With four days to kick-off we thought it was high time that we took a look at what the opposition has to offer this season and place our bets as to Superleague XIII finishing positions.|
Bradford Bulls - (2008 finish - 4th)
The Bulls have been on a downward spiral since the departure of Noble and McNamara knows that this is a make or break season. Losses include McKenna, Henderson and Ben Harris and while they have signed the dangerous Tadulala and workhorse Jeffries (both from the Wildcats) the other incomers don't carry the gravitas of recent seasons.
This side should still make the play-offs in what could be Iestyn Harris's last season and would be a decent outside bet for the Challenge Cup. I wouldn't expect to see them at Old Trafford though.
Castleford Tigers - (2008 finish - 12th)
Cast iron favourites to end the season in bottom spot despite some interesing signings. Amongst the five incomers (no countinf Edmondson who retired soon after arrival) our country cousins can list Dorn and Korkidas from the relegated Salford and a couple of Aussies.
It may well be a long hard season for Tigers fans, and they will be relieved that there is no Superleague relegation to worry about this year.
Catalan Dragons - (2008 finish - 11th)
If ever a side showed a lack of ambition for this season then it is the Dragons. They have lost the inspirational Stacey Jones and made just a single signing in the form of Dane Carlew from Brisbane. Word from the Catalan camp is that they are investing in youth and home grown talent and using a non-relegation season as a building block for future years. Lets hope that it doesn't backfire and lose the fragile support that they have done so well to build up in recent seasons.
Chances of a return to Wembley in 2008....zero!
Harlequins - (2008 finish - 10th)
Just like Castleford and Catalan we are down in the basement with another side who will lose considerably more games than they win this season.
They have brought in just four players, with the highest profile being ex-Rhino Danny Ward, whilst losing six players including Paul Sykes (to Bradford). Another side rumoured to be using this season to gamble and build for a brighter future.
Huddersfield Giants - (2008 finish - 7th)
A difficult side to weigh-up. They've lost Drew, Reilly, Paul and Nero but have made some decent enough signings most notably Robinson, Gatis and Whatuira.
We think that there will be six stronger sides in the competition this season but the Giants do have a reasonable chance of making the play-offs.
Hull FC - (2008 finish - 3rd)
Hull had a poor season in 2007, by their own very high standards and they will be determined to make amends this year. With seven departures and just four arrivals they may not have the strength in depth and if pre-season injuries are anything to go by they may well need to strengthen further during the year, if the salary cap allows.
Challengers for Wembley and the Grand Final and I wouldn't be surprised if they picked up some silverware this year.
Hull KR - (2008 finish - 9th)
KR have approached the close season transfer market with the frenzy of a boxing day sale shopper. They have almost been more active than the rest of the league put together. Twelve signings, including Chev Walker, and fifteen departures will have kept the administrators busy over the winter and can't help with preparations for the new season.
We think that Hull KR will struggle, hopefully starting with a defeat at Headingley on saturday, but we still think that they'll avoid the scrap for bottom place.
Leeds Rhinos - (2008 finish - 2nd)
The Rhinos are the only side that have not dipped their toe into the transfer market but as the old saying goes, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'. Leeds have a great team spirit and with the nucleaus of players having been in the same side all their professional playing careers, they have a brilliant understanding of one another.
Champions in 2007 after finishing in second spot we'd expect McClennan to carry on Tony Smiths good work and be in the running for the big finals. Some silverware should be on it's way to Headingley again this season, it is just a matter of how much.
St. Helens - (2008 finish - 1st)
Like Leeds, Saints have been very inactive. No new arrivals at Saints and just two players out on loan means that Anderson is pretty happy that his troops can challenge for silverware again. We'd expect the 'hubcap' to be retained by the most consistently good side of the Superleague era and for the red vees to be there or ther abouts for the two big finals.
Leeds biggest challenge for the Superleague crown and always the side to benchmark against.
Wakefield Wildcats - (2008 finish - 8th)
Try as he might, Kear will alsways find that Wakefield are a small club without the support necessary to finance their ambitions. This will be another season of disappointment for the Rhinos poor neighbours.
Kear has cut out a lot of dead wood in the close season, but has also lost a few of his star players. Some interesting signings in the likes of Drew, Brough and Reilly will give a new dimension to the side but it is still one that will inevitably struggle.
Warrington Wolves - (2008 finish - 6th)
We've just got a feeling that the Wolves could be the 2008 dark horses. Cullen has done all his shopping in Australia bringing in four new players while he has shifted four players, three of those out to Australia. It is likely that Fa'afili, Grose and Leikvoll will all leave gaps in the side but with Cullens 'never say die' attitude we think that they are a danger side.
We think that they will make the play-offs.
Wigan Warriors - (2008 finish - 5th)
The side that everyone loves to hate.
Wigans' season may well hinge around how many points they lose for any 2007 salary indiscretions although the new regime does appear to have shed a few of the big salaries ahead of the start of 2008. Fletcher, Vaealiki and Millard have all moved on but Richie Mathers and Karl Pryce will not have come cheap.
You can never underestimate Brian Noble and Wigan will always be able to raise their game when it matters.
Play-offs are highly likely but the two finals are doubtful.