The wait is nearly over, Super League is back this Friday, to help kick-off what will hopefully be an extraordinary year of rugby league.
It’s hard to look past reigning champions Leeds and last year’s top three – Wigan, Warrington and St Helens – for the main prizes this season, although Hull have added well to their squad and may take the outsiders tag carried by Catalan in the past few seasons.
The Dragons – with a new coach and several key players having moved on – may end up being sucked in to a battle with those outside the top five for the remaining three play-off spots, which are surely up for grabs for most if not all of the other nine clubs.
Huddersfield, Hull KR and Wakefield will lead the chase, but with Widnes tipped to improve, Castleford adding to their squad having kept hold of prized asset Rangi Chase, and London under the influence of now permanent head coach Tony Rea, the play-off places may no longer be as predictable as they once were.
Bradford, having recovered from their financial woe, will be there or thereabouts around the top eight, while a lot depends on how quickly Salford can bounce back from their own money troubles, which still haven’t quite been resolved.
All teams enter the season with at least some realistic hope of achieving a target or goal, and with the World Cup on the horizon, it promises to be an exciting season.
Below is our ultimate guide to the new season. Leave us your prediction in the comments.
After last season, I’m sure most Bulls fans will settle for a relatively boring season that sees them restore some pride but also challenge for a top eight place which they surely will. New coach Francis Cummins has shown a maturity and responsibility so far in his pre-season comments, no doubt a consequence of the difficulties he and the players faced in 2012.
Under the new ownership of Omar Khan, the Bulls are a little handicapped in that they’ve had some of their TV money withdrawn, which has limited them to
1. Brett Kearney, 2. Adrian Purtell, 3. Keith Lulia, 4. Matty Blythe, 5. Elliot Kear, 6. Jarrod Sammut, 7. Luke Gale, 8. Nick Scruton, 9. Heath L’Estrange, 10. Manase Manuokafoa, 11. John Bateman, 12. Elliott Whitehead, 13. Jamie Langley, 14. Matt Diskin, 15. Chev Walker, 16. Tom Olbison, 17. Jamie Foster, 18. Michael Platt, 19. Danny Addy, 20. Adam O’Brien, 21. James Donaldson, 22. Jobe Murphy, 23. Ben Evans, 24. Oliver Roberts, 25. Sam Wood, 26. Curtis Naughton
Outs: Tom Burgess (South Sydney Rabbitohs), Olivier Elima (Catalan), Kyle Briggs (Featherstone, mid-season), Jason Crookes (Hull FC), Paul Sykes (Wakefield), Callum Windley (Hunslet), Craig Kopczak (Huddersfield), Shaun Ainscough (Southcity Bulls), Cain Southernwood (Whitehaven), Liam McAvoy (Leeds), Karl Pryce (released), Phil Joseph (Widnes), Ben Jeffries, Ian Sibbit, Bryn Hargreaves (all retired).
Last season: 9th (7th without points deduction)
Odds: 200/1 (9th)
First game: Wakefield (H, Sunday)
Ian Millward’s first season in charge of the Tigers was a disappointing one, as they narrowly avoided the wooden spoon. Much of the year was dominated by Rangi Chase, although it was for different reasons to the year before when he won Man of Steel. He had looked set to leave the club, but they’ve kept hold of him, and added a bit more experience around him.
Michael Shenton returns from Castleford, and he will form a useful partnership with Australian winger Justin Carney, while the likes of Lee Gilmour, Keith Mason and Jake Webster all have good Super League pedigree.
If Daryl Clark can find the imperious form he showed before his injury problems of last season and Chase can return to his 2011 form, Castleford will be one of a clutch of teams hoping that a Wakefield-esque momentous run at any point of the season will see them at least challenge for a top eight place.
