Somehow, we’ve already managed to get through 23 rounds of Super League action.
It doesn’t seem a month ago since Zak Hardaker scuffed the penalty conversion wide to help Warrington earn an opening-day victory over Leeds at Headingley or Salford’s staggering annihilation of St Helens.
However, the regular season is now over, as all 12 top-tier clubs prepare for life either in the elite eight of Super League or in the scrap that is the Qualifiers.
Whatever you want to say about this season, you cannot question its unpredictability, with the plight of several clubs shocking the Rugby League world.
So, ahead of the league split, we have graded every club so far on their current performance this season.
Castleford Tigers – 6th
There was great optimism around the Mend-A-Hose Jungle at the beginning of the year, with the club’s players and head coach talking up their chances of earning silverware in 2016.
Ultimately, the Tigers have fallen well short of that. The League Leaders’ Shield is beyond their reach, they exited the Challenge Cup in the quarter-final at the expense of Wigan, and barring a stunning end of season run-in combined with a catastrophic collapse of one team occupying the top four, they won’t make the play-offs.
Nevertheless, Castleford have done it very, very tough with injuries. Daryl Powell has been without captain and star centre Michael Shenton for all but 27 minutes of the season, while stand-off Ben Roberts, Andy Lynch, Luke Dorn, Junior Moors and Oliver Holmes have all missed considerable spells of the season.
Taking that into account, a sixth-placed finish at the end of the regular season isn’t too bad, however the club’s players and fans will be somewhat disappointed that they haven’t managed to kick on this year.
But, this year has seen the emergence of some key stars, none more so than Denny Solomona, who is on the cusp of smashing Super League’s try-scoring record, while Mike McMeeken has also vastly improved this year. It bodes well for next year, and hopefully 2017 will see the Tigers really come of age.
Catalans Dragons – 5th
A season that once promised so much is currently under serious threat of collapse.
Six consecutive defeats, five of those coming in the league, have seen the Dragons go from top spot contenders to a team scrambling to reclaim their place in the top four.
After winning just two of their opening five games, the Dragons went on a seven-game winning streak that propelled them to the top of the league. In that period, the club showed off the quality of their young players coming through, with the likes of Fouad Yaha and Alrix Da Costa thriving under the leadership of the majestic Todd Carney and Glenn Stewart.
Dave Taylor has been another impressive player for the Dragons, however they have severely missed Carney and Stewart, who recently missed the defeats to Castleford and Wakefield.
It’s going to be an intriguing seven weeks, but if Laurent Frayssinous can get his team firing again, they could end up at Old Trafford.
Huddersfield Giants – 12th
For many years, it has been claimed that the Giants have been the overachievers of this division. But this year, they must rank as one of the league’s biggest let downs.
The arrival of Ryan Hinchcliffe and Sam Rapira was expected to give Huddersfield that additional experience once the big games arrived at the end of the season, however, the only real big game Huddersfield now threaten to be part of is the Million Pound Game, and nobody at the club could have ever envisaged that being the case this season. But the sudden loss of Brett Ferres and retirement of Luke Robinson left the squad lacking bodies for the majority of the season. Add a start of season injury crisis, and the Giants were off to a disastrous start to the year.
They have somewhat improved since, but inconsistency has hindered their progress all year, and their inability to see out matches from winning positions has cost them dearly. Add the fact that Huddersfield have seemingly lost their best player of 2016, Jake Connor, for next year, it has been pretty miserable.
The club’s hierarchy decided to shake things up by getting rid of Paul Anderson and appointing Rick Stone as head coach, and that could prove to be a smart move yet.
However, there is no hiding from the fact that so far, it has been an awful year for Huddersfield.
Hull FC – 1st
Finally, Hull FC have arrived.
After years of underachievement and constant disappointment, Lee Radford has put together a team that looks capable of bringing the club the silverware that they crave.
It hasn’t always been plain sailing; who could defeat the dressing room farce after being hammered by Widnes, or that concerning blip a few weeks ago?
But on the whole, it has been a truly remarkable year for Radford’s men, who have been the real highlight of the season so far.
Whether it be the outstanding performances of Jamie Shaul, the dominant displays of Liam Watts, Frank Pritchard and Scott Taylor, or the explosive nature of the club’s clinical backline, they have been a real joy to watch.
From recruitment to tactics to man management, Lee Radford has got everything spot on so far.
However, they haven’t achieved anything yet, with no silverware yet claimed. But if they are to end their silverware drought, this is the year.
Hull KR – 11th
Widely predicted to finish in the bottom two, Hull KR have probably done what was expected of them so far.
