As part of the run-up to Super League 2017, we’ll be posing three big talking points surrounding each of the 12 sides as they kick their campaigns off this weekend. Here’s a look at Thursday’s season-opener between St Helens and Leeds.
How big a boost will the return of Matty Smith be?
The England international has returned to his hometown club a wiser and more accomplished player for his spells at Widnes, Crusaders, Salford and Wigan. He will also pass on his experience to half-back partner Theo Fages and teenagers Rob Fairclough and Danny Richardson, although his broken leg suffered in pre-season will delay his return to action for Saints.
Has the Saints Academy produced more first-team ready stars?
St Helens being St Helens, the club is awash with young homegrown talent – and expect plenty of them to feature throughout the season.
Could they have anyone better in charge?
Cut open Keiron Cunningham and you will find a real rugby league man who is St Helens through and through. Like Shaun Wane at his top four rivals Wigan Warriors, his passion for the club filters through to his players and his statue outside the ground emphasises his importance to the club. Even so, however, there were some rumblings of discontent last season, something they will be hoping to be without this season.
Can they fill the void left by their AWOL star?
Leeds lost just one of their 10 games with James Segeyaro in their side and his untimely departure was a major blow. It is such a key position and whether or not Matt Parcell can emulate Segeyaro’s brief but telling impact could hold the key to Leeds’ success. Recruitment elsewhere in Brian McDermott’s squad has been modest to say the least.
Is this to be the year it all comes together for Liam Sutcliffe?
By his own admission, he began last season carrying too much timber. But his talent has never been in doubt and this season could be the one he delivers consistently alongside master-craftsman Danny McGuire.
Is dual-registration actually benefiting the club?
The Rhinos will continues their dual-registration relationship with Featherstone Rovers and Jack Ormondroyd and Cory Aston will spend the 2017 campaign at the Big Fellas Stadium, while Jordan Lilley will spend the first month of the season on loan at Bradford Bulls as the club continues to reject the idea of running a reserve team.