1. Richard Owen, 2. Justin Carney, 3. Michael Shenton, 4. Jake Webster, 5. Kirk Dixon, 6. Rangi Chase, 7. Jamie Ellis, 8. Jonathan Walker, 9. Daryl Clark, 10. Craig Huby, 11. Lee Gilmour, 12. Weller Hauraki, 13. Grant Millington, 14. Jake Emmitt, 15. Adam Milner, 16. Nathan Massey, 17. Oliver Holmes, 18. Jordan Thompson, 19. Jordan Tansey, 20. Steve Nash, 21. Ben Johnston, 22. Daniel Fleming, 23. James Clare, 24. Charlie Martin, 25. Keith Mason
Ins: Justin Carney (Sydney Roosters), Michael Shenton (St Helens), Jake Webster (Hull KR), Weller Hauraki (Leeds), Jordan Tansey (York), Keith Mason, Lee Gilmour (both Huddersfield), Jamie Ellis (Hull FC)
Outs: Nick Youngquest, Danny Orr, Ryan Hudson (all retired), Joe Arundel (Hull FC), Josh Griffin (Leeds Carnegie), Steve Snitch (Northern Pride), Stuart Jones (released), Lee Mitchell (Warrington), Paul Jackson (Whitehaven), John Davies (Batley), Richie Mathers (Wakefield), Brett Ferres, Ben Blackmore (both Huddersfield)
Last season: 11th
Odds: 250/1 (10th)
First game: Warrington (A, Sunday)
Trent Robinson was rewarded for a sterling two seasons in charge of the Dragons by landing the head coach job at NRL side Sydney Roosters, and Catalan have replaced him from within, with former Dragons and France international stand-off Laurent Frayssinous taking the reins.
They have recruited well in the shape of Brent Webb, Zeb Taia and Olivier Elima, but they come on the back of the departure of some key figures who have been important components of the club establishing themselves in Super League, namely Clint Greenshields, David Ferriol and Sebastien Raguin.
As always, their home form will all but guarantee them a play-off place, but it will be interesting to see how Frayssinous handles the pressure of the big job. They have also been hit with the blow that star half-back Scott Dureau will be on the sidelines indefinitely, having had surgery to remove a tumour behind the eye.
1. Brent Webb, 2. Damien Blanch, 3. Leon Pryce, 4. Zeb Taia, 5. Damien Cardace, 6. Thomas Bosc, 7. Scott Dureau, 8. Olivier Elima, 9. Ian Henderson, 10. Rémi Casty, 11. Steve Menzies, 12. Louis Anderson, 13. Greg Mounis, 14. William Barthau, 15. Antoni Maria, 16. Eloi Pelissier, 17. Kevin Larroyer, 18. Daryl Millard, 19. Mathias Pala, 20. Michael Simon, 21. Julian Bousquet, 22. Jamal Fakir, 23. Lopini Paea, 24. Jason Baitieri, 25. Vincent Duport
Outs: Setaimata Sa (London Irish RUFC), Clint Greenshields (North Queensland), Ben Fisher (London Broncos), David Ferriol (retired), Cyril Stacul (Pia), Sebastien Raguin, Jean Phillipe-Baile (both released)
Last season: 4th
Odds: 25/1 (6th)
First game: Hull KR (A, Sunday)
The Giants are another team entering 2013 with a new head coach, although Paul Anderson did at least have the back end of last season to stamp his mark on the team. His focus has clearly been on building a giant pack, in a similar vein to the Bradford pack which dominated Super League at the start of the Millennium that Anderson was part of.
In have come Stuart Fielden, Craig Kopczak, Ukuma Ta’ai and Anthony Mullally as Eorl Crabtree‘s support staff, but we musn’t forget the pacey and potent attacking threat that Huddersfield offer outwide from the likes of Leroy Cudjoe and Luke George.
The return of Shaun Lunt, as a more complete player, will be like a new signing for the Giants, particularly if his showings in pre-season are anything to go by. It will be interesting to see how the Giants’ attacking pivots react to the change in style from the Nathan Brown era, particularly after their alarming slide in the second half of 2012.
