Sunday, 27 January 2013

Super League 2013 preview

February approaches, and all fans of extraordinary and tough sport know what this means - the new Super League season is coming. 

The adverts are on TV and if they are anything to go by we should all be excited for what is to come. (Seriously, give them a watch>>>)

Slick adverts and the 100% genuine words of Sir Wiggo set the scene. Now its over to the players to deliver. 

Here's my thoughts on how it might all unfold, starting with last seasons League Leaders shield winners and working down the ladder.

Wigan Warriors
Last season was a nearly year for the Wigan side. The seeming desire to win all games they played was their undoing with Leeds raising their game to upset Wigan in two semi-finals. 

It would be easy to say key injuries for those two particular games cost them, but if that's the case, how will they cope with the loss of five experienced star players? Thomas Leuluai, Brett Finch, Jeff Lima, and George Carmont have all left the club behind them, and Gareth Hock has left for this year at least. 

The replacements? Well, Matty Smith has plenty of Super League experience now and had a third of last season to help him bed into all things cherry'n'white. Blake Green has shown flashes of inspiration at Hull KR in the past two seasons. This half-back pairing should upgrade Wigan's kicking game, but it remains to be seen if they can create the space and chances Finch and Leuluai did for Sam Tomkins. Younger, less experienced players are expected to fill the other gaps left, and lack of experienced depth looks an issue when you compare this side to the one Michael Maguire had.

With Sam Tomkins, Wigan have the best player in the league, which always gives them a chance. But he can't do it all on his own and a weak pre-season from the squad players suggests there will be an inconsistent platform given by the forwards on which to build from. If the front row fronts up, Wigan can beat anyone, If not, they'll struggle to dominate teams like they have in the last few years.

Prediction: 3rd place finish, at least one final appearance.

Warrington Wolves
The Wire finally got over their playoff issues last time around, reaching the Grand Final. They couldn't add this title to their Challenge Cup crown picked up in August, so you expect this will be Tony Smith's priority. 

Few major moves have been made in the off-season. No notable incomers and David Solomona's diminishing talents is all they've really lost. The younger players they fed into the first team squad last year like Ben Currie are a year more developed and will add support the the players that have done so well for them in recent seasons. 

A solid if sparse pre-season with a couple of wins over Super League rivals has set them up for the new season well. The main question mark may be over the endurance of the ageing players like Brett Hodgson, Adrian Morley and Lee Briers, but Warrington showed last year they can manage without these talismanic players from time to time - and the inspiration that it may be the last serious go around for a couple of them could spur the team on.

Prediction: 1st place and GF winners

St Helens
2012 was a lost year for Saints really. There was no final appearance, they lacked consistency and they didn't seem to have enough edge to win the big games. The new stadium wasn't exactly ushered in on a glorious note.

However, 2013 looks promising. Two good signings from Hull FC in the shape of Willie Manu and Jordan Turner are more than adequate replacements for the players going out. Manu especially can be a devastating runner and the combination of him and Sia Soliola in the second row can punch holes through any defence. Two comprehensive pre-season wins gives reason for optimism.

James Roby is again the key man. If he stays free of injury he should lead his team to a competitive position. If he misses serious game time then Saints will struggle as they did without him at times last year. To rely so heavily on an 80 minute player who is involved in so many plays in a game is a dangerous thing. Combined with what I feel is a defensive weakness in the outside backs, I find it hard to predict what will happen with Saints. I think inconsistency in the league will be combined with stringer performances in the big games. Another question will be if Nathan Brown can put a full season together or whether his failings at Huddersfield will continue.

Prediction: 4th and maybe the Cup final

Catalan Dragons
Fourth place in 2012 was well earned by a Catalan side who showed power up front with the best prop in the competition Remi Casty leading from the front. I felt they lacked a bit of their normal flair in the back division last year though and relied on a strong kicking game behind skillful play in the second row channels.

They have let a number of their French stalwarts go over the off-season, as well as losing influential attacking threats Clint Greenshields and Setiamata Sa. Brent Webb and Olivier Elima have come in, as well as Zeb Taia, but that only covers the star players that have gone. There are still holes in the backs if injuries are suffered by the starting players so I'm not sure they've done anything to improve the squad and make them more likely to challenge during the 'business end' of the season.

A close fought loss to the London Broncos in their final pre-season outing doesn't tell us much and it will be interesting to see what the new French coach can bring out of the team after Trent Robinson left for the NRL. There is certainly a down grade in that department, although the experience of David Waite has been brought on board to help Laurent Frayssinous find his feet.

Prediction: 6th and second round playoff disappointment.

