It’s been a thrilling first few weeks of the season – and with March now upon us, I thought I’d use this week’s column to try and dissect everything I’ve seen and pick out five things I – and hopefully all of us! – have learned during the first month of the 2017 campaign. Here goes..
On the field, the game is alive and well
We all know it’s been a horrendous off-season for rugby league as a whole. But the first few weeks of the new season have reminded us where the game is at its very best – on the field. There’s not been too many ‘bad’ Super League games to speak of thus far – most of them have been closely-fought in terms of the scoreline too. The Championship looks like a great division once again, Toronto are here and were part of a great story on Saturday afternoon at Siddal – all in all, things have been pretty good so far. Here’s hoping that trend continues.
This could be the most even Super League in history
In years gone by, it’s not been hard to pick out a team that would definitely struggle in a given Super League season. There’s been a fair share of whipping boys in the competition’s recent history but this year, that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. Who would have had Warrington bottom of the competition after the opening month, for example? Leigh are already up and running with their first win – and on the whole, everyone looks capable of beating each other. That can only be good for the entertainment levels.
There is going to be a surprise in the bottom four
2016 saw shocks aplenty across the board; whether it was Hull FC winning at Wembley for the first time, Bradford and Halifax failing to make the top four in the Championship, Rochdale stunning Toulouse to win automatic promotion – there were plenty to choose from. But the slide down the table of Leeds and Huddersfield, forcing them to compete in the Qualifiers, was perhaps the biggest surprise of all.
And with Super League as even as it is, don’t be surprised to see another household name sucked into the relegation battle this season. Who it could be is as yet unclear – but don’t be shocked to find a big side competing in the Qualifiers in 2017.
More than one Championship team could push for promotion
It’s widely assumed that Hull Kingston Rovers will be at the forefront of the push for promotion from the Championship – but they won’t be alone this season.
The Robins are one of two unbeaten sides at the start of this season, and the other, Featherstone Rovers, will also be right in the thick of it. Alongside those two, Andrew Henderson’s London Broncos already look like a credible threat by the time the Qualifiers come around. Those three all pushing the Super League sides hard in the Super 8s will make for plenty of drama – and who knows, maybe a surprise promotion or two.
Zak Hardaker is back to his very best
Of all the things that have stood out in the opening few weeks of the season for me, it’s been the form of Zak Hardaker.
2016 was Hardaker’s annus horribilis, with the full-back finding the going considerably tougher than in 2015, when he was Super League’s best player and an England international on merit.
So far this year, Hardaker has shown plenty of potential when it comes to forcing his way back into the England fold. Defensively he has given the Tigers an enormous lift, that much is certain. He already looks to formed an effective partnership with Luke Gale in the Tigers’ attack too – and on the whole, all the signs look good for Hardaker.