1. Scott Grix, 2. Luke George, 3. Leroy Cudjoe, 4. Joe Wardle, 5. Jermaine McGillvary, 6. Danny Brough, 7. Luke Robinson, 8. Eorl Crabtree, 9. Shaun Lunt, 10. Craig Kopczak, 11. Brett Ferres, 12. Luke O’Donnell, 13. David Faiumu, 14. Michael Lawrence, 15. Larne Patrick, 16. Jason Chan, 17. Ukuma Ta’ai, 18. Aaron Murphy, 19. Jamie Cording, 20. Jacob Fairbank, 21. Dale Ferguson, 22. Anthony Mullally, 23. Matthew Dawson, 24. Josh Johnson, 25. Peter Aspinall, 26. Nathan Mason, 27. Ben Blackmore, 28. Jake Connor, 29. Stuart Fielden
Outs: Kevin Brown (Widnes), David Fa’alogo (Newcastle Knights), Scott Moore (North Queensland), Tommy Lee (London Broncos), Lee Gilmour, Keith Mason (both Castleford), Adam Walker, Greg Eden (both Hull KR), Ross Peltier (Keighley), Tony Tonks (Halifax), Jon Molloy, Matthew Sarsfield (both released)
Last season: 7th
Odds: 50/1 (7th)
First game: St Helens (A, Saturday)
Hull are fancied to be the best equipped team to upset the apple cart that is the big four, and they have made some significant signings in the off-season, none more so than Gareth Ellis.
The Airlie Birds started like a house on fire last season before falling away – coach Peter Gentle will know that they have a chance come the end of the season if they can ensure consistency throughout the regular season.
1. Shannon McDonnell, 2. Jason Crookes, 3. Joe Arundel, 4. Kirk Yeaman, 5. Tom Briscoe, 6. Daniel Holdsworth, 7. Brett Seymour, 8. Mark O’Meley, 9. Danny Houghton, 10. Andy Lynch, 11. Gareth Ellis, 12. Danny Tickle, 13. Joe Westerman, 14. Richard Whiting, 15. Ben Galea, 16. Richard Horne, 17. Liam Watts, 19. Jay Pitts, 20. Paul Johnson, 21. Chris Green, 22. Josh Bowden, 23. Ben Crooks, 24. Liam Kent, 25. Tom Lineham, 26. Danny Nicklas, 27. Jack Briscoe, 28. James Cunningham, 29. Jamie Shaul, 30. Dean Hadley, 31. Alex Starling, 32. Ryan Wilson, 33. Aaron Heremaia
Ins: Jay Pitts (Leeds), Liam Watts, Ben Galea, Shannon McDonnell (all Hull KR), Gareth Ellis (Wests Tigers), Joe Arundel (Castleford), Daniel Holdsworth (Salford), Paul Johnson (Wakefield), Jason Crookes (Bradford)
Last season: 6th
Odds: 10/1 (5th)
First game: Leeds (A, Friday)
It’s easy to forget about Rovers as a play-off contender, as they virtually wrote off the end of last season and ended up missing out on the top eight.
With Michael Dobson, they have one of the best players in the league, and coach Craig Sandercock now has a year of Super League under his belt and will be looking to impress suitably to earn himself a contract for 2014.
There have been several players in and out the door at Craven Park, and despite losing one of their most exciting homegrown talents in the shape of Scott
Travis Burns, once back from his ban, could turn out to be one of the best signings in Super League, but a lot will depend on how well Rovers’ clutch of young players perform in Super League week in week out.
1. Greg Eden, 2. Craig Hall, 3. Kris Welham, 4. Sean Gleeson, 5. David Hodgson, 6. Travis Burns, 7. Michael Dobson, 8. Evarn Tuimavave, 9. Josh Hodgson, 10. Ryan O’Hara, 11. Con Mika, 12. Cory Paterson, 13. Rhys Lovegrove, 14. Lincoln Withers, 15. Graeme Horne, 16. Adam Walker, 17. Sam Latus, 18. Liam Salter, 19. Omari Caro, 20. Jordan Cox, 21. Keal Carlile, 22. Richard Beaumont, 23. Mickey Paea, 24. James Green, 25. George Griffin, 26. Alex Brown, 27. Chris Heil, 28. Tyla Hepi, 29. Aaron Ollett, 30. Matty Beharrell, 31. Sonny Esslemont
Ins: Cory Paterson (North Queensland), Sean Gleeson (Salford), Evarn Tuimavave (Newcastle Knights), Travis Burns (Penrith Panthers), Omari Caro (London Broncos), Alex Brown (Batley), Adam Walker, Greg Eden (both Huddersfield)
Outs: Scott Wheeldon (London Broncos), Ben Galea, Shannon McDonnell, Liam Watts (all Hull FC), Jake Webster (Castleford), Joel Clinton, Dave Petersen, Jason Netherton (all Mackay Cutters), Blake Green, Scott Taylor (both Wigan), Scott Murrell (Halifax), Louis Sheriff (Redcliffe Dolphins), Nick Johnson (Gateshead Thunder)
Last season: 8th
Odds: 80/1 (8th)
First game: Catalan (H, Sunday)
Leeds are the team to beat. They may have only finished 5th in the league, again, but they made both finals, winning the Super League Grand Final to add to their World Club Challenge victory earlier in the year.