Leeds Rhinos
Consecutive Grand Final triumphs from the bottom half of the playoff draw have emphasised the champion quality this Leeds side has, if raised a few questions about their ability or indeed desire to compete consistently. The two GF rings have come after two Cup final losses in otherwise patchy seasons. This team was ageing so delivered in the big games, then in transition with enough experience to pull them through. This year they might just have it all covered again.

The young skillful outside backs that really emerged last year are now experienced champions. I expect big things from Zak Hardaker and Kallum Watkins again this year. Stevie Ward and Liam Hood must be expected to come through too as no great fight was made to retain Shaun Lunt. Joel Moon will add a lot more in the centre than Lee Smith could, with Hardaker making the permanent switch to full back.

Pre-season has suggested their defence might not be watertight with 50 points going in against them in two games, but this is a team for the big occasions too. The cup has escaped them so I think that may be a priority, requiring them to be in full form earlier in the year to get over that final hump. The speed and talent in the back unit will score a lot of points this year, which will get them over more games than not even if the defence isn't consistently brilliant. I expect them to be more consistent but efforts in the cup may see them fall short in the playoffs.

Prediction: 2nd, Cup win

Hull FC
The Black'n'Whites showed promise in 2012 but ultimately showed they didn't have the quality to win the crunch knock out games, and it didn't help that they couldn't find a consistent full back.

There has been another big overhaul of the playing squad this year for the third season in a row, but you have to feel they've strengthened their overall depth. The loss of Willie Manu has been compensated for by the headline pick up of Gareth Ellis, returning from a celebrated stint in the NRL. A number of signings from cross city rivals Rovers has added experience and depth. Joe Arundel could be an exciting addition in the backs if he fulfils the potential he showed at Cas, and they've done the key thing of keeping Tom Briscoe on board - for my money the best winger in Super League.

Pre-season hasn't told us much. One win and one tough derby loss against Super League opposition. My worry is that Hull won't know their best 17 on day one and it might take time for the new team to settle in together. I'm not sure how well they can afford a slow start, but I do feel they have the quality for a solid playoff placing.

Prediction: 5th place, outside chance of deep playoff run

Huddersfield Giants
Huddersfield did a Huddersfield last year and only really competed for the first third of the season. There was no uplifting news that Nathan Brown would actually be staying this time around and the slump pretty much continued.

With a new coach at the helm the Fartown fans would hope that might change, although the coach has been promoted from within. There is also the lack of an exciting signing for this season. Players have come and gone, but overall quality in the squad has remained largely the same. The major loss is former captain Kevin Brown, although I find him to be an overrated player who doesn't make much happen himself, so no massive loss for me. The problem is, the players they have just aren't that good. None of their players are the best in their position in the league, or even top five, other than maybe Eorl Crabtree.

A thumping pre-season defeat at Saints and a decent win over Widnes suggest Huddersfield will be there or thereabouts the bottom end of the playoffs for me this year. They should win against the teams that finish below the playoffs, but not be so successful against the teams already discussed above.

Prediction: 8th

Wakefield Trinity Wildcats
Wakefield finished 2012 regular season as the form team. They have to continue in that vein to get anywhere near the playoffs for me this year - but they surprised in 2012 and can do again.

A bit more experience has come in and young Reece Lyne is an exciting wing talent in attack. No notable players have really left and I don't see much change out of the Wildcats this year to last year. I really feel it depends on what their opponents come up with because this team is beatable. Tim Smith has the potential to be a wildcard in attack with his great skill and vision, but he has mistakes in him in defence that could undo any good he does. I think that applies across the board. 

Wakefield will beat a team that doesn't turn up, but will lose more close games than they win I think. Pre-season has included games over Championship opposition and a big loss to St Helens, so there is no real indication on what they can do out of that.

Prediction: 11th

Bradford Bulls
The Bulls were the story of 2012, both good and bad. Had it not been for the financial struggles deducting points from their total they would have made the top 8, and deservedly so. The fight against adversity was great to watch from a group of players who proved their metal.

2013 should be a rebirth of the club. Unfortunately I don't think it will be. The worry I have is in the forward pack, which has been decimated in the off-season. Bryn Hargreaves, Tom Burgess, Craig Kopczak, Olivier Elima and Ian Sibbit have all left, with Adam Sidlow the only real addition to the pack. The losses up front are combined with a fairly thin squad overall. Staying injury free across the whole first 17 is key to any playoff chances.

A big win against lower opposition and a draw against Leeds are what they have to show from the pre-season. That shows they'll be competitive, but whether they have enough to be competitive enough often enough is the doubt I have. Francis Cummins is a first year head coach and his team lacks in strong experienced characters outside of the hooker position, so I think a bad start or losing run might be hard to overcome.

Prediction: 10th

Hull Kingston Rovers
The Robins had a disappointing year under new coach Craig Sandercock in 2012. They never really looked like threatening the playoffs.

