Super League XXII Season Preview
RUGBY LEAGUE analyst Kaine Greenwood (@KaineG23) previews the new Super League, picking out each club’s one to watch, as well as sharing his favourite outright bets for 2017.
Castleford Tigers’ fans have every reason to be excited by the upcoming season when they see that Daryl Powell is still at the helm of the exciting West Yorkshire club.
It seems Powell has a knack of unearthing players that will suit his systems and structures from names that are discarded elsewhere or not yet known. Who wouldn’t want to play in a side with the attacking threat of Luke Gale, Rangi Chase, Ben Roberts, Junior Moors and more? A: Denny Solomona.
There might be a slight shift in Cas’ attacking plans having lost Solomona and Luke Dorn to their respective retirement homes but Powell has looked to strengthen Castleford’s defensive line with the capture of Zak Hardaker (perhaps the best all-round full-back in the league on form) and Jesse Sene-Lefao from the Cronulla Sharks which irons out their biggest Achilles heel and another big season is certainly not out of the question.
They jump up a spot from last season’s fifth in my book.
One to watch: Greg Minikin
Grand Final Winner Odds: 13.00
In a time when League is going transatlantic with the Toronto Wolfpack and having a bigger French presence with Toulouse’s promotion to the Championship, the Dragons still remain the example to follow in terms of how expansion can work.
The Perpignan-based outfit are now an established top-tier side and have a passionate supporter base befitting of that but have not truly delivered on the field.
This is likely to be the case again with such an overhaul in their squad – the saddest thing is that the league is now filling with French talents while the import of NRL stars appears to continue.
Lots of change, but not very much change is how I see it here. Can only assume the RFL motto hasn’t crossed their fax machine yet.
One to watch: Greg Bird
Grand Final Winner Odds: 21:00
Trying to fathom where the Giants will fall come the end of this campaign nearly forced me to drag out my super computer.
There are many that feel the birthplace of the sport may experience another miserable year and the club will prop up the league once again, this is undoubtedly down to a lack of depth within the squad having shipped out established names and replaced with potential.
The opening few weeks of the season are an opportunity to get some early points on the board in my opinion and it is probably the hope of many a Huddersfield fan too.
Getting on ‘Rick roll’ and clicking in the early months will save them from the wodden spoon but maintaining a performance level throughout the season is too much to ask and the ‘Qualifiers’ await again.
Lets hope Jake Mamo has a visa by then! The former Newcastle Knights player is real catch for the Giants and should add strength to what was a real weak area. It is also good to see that Lee Gaskell will get a real shot at Super League minutes at the John Smith’s.
One to watch: Jake Mamo
Grand Final Winner Odds: 21:00
The Black and Whites took one of the prizes last year and will count themselves unfortunate not to have added to their Challenge Cup glory at the back end of the season but perhaps it was both a blessing and a curse that the majority of their squad played big numbers last term.
Lee Radford has strengthened the Airlie Birds’ backline with the capture of Albert Kelly and an underrated Josh Griffin but they will yet again have to rely on the base being set by a pack that could suffer if more injuries were to hit the club this year.
Still, there is a lot to be excited about at the KCOM and after the experiences of ’16 and I’m not prepared to discount them challenging on all three fronts again.
What some clubs would give for generals like Mark Minichiello, Gareth Ellis and Danny Houghton to call on weekly.
One to watch: Nick Rawsthorne
Grand Final Winner Odds: 6.50
‘The Great Flood of West Yorkshire’ is 14 months in the memory now and with the Rhinos relatively undisrupted in their preparations for SLXXII I don’t see a reason to discount Brian McDermott’s men to the extent some will.
The events of the last 12 months have probably seen the Rhinos undergo a bigger adaption than they anticipated but the talents already within their squad and those coming through can’t do anything but benefit from those.
One example of a player who took his opportunity last term is German international Jimmy Keinhorst and it will be interesting to see how he progresses further in the backline this year.
If I had more confidence in the Rhinos’ midfield pairing they’d make my top four. If you can tell me what Jordan Lilley needs to do to escape Bradford before the season is out let me know! Matt Parcell comes in from Manly to replace James Segeyaro [See-ya-away-i-go.]
One to watch: Jimmy Keinhorst
Grand Final Winner Odds: 8.00
In the truest sense of Super League XXII’s motto the Centurions represent the only difference to this year’s line-up as they effectively replace relegated Hull KR.
Owner Derek Beaumont will finally see his side compete at the level that his investment deserves but the signing of Curtis Naughton on loan from Hull FC to cover the full-back role in the early season may be a nod to the Centurions not having enough to really make a mark over an extended period.
Their six wins in the ‘Qualifiers’ shows they will excite in spells though and Martyn Ridyard is a Leigh junior that has risen to challenge of patrolling his local club around the field for a number of years now and I don’t see Super League as much of a step up.
French hooking recruit Eloi Pelissier is the rugby league version of a Rubix cube for any coach: it’s all in there, how do you get all squared up? He’s my OTW for that very reason.
One to watch: Eloi Pelissier
Grand Final Winner Odds: 34.00
Salford Red Devils
It seems the devil has struck against the good Doctor’s side in preparation for the season with a number of pre-season injuries hitting their squad.
Notably, Ben Murdoch-Masila was injured in a friendly with Rochdale and faces a two-month period on the sidelines along with a similar-or-longer spell for the impressive Union-returnee Josh Jones. Murdoch-Masila underwhelmed in his second season but will still be a big loss in the forwards for the early weeks.
