After a quite breath-taking 2015 season, where Leeds Rhinos seized all three domestic trophies it’s time to do it all over again. It’s hard to see a repeat of a treble after last night's opening defeat to Warrington and this looks like the closest Super League season for years.
The format of Super League means after 23 rounds the league is split with the top eight of the 12 playing each other once more in the Super 8’s.
Once 30 rounds have been completed, the top four go into a simple semi-final playoff; 1 v 4 and 2 v 3. Last season saw Leeds win the League Leaders' Shield in the last second with a Ryan Hall try at Huddersfield.
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Super League Grand Final favourites: Wigan Warriors.
After two consecutive Grand Final appearances that both ended in narrow defeats, Shane Wane’s Wigan will be determined to go one step further. Recruitment has been strong with the main being the return of local lad Sam Tomkins, back from the NRL side, Vodafone Warriors. The fullback/halfback has the ability to beat any defender in front of him and can be the difference for Wigan in those tight games.
League Leaders’ Shield favourites: Wigan Warriors
Closely followed by: St Helens, Warrington Wolves & Leeds Rhinos.
This year Wigan have the potential to be the most consistent. They were unbeaten in Super League at home last year and if they sort out their away record with the aforementioned Tomkins back, they’ll be too difficult to catch.
It will be interesting to see if St Helens can improve on their two semi-final appearances in 2015 and if Leeds Rhinos can continue their magnificent success without the talismanic trio of Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai. Man of Steel, Zak Hardaker and the best centre in Super League, Kallum Watkins will be hoping that is the case.
Warrington have added to their squad very well and ex-Australia international and New South Wales Origin veteran Kurt Gidley is the standout. Meanwhile, Tom Lineham and Joe Westerman, both from Hull FC should add even more firepower. Consistency is the key with the Wolves and that was severely lacking last season. If the new signings gel Warrington can achieve great things this year.
Challenge Cup favourites: Leeds Rhinos
It’s hard not to look past the 2014 and 2015 Challenge Cup winners, Leeds. They have been present for five of the last six Challenge Cup finals. To get to the final it only takes the Super League team’s three matches, so predicting the winner in this competition is trickier as it can depend on the draw.
Dark Horses: Catalan Dragons, Hull FC, Castleford Tigers & Huddersfield Giants
Catalan have recruited extremely well and if they can improve their dismal away form and continue to keep their tremendous home form going, this side can achieve a lot. The aim is for a top-four finish and it’s very much achievable.
Hull FC just made the top eight last year and with some good signings, namely in Frank Pritchard they have a chance. Top four is probably out of reach but progression can see them challenging the big boys more regularly and potentially reach a Challenge Cup final.
Castleford were brilliant to watch last year in attack but their defence let them down. If they can tighten up then a top four spot is well within their capabilities. New signing, Joel Monaghan from Warrington will be a fantastic coup especially if he keeps to his one try a game ratio.
Huddersfield Giants have a tough task to break into the top 4 which they managed to do last season. The loss of back rower Brett Ferres to West Yorkshire neighbours, Leeds Rhinos is a big blow, especially as finding a replacement of equal quality looks nigh on impossible at this stage.
Making up the numbers: Salford Red Devils, Hull KR, Widnes Vikings & Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.
Wakefield have hired very well and they should definitely improve on last year’s last-place finish while the circus that is Salford will still most likely languish around the tail even with Tim Sheens in charge. Widnes, despite their magnificent halfback Kevin Brown, still lack firepower but could sneak into the Super 8’s. Hull KR have lost Tyrone McCarthy to Canberra Raiders but mounting a challenge any higher could be a step too far, even if they do keep Terry Campese fit.
Whatever happens this season, it will be a cracker.