This season has seen a large overhaul in the playing squad. The losses might be felt most in the heart of the club rather than on the pitch, with Ben Galea defecting to cross city rivals FC and home grown products Liam Watts and Scott Taylor also leaving. The players that have come in bring talent and excitement though. Greg Eden started last season great with Huddersfield and has potential to become a real strike threat. Omari Caro offers similar potential, with electric speed. Cory Paterson, Evarn Tuimavave and Travis Burns bring NRL experience on board.

Pre-season suggests the new look side could have a decent year. Wins over Hull FC and an understrength Wigan side have them heading into the Super League in good form.

Prediction: 7th

Salford City Reds
Salford are the toughest team to predict. The off-season almost saw them fall out of existence but has seen them saved as part of a potentially exciting new venture that could open them up to vast new finances and commercial opportunities.

They've had the heartbeat taken out of the team - the full back and both halfbacks have left as well as both centres, meaning they have to find new ways of creating scores. Only an out of practice Martin Gleeson and uninspiring Andrew Dixon have come in and the squad list looks threadbare, although you expect some activity in the coming weeks that should strengthen things up. Loan signings might be the only option at this stage though, which largely means youth and second string players after missing out on Gareth Hock. 

A pre-season win against lowly Swinton and a loss to Wigan tell us very little because we don't know who the team will be half way through the year. I expect this year to be a tough transition year for Salford. I hope brighter things will emerge by the end of the season to offer a promising future for a franchise I feel should be much bigger than they are, but I don't see this year as being anything special.

Prediction: 13th

London Broncos
London were woeful in the first half of 2012, but some signs of revival were shown at the later stage of the season when club legend Tony Rea came back into the coaches position. They will need more than a few signs that the big names they brought in for 2012 care enough to deliver on the field, and I still have my doubts.

The only notable player movement is the retirement of Julien Rinaldi and the acquisition of Tommy Lee as a replacement. I think Lee lacks the spirit Rinaldi demonstrates so can't fulfil the same leadership role Rinaldi offered at times last season. Therefore, the playing squad remains largely unchanged. The only change the fans need to see is the 2012 big signings showing some interest. I was alarmed by how little it looked like these players cared last year, Craig Gower's end to the season aside, and I don't feel they've bought into the club - a club that doesn't really have a permanent home or identity right now.

Pre-season has seen big wins over lesser opponents and a last gasp win over the Catalan Dragons down in France, but I don't think that will shine through during the season. 

Prediction: 14th

Castleford Tigers
'Classy Cas' were anything but in 2012. Rangi Chase seemed to mess the club about with his too big for his boots off the pitch antics and not so inspirational on the field antics. 

Michael Shenton has come back to the club he made his name and I think he still has something in the tank, but all the other domestic signings may just be past their best. Justin Carney could offer something coming in from the NRL, but really it's hard to say with any certainty that he'll do great things with an uninspiring recent record behind him. Losing talented Joe Arundel and winger Josh Griffin could be big losses in the try scoring charts and the retirement of Danny Orr and Ryan Hudson takes away some of the core experience and leadership from the team on the field. Reliance on want away players like Rangi Chase and Daryl Clark for leadership could be difficult.

A loss at Hull FC and a win over Championship Featherstone has made up an unpromising pre-season on the pitch and despite coach Ian Millward talking the good talk, I expect another poor season from Cas. There will undoubtedly be some highlight reel tries, but these will more often than not come at the back end of big losses in my view.

Prediction: 12th

Widnes Vikings
Widnes finished bottom of the pile in 2012, but only on points difference in the end. They were always expected to struggle as the new boys in the league, and their squad really was made up of cast offs and inexperience.

In my view, 2013 promises to be different. I think they have a coach who really knows the game and they've done the right thing persevering with him through the bad first year up. Now it's time to build, and they've done so through signing some big names - none bigger than Gareth Hock on a loan deal from Wigan. In Hock Widnes have one of the genuine world class talents in the British game - a player wanted by the NRL, but with a point to prove to his former coach Shaun Wane.

They will be weakened at hooker in losing the players who played there for the majority of the season, but overall I feel the squad has more experience and depth than last year, with Kevin Brown another key addition. A couple of decent loan pickups at the right times in the season and Widnes will scare a few teams this year I think. A big loss to Huddersfield in pre-season tells us nothing, because they didn't have Gareth Hock then. Once he is fit and ready, if he keeps his head together, the Vikings could be a force.

Prediction: 9th


  1. Broncos 14th? I think you are way of the mark. But great preview!

  2. I hope I am, a strong London could be a boost for the sport. I guess time will tell. If the players show more interest than last year then it could be a better year - also, I took a bit of a bold route with my prediction for Widnes, which could make me look stupid!

    Thanks for reading though :)