He’s never been afraid to upset people – and our very own Garry Schofield is back with his 2019 Super League predictions! Who will surprise us all next year? And who will struggle to live up to expectation? Here’s how Schoey sees the final table panning out.
1. WARRINGTON WOLVES
The reason I think this is finally the Wolves’ year is because of Blake Austin, their new stand-off from the free-scoring Canberra Raiders. Post Lee Briers, it has always been the halves who have let Warrington down, but I’m confident Austin will be the final piece in the jigsaw. He will take them to the next level, which is winning finals, rather than losing them. Judging by his interview in this paper last week, he is keen to put a marker down quickly. Elsewhere, the team is well balanced, with tough, mobile forwards and very handy outside backs. I expect them to break their Old Trafford hoodoo in 2019.
2. ST HELENS
After coming up short last year, having been the best team throughout most of the season, the pressure will really be on St Helens. Can they hit that level of consistency again? Will they miss Benny Barba? However good they are, teams will fancy knocking them over in big games after 2018. But there are lots of plusses and that’s why they’ll still be right up there. Big Alex Walmsley is coming back, and Luke Thompson has proved himself to be one of the best forwards in the world.
3. CATALANS DRAGONS
With the signings they’ve made and the way they finished 2018, I fancy them to have a very strong year. The signing of Sam Tomkins is a massive statement, as he is again one of the best players in the competition. They have impressive depth too. I fancy them to become more consistent now and to make their home ground a fortress – they are capable of going unbeaten at home. Steve McNamara has proved a lot of people wrong and I believe he’ll take them to the next level. They came third in 2008 and they are good enough to match that achievement.
4. WIGAN WARRIORS
Like most people, I predict that Wigan will go backwards a bit in 2019. It was nice to hear Adrian Lam say they will move the ball about a bit, but I do wonder how he can really stamp his mark when he’s only there for one year. Will Shaun Edwards have an influence next season and how will that work? How often will Sean O’Loughlin play? He’d have walked over hot coals for Shaun Wane but will we see him at his best again for Wigan? John Bateman and Sam Tomkins are massive losses, but their squad depth and young players will be good enough to keep them in the top five.
5. LEEDS RHINOS
The Rhinos have made some very impressive signings, not just on the pitch, but with David Furner coming in as coach. They have depth and quality in the forwards and some real class in the outside backs. It will all come down to creativity for Leeds, with question marks over which out of Richie Myler, Tuimoalo Lolohea and Callum McLelland will be selected. If Furner can crack this particular issue, they will push hard to win Super League. It’s likely they will fall short of that, but they should be good enough to get into the play-offs.
6. CASTLEFORD TIGERS
After losing to Wigan in the Super League semi-final, there will be questions about their ability to win big games. But they might not get a chance to play in such games again because they will have to contend with some improving teams like Catalans, Leeds and Huddersfield, and they will have to find some week-in, week-out consistency to get into the top five. I feel they’ll just miss out, but if I’ve overstated Leeds’ ability to improve, then they can sneak into the play-offs.
7. WAKEFIELD TRINITY
It was a toss-up between Wakefield and Huddersfield for seventh, but with Danny Brough moving from one to the other, I’ll go for Trinity to finish higher. If his signing is a big success, they will have a real crack at the top five. But I have my doubts. He has shown some indiscipline in recent times. Will he be a team player or an individual? Will the partnership with Jacob Miller work? I think Broughy will be a decent signing, but no more. I like the outside backs – the threequarter line is superb. No one can question the forwards either.
8. HUDDERSFIELD GIANTS
They certainly won’t be fighting relegation, even though they have lost Broughy. Simon Woolford did amazingly well last season and he has clearly improved them, but his honeymoon period is over now. If they are to challenge for the five, they need to start big and hope that momentum and confidence keep them up towards the top. But I’m not sure if they have the quality to maintain a challenge. There are plenty of good players in there and I’m a big fan of Darnell McIntosh.
9. HULL FC
I think they will have a nightmare season. What style of play will the go with? They have relied on the same old stuff for too long – wearing the opposition down then hoping Marc Sneyd puts in a decent kick. They need to come up with something new, with Jake Connor at the heart of it. That’s their only chance of having a reasonable year. Their forwards are dull and boring. Lee Radford will be desperate for a good start, after the shocking end to last season. Things turned toxic at the end of 2018 and they have to ensure that sort of atmosphere doesn’t re-appear.
10. SALFORD RED DEVILS
Salford have quality halfbacks but are lacking enough quality pretty much everywhere else. Their forwards won’t be able to lay a consistent foundation as they’re not big enough or experienced enough. On their day, they can beat anybody, and I am a fan of coach Ian Watson, but they will be found out as the season goes on. They’ll be too good to be relegated, and after a tough couple of years they can try and rebuild to ensure they can challenge in future.
11. HULL KINGSTON ROVERS
Rovers have let some quality go and they’ve brought in journeymen. They might surprise some bigger teams every so often, but they won’t be good enough to get any real momentum during the season. There isn’t enough quality, aside from Danny McGuire, to sustain a real challenge for the top eight. If he stays on the park more often than not, I may be proved wrong. But I fear it will be a long, tough season for them. They should be too good to be dragged into a relegation battle with London though.
12. LONDON BRONCOS
After last season, I’ll have to put my tin hat on tipping London to come last, but I’d be surprised if other tipsters don’t follow suit. I’d be amazed if anyone doesn’t have them coming last. Full credit to them for doing so well in 2018, but it’s hard to conclude anything other than they have been promoted too soon. They won’t be anywhere near the top eight. They don’t have the money to bring in any real quality. I hope they maintain their tight-knit spirit and make life tough for teams on their home ground, but they can’t rely on just those things. They’ll struggle to win more than a handful of games.