Super League 2015 Returns
The Super League returns for another bumper year of rugby league action for 2015. Now in it's 20th year its as tough as ever so we have given you the Lowdown of the teams and the players to look out for in the 2015 Super League season.
It's a big ask for the Tigers to improve on their best ever Super League season but that won't stop them trying. They've arguably got greater competition for places across the board this year. The departures of Marc Sneyd, Daryl Clark and Weller Hauraki have been tempered by the quality captures of Ben Roberts, Scott Moore and Junior Moors. Many will be interested to see how they fare without reigning 'Man of Steel' Clark, though this time last season similar questions were posed following the loss of Rangi Chase, and we all know what happened there.
Making it to the last four of the play-offs last term was a proud achievement for Les Dracs, notably after they were tagged early-season relegation favourites following a slow start. Hopes of a repeat performance in their 10th year have been raised by excellent recruitment. Todd Carney is a world-class Dally M Medal winning half-back despite any off-field controversy, while Kangaroos cap Willie Tonga is a top finisher who played State of Origin for Queensland. However, the most important business could be prop Remi Casty's return from a spell at Sydney Roosters. He'll bring a front-row presence.
Huddersfield's ability outweighed their 2014 effort, according to coach Paul Anderson, who says a top-four finish is a minimum requirement this season. He's beefed up an already beefy pack with the additions of Craig Huby from Castleford and Jack Hughes on loan from Wigan - Hughes told me he likes to 'bend' opponents in the tackle and both he and Huby may finally dispel the myth that the Huddersfield forwards are too nice. The Giants lost fewer games than any other team last year and can't be far away now from lifting a trophy.
The lack of a place in the play-offs last year would have come as a disappointment to both club and fans. The word 'transition' was banded about throughout 2014, as head coach Lee Radford faced his first year in charge with a squad put together largely by his predecessor Peter Gentle. Radford will be judged on this year's performance and the players he has signed. The constricted Super League won't make life easy for the Black and Whites but they do have a starting 13 comparable with some of the best in the competition.
Rovers, like their city neighbours, would have hoped to have fared better in 2014. Inconsistency and injuries all contributed to a campaign that petered out and cost Craig Sandercock his job before the year was through. Chris Chester has had to make a raft of changes to a squad which is virtually unrecognisable to last season's. The Robins have relied heavily on foreign imports who could, if everyone gels, take the club back to being the force they were under Justin Morgan.
Leeds chief executive Gary Hetherington has described the Rhinos' 2015 squad as their 'best ever' which is a big call when you consider that the Challenge Cup holders have only made one new signing and moved on Ryan Bailey, Ian Kirke and Chris Clarkson (on loan). However, he may have a point when you consider youngsters Liam Sutcliffe, Josh Walters and Brad Singleton have already proved more than capable of keeping the golden generation on their toes. The club's early play-off exit has meant a longer pre-season than normal and that could pay dividends as everyone looks to make a flying start this season.
SALFORD RED DEVILS
For me this will be a 'now or never season'. There's been substantial investment from the owner, Dr Marwan Koukash, and it's time to produce a return. I don't think it's beyond them, but failure last season piles the pressure on current coach Iestyn Harris. They've got the players, the question for me is have they got the right balance? Frankly, I don't think there's much margin for error for the Red Devils this time. They vastly underachieved in 2014, but I think they will have learned lots, so I expect and predict a vast improvement on last season."
Saints' half-backs will be the key to success this season with the ideal combination to trouble any opposition. With props Kyle Amor, Mose Masoe and Alex Walmsley, plus lively former London Broncos recruit Atelea Vea in the pack, new signing Travis Burns and last season's star Luke Walsh plus Kiwi utility back Lance Hohaia should have plenty of space to bring Saints' pacy three-quarter line into play. If Jonny Lomax is fully recovered from his knee problems then his links from full-back will make life difficult for teams hoping to halt the Saints marching on to yet another Grand Final victory.
WAKEFIELD TRINITY WILDCATS
Wakefield Wildcats will revel in the role of underdogs, or rather undercats, with so many seemingly eager to write them off in 2015. Their spirit has so often been the Wildcats' strength and that's as strong as ever as they look to prove the doubters wrong in James Webster's first full season in charge. This time last year they were still waiting for their overseas signings and a more settled pre-season this time around will count in their favour.
Warrington Wolves coach Tony Smith might have a few selection headaches as his 2015 squad is one that has to be considered as a major challenger. There's an all-international front-row of Chris Hill, Daryl Clark and Ashton Sims that will test every opponent, and the growing maturity of James Laithwaite, Gareth O'Brien and my player to watch Ben Currie are evidence of the club's own youth development. Strength in depth across the park for most positions has led to favourable comparisons with the team of 2011 that won the League Leaders' Shield. Injuries aside it's hard not to see Warrington in the top four.
If Widnes can tighten up their defence, especially in opening quarters, they have enough attacking talent to again finish in the Super League top eight. With Joe Mellor showing the confidence and innovation in midfield to open up defences, full-back Rhys Hanbury should once again be on hand to pick up his usual haul of tries. Coach Denis Betts has made a conscious effort in the off season to bolster the size and power of his pack and the signing of the experienced Wigan forward Gil Dudson should have an immediate impact.
Wigan coach Shaun Wane says he is yet to take a day off this pre-season, a statement that typifies the desire to do better this time. Success is not just expected but demanded by many unforgiving Warriors fans. Second is simply not good enough, a situation that Wane understands and accepts. For that reason alone I expect the Warriors to improve on last season. The new Super League structure could restrict opportunities for the club's younger players but none the less I anticipate Wigan to be very serious contenders. Not sure if I would like to be the person explaining to chairman and owner Ian Lenagan why the club hadn't won anything.
Shop a great range of Rugby League Body Protection, Official Super League Balls, NRL Teamwear and more online here
Keep up to date on the latest news by following our blog or check us out on all major social networks: