In his latest League Express column, Garry Schofield revealed his predictions for the 2018 season. The latest “Pulling No Punches” column will be in the new League Express, where Garry gives his tips on the Championship. Buy online in stores from Monday or online at totalrl.com/le.
1 ST HELENS
Saints showed great improvement towards the end of last year, so I think they can kick on and regain the Super League trophy. The players were buying into Justin Holbrook’s philosophy and they made mugs out of everyone like me who had long since written them off. Their attack finally seemed to click, which hasn’t happened for a long time. The key is Danny Richardson being allowed to call the shots because he is a class player. If he’s picked every week, I fancy him to win the Man of Steel. They have a mobile pack, plenty of speed in the backs and Ben Barba will have a top season, but I’m not sure where they’ll fit Jonny Lomax in. I fancy them to win the Grand Final, but if Holbrook loses his nerve by limiting Richardson’s game time and messing around with Jon Wilkin in the halves, then my prediction won’t come true.
2 CASTLEFORD TIGERS
The key for the Tigers is bouncing back from their disappointment at the end of the season. They need to tell themselves that the Grand Final loss was down to Danny McGuire’s brilliance and Zak Hardaker’s stupidity. They were excellent last season, and I don’t see why they can’t continue in a similar vein. I’m not too impressed with some of their signings, but Daryl Powell knows how to turn an average player into a good one. Ben Roberts will play fullback and he’ll go well there. The forwards will have another excellent year. It’s all about consistency and handling pressure and expectations, but I think they’ll be fine and they may well make Old Trafford again.
3 LEEDS RHINOS
Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow have left and, on top of the trio who left two years ago, they’ve lost a lot of big-match experience. But they still have great forwards and outside backs, so it all comes down to Richie Myler and Joel Moon in the halves. I’m not sure about Myler, but Moon is a class player. If they click, they are certain to have a good season, but most clubs have a question mark over the halves, so if they don’t, there’s enough class in the side to be sure of another top-four season.
4 HULL FC
The big question is how they replace Gareth Ellis. It won’t be easy because he leaves a huge hole. If they still had him, I think they’d challenge for top spot. But their pack is still decent without him. There are weaknesses in Marc Sneyd’s game, but he is a matchwinner on his day and Albert Kelly is an excellent player. They will miss Mahe Fonua in the outside backs, but there’s still plenty of quality out wide. I fancy them to make it a hat-trick of Challenge Cup wins at Wembley.
5 WARRINGTON WOLVES
New coach Steve Price will improve them no end, particularly defensively, and that will move them up the table on its own. They might not be the same attacking side they were a few years ago, but that’s part and parcel of the modern game. I hope Dec Patton is central to everything they do, and although I won’t be holding my breath about that, I do think Daryl Clark will re-discover his best form.
6 WAKEFIELD TRINITY
Trinity will have another good year, because the players have shown they can handle increasing expectations. They were unlucky not to qualify for the top four in 2017 and they have a well-balanced squad. I think they’ll miss fourth again, but they clearly are a top-eight side. Unlike many in Super League, there are no worries over their halfbacks. The forwards are mobile and the backs have pace. I’m looking forward to seeing Tom Johnstone again.
7 WIGAN WARRIORS
Wigan are in for a poor year. There are so many questions to be answered. How will the trip to Australia affect them in the early rounds? Can they get the best out of George Williams again? Who do they pair him with? How many games will the irreplaceable Sean O’Loughlin play? Will they alter their negative style of play? I know their fans won’t like reading this, but most of them appear to think the same. They need to produce an alternative style of play because they no longer bully anyone. But Shaun Wane is a stubborn man, so I’m not sure they will. If they don’t, they’ll get left behind.
8 HUDDERSFIELD GIANTS
At times, they look like they can win four on the trot, then they might lose the next six. They’ve lost the consistency they had a few years ago. But they can beat anybody on their day, so I fancy them to sneak into the top eight.
9 CATALANS DRAGONS
They were awful for much of last season, but a full off-season under Steve McNamara will help. I don’t like the style of play and although they will be tough to beat in Perpignan, they will struggle in this country. They’re too good to come last.
10 HULL KINGSTON ROVERS
They have assembled a squad that I believe can compete in Super League, with Danny McGuire the jewel in the crown. He will have to adapt to playing for an inferior side, and he will have to make sure he doesn’t get frustrated. But he will get them some wins and in Shaun Lunt, he has a quality hooker to help him out. They’ll find the week-in, week-out stuff hard, so I don’t fancy them to make the eight, but they won’t end up with the wooden spoon either.
11 SALFORD RED DEVILS
I feel sorry for the coaching staff, because however much spin you put on it, they’ve lost too many good players and there’s too much rubbish going on off the field. I can’t see them making much impact on the field and they’ll be miles off the top eight.
12 WIDNES VIKINGS
Widnes just don’t have anywhere near enough quality to be anything other than relegation candidates again. They have plenty of enthusiasm in the squad, but not much else. So many of their fans I speak to know this is going to be a long, hard season. Danny Craven is a decent player, but he has little talent around him to work with.