Garry Schofield peers into his crystal ball to predict how each club will fare in Super League this season. So here, we go, in reverse order…
12 WAKEFIELD TRINITY
Putting it quite simply, I’m worried for Wakey.
They are the archetypal Super League survivors, having come through several brushes with the drop since winning promotion in 1998, but will old-man relegation catch up with them at some stage?
Trinity have also had decent seasons, and were fifth in 2017 and 2018.
But their relegation scrap went to the last game in 2019, and while they were hit as badly as any side by Covid last year, five wins from 19 wasn’t great.
I’m puzzled by the coaching situation at Wakefield, with both Willie Poching and Andy Last coming in to assist Chris Chester, who was under pressure after that run of ten straight defeats.
And I’m not convinced that the new signings are sufficient to significantly change things.
11 LEIGH CENTURIONS
To stay in the competition, Super League’s newest club are going to have to do it the hard way, since all the others are better funded and have had a head start in terms of recruitment.
But a situation like that can create a really strong team bond, and John Duffy’s men know they have just one aim – to avoid finishing bottom.
I rate John highly as a coach, and I’m pleased to see him getting a shot at the top division.
The Centurions will need to make their home stadium a difficult place for opponents to come to. Getting fans back in grounds could be extra important for them, because those Leythers are a vocal lot, and will help create a partisan atmosphere.
And they’ll need to win the games against the sides likely to be slugging it out at the foot of the table.
Players like Ryan Brierley and Jamie Ellis have a point to prove, and I think Leigh could surprise a few folk.
10 HULL KR
I don’t think Rovers could have a better man at the helm than Tony Smith.
I love the way he gets his sides playing positive, adventurous rugby, and I reckon his man-management skills are right up there with the best.
Given Neil Hudgell’s decision to step down as Chairman after so long at the helm, Rovers will know retaining Super League status is very important as they work towards a positive future for Rugby League on the east side of the grand old city.
With Tony’s experience and a better squad than last year thanks to some shrewd recruitment, I think they can lay some strong foundations this time.
9 CASTLEFORD TIGERS
Regular readers of my column will know I’m a big Daryl Powell fan, and few would dispute what a terrific job he’s done down Wheldon Road.
But can a coach be at a club for too long? Perhaps!
Having made the Grand Final in 2017, Castleford needed to build on that fine achievement, but we all know how things unfolded, and they seem to have had a bit of a hangover ever since.
Like neighbours Wakefield, they were quite badly impacted by Covid last season, but even allowing for that, an eighth-placed finish wasn’t what we’ve come to expect from one of Daryl’s teams.
I’m not totally convinced by their recruitment so far, and I don’t think having a director of rugby has helped them.
That’s not a dig at Jon Wells, more a question about the value of the role. If it has added something to the mix, it’s not evident by their achievements out on the pitch.
Who do I think will finish between eighth and fifth? Find out next week.
8 SALFORD RED DEVILS
It’s all change at the AJ Bell Stadium, and new coach Richard Marshall has a tough act to follow after Ian Watson’s much-discussed departure to Huddersfield.
Watto worked wonders with Salford by getting to Old Trafford, then Wembley, and that will have raised expectations, and therefore the pressure on the new man.
However, I think the majority of the fans are realistic, and realise that the Red Devils have been punching above their weight, and that to have carried on reaching finals, whoever the coach, was a big ask.
I think Salford need to establish themselves as a solid force capable of challenging for a play-off place on a consistent basis rather than having to worry about fighting relegation.
I rate Richard as a coach, and I think Salford have a decent squad, and hopefully he can put his own stamp on the club.
7 CATALANS DRAGONS
Steve McNamara’s men finished fourth last time, but it was far from a normal season, and they played fewer games than any of their rivals.
That wasn’t their fault, but it might well have had an impact on their position and if the 2021 season can progress more normally – at this stage, a big ‘if’ – I reckon they will be mid-table.