Dr. Koukash has supported coach Ian Watson’s aim of making the play-offs by securing former State of Origin player and Dally M winner Todd Carney and the 30-year-old could prove the man to take pressure off the shoulders of Robert Lui.
We must remember that but for their cap problems Salford were well in the hunt in 2016 and I think they sneak in at the breakaway stage on this occasion.
Watch out for winger Niall Evalds, he proved his potent scoring threat in the Red Devils’ survival and this could be a break-out campaign.
One to watch: Niall Evalds
Grand Final Winner Odds: 67.00
The ‘Red Vee’ has had a great big red cross put through the name of their major off-season Matty Smith with the half-back set to miss a significant period of Saints’ march towards a potential Grand Final after sustaining a leg injury in a pre-season friendly.
That undoubtedly has a big impact on the structure of the way in which Keiron Cunningham likes his side to operate and won’t allow Theo Fages the freedom and established name alongside him would’ve afforded.
Young Saint Danny Richardson looks set to experience some minutes of the pitch if his inclusion in the 19-man squad for the opener is anything to go by.
NRL recruits Ryan Morgan and Luke Douglas add experience to Cunningham’s squad that is overwhelmingly centred around English talent and while I expect Douglas to be a real hit on these shores I’m not convinced the Saints have upgraded the squad across the board to warrant a place at the top-end of the standings when 2017 winds up.
One to watch: Luke Douglas
Grand Final Winner Odds: 6.00
Wakefield took the ‘surprise package’ gong in 2016 but as Leicester will tell you, once you spring up on sides they quickly look to ways of combatting you. The task of repeating – even if just mentally – becomes twice as hard.
Chris Chester may well have snared the signing-of-the-season in tying Sam Williams to a contract with Trin to combat that, mind. The former Canberra playmaker’s performances in the build-up to the big kick-off have turned more than just my head.
Much like when Rangi Chase put together a Man of Steel season while his side struggled to consistently get the ‘W’ I sense Williams will be key to most things Chester’s side do in the competition and may well lay on a number of points for future England flyer Tom Johnstone. There have been worse pokes than the pair collecting the Man of Steel and top tryscorer awards respectively.
I suspect Trinity games will have points at both ends throughout the campaign and it will be that weakness that sees me favour a return to the ‘Middle 8’ (just!).
One to watch: Sam Williams
Grand Final Winner Odds: 101.00
Tony Smith’s chargers finished at the top of the tree after 30 rounds last year and you would be hard pushed not to see the same occurring again.
Despite the saga over Chris Sandow’s non-return (at least he didn’t retire, eh?) Smith moved quickly to replace a half that couldn’t be bothered with one than took a pay-cut to jump into a Primrose and Blue jersey – that can’t really be seen as a negative.
Declan Patton will have benefitted from his run in the side in the previous campaign and the pickups of Dom Crosby from Wigan and Andre Savelio from Saints look astute at worst.
Add in the return of former Wolf Mike Cooper from the NRL an dust off the wallet because maybe the this is their year?
One to watch: Andre Savelio
Grand Final Winner Odds: 4.00
The Vikings were well up for the battle early in stages this time last year but I very much doubt we are in for a repeat.
It’s perhaps a little easy to look at the departure of Kevin Brown and injuries to key personnel Joe Mellor, Eamon O’Carroll and Chris Dean (all currently sidelined) as a reason for the struggles to post warm-up points but when you look throughout the Chemics’ squad list you see a heavy reliance on youth and untried talent.
Should they get off to a poor start then all Bett’s are off as how they arrest it – it’s a while since the Vikings had a good spell if we stretch back into last term.
Corey Thompson, Joe Mellor and Matt Whitley are the key men for me but it may not be an easy six months ahead.
One to watch: Matt Whitley
Grand Final Winner Odds: 101.00
The champions are back and so as it turns out are a few familiar faces as both Joe Burgess and Thomas Leulaui return to the famous jersey.
The Warriors have also moved to bring in a French contingent that has the potential to add in both the pack and backs with Romain Navarrete and Morgan Escare flying in from the Dragons.
The fact that the Warriors have brought in as many signings as they lost from their 2016 squad (5) shows that Shaun Wane believes in the ability of the his squad as is to take a like-to-like approach to losing Josh Charnley, Dan Sarginson, Matty Smith, Dom Crosby and Lee Mossop.
Many big names remain, despite the lure of the NRL, however and John Bateman is one of those; the former Bradford junior is an absolute monster for this side – very much in the mould of a Shaun Wane player with his toughness, commitment, adaptability and no lack of skill when it’s called on. Should he play a full season he is the first name slated on my Man of Steel shortlist.
The regular season looks like a match-up between the Wolves and the Warriors from a regular season ante-post point-of-view; I certainly wouldn’t put it beyond the Cherry and Whites to reverse the 1-2 from Super League XXI – lets get things going and find out?
One to watch: John Bateman
Grand Final Winner Odds: 3.75
- Man of Steel: John Bateman (11.00)
- Top Tryscorer: Tom Johnstone (21.00)
- Regular Season Winner: Warrington Wolves (4.00)
- Grand Final Winner: Wigan Warriors (3.75)
- Top 4 Finish: Castleford Tigers (2.75)