The Big Kick-off

With the Super League XV bandwagon set to roll on Friday night, fans up and down the country will be hoping that this year will be ‘their’ year.  Will Leeds make it an unprecedented four titles in a row?  Can Warrington realise their undoubted potential and become a real threat in 2010? And will Matt Orford lead a Bradford revival?

All will be answered as the season unfolds, but as we prepare for the first of 189 matches, we can safely say that the 2010 vintage should be one of the toughest and most entertaining Super League’ssince its conception.  Many clubs have captured the imagination of their fans with the signings of some superstar players.  Only a few seasons ago it would have been difficult to conceive the notion that players in the ilk of Matt Orford, Danny Buderusand Craig Fitzgibbon would be plying their trade in this competition.  It is statement enough that Super League is a competition of the highest standard.

Super League XV should also see the emergence of some more promising youngsters, the basis of the licensing system.  2009 gave us the likes of Myler, Eastmond and Tomkins; so it will be interesting to see if any youngsters can make the same type of impact this term.  Hopefully some of these can be the ones I highlighted in ‘The Emergence of Youth’ blog.

Ultimately with the start of any season, in any sport, the tipsters gaze into their crystal balls and try to predict the winners, surprise packages and flops for the year.  Joining the band-wagon here is my club-by-club guide, along with prediction and their key man and rising star.

Bradford Bulls
Much should rest on keeping Matt Orford fit if the Bulls are to show some signs of past glories during 2010.  Andy Lynch and Nick Scruton will punch holes in opposition defences, but will a team who shipped 668 points during 2009 tighten up their ways?
Prediction: 8th
Key Man: Matt Orford
Rising Star: James Donaldson

Castleford Tigers
Full with attacking flair and some brilliant individuals such as Rangi Chase and Michael Shenton, Castleford must build on an inconsistent 2009.  Have added to their youthful squad with the old-head of Paul Jackson, the Tigers will be looking to improve their consistency.   Should be there and there-abouts for a Top 8 spot once again.
Prediction: 10th
Key Man: Rangi Chase
Rising Star: Jordan Thompson

Catalans Dragons
After scraping into the play-off in 2009, but then making it all the way to the semi-finals things look okay for the Dragons.  Losing talismanic Greg Bird is a huge blow but they’ve recruited some good antipodean talent once again and should make a big bid for a play-off berth once more.
Prediction: 9th
Key Man: Thomas Bosc
Rising Star: William Barthau

Crusaders
Super League XIV was extremely difficult for the Celtic Crusaders. With a shorter name, new home and world-class coach now at the helm; they should improve on last year and put in some better performances in 2010.  Brian Noble will see this as a challenge, but it looks likely they will be wooden spoon contenders again.
Prediction: 14th
Key Man: Lincoln Withers
Rising Star: Lewis Mills

Harlequins
A well-organised side, who in Brian McDermott have a fantastic coach who works the side hard.  Capable of beating anyone on their day, shocking Leeds at Headingley in 2009, inconsistency is a big problem for the ‘Quins.  A lower half finish looks likely.
Prediction: 12th
Key Man: Chad Randall
Rising Star: Ben Jones-Bishop

Huddersfield
The surprise package of 2009 came on leaps and bounds under coach Nathan Brown.  A ferocious defence saw them finish with the best defence in the competition.  After also reaching the Challenge Cup Final, seemed to go off the boil a little and disappointed in the play-offs.  2010 promises to be just as positive; and could go one better in the cup this time around.
Prediction: 5th
Key Man: Brett Hodgson
Rising Star: Greg McNally

Hull FC
2010 could be the time to make a more competitive bid for the Airlie Birds.  They’ve recruited well in the off-season with Mark O’Meley, Craig Fitzgibbon and new captain Sean Long all joining the ranks at the KC Stadium.  With Long pulling the strings they should play an entertaining brand of Rugby and are another who could be a decent outside bet for the Challenge Cup.
Prediction: 7th
Key Man: Sean Long
Rising Star: Tom Briscoe

Hull KR
The Robins had a memorable 2009 by all accounts.  A fourth place finish in the league and an agonising golden point loss to eventual winners Warrington in the quarter-final of the Challenge Cup was a big step for the club.  Michael Dobson and Ben Galea were exemplary throughout the year, and if those two and other key players can stay fit and maintain form, then Rovers should be in for another positive season.
Prediction: 6th
Key Man: Michael Dobson
Rising Star: Michael Ratu

Leeds Rhinos
The Champions looks as strong, if not stronger, than ever.  Adding the likes of Greg Eastwood and Brett Delaney to an already star-studded side, and a fully fit Danny Buderus working in unison with Matt Diskinshould see the Rhinos lifting the Super League trophy at Old Trafford again.  Perhaps the greatest challenge for the Rhinos will be to build on the past three Super League successes and target the World Club Challenge and Challenge Cup as well.
Prediction: 1st
Key Man: Kevin Sinfield
Rising Star: Kallum Watkins

Salford City Reds
Performed well in their first season back in Super League and recorded an away victory over Leeds and also beat St Helens at The Willows.  Shaun McRae has recruited smartly in the off-season bringing in Matty Smith on loan from St Helens to fill the boots of Richie Myler, along with ex-Leeds flyer Jodie Broughton to add some much needed fire power.  That said I don’t think they’ll improve on 13th again.
Prediction: 13th
Key Man: Stefan Ratchford
Rising Star: Jodie Broughton

St Helens
The loss of Sean Long would hit most teams hard but only allows the Saints to play Kyle Eastmond is his favoured position.  With some players reaching the twilight of their career, this could be a more transitional year for them.  By no means written off, but there must be doubts about their ability to perform on the biggest stage after three successive Grand Final defeats.
Prediction: 3rd
Key Man: Kyle Eastmond
Rising Star: Jonny Lomax

Wakefield Wildcats
Write the Wildcats off at your peril! Always seem to do better than everyone expects and with John Kear at the helm, they have a wily old coach who knows just about everything about the game.  A fifth place finish in Super League XIV despite some off-field tragedies’ is testament to the team spirit at Belle Vue, but in a Rugny sense I just feel that there are a few clubs better equipped than them this season.  That said Terry Newton is a fantastic signing and will give the Wildcats some much needed impetus from dummy-half.
Prediction: 11th
Key Man: Terry Newton
Rising Star: Dale Morton

Warrington Wolves
Could this be ‘their’ year at last?  They’ve certainly recruited well in the off-season and have a coach who’s done it all before.  David Solomonaadd some class to an already industrious pack, and the exciting Richie Myler should relish the chance to direct and organise a more talented team. The Wolves should go well if injuries and other mishaps don’t strike.
Prediction: 2nd
Key Man: Adrian Morley
Rising Star: Richie Myler

Wigan Warriors
A new coach in the shape of Michael Maguire anda new captaincy rota are the order of the day for Wigan in 2010.  On their day are capable of beating anyone, but slipped up to often under Brian Noble.  Maguire has inherited a strong side and with his experiences as assistant at Melbourne in the NRL, and the mercurial Sam Tomkins pulling the strings, Wigan should be a force to be reckoned with is Super League XV.
Prediction: 4th
Key Man: Sam Tomkins
Rising Star: Lee Mossop

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