Super League returns tonight with what we expect to be a cracking opening game. In its 21st season, the teams will be playing once again for that elusive Grand Final trophy but can Leeds be stopped? Here we preview the opening round fixtures:
Leeds vs Warrington (Thursday 4th February, 8pm, Sky Sports 2)
The champions get the season underway with a home tie against Warrington. Leeds begin a new chapter in their history without two of their star players from recent years, Jamie Peacock and captain, Kevin Sinfield, who left the club at the end of last season. The club have signed 5 new faces of which Galloway, Falloon and Ferres have made the 19-man squad. This season will be a transitional season for the club as they try to compensate for losing key players and the new ones in gel with the rest of the squad.
Warrington have eight new players to start off the season as well as the acquisition of Chris Sandow bought at the end of the 2015 season. The Wolves are expected to rustle some feathers by bringing in Ryan Bailey as well as ex-Hull FC duo, Tom Lineham and Joe Westerman. With a mix of youth and experience within the squad, I see them upsetting a few of the big teams in the league. They were far off the pace last season but I expect Kurt Gidley to give them some direction and Sandow to really start to control the middle.
This match I expect to be tight but I’m going for a Warrington win by 4-6 points.
Hull FC vs Salford (Friday 5th February, 8pm)
I may be slightly biased but Hull FC have bought very well this pre-season. They’ve lost key men but replaced them with bigger men. I’m excited to see how Pritchard can bring some much-needed firepower and passion to the team which will then allow Sika Manu to come under the radar. Lee Radford has kept his faith in his more youthful backs instead of buying in big names. Is this the year that Hull FC can stop being underdogs and finally make a decent stamp on the play-offs? The only injury concern for the Airlie Birds currently is Ellis who is confirmed to be out of the Salford match.
Plenty of change at the Red Devils once again with 10 players coming in and 13 leaving for various reasons. Robert Lui has come in to replace Rangi Chase; he has a different style of play to that of Chase but I think it will suit the team well and hopefully it will not take too long for him to find his feet. Salford need to improve their home form this season and make teams fear travelling to the AJ Bell Stadium.
Hull FC win by 12-18 points.
St Helens vs Huddersfield (Friday 5th February, 8pm)
Expect great things from Saints this season. At the end of last season, we could see Keiron Cunningham had instilled some belief in them but they fell at the final hurdle, losing to Leeds in the semi-final. Theo Fages could be their secret weapon as he has never been tried at a higher level. There have been minimal movement with only a few in and out as Cunningham aims to go one step further and make the Grand Final this year.
Huddersfield start this season with a few injuries which is never ideal and I still think they need to bring in another forward to replace Brett Ferres. However, at this stage, it will be just pot luck as to who they get. Ultimately it will depend on how Danny Brough operates this season; Huddersfield are a different team when his head is in the game. He is the catalyst of that team and the Giants do rely on him. I’m excited to see what new signings Hinchcliffe and Rapira work like too.
Saints win by 12-18 points for me.
Wigan vs Catalans (Friday 5th February, 8pm, Sky Sports 2)
Wigan hero Sam Tomkins is back in the fold after an indifferent time in the NRL. After being beaten by Leeds in last year’s Grand Final, I think they will be back with a vengeance this time around. Although the little movement they have made with signings in and out of the club, Shaun Wane has an incredibly talented crop of youngsters whom he puts a lot of faith into and so far it is paying off. I think they will be the team to beat.
Catalans have had bought well. In fact, they’ve bought great players, not just good players. As a player has announced they were leaving, they’ve signed someone in that position. With the retirement of Dureau, they signed Richie Myler who I feel has been unlucky at Warrington and once he gets his partnership with Todd Carney solid, they will flourish as a pairing and will trouble a lot of teams. They are the key to Catalans success this season.
Tough to call but Wigan win by 4-6 points
Hull KR vs Castleford (Sunday 7th February, 3pm)
There’s been a lot of changes at Rovers this season and I’m not sure how they will react and gel. After suffering a heavy pre-season defeat to Hull FC, it will be interesting to see how they bounce back against the Tigers. They have brought in many new faces but will they add that much to the existing squad? They have depth within it but I’m not sure if they have the quality there. Again, the halfbacks will be the key and Albert Kelly will be the main man to watch once again. Keep him fit and they have a chance of making that elusive top eight.
Castleford again have made a few new signings but a couple of unknowns are in there. Ben Crooks will be able to go under the radar and may be able to produce some magic for them. Another worry is that should they have injuries, they might not have the strength of depth to cope with them and may have to look elsewhere for bodies.
Hull KR win by 4-6 points
Wakefield vs Widnes (Sunday 7th February, 3pm)
Wakefield have made several signings as they usually do but I think they have gone for quality this year. Ben Jones-Bishop, Anthony England and Liam Finn will be three key players to look out for. Now Brian Smith has had time to get to know his players, they have a top coach who should be able to build up their confidence. If they get the right team selection and they all play to their best of their ability, I think that they could shock a few teams this year. The main thing for their survival is to beat the teams around them and win as many home matches as they can.
The Vikings have made good, solid signings this year. The players they’ve bought are not flashy but consistent. Widnes are a team who never score that many points but their defensive is good so it makes up for it. Keeping Kevin Brown fit will be integral to their success. They also need to make the Select Security Stadium a real fortress as players still do not like playing on the I-pitch.
Widnes to win by 4-6 points