They will probably pull off a notable win or two, but I don’t see them hitting the level of consistency that is the hallmark of a really successful side.
6 HULL FC
Pressure, pressure, pressure… for both Brett Hodgson and Josh Reynolds.
The Hull fans want success, and they want to be entertained, and in recent years, I don’t think they’ve had either.
Fair play to owner Adam Pearson, because he’s taken a different direction.
Hodgson is an interesting appointment, and halfback Reynolds is a big-name signing from Wests Tigers.
Both will be earning the big bucks. But now they have to deliver.
5 HUDDERSFIELD GIANTS
Owner Ken Davy and new coach Ian Watson have the top four as a target, and the ambitious Giants have invested heavily in their squad, making some attractive signings.
There’s no doubt Watto has an exciting and potentially very potent mix of players at his disposal, and I’d love to see my former club enjoy some real success.
But I think there will be a transition period at the John Smith’s Stadium, and this time around, they’ll fall just short of their objective.
4 WARRINGTON WOLVES
I’m a big fan of Greg Inglis, and to me, he’s right up there alongside legendary Aussie centres like Mal Meninga, Gene Miles, Michael Cronin and Steve Rogers.
I’d love him to wow fans over here the way he did Down Under when he was starring for the Kangaroos, helping Queensland dominate Origin and winning titles with Melbourne and South Sydney.
But will a 34-year-old with previous knee and shoulder injuries who hasn’t played in almost two years still be able to cut it? Finding out is going to be as interesting as seeing in which position Steve Price plays him.
Just as intriguing will be whether or not the head coach can find a way of getting Blake Austin and Gareth Widdop to form a halfback partnership which equals the sum of the two parts as Warrington continue to chase a first title since 1955.
It hasn’t worked so far, because both seem to want to be the playmaker, and an orchestra can’t have two conductors.
With elimination in the first play-off round and Challenge Cup semi-finals, last season turned out to be a damp squib for the Wolves, who were too inconsistent, and I can see the same thing happening again, putting Price under pressure.
3 LEEDS RHINOS
Richard Agar has a new right-had man in Sean Long, and I’m looking forward to seeing if the former St Helens ace can squeeze that little bit extra out of a squad which is packed with talent and potential.
Last season’s Wembley success will of course have been very welcome, but getting back to the Grand Final for the first time since 2017 is the real target, and, as with Warrington, last season’s early play-off exit was a real disappointment.
Richie has done a good job in getting some self-belief back into a squad which has been bolstered over the close-season, but again as with Warrington, more consistency is needed.
And this is a big campaign for Robert Lui, who really needs to step up, because he hasn’t been playing to his maximum week in, week out.
2 WIGAN WARRIORS
Two seasons without a trophy will have stung Wigan, a club with success in their DNA, so like Steve Price, Adrian Lam knows he needs to deliver as the Warriors look to a future without their talisman captain Sean O’Loughlin.
He still has Jackson Hastings, and has brought in former Parramatta man Jai Field, although the downside of that is that it might hamper the development of a very promising English halfback in Harry Smith.
Meanwhile, the return of John Bateman is a big deal in every sense of the phrase. He has shone in the NRL and should slip back to the Warriors’ set-up pretty seamlessly.
Wigan came so close in that memorable Grand Final in November, and it would be a surprise not to see them back in the big match.
1 ST HELENS
Saints are still the team to beat as they target a hat-trick of Super League titles for the first time since Leeds’ triumphs between 2007-09.
There is quality throughout the squad, as well as a winning mentality.
That said, they certainly aren’t invincible, and let’s not forget how tight their Grand Final win over Wigan was.
Those five defeats in 17 Super League games last season will be preying on the mind of Kristian Woolf, who knows the spotlight will be on his new signings from Down Under – forwards Joel Thompson (Manly),
Agnatius Paasi (New Zealand Warriors) and Sione Mata’utia (Newcastle).But I still fancy them to top the table, and I certainly wouldn’t rule out a treble attempt.