7 Hull FC
New coach Lee Radford will improve things in my opinion because he’ll bring back the passion for the shirt, which has been missing for a while. I think we’ve seen the back of some of the embarrassing performances like against Huddersfield in last season’s play-offs. But the reason I don’t have them any higher is that, unless I’m proven badly wrong, their halfbacks are just not good enough. They’ve spent years trying to find the right players here, but they’ve consistently signed the wrong players. They could have done with pulling off a coup like Luke Gale.
6 Salford Red Devils
We’re all waiting with anticipation to see what exactly this moneybags Salford team can achieve. They do look to have a bit of a Dad’s Army feel to them. With so many players being thrown in together, and with quite a few big egos in there, team spirit could become a problem. But they have the best halfback pairing in Super League in Tim Smith and Rangi Chase. A lot will depend on how those two gel, but there’s too much quality in their squad for me to have them any lower. It will be interesting to see how Nobby coaches them. He has been negative in the past and Rangi Chase needs to be let off the leash. I believe Phil Clarke thinks they can win the competition – no chance!
5 Huddersfield Giants
When you have your star player saying they’re not bothered about coming top, then it tells you that they’ll take their foot off the gas a bit! I don’t blame Danny Brough for saying that – but it says much more about how badly the top-eight system has failed than it does about Danny or Huddersfield. I still have my doubts about the Giants forwards, because they’ve often bottled the big games, but they’ll still be there or thereabouts, Broughy will see to that.
4 Warrington Wolves
Their big issue, it goes without saying, will be coping without Lee Briers, because he was outstanding from the moment Tony Smith turned up there. Michael Monaghan will continue to bring a lot, but I’m not sure that Richie Myler and Stefan Ratchford will be a good enough halfback combination just yet. They both have plenty of individual talent, but are they good enough to get the Wolves around the park? On the other hand, I’m very excited about Matty Russell, who was magnificent in the World Cup for Scotland, and I think he could be the best player in Super League in 2014. I’m also looking forward to seeing Kevin Penny back in a Wire shirt when he gets a chance.
3 St Helens
I think their forward pack is one of the best in the league, but the main reason I’m picking them so high is that they look to be sorted for a decent halfback now. Luke Walsh comes over here from the NRL with a good pedigree and I think he’ll improve them massively. Jon Wilkin was a disaster in the halves, and I think he’ll benefit from going back into the forwards. I’ll also be keeping an eye on Adam Swift, who is an outstanding prospect and a whole season of Jonny Lomax at fullback will be big for them too.
2 Leeds Rhinos
They improved their consistency last year by moving up the table, and I think it will improve further in 2014. They haven’t added too many players, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is an ageing side, but with the quality and experience they have, they will still be a match for anybody. There are strengths throughout the whole team, although I’d like to see a bit of pressure taken off Kevin Sinfield now. I’m interested to see how Paul Aiton goes at hooker. He’s a busy player who will choose his moments to inject himself into the attack.
1 Wigan Warriors
Shaun Wane may have said that he’ll be using his full squad in 2014 and giving game time to everyone, but I still think they’re good enough to win more matches that anyone else, even if he’s going to rotate his squad. Their kids are exceptional and I’m excited about seeing more of them making their debuts. Matty Bowen has been an excitement machine for years in the NRL and even though he’s no spring chicken I think he will light up Super League. Wigan are still the team to beat for me.