The wait is finally over. Super League XXII is here, with St Helens hosting Leeds tonight at the Totally Wicked Stadium.
Can Wigan defend their title won at Old Trafford last year? Can Warrington end their decades of pain? Will Hull FC continue their march to silverware, after capturing the Challenge Cup in 2016?
COACH: Daryl Powell
LAST YEAR: 5th
Fifth in 2016, fifth in 2015. Now its time for Cas to step up a gear and crack the top four. The Tigers secured one of the coups of the season, signing former Man of Steel Zak Hardaker, and Daryl Powell has a fully fit squad to choose from. Injuries crueled their chances last season but now Powell’s men have a real chance of success. The club is building nicely, Rangi Chase looks back to his best and there is a good feelng around the Jungle. There is depth across the board and growing optimism that Cas, one of the most entertaining attacking sides in the land, now have the defence to go with it.
NEW SIGNINGS: Greg Eden (Brisbane), Tuoyo Egodo (London, loaned to Oldham), Zak Hardaker (Leeds loan), Daniel Igbinedion (Oxford), Larne Patrick (Huddersfield), Jesse Sene-Lefao (Cronulla), Jake Trueman (Bradford)
COACH: Laurent Frayssinous
LAST YEAR: 6th
It all went arse-up last year for the Dragons after a promising start. The mix of David Taylor, Todd Carney and Willie Mason didn’t work, as off-field fun started to impact on on-field results. So for this year a broom has been put through the squad and Greg Bird has arrived as a marquee man from the NRL. Catalans have recruited well, with the likes of Sam Moa and Luke Walsh, but it remans to be seen how quickly they can gel together. Pre-season results haven’t been great, but the real business starts on Saturday. Catalans will need to continue their impressive away form which they began last year.
NEW SIGNINGS: Greg Bird (Gold Coast), Luke Burgess, Brayden Williame (both Manly), Sam Moa (Sydney Roosters), Mickael Simon (Wakefield), Iain Thornley (Hull KR), Luke Walsh (St Helens)
COACH: Rick Stone
LAST YEAR: 3rd Qualifiers
A coach sacked, finishing bottom and almost relegation – it couldn’t have got much worse for Huddersfield in 2016. In that regard the only way is up for the Giants with Rick Stone starting to remake the side how he wants. Gone are long-standing members of the team like Eorl Crabtree and Joe Wardle, and in have come a clutch of players from Bradford and two from Australia. Huddersfield have been working hard on their fitness, but many have written them off already. Their recruitment has been low-key so can they prove the doubters wrong?
NEW SIGNINGS: Paul Clough, Dale Ferguson, Lee Gaskell , Adam O’Brien, (all Bradford), Jake Mamo (Newcastle Knights), Shannon Wakeman (Illawarra Cutters)
COACH: Lee Radford
LAST YEAR: 3rd
Hull FC were one of the big movers and shakers of the last 12 months, winning the Challenge Cup and going close to more silverware. They have recruited strongly and have all the markings of another great season. Big Frank Pritchard may be gone but the Black and Whites still have an awesome pack and now great depth in the backline as well with the arrivals of Jake Connor, Josh Griffin and Albert Kelly. It should be another impressive season for the Airlie Birds.
NEW SIGNINGS: Jake Connor (Huddersfield), Josh Griffin (Salford), Albert Kelly (Hull KR), Nick Rawsthorne (Halifax), Cameron Scott (Bradford)
COACH: Brian McDermott
LAST YEAR: 1st Qualifiers
2016 was a nightmare for Leeds, a huge fall from grace after their treble-winning campaign. The Rhinos suffered more drama when James Segeyaro, who was vital during the Middle 8s, walked out on them at the end of the year. Matt Parcell has come in from the NRL to take Segeyaro’s spot and Brian McDermott is hoping his key players stay fit, and his youngsters are up to the task, if Leeds are to make any title challenge. That potentially looks beyond them this season, but beware the wounded Rhinos as they still have plenty of class and experience to shock.
NEW SIGNINGS: Cory Aston (Sheffield), Jack Ormondroyd (Featherstone), Matt Parcell (Manly)
COACH: Neil Jukes
LAST YEAR: 2nd Qualifiers
Promoted up from the Championship, Leigh are back in the big-time for the first time in 11 years. Packed with NRL and Super League experience, the Centurions look well balanced to stay up. Much will depend on how their discipline goes and whether the players who have spent the majority of their careers in the second-tier can adapt quickly to life in the top flight. There will be no easy games for Leigh this season. Whatever the result it will be a fun ride for Centurions fans.
