Wi­gan to win it — but be­ware the Wolves

The War­riors hold the aces but War­ring­ton and the Tigers are snap­ping at their heels

Rugby League Week - - Legend Q&a: Michael O'connor - BY PHIL WILKINSON

Castle­ford Tigers

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)

Cata­lans Dragons

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)

Hud­der­s­field Gi­ants

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)

Hull FC

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)

Leeds

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).

Leigh Cen­tu­ri­ons

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)

St He­lens

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)

Wake­field Trin­ity

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)

War­ring­ton Wolves

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)

Widnes Vik­ings

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)

Wi­gan War­riors

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.

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