Wigan to win it — but beware the Wolves
The Warriors hold the aces but Warrington and the Tigers are snapping at their heels
Prediction: Third Prospects: “Classy Cas” have finished fifth for the past two years and another strong season would cement their status as one of Super League’s top sides. Coach Daryl Powell has recruited shrewdly to offset the loss of try-scoring machine Denny Solomona, making his side dark horses for a finals spot.
One to watch: Zak Hardaker. The former Man of Steel has a point to prove after last year’s struggles with Leeds, and Penrith, where he failed to cement a spot in a classy backline. KEY INS: Zak Hardaker (Leeds, loan), Greg Eden (Broncos), Jesse Sene-Lefao (Sharks) KEY OUTS: Denny Solomona (rugby union), Luke Dorn (retired)
Prediction: Sixth Prospects: Catalans have never reached a grand final during their decade in Super League – do the French outfit look better-prepared to do that in 2017? In a word, no. NRL recruits Greg Bird and Sam Moa should give them good service but they’ve lost a lot of personnel. Solid for a top-half finish.
One to watch: Fouad Yaha ( above). The Frenchman is a blockbusting winger primed for a bigger role this year – and he’s still only 20. KEY INS: Greg Bird (Titans), Luke Walsh (St Helens), Luke Burgess (Salford), Sam Moa (Roosters) KEY OUTS: Todd Carney (Salford), Glenn Stewart (Leigh), Dave Taylor (Raiders)
Prediction: 10th Prospects: Last year they flirted with relegation, so ahead of this season coach Rick Stone recruits . . . five players from the second-tier Championship! With prop Eorl Crabtree also retiring, it’s hard to imagine anything other than another struggling campaign for the 2013 minor premiers.
One to watch: Jermaine McGillvary. The strong-running winger was one of England’s best in the Four Nations. KEY INS: Jake Mamo (Knights) KEY OUTS: Joe Wardle (Knights), Eorl Crabtree (retired)
Prediction: Fifth Prospects: Lee Radford has only tinkered with the squad which won the Challenge Cup last year, but can they sustain the feel-good factor that served them so well in 2016? FC also struggled for a five-eighth, so is the exciting but erratic Albert Kelly the answer? We’re not convinced. One to watch:
Mahe Fonua ( right). Danny Houghton was the 2016 Man of Steel but the ex-Storm winger brought the thrills. KEY INS: Albert Kelly (Hull KR), Josh Griffin (Salford) KEY OUTS: Frank Pritchard (Eels), Leon Pryce (Bradford)
Prediction: Seventh Prospects: From winning a domestic treble in 2015, they tumbled last season and were left fighting for their top-flight place. Since then they’ve had to deal with the James Segeyaro exit drama and have been surprisingly quiet on the recruitment front. They should improve – but they still don’t look the force they once were. One to watch:
Kallum Watkins ( above). In a World Cup year, the England centre has a huge incentive to hit his peak. KEY INS: Matt Parcell (Manly) KEY OUTS: Zak Hardaker (Castleford, on loan), James Segeyaro (released).
Prediction: Ninth Prospects: They’re back in Super League after an 11-year absence – replacing relegated Hull KR – and they’ve splashed the cash to try to crack the top eight. Glenn Stewart complements a pack already featuring ex-GB forwards Gareth Hock and Micky Higham. The Centurions lack depth, so will need good luck with injuries.
One to watch: Eloi Pelissier. The French rake is a real livewire and he’ll profit from a referee clampdown on markers not standing square. KEY INS: Glenn Stewart (Catalans), Atelea Vea (St Helens) KEY OUTS: Fuifui Moimoi (Toronto), Reni Maitua (retired)
Salford Red Devils
Prediction: Eighth Prospects: Salford clung onto their Super League status after a dramatic Million Pound Game win, but they were only in the relegation mix because of a points dock for an historic salary-cap breach. And if Todd Carney ( right) can deliver the sparkle, Ian Watson’s handy side look capable of a mid-table finish.
One to watch: Todd Carney struggled with injuries at former club Catalans, but will show his skill if he gets the green light to play in 2017. KEY INS: Todd Carney (Catalans), Lee Mossop (Wigan) KEY OUTS: Daniel Vidot (Titans), Josh Griffin (Hull FC)
Prediction: Fourth Prospects: Semi-finalists last year, Saints were dealt an early-season blow when halfback recruit Matty Smith broke his leg in a trial match. Luke Douglas should galvanise a menacing pack, but there’s a distinct lack of artillery in the three-quarter line. Should scrape into a top-four berth. Maybe. One to watch: Kyle Amor. The Cumbrian prop is in Wayne Bennett’s England train-on squad for good reason. KEY INS: Luke Douglas (Gold Coast), Ryan Morgan (Melbourne), Matty Smith (Wigan) KEY OUTS: Jordan Turner (Canberra), Lama Tasi (Salford), Luke Walsh (Catalans)
Prediction: 12th Prospects: The Yorkshire minnows were one of the surprise-packets of last year. But with other sides around them strengthening, they’ll need to punch well above their weight again if they’re to repeat the trick – and it’s hard to see them doing so. Former Raiders half Sam Williams will give them some muchneeded direction.
One to watch: Tom Johnstone. The 21-year-old winger has terrific balance and footwork close to opponents’ lines. KEY INS: Craig Huby (Huddersfield), Sam Williams (Canberra) KEY OUTS: Anthony Tupou (released)
Prediction: Second Prospects: Beaten in two finals last year, Tony Smith’s outfit should again be in the mix at the top. Mike Cooper is a good signing, but don’t be shocked if they come out of the gates slowly – key forwards Chris Hill and Ben Currie will miss the start through injury. A lot will hinge on Kevin Brown’s ability to fill Chris Sandow’s halfback role.
One to watch: Matty Russell ( above). The winger thrilled for Scotland in the Four Nations, and can light up the dourest of games. KEY INS: Kevin Brown (Widnes), Mike Cooper (St George Illawarra) KEY OUTS: Chris Sandow (released), Mitchell Dodds (Brisbane)
Prediction: 11th Prospects: A flying start last year avoided any relegation worries, but their decision not to strengthen is baffling – especially after losing captain Kevin Brown to Warrington. Denis Betts has a thin top-squad of grafters but they lack quality, and they appear likely to be dragged into the “middle-8s” Qualifiers when the competition splits.
One to watch: Corey Thompson. The ex-Bulldogs winger was second on the competition’s try-scoring chart last year with 27. KEY INS: None KEY OUTS: Kevin Brown (Warrington), Setaimata Sa (Mackay Cutters)
Prediction: First Prospects: Shaun Wane’s side battled to the title last year despite a raft of injuries. Many of those players are now fit and Sam Tomkins will be available from April. The only question-mark is over goal-kicking, with Morgan Escare shaky in preseason. With so much talent, they appear well-equipped to defend their crown. One to watch: George Williams ( above). The England halfback has attracted NRL interest and, at 22, is only going to get better. KEY INS: Joe Burgess (Souths), Thomas Leuluai (NZ Warriors), Morgan Escare (Catalans) KEY OUTS: Josh Charnley (rugby union), Dan Sarginson (Titans), Matty Smith (St Helens)
ZAK’S BACK He didn’t shine with Penrith last season, but expect Zak Hardaker (below) to return to his best with the Tigers.
OOH LA LA! Leigh’s French hooker Eloi Pelissier is a bullet out of dummy-half and looks set to cause some havoc around the ruck.