Ever since Chris Chester departed the club and was replaced by James Webster, it has felt like consolidation is the club’s primary target this year as Jamie Peacock and co prepare for next season under a new head coach.
A top eight finish would have been ideal for Rovers, however an 11th-placed end means they will have to fight for survival for a second consecutive year, something the club hoped to avoid. There have been some significant lows this year, none more so than the Challenge Cup defeat to Oldham, which really upset the club.
There are fears among the supporters that they could end up in the Million Pound Game, given Salford’s performances and Leeds’ improving form. However, if they can avoid that fixture, 2016 will be looked on as an unspectacular yet satisfactory year.
Leeds Rhinos – 9th
We all knew that this year was going to be tough after the departures of Sinfield, Peacock and Leuluai. But this? Never.
An utterly catastrophic start to the year saw Leeds rock bottom, and two months ago, many were predicting that they could end up in the Million Pound Game.
The loss of the aforementioned trio was compounded by a shocking injury crisis that decimated Leeds’ squad and the loss of their training base at Kirkstall.
But there is no hiding from the fact that some of the performances were dreadful, and a 9th placed finish for Leeds under any circumstances is a failure.
They have come into form at the right time, winning five of their last six games going into the Middle 8s, and with key players returning it’s hard to imagine Leeds struggling in the Qualifiers. But stranger things have happened.
Salford Red Devils – 10th
If we had been talking about an eighth-placed finish, a spot Salford would have occupied with their 20-point haul, this would have been considered a good year for the Red Devils.
Sadly, off-field problems have cost them dearly, with a six-point salary cap deduction meaning they have finished in the bottom four for a second consecutive year.
It’s a huge shame for the club, who appeared to have finally got their house in order and were on the way up. It should be pointed out that Salford have still improved both on and off the field, with the damage done for misdemeanours in the past.
In the end, it has rightly left many frustrated, but at this stage, Ian Watson and Salford should be satisfied with what they have accomplished.
Now they must get through the Qualifiers, and look to move one step forward again next year.
St Helens – 4th
After being criticised and ridiculed for the entirety of the season, Saints now occupy a top-four spot.
Fans have been unhappy all season, unimpressed by results and performances in what had been a pretty indifferent year at Langtree Park.
However, a brilliant end to the season saw Saints win their last five matches, with a brilliant victory at Wigan moving them into the top four. Heading into the eights with momentum is perfect for Keiron Cunningham, who has done a solid job in easing pressure on his team, and himself too, in the last two months.
There have been some disappointing periods throughout the year, which does leave you wondering where they could be if they had started the season better.
But ultimately, they are gradually picking up, and look like they could peak at the right time.
Wakefield – 8th
You will not find a single Wakefield fan that is anything short of delighted with this season.
A top eight finish and a spot in the Challenge Cup semi-final is a breathtaking turnaround for a club that was in the Million Pound Game last year.
The arrival of Chris Chester sparked a fire inside the Wildcats, who have been simply phenomenal since his arrival.
They have stuttered somewhat over recent weeks, but it does nothing to take away from what has been a fantastic year.
Warrington – 2nd
“It’s always their year,” has been a remark aimed at Warrington fans for years, after falling short at the last hurdle.
But those comments haven’t been as frequent this season, with Warrington looking very strong for the majority of the year, and they remain in contention for the treble.
A brilliant start to the season saw them flying high in the league before a mid-season wobble saw them lose consistency. But they have ended the season well, going into their Challenge Cup semi-final against Wakefield five games unbeaten.
A long way to go, but they could be nearing something special.
Widnes – 7th
Although the Leicester City comparisons never came to fruition, 2016 has already been a year of progress for Denis Betts’ side.
Betts said at the start of the year that a top eight spot was the goal, so they could again build on last year’s ninth-placed finish.
They looked capable of far more than that as they stormed to the top of the league going into Easter, but then a tough collapse saw them flirt with the bottom four. Ultimately, they have recovered and deserve their place in the eight.
Take into account their recruitment and retention of players, and it has been a very good year for the Vikings.
Wigan – 3rd
You only have to look at Leeds’ year to see where Wigan could have ended with their injury crisis.
However, they have churned out results all year and kept themselves within touching distance of the league leaders all year, and they are a very viable threat to the other leading clubs.
They haven’t been at their best this year, but their ability to see out games has paid dividends and they are more than capable of ending the year with a trophy or two. They have recovered well from the saga surrounding John Bateman too, and they enter the business end of the year in a decent position.