NEW SIGNINGS: Ben Crooks (Castleford, loan), James Green (Hull KR), Ryan Hampshire (Wigan), Eloi Pelissier, Glenn Stewart (both Catalans), Dave Thompson (Warrington), Atelea Vea (St Helens), Lachlan Burr (Bradford), Curtis Naughton (Hull, loan)
COACH: Ian Watson
LAST YEAR: 5th Qualifiers
After surviving a relegation scare in the Million Pound game, Salford will be looking to build further under Ian Watson. Apart from a points deduction the Red Devils would have been in the top eight last season and that will be their aim in 2017. With Rob Lui and Michael Dobson they have a brilliant halves partnership, while Todd Carney gives them that X-factor. Off the field they are getting their house in order under the leadership of CEO Ian Blease, a former club captain. If Salford and their colourful owner Marwan Koukash can steer clear of controversy, then it could be the club’s best season under the good Doctor’s ownership.
NEW SIGNINGS: Kris Brining (York), Lee Mossop (Wigan), Daniel Murray (Warrington), Lama Tasi (St Helens), Todd Carney (Catalans), Kris Welham (Bradford)
COACH: Keiron Cunningham
LAST YEAR: 4th
St Helens were tracking well until Matty Smith’s broken leg in pre-season. That has thrown a spanner in the works, with Keiron Cunningham having to decided to go with either youngster Danny Richardson, hooker Tommy Lee or forward Jon Wilkin to partner Theo Fages for the first few months. Saints’ strength is their pack and that has gotten even bigger with the captures of Scotland internationals Luke Douglas and Adam Walker. The Red V was one game away from two finals last year and will be firing to go better this year. Saints fans and their owner demand success.
NEW SIGNINGS: Luke Douglas (Gold Coast), Tommy Lee (Salford), Ryan Morgan (Melbourne), Matty Smith (Wigan), Adam Walker (Hull KR)
COACH: Chris Chester
LAST YEAR: 8th
Few would have predicted correctly Wakefield’s 2016. They started terribly, Brian Smith left, in came sacked Hull KR coach Chris Chester and Trinity went on an amazing run. They finished in the top eight and reached the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup. They also unearthed some young talent, like electric winger Tom Johnstone, and now Belle Vue seems headed in the right direction. The backroom signing of John Kear, combined with the signing of Canberra halfback Sam Williams, could be the buys of the season.
NEW SIGNINGS: Mitch Allgood (Hull KR), Mason Caton-Brown (Salford), Scott Grix, Craig Huby, Kyle Wood (all Huddersfield), Keegan Hirst (Batley), Sam Williams (Canberra)
COACH: Tony Smith
LAST YEAR: 1st
Is it finally their year? 2016 certainly looked like it was, until a terrific Danny Houghton tackle at Wembley and the dogged second half resistance of Wigan after half-time at Old Trafford. After getting over the heartbreak of the Cup final and grand final, on paper Warrington look better than they did last year. Kevin Brown offers a calm presence in the halves and Mike Cooper grunt to the engine room. You throw in Dom Crosby and Andre Savelio and that is an impressive forward pack. Their youngtsers blooded in 2016 will have learnt from the experience. The Wire are well primed to finally end their long, long premiership drought.
NEW SIGNINGS: Matty Blythe (Bradford), Kevin Brown (Widnes), Mike Cooper (St George), Dom Crosby (Wigan), Andre Savelio (St Helens)
COACH: Denis Betts
LAST YEAR: 7th
Until Easter last year Widnes were the Leicester City of Super League, upsetting opponents and leading the competition. Then injuries hit and the Vikings went on a slide. Denis Betts is one of the best coaches in the business but is the Vikings’ squad too thin for such a long campaign? With Brown’s exit and a current injury to Joe Mellor, fears are growing about Widnes chances. The club is quietly confident but Betts may need to work another miracle to keep the Chemics up this season.
NEW SIGNINGS: Tom Armstrong (Leigh), Tom Olbison (Bradford)
COACH: Shaun Wane
LAST YEAR: 2nd, Grand Final winners
In 2016 Wigan did what it nearly always does – win. Despite tremendous adversity the Warriors prevailed in the grand final against Warrington. They weren’t the best side over the whole season, with the Wire and Hull FC more consistent, but Wigan got the job done at the end. With only a handful of players departing, new signings have been minimal. Joe Burgess and Thomas Leuluai have returned, and the French duo of Morgan Escare and Romaine Navarrete have arrived. Wigan will once again rely on their youth system and their structured style of play to challenge for silverware. Expect the Warriors to be at or near the top come October.
NEW SIGNINGS: Joe Burgess (Sydney Roosters), Morgan Escare, Romain Navarrete (both Catalans), Liam Forsyth (Bath RUFC), Thomas Leuluai (New Zealand Warriors)