S0 we’re just days away from the start of Super League, and we’ve just had a week of moaning and missed opportunities.
Robert Elstone and Co staged a launch at Headingley on Friday, but rather than what we can expect to enjoy on the pitch this year, the bulk of what we have heard has been about a slanging match between Hull FC owner Adam Pearson and Toronto Wolfpack.
I make no apology for repeating that we should be naming the Super League trophy after Rob Burrow, a real legend of the competition.
That would be a sign of the respect we all have for him, and the support he has from our sport and beyond.
It could have been announced at Friday’s event, with Rob present, and for me, it’s a mistake on the part of Super League not to have taken up my suggestion.
From where I’m looking, the bulk of the build-up to the season has been about Sonny Bill Williams.
We all get it’s a big-name signing, and we all know he’s been a great player in both codes, but at 34, does he still have the hunger – and the body – to produce the goods week in, week out in what is a tough and uncompromising environment?
And after all the talk of him attracting positive attention, is there a queue of companies and organisations wanting to step forward to sponsor the sport?
I don’t see one, while Betfred, a firm which has puts its name and money to Rugby League, now has to accept its supposedly biggest star not sporting its logo on his shirt due to his religious beliefs.
As for Toronto the club, what a case of wanting to having your cake and eat it.
Whether it is salary cap dispensation, whether they get a share of the Sky money when they have negotiated their own TV deal or playing home games at neutral grounds, the Wolfpack seem to want special treatment.
They say that because of their location in North America, they have to pay over the odds for players, which limits their squad size, yet they have willingly agreed a multi-million deal with one man, surely limiting their squad size.
It’s no wonder some of their rival Super League clubs are getting riled, hence Pearson having a pop, which in turn led to Brian McDermott responding and calling him ‘naïve’, which is hardly fair regarding a man with so much administrative experience in football as well as Rugby League.
Brian has had his own whinge, saying that Super League’s operational rules are “largely if not wholly suited to British clubs and don’t suit a transatlantic club”.
But, let’s be fair, Toronto knew the situation and rules when they entered the European Rugby League system, and for all the hot air about growing the game in new places, we have yet to see concrete evidence of what tangible long-lasting benefits they have already, or will in the future, actually bring.
Anyway, let’s not forget we have six Super League round one games to look forward to.
Here’s how I see the opening match-ups:
THURSDAY: WIGAN v WARRINGTON
Fair play to Super League, and no, you haven’t misread that, I think this is a cracking contest to start the season, a mouth-watering meeting to enjoy as you digest your tea.
Both clubs have big aspirations of challenging champions St Helens, and both will want to hit the ground running and put down a marker.
Wigan have made big signings in George Burgess and Jackson Hastings, and it will be fascinating to see how they shape the way Adrian Lam’s side play.
Burgess is a very solid recruit who will bolster a team who already know how to defend, and if Hastings can reproduce his performances of last year, who knows? Warrington have also made some interesting signings, most recently Tonga prop Leilani Latu, as they seek title glory.
They have a very good coach in Steve Price, but have they got the balance of the team right? I’m not so sure, and take Wigan, especially with home advantage, to win by ten points.
FRIDAY: ST HELENS v SALFORD
It’s a repeat of last season’s Grand Final, and a first competitive match for new Saints coach Kristian Woolf.
Apart from the departure of Justin Holbrook after the 23-6 win at Old Trafford, not much has changed at the champions, and let’s face it, why should it?
That’s far from the case at Salford, where some prize assets have been lured by the bigger fish.
Ian Watson has overseen a big change in the make-up of his squad, and this first assignment might well have come at the wrong time, as his new-look line-up is likely to need time to settle.
I’m a big fan of Watson, but the loss of some very good players, including Jackson Hastings, might well take its toll.
Kevin Brown is a seasoned pro, but however much he says he’s not a replacement for Hastings, he is, and the pressure will be on right from the first whistle.
I think Saints will win this one by a bigger margin than they did in the Grand Final.
FRIDAY: HULL KR v WAKEFIELD
To be honest, I’m a little worried for Wakefield.
Pre-season hasn’t gone that well, and they already have a fairly long list of injuries, having suffered greatly last season.
Survival went to the wire in 2019, and while Trinity can trouble any side on their day, can Chris Chester coax that crucial level of consistency from his side?
Rovers also had to hold their nerve last year, and I certainly don’t think it will be plain sailing this time, especially with so many new faces on board. But with Tony Smith at the helm, I think one of the game’s great clubs has the potential to take some steps forward.
I think this match has plenty of points in it and go with Rovers by 14.
SATURDAY: CATALANS v HUDDERSFIELD
An intriguing head to head between two teams who have to do better than they did last season.
I’ve tipped Huddersfield to finish bottom, but could I end up with egg on my face?
Pre-season isn’t always an accurate gauge, but things seem to be coming together at the Giants, where much is expected of new Aussie halfback Aidan Sezer.
Catalans struggled to build in their Challenge Cup triumph of 2018, and had far too many bad days at the office, particularly at home.
The Dragons need to make Perpignan a daunting pace to visit, and they need to make the most of new arrival James Maloney.
This one could well by close, but I think Catalans will take the honours by ten points.
SUNDAY: TORONTO v CASTLEFORD
While its technically the Wolfpack’s home game, playing at Headingley as part of a double-header with Leeds v Hull will play right into Castleford’s hands.
Toronto have been talking the talk, as well as moaning about certain things, but I’m not convinced by their recruitment policy.
I’m looking forward to seeing how Danny Richardson takes to being a Tiger, and while Castleford haven’t had the best of build-ups, I believe Daryl Powell’s team will start with a 16-point win.
SUNDAY: LEEDS v HULL
What a great way to close the opening round.
Two of my old clubs clash, while knowing they both need to do far better than they did in 2019.
I’ve no concerns about either pack, but Hull needs that triangle of Sneyd, Kelly and Connor to come up with the goods on a regular basis, while Luke Gale has a huge role to play for Leeds.
I think Luke’s a good signing who will excite the fans and could be the catalyst to a real Rhinos challenge.
I think Leeds will win by ten.