In last week’s League Express column ‘Pulling No Punches’, Garry Schofield revealed his predictions for the Championship season. Buy this week’s League Express for Schoey’s latest column, featuring his ten wishes for 2018. Buy in stores now or online at totalrl.com/le
1 LEIGH CENTURIONS
After the massive disappointment of last year when they were relegated in their first season back in Super League, I think the Centurions will have too much for everybody else in the Championship. The parachute payment will make a big difference. They were too good for the Championship last time they were in it, and they will be at that level again this year. They will hammer some teams. But will they get promoted? Their discipline let them down in big games last year, and that’s why I feel they will just miss out in the Super 8s. There’s also a worry in my mind over the role of Keiron Cunningham at the club. I’m not entirely sure why he’s there. Will they adopt the boring tactics he instilled at St Helens? If so, my prediction will be wrong. They need to have the same positive approach they had two seasons ago.
2 TORONTO WOLFPACK
The Wolfpack juggernaut will rumble on in 2018 and I believe they’ll have a great first season in the Championship. They did so well last year because most of their players had come from the top of the Championship, so they’ll have no problems in adapting to the jump in standards. With the squad they have, they’ll certainly be knocking on the door and they’ll win most of their home games. With a smart coach in Paul Rowley, who knows all about the Championship, they’ll be too good for most teams. They have plenty of experience as well. I can see Leigh being the only team to get the better of them. But when it comes to the Qualifiers, they will be out of their depth and they won’t get promoted to Super League.
3 FEATHERSTONE ROVERS
This is a massive season for Featherstone. I’m looking forward to the halfback combination of Martyn Ridyard and Tom Holmes, both of whom have come from Super League. Ridyard is excellent and I’m surprised he’s not still in the top-flight. Holmes wants game time, which he didn’t get at Castleford, but he’s a class act too. New coach John Duffy will have Rovers playing the right way and will get the best out of those halves, which was an area that let them down last season. They’ll certainly make the top four and they’ll push Toronto close for the runners-up spot. When they do make the Qualifiers, they’ll be more competitive than last season, even though promotion isn’t a realistic target.
I like the way Halifax play and I’m a big fan of Richard Marshall. The club has an awful lot right off the field, and that often translates into on-field success. They haven’t gone big with their recruitment, but don’t forget this is a side that hammered champions Hull KR 28-6 in the last game of the regular season last year. Scott Murrell is still a top player and I like the look of Ben Johnstone. Mitch Cahalane will be a big loss, but I think they’ll still have too much for Toulouse to grab hold of fourth place.
There may be an element of second-season syndrome with them and I’m not convinced of their ability to find genuine consistency, but they will be confident of making their home ground a fortress. Their recruitment has been very good, particularly with the signing of William Barthau from London Broncos. Keeping hold of Johnathon Ford and Mark Kheirallah is massive for them as well. They were unlucky not to make the four last year, but it won’t be any easier this year, especially with Toronto in the competition now.
6 SHEFFIELD EAGLES
Apparently I upset some at the Eagles last year with my prediction that they would come eighth (they finished seventh!), so hopefully they’ll be happier with this one. They’re not good enough to make the top four – in fact, they remind me of Huddersfield in Super League in that they can string some wins together, but they can also lose to anyone. They struggle with consistency and they’ll miss Garry Lo and Elliot Minchella, who scored over 50 tries between them in 2017. But I think they’ll be too good to be sucked into a relegation battle.
A top-four challenge is too far away, and the sides above them have too much quality for them. I don’t think they have enough cutting edge to trouble the sides in the top half of the division and their recruitment looks pretty average, but Matt Diskin is doing a good job. They’re fit, they defend well and I think he will be there for the long haul, which is great news for the club.
The Cumbrians will surprise a few sides and will be too good to go back down to League One. They have a smart, mobile pack and their attacking philosophy is the right one. The players are allowed to express themselves, and they have a very impressive coach in Paul Crarey. The side they had last year would have avoided relegation had they been in the Championship and they go up with a healthy looking and sizeable squad. They will surprise more than a few teams at Craven Park.
They can beat the big boys at home and Neil Kelly did well when he came in last season. But there’s often a bounce when a new coach comes in. Doing it for a full year will be a different matter and I don’t see enough quality in the squad to be too confident. I think they’ll be happy just to avoid relegation.
They’ll really struggle with the loss of Andrew Henderson and even though I believe that Danny Ward will make a good coach, it won’t be easy at first. The loss of playmaker William Barthau is huge, and they’ll miss hooker Andy Ackers too. I think they’re going to plummet down the table.
They confounded the critics last year by getting off to a good start and spending the whole season above the relegation zone. But this time will be much harder. Teams won’t take them as lightly and the promoted teams are much better than the ones who got relegated from this division last year. They’d bite your hand off for a tenth-placed finish, but I don’t think they’ll achieve it. I hope I’m wrong, because they’re a great club.
Last year I tipped Swinton to avoid relegation and they proved me right by finishing a point ahead of the relegation spots last year. But with two good teams coming up, they have to start as favourites for the drop in 2018. Fullback Gabe Fell is a decent signing, but I just can’t see them staying up, especially with coach John Duffy having moved on.