With a few weeks to go until the start of the season, I think it’s time to look ahead at how things might unfold.
Over the next two of my columns, I’ll be predicting how the league table will look at the end of 2014.
I’m sure I’ll be getting plenty of grief on Twitter as a result of this column because it’s not the most upbeat I’ve ever written!
But standards at the bottom of Super League are very poor at the moment and I fear we’ll see a lot of one-sided games this season.
Anyway, in reverse order, here goes.
14 London Broncos
Where do we start? They’re called the London Broncos but for me they might as well be the London Loaners. They’re turning into a joke club and they’re struggling big time to get players into the side in time for the new season. They’re signing sub-standard players on loan and it makes you wonder if they’ll get on the phone to Walt Disney to get Mickey Mouse in on loan, because that’s the sort of outfit they are. They’re just dragging down the credibility of the competition and hopefully this will be their last season in Super League.
They have some good players but I can’t see Bradford being a happy camp and you have to worry about the morale there. Will they be getting paid on time every month? Are their players still up for sale and if not will they may well be at some point in the year. If things go badly at the start then they could find problems springing up all over the place. Odsal is no longer a fortress and I think they will struggle most weeks. Their off-field issues will outweigh what talent they do have on the pitch.
All the quality they had in Tim Smith, Kyle Amor and Ben Cockayne is gone and it’s hard to see much else in their squad. Two seasons ago they made the eight but they were found out last year and they’ll slide further away in 2014. I know you can’t judge a side too much on friendlies, but from the two I’ve seen so far, their prospects look absolutely bleak. They have no strength in depth and if injuries strike they’ll be in a big relegation fight. Even if they remain fit, it will be a long season for them.
When I look at the strength in depth and the quality at halfback, I worry for Cas. Liam Finn has been very good for Featherstone but it’s a big ask for him and the others there to replace Rangi Chase. I think they’ll come up short in too many areas and creativity is the main example of that. The loyal fans turn up week in, week out, but they’re not going to be in for the best of years. They do have some wins in them though, and in Daryl Powell they have an excellent coach. I think they’ll avoid the bottom two spots and stay in Super League for 2015.
I think challenging for the eight is beyond them but, again, I feel that Denis Betts will have a bit of joy in getting the best out of a squad that doesn’t have too many superstars in it. I think they’ll pick up their away form a bit, and they’ll remain a strong side at home. They will be looking to win at least eight or nine of their home games and maybe three or four away. They’ll have more than enough to avoid relegation. I also think they’ll be better off without Gareth Hock’s inconsistency as they play very much as a team.
9 Hull Kingston Rovers
Their big loss obviously is Michael Dobson and they have to find a way of coping without him. Without him they were rubbish last year but they’ve made some decent signings. They need to take a leaf out of sides like Widnes, who don’t rely on one big player, and I think they can take some steps in that direction this year. But I don’t agree with Neil Hudgell that they can become a top-six team. They’ll beat some big teams at home again, but I can’t see them picking up much on the road.
8 Catalan Dragons
I think they’ll scrape into the eight on account of their home form. They won’t pick up much across the Channel again, but they’ll be a match for anybody in the south of France. Long term they seem to be on a gradual downward spiral and that was demonstrated by how last season went for them. In 2013 Scott Dureau wasn’t a patch compared to 2012, and a lot depends on whether he can hit those heights again. There’s still plenty of quality there all over the park but I don’t think they’re the threat they were under Trent Robinson or Mick Potter.