Rugby league journalists reveal how clubs are shaping for 2018

Players from the 12 Super League clubs at the competition's launch in Huddersfield
Players from the 12 Super League clubs at the competition's launch in Huddersfield

Who’s looking strong? Who’s looking vulnerable? Who has recruited well? Ahead of the new Super League season, 12 journalists give their views on how prepared the clubs are...

CASTLEFORD

This article featured in a 12-page Wigan Warriors pull-out inside this week's Wigan Observer

This article featured in a 12-page Wigan Warriors pull-out inside this week's Wigan Observer

Dave Craven, Yorkshire Post

How are they shaping for 2018?

Not made many big-name signings but Daryl Powell has a nice habit of improving lesser-known players who often have a point to prove.

Biggest hope for their season?

Hull are not as scary on paper

They certainly have the firepower and enough talent in place.

Biggest concern for their season?

That the expected loss of England full-back Zak Hardaker to a two-year drugs ban might upset all their equilibrium. Benny Roberts will switch from stand-off to No.1 with Jamie Ellis coming in but will they lose much of their famous cutting edge in the process?

CATALANS DRAGONS

Onteniente Bruno, L’Independent

How are they shaping for 2018?

Catalans are the only club which had 16 of their players at the World Cup, so Steve McNamara started pre-season in November with only seven players. The full squad only got back together this month, so while the coach has been very clear about his vision of the game and the play, combinations will take time.

Biggest hope for their season?

The club president expects Catalans’ 13th Super League season to be successful. Nobody want to live a season like 2017. Micky McIlorum’s arrival changes a lot of things – there’s the possibility he will play loose forward.

With a bigger squad, in my opinion, the best Catalans team since 2006.

Biggest concern for their season?

The players are underdone after the lack of time together. Plus, Steve has changed his two assistant coaches and physio.

HUDDERSFIELD

Peter Barrow, Huddersfield Examiner

How are they shaping for 2018?

The Giants squad has more depth to it this time round with the addition of Adam Walne from Salford and Bradford second rower Colton Roche, plus having brought on board Jordan Rankin and Jordan Turner during the 2017 season.

With the likes of Jake Mamo and Tom Symonds fully fit again the starting 17 promises to be strong this season.

Biggest hope for their season?

The aim is obviously to break into the top four. A slow start to last season didn’t help that aim, but a purple patch after the Magic Weekend suggested what the Giants could be capable of under head coach Rick Stone.

Keep everyone fit and the Giants should be competing in the top six at the very least.

Biggest concern for the season?

Another run of injuries like last season and it will probably a case of fighting tooth and nail to take a top eight slot – no one wants another run in the Middle 8s.

HULL FC

Paul Clarke, Hull Daily Mail

How are they shaping up for 2018?

Hull FC are quietly confident and almost developing an ‘us against the world’ mentality. I suppose that’s what happens to a club when their rival’s Head of Rugby labels them a weaker outfit than a year ago.

Hull are not as scary on paper ahead of the upcoming campaign without Gareth Ellis and Mahe Fonua but they will rely heavily on the young core of their squad taking their games to another level. This side is still in good shape.

Biggest hope for their season?

As Albert Kelly calls it, all Hull are looking for is the Big Dance. Getting back to the Grand Final for the first time since 2006 is all they are thinking about.

After two straight Challenge Cup final wins you can be assured that the competition has a soft spot among the players but the entire organisation is focused on making it to Old Trafford this October.

Anything less than that will be deemed a failure.

Biggest concern for their season?

How Hull FC start the 2018 campaign could set the tone for the rest of the year. It’s certainly not an easy start.

After hosting a rejuvenated Huddersfield side, it’s a trip to Australia for a Super League clash against Wigan and an exhibition game against St George Illawarra Dragons. Hull’s return to the UK? Just the little matter of away trips to Castleford Tigers and Leeds Rhinos with a home match against Warrington sandwiched in between. Now that’s tough.

HULL KR

Gareth Westmorland, Hull Daily Mail

How are they shaping up for 2018?

If the anticipation of Hull KR fans wasn’t high already for their Super League comeback, watching Danny McGuire’ virtuoso performance in the Grand Final only whetted their appetite even more. The key for KR is for every other player to read from the same page as the 35-year-old, who signed a two-year deal in east Hull.

Tim Sheens has attempted to assemble strength-in-depth with versatility a huge factor.

Biggest hope for their season?

Their biggest hope lies on a quick start to life back in the top-flight, with their big-name personnel staying as fit as possible throughout the year. As well as McGuire, hooker Shaun Lunt alongside props Nick Scruton and Lee Jewitt, those four remain pivotal to any top-eight hopes.

Biggest concern for their season?

A concern for Rovers, like any other team promoted from the lower divisions, is that they remain behind the eight-ball in many areas compared to the teams sitting in eighth and above at the end of last term. It’s going to take something special to avoid a bottom-four placing.

LEEDS

Peter Smith, Yorkshire Evening Post

How are they shaping for 2018?

The last time Rhinos attempted to defend the Super League title, two years ago, the wheels came off in spectacular fashion and they ended the year fighting for survival in the Qualifiers. They are in better shape now. Again, they have lost key players – Danny McGuire (to Hull KR) and Rob Burrow (now their academy coach) – but Richie Myler and Wigan-born Brad Dwyer have come in as direct replacements. Leeds have also added big forward Nathaniel Peteru from Gold Coast Titans and, at this stage, they have almost a fully-fit squad.