Kevin Sinfield, Danny McGuire and co are back again for another tilt at the trophy, which they have won for five of the last six years, and it would take a brave man to bet against the Rhinos in the play-offs, however stern the arguments from fans of other clubs.
Expect the Rhinos to go better in the regular season this term, and maybe prioritise a Challenge Cup title which has so far evaded the grasp of this dynasty of homegrown talent.
1. Zak Hardaker, 2. Ben Jones-Bishop, 3. Kallum Watkins, 4. Joel Moon, 5. Ryan Hall, 6. Danny McGuire, 7. Rob Burrow, 8. Kylie Leuluai, 9. Paul McShane, 10. Jamie Peacock, 11. Jamie Jones-Buchanan, 12. Carl Ablett, 13. Kevin Sinfield, 14. Stevie Ward, 15. Brett Delaney, 16. Ryan Bailey, 17. Ian Kirke, 18. Chris Clarkson, 19. Mitch Achurch, 20. Darrell Griffin, 21. Richard Moore, 22. Jimmy Keinhorst, 23. Brad Singleton, 24. Liam Hood, 25. Joe Vickery
Outs: Jay Pitts (Hull FC), Lee Smith (Wakefield), Brent Webb (Catalan), Jared Steward (Newcastle Falcons RUFC), Luke Ambler (Halifax), Weller Hauraki (Castleford), Shaun Lunt (Huddersfield, loan return)
Last season: 5th (champions)
Odds: 13/2 (4th)
First game: Hull (H, Friday)
After a dismal 18 months under the stewardship of Rob Powell, the Broncos showed significant improvements under Tony Rea at the back end of last season, which resulted in Rea taking the top job on a permanent basis.
While attention is often on the off-field progress of the Broncos, Rea will be hoping the team he puts on the park can have realistic ambitions of reaching the top eight, especially as he’s been able to ensure some continuity in his squad.
Even if the Broncos don’t make the top eight, they’ll surely be further away from the bottom than they managed last season.
1. Luke Dorn, 2. Liam Colbon, 3. Jamie O’callaghan, 4. David Howell, 5. Michael Robertson, 6. Michael Witt, 7. Craig Gower, 8. Antonio Kaufusi, 9. Chad Randall, 10. Mark Bryant, 11. Shane Rodney, 12. Chris Bailey, 13. Tony Clubb, 14. Scott Wheeldon, 15. Michael Channing, 16. Chris Melling, 17. Shane Grady, 18. Olsi Krasniqi, 19. Daniel Sarginson, 20. Matt Cook, 21. Kieran Dixon, 22. Will Lovell, 23. Thomas Lee, 24. Mike McMeeken, 25. Alex Hurst
Outs: Ben Bolger (Abu Dhabi Harlequins), Karl Temata (Limoux), Omari Caro (Hull KR), Lamont Bryan (Featherstone), Rob Thomas, Joe Ridley (both London Skolars), Jason Golden (York City Knights), Julien Rinaldi (retired), Max Edwards, Sam Bolger (both released)
Last season: 12th
Odds: 500/1 (12th)
First game: Widnes (H, London)
SALFORD CITY REDS
It’s hard to place the Reds at the moment, with their takeover set to be completed imminently, they’ve not been able to add significantly to their squad, reflected in their current squad list below.
There are gaps for a full-back, centre and two half-backs at least, which would suggest that there are players lined up to fill those positions, one likely to be Martin Gleeson, who trialled with the club over pre-season.
