Liam Farrell believes Catalans Dragons will emerge as a genuine threat to Wigan’s Super League title defence in 2019.
The French outfit have a chequered history in the league since their introduction in 2006, and have yet to reach a Grand Final.
But Farrell points to the recruitment of his good friend Sam Tomkins as being key in helping them build on their Challenge Cup success last season.
He said: “I know we seem to say it every year, but this year has to see the emergence of Catalans.
“I know they did well in the Challenge Cup last year and their goal has to be better in the league, and get one step closer to the Grand Final.
“They’ve made some major signings and they’ll have expectations. Sam’s gone there now and, like Micky (McIlorum), he's got a massive amount of competitiveness about them.
“Then you have other players like Greg Bird – when he’s fit, he’s one of the best – plus Tony Gigot can be hard to handle, so they have quality all over the field.”
Wigan are third favourites to win the 2019 title, at 4/1, just behind joint-favourites St Helens and Warrington (3/1).
Despite Farrell’s forecast, many bookmakers have Catalans as seventh favourites – with odds of up to 20/1 – with Leeds, Castleford and Hull FC also better-placed for a crack this season.
The play-offs has been expanded to five teams this season and Farrell believes it will be an intense battle to secure a spot.
“It’s going to be a really tough season,” said the forward. “Warrington got to two finals last year and have spent some money, they have players coming back from long-term injuries, you’ve got Saints and Leeds... you could pick six or seven teams who’ll be fighting for a top-five place.”