Biggest hope for their season?

That Rhinos can build on the advances they made last year, when they climbed from ninth to second in Super League and won the Grand Final. Expectations are high and Rhinos will be looking to close the gap on Castleford, while also blooding some promising youngsters. Watch out for Polish-born prop Mikolaj Oledzki.

Biggest concern for their season?

It is another transitional year, on and off the field. McGuire is a tough act to replace and the redevelopment of Headingley Stadium – the old South and North stands have both been demolished – could take away some of their home advantage. The World Club Challenge could also have a bearing. Rhinos will travel to and from Melbourne in a week and if that disrupts their start to the season it might be difficult to recover.

SALFORD

Gary Carter, The Sun

How are they shaping for 2018?

If people are to be believed, not very well. Marwan Koukash left as owner and coach Ian Watson admits he cannot spend up to the full salary cap.

But there appears to be a real sense of unity behind the scenes and some good talent on the field leaves hope they can make the top eight.

Biggest hope for their season?

That the club progresses off the field as new owners seemingly make real efforts to connect with the community and local businesses.

Watson talked about doing things the ‘right way’.

Biggest concern for their season?

Injuries. On paper, Salford has a decent squad that can compete for a Super 8s spot.

But as last year showed, injuries can ruin a season. Have Salford got enough depth to cope? I’m not certain.

ST HELENS

John Yates, St Helens Reporter website

How are they shaping for 2018?

Although there have been no major signings, Saints look to have more strength in depth.

Biggest hope for their season?

Aussie full back Ben Barba proving his worth after the club’s gamble in securing his services when he was serving a 12-match NRL ban for a cocaine-related offence. He could arguably be described as a new boy, having only played a fistful of games in 2017, and will be a key figure in hopefully bringing at least one of piece of silverware to the Totally Wicked Stadium.

Biggest concern for the season?

A slow start. They need to start the campaign showing consistency – something lacking 12 months ago – and hopefully in the long-term persuade prop Alex Walmsley to snub the NRL.

WAKEFIELD

John Davidson, freelance journalist

How are they shaping for 2018?

Wakefield are looking strong and headed for another top-eight finish. Their squad is settled and recruitment has been minimal but impressive. The addition of Justin Horo, Pauli Pauli and Tyler Randell gives their pack really strength and options for Chris Chester. There is real momentum gathering at Belle Vue for another big season.

Biggest hope for their season?

A top-four place. For the past two seasons Wakefield have exceeded expectations and upset the doomsayers and last year they were fifth, only one point behind St Helens who took fourth. Cracking the top four would be massive for the club.

Biggest concern for their season?

Wakefield need their spine of Grix, Finn and Miller to be fit for virtually the whole season. They are the heartbeat of the side. And John Kear is one of the most canny and experienced coaches in England, his move to Bradford could impact Trinity’s fortunes on the field.

WARRINGTON WOLVES

Matthew Turner, Warrington Guardian

How are they shaping for 2018?

It is difficult to say at the moment. A lot will depend on how well the players respond to new head coach Steve Price’s philosophies on the game. He has promised a more methodical, NRL-style approach in the early stages – a big departure from the expansive game Tony Smith liked to play.

Biggest hope for their season?

If Tyrone Roberts stays fit and firing, Wire have a hell of a player on their hands! One of the biggest criticisms aimed at the team in 2017 was that there was not enough flair from the halves. Roberts can certainly provide that and, as we saw with an on-song Chris Sandow in the first half of 2016, that bit of magic in the halves can make all the difference.

Biggest concern for their season?

If Daryl Clark were to go down with an injury, there is not much beyond him at hooker after Brad Dwyer was allowed to leave for Leeds. Morgan Smith will start the season in the interchange hooker role, but he is still a raw talent whose defence still needs a lot of work.

WIDNES VIKINGS

Chris Irvine, The Times

How are they shaping for 2018?

The tragic death of Kato Ottio has inevitably cast a pall over Vikings’ pre-season. Brothers Wellington and Stanley Albert, Kato’s Kumuls team-mates, will carry his memory with them playing for Widnes.

Biggest hope for their season?

There’s a big emphasis on youngsters – for them to step up to the plate.

Biggest concern for their season?

Widnes don’t suffer the extent of the injury crisis that enveloped them last season. They need to stay fit – and lucky.

WIGAN WARRIORS

Phil Wilkinson, Wigan titles

How are they shaping for 2018?

With Micky McIlorum not replaced, and Dan Sarginson a direct replacement for Anthony Gelling, you could make a case the squad is weaker. But Ben Flower and Morgan Escare are among the injured players back in the mix, Sam Tomkins has had his first pre-season in years, and talk in the off-season has been of a ‘different’ Wigan this year.

Biggest hope for their season?

More finals, more trophies. Many would argue it wasn’t the lack of success which was the biggest problem last season, but a lack of enjoyment. Hopefully, a better run of luck with injuries will help Wigan hit top gear.

Biggest concern for the season?

That neither Sam Tomkins or Sam Powell settle at halfback, that injuries bite again, and that goal-kicking continues to be a problem, despite investing in specialist coach Charlie Hodgson.