As of now though, Salford are expected to struggle, simply due to a lack of numbers. Coach Phil Veivers will face a real challenge in getting his squad to gel and quickly. By round 10, we may see the real Salford, it’s just going to be a case of whether they’ve lost too much ground by then to mount a realistic challenge for the top eight, in what will surely be a transitional season under the new ownership.
2. Jodie Broughton, 3. Ashley Gibson, 5. Danny Williams, 8. Lee Jewitt, 9. Stuart Howarth, 10. Shannan McPherson, 11. Matty Ashurst, 12. Andrew Dixon, 13. Stephen Wild, 14. Wayne Godwin, 15. Chris Nero, 17. Ben Gledhill, 18. Ryan Boyle, 19. Jordan James, 20. Adam Neal, 21. Theo Fages, 22. Marc Sneyd, 24. Gareth Owen, 25. Niall Evalds, 26. Will Hope, 28. Jack Holmes, 29. Jordan Walne, 30. Jonathan Ford, 31. Daniel Brotherton
Last season: 11th
Odds: 600/1 (14th)
First game: Wigan (H, Friday)
St Helens recovered from their troubled start to last season with a third placed finish, and under new coach Nathan Brown they will be expected to be big contenders for all silverware in 2013.
Brown has shown with Huddersfield that he can take a team to the top of the league, and, should they get there, you would expect Saints to have the fitness and experience to see the job through until the end of the season.
1. Paul Wellens, 2. Ade Gardner, 3. Jordan Turner, 4. Sia Soliola, 5. Francis Meli, 6. Lance Hohaia, 7. Jonny Lomax, 8. Josh Perry, 9. James Roby, 10. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 11. Tony Puletua, 12. Jon Wilkin, 13. Willie Manu, 14. Anthony Laffranchi, 15. Mark Flanagan, 16. Paul Clough, 17. Gary Wheeler, 18. Shaun Magennis, 19. Josh Jones, 20. Lee Gaskell, 21. Thomas Makinson, 22. Carl Forster, 23. Nathan Ashe, 24. Joe Greenwood, 25. Alex Walmsley, 26. Adam Swift, 27. Anthony Walker, 28. Jordan Hand, 29. Danny Yates, 30. Mark Percival, 31. Dom Speakman
Last season: 3rd
Odds: 11/4 (2nd)
First game: Huddersfield (H, Saturday)
Wakefield were one of the stories of last season, as they mounted a sensational second half of the season run which built momentum week in week out, until they eventually secured the eighth and final play-off spot, before going down with a spirited performance against eventual champions Leeds.
Coach Richard Agar has made permanent a few loanees from last season, and the Wildcats will be looking to keep the momentum going from last season’s run, which captured the imagination of the local public.
They may find the going harder in 2013, with teams now wary of what the Wildcats can do, but if half-back pair Paul Sykes and Tim Smith can hook-up as they did in that run, they will provide stiff opposition for most teams in the division.
1. Richard Mathers, 2. Peter Fox, 3. Dean Collis, 4. Lee Smith, 5. Ben Cockayne, 6. Paul Sykes, 7. Tim Smith, 8. Justin Poore, 9. Paul Aiton, 10. Andy Raleigh, 11. Ali Lauitiiti, 12. Danny Kirmond, 13. Danny Washbrook, 14. Kyle Wood, 15. Kyle Amor, 16. Oliver Wilkes, 17. Frankie Mariano, 18. Kyle Trout, 19. Vince Mellars, 20. Reece Lyne, 21. Matty Wildie, 22. Danny Cowling, 24. Lucas Walshaw, 25. Isaac John, 26. Bobbie Goulding, 27. Chris Annakin, 28. Liam Kay, 29. Adam Slater
Last season: 8th
Odds: 250/1 (11th)
First game: Bradford (A, Sunday)
Warrington won the Challenge Cup for the third time in four years last season, and made it to their first Super League Grand Final, only to be beaten by Leeds. They will have learned a lot from the experience, and Tony Smith has kept the faith with his squad, adding no new players for 2013.
After finishing top in 2011 and then falling in the play-offs, Smith’s side now know what it takes to reach Old Trafford, and they will enter the season as one of the favourites for the title. With a few players nearing the end of their careers, it might be their best chance to pick up a Grand Final winners ring.