taylor 9. Danny Houghton 10. Liam Watts 11. Gareth Ellis 12. Mark Minichiello 13. Jordan Abdull 14. Iafeta Palea’aesina 15. Chris Green 16. Jordan Thompson 17. Dean Hadley 19. Steve Michaels 20. Curtis Naughton 21. Sika Manu 22. Josh Bowden 23. Frank Pritchard 24. Kirk Yeaman 25. Jansin Turgut 26. Jez Litten 27. Jack Downs 28. Brad Fash 29. Harry Tyson-Wilson 30. Danny Washbrook 31. Callum Lancaster 32. Reece Dean 33. Masimbaashe Matongo 34. Richard Whiting 35. Ross Osborne
Last Season: 1st – Middle 8’s
Coach: Chris Chester
Captain: Terry Campese
Key Player: Albert Kelly
Ins: Chris Clarkson (Leeds Rhinos), James Greenwood (Wigan Warriors), Kevin Larroyer (Catalan Dragons), Shaun Lunt (Huddersfield Giants), Thomas Minns (Leeds Rhinos), Ryan Shaw (Bradford Bulls), Iain Thornley (Wigan Warriors), Dane Tilse (Canberra Raiders)
Outs: Ryan Bailey, Jordan Cox (Warrington Wolves), Darrell Goulding (retired), Jamie Langley (retired), Tyrone McCarthy (St George Illawarra Dragons), Connor Robinson (released), Kris Welham (Bradford Bulls), Michael Weyman (retired)
Hull KR surprised most people in rugby league by reaching the Challenge Cup final in 2015, overcoming Wigan and Warrington on their run to Wembley. The Challenge Cup sojurn had a negative effect on their league form as they fell into the Middle 8’s, albeit coming through it comfortably in the end.
But Rovers will want to ensure they are in the top eight this time around at the time of the split, and they have every chance of doing that. There are no wholesale changes for Chris Chester in 2016 like the season before, and that could stand them in good stead. They have recruited well in the form of Iain Thornley and Chris Clarkson, both Grand Final winners, and you wouldn’t bet against Hull KR making a charge on the top eight.
The all-important factor is whether they can get playmaker Terry Campese regularly on the field. The veteran Australian showed glimpses of quality before spending much of 2015 out injured, leaving Albert Kelly to run things, albeit superbly from halfback. But if Rovers can get both fit and firing at the KC Lightstream Stadium, Chris Chester might have a team that upset a few sides this season.
Squad: 1. Ken Sio 2. Josh Mantellato 3. Liam Salter 4. Iain Thornley 5. Kieran Dixon 6. Terry Campese 7. Albert Kelly 8. Adam Walker 9. Shaun Lunt 10. Mitch Allgood 11. Maurice Blair 12. Graeme Horne 13. Chris Clarkson 14. Kevin Larroyer 15. James Donaldson 16. James Green 17. Dane Tilse 18. Ben Cockayne 19. John Boudebza 20. James Greenwood 21. Thomas Minns 22. Matty Marsh 23. Ryan Shaw 24. George Lawler 25. Stephen Holker 26. Robbie Mulhern 27. Will Oakes
Last Season: 1st (Champions)
Coach: Brian McDermott
Captain: Danny McGuire
Key Player: Kallum Watkins
Outs: Paul Aiton (Catalan Dragons), Chris Clarkson (Hull Kingston Rovers), Kylie Leuluai (retired), Thomas Minns (Hull Kingston Rovers), Jamie Peacock (retired), Kevin Sinfield (rugby union), Andrew Yates (Wakefield Wildcats)
It was the perfect way for three rugby league stalwarts in Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai to bow out at Old Trafford with a treble, but the question on everyone’s lips is now, how will they fare without them?
You can replace those three with players of similar ability, but the experience, the knowledge and the presence are characteristics that cannot be replicated, and it’ll take a great effort from Leeds to come close to the levels they reached last season.
That is no way me writing them off, as the likes of Kallum Watkins, Danny McGuire and Man of Steel winner Zak Hardaker will be hoping to carry their form from last season into this. If Beau Falloon can have a similar impact that Adam Cuthbertson did just twelve months ago, then the Rhinos will once more be the team to beat in 2016. Look for Keith Galloway to lead strongly from the middle as well.
Squad: 1. Zak Hardaker 2. Tom Briscoe 3. Kallum Watkins 4. Joel Moon 5. Ryan Hall 6. Danny McGuire 7. Rob Burrow 8. Keith Galloway 9. Beau Falloon 10. Adam Cuthbertson 11. Jamie Jones-Buchanan 12. Carl Ablett 13. Stevie Ward 14. Liam Sutcliffe 15. Brett Delaney 16. Brad Singleton 17. Mitch Garbutt 18. Jimmy Keinhorst 19. Mitch Achurch 20. Anthony Mullally 21. Josh Walters 22. Ash Handley 23. Ashton Golding 24. Jordan Baldwinson 25. Jordan Lilley