Garry Schofield is a regular contributor in League Express with his weekly column ‘Pulling No Punches’. Read the opinions that matter first every week by buying the paper in stores on Mondays, or read online every Sunday evening at https://pocketmags.com/league-express-magazine.
This week, Schofield gives his predictions for the 2017 Super League season.
As the door slams shut on one season, what better time to look ahead to the next one? Here is my predicted Super League table for the 2017 campaign.
1 WIGAN WARRIORS
They may have struggled at times to reach the Holy Grail in 2016, but I think their Old Trafford triumph will see them kick on to bigger and better things from now. I don’t like the way they play, but they make it work and I don’t see anyone stopping them from going back to back. They have so much match-winning experience and Mike McIlorum coming back will be great for them. But the big gun is now George Williams. He still has some faults to iron out, but I can see him having a big year and winning the Man of Steel. There’s no reliance on Sam Tomkins anymore and although the signing of Tommy Leuluai doesn’t excite me, there’s plenty in that squad which is too good for anyone else.
2 WARRINGTON WOLVES
I don’t think they’ll be too bothered that Chris Sandow has gone because they have a ready-made replacement in Declan Patton, who is a quality player. I just hope they don’t bring someone else in. Kurt Gidley will be far happier because he’ll find it easier with Sandow gone. They can struggle with inconsistency, but they’re good enough to be challenging for top spot and I fancy them to go one further at Wembley this time. Daryl Clark has settled in very well to the Warrington philosophy and he’ll be massive for them again.
3 HULL FC
They won’t change much from last year, and why should they? They’ve rightly identified the halves as an area to improve and the signing of Albert Kelly is a smart move. I think he and Marc Sneyd will gel well, with Kelly the main threat and Sneyd the kicker. Do they really believe they can be as consistent as last year? I think so. They don’t look like one-season wonders – they’re too good for that. The forwards will still get the better of most teams they come across and I’m sure Gareth Ellis has another big season in him.
4 CASTLEFORD TIGERS
If they can keep most of their best players injury free, then we should see them being more consistent. If that’s the case, then they’re good enough to break into the top four. Zak Hardaker is a class player, and I’m looking forward to seeing Greg Eden back in Super League. The return of Michael Shenton is a bonus too. I love their style of play and there aren’t too many weaknesses there. They have a great coach in Daryl Powell and they look loaded with attacking options. They’ve lost Denny Solomona, but they won’t miss him as much as some people think. He’s only a winger, after all!
5 ST HELENS
They’ve been disappointing for the last couple of years, and the signing of Matty Smith doesn’t excite me. In fact, little about Saints excites me these days. They’ve gone from being the ultimate entertainers in Super League to a boring five-drives-and-a-kick team. They’ve got some great forwards in Alex Walmsley and Kyle Amor, while the signing of the Scottish props, Alex Walker and Luke Douglas, look like great business. But there’s little quality out wide even if they do move the ball about. If they do have a good year, it’ll on the back of dour rugby.
6 LEEDS RHINOS
They’ll improve a bit, even without bringing anyone new in. Rumours of James Segeyaro leaving were worrying, because they really need to keep him, so it was good to see Gary Hetherington confirm that he will stay with the Rhinos. Last year was about proving that they weren’t a one-man team after the departure of Kevin Sinfield, but too many players failed to put down a marker. Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow aren’t creative halves, but both still bring plenty to the table. They need to figure out where Liam Sutcliffe fits in and they need to get Jordan Lilley in there permanently. The three-quarters still look good, but too many forwards let them down last year. They’re a long way from silverware.
7 LEIGH CENTURIONS
They will be a breath of fresh air to a competition that is getting more boring with every passing year. Against Leeds in the Super 8s they were undisciplined, but they’ll learn from that and get back to what’s got them so many wins over Super League sides in the last couple of years. They’ll be tough to beat at home, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the likes of Martyn Ridyard make the step up. Micky Higham has always remained Super League standard since he left Warrington and the forwards will more than hold their own.
8 SALFORD RED DEVILS
They’ll have to find a way of putting the incredible ups and downs of 2016 behind them, but they seem to be heading in the right direction. Ian Blease is making the right noises, and I think Ian Watson will work better without Tim Sheens at the club. Their recruitment seems less reckless these days, with more thought being put into exactly what they need. Don’t forget they only got dragged into a relegation fight because of the points deduction. On merit, they’re good enough to be in the eight.
9 CATALANS DRAGONS
They turned into a joke last season after a good first half and although some of the players who were taking the mickey have now left, I don’t see them in the top half of the table. I’m surprised they’ve kept Laurent Frayssinous on as coach, but perhaps he deserves another go without a core of unprofessional Australians making the job even tougher for him. There are more weaknesses than strengths in the squad, and unless they can crack the consistency problem they’ll struggle again.
10 WIDNES VIKINGS
I daren’t tip them to come last again! A lot of us ended up with egg on our faces last year, but I can’t see them replicating a start like that again. They rely too much on Kevin Brown, but they still have handy players elsewhere in the backs. Their forwards aren’t the most intimidating, but they should still have too much to avoid the Million Pound Game. They’ll always be tough to beat at home.
11 WAKEFIELD TRINITY
Last year they had a great season, and the appointment of Chris Chester was a masterstroke because if Brian Smith had stayed they’d now be in the Championship. The halfbacks worked well for them last year and I think they need to keep faith in them. They don’t have the biggest pack of forwards, but they do well at home and they’ll pick up enough points at Belle Vue to keep them off the bottom.
12 HUDDERSFIELD GIANTS
Last year wasn’t a one-off for them. I think they’re in for another tough year. Rick Stone doesn’t know his best team and he can’t seem to bring anyone new in. He doesn’t seem to trust many of his players, with Ryan Brierley being a great example of that. Even with Danny Brough in there, things don’t look good for the Giants’ fans. You have to wonder what the team spirit is going to be like. Their only hope is to let Brough do what he wants out there, but if Stone tries to interfere in his game then I don’t see much hope for them.