Super League 2016: top teams to watch
After a quite breath-taking 2015 season where Leeds Rhinos seized all three domestic trophies it’s time to do it all over again. Peter Dunmore looks ahead at what is shaping up to be the closest Super League season for years.
The format of Super League means after 23 rounds the league is split with the top 8 of the 12 playing each again once more in the Super 8’s. Once 30 rounds have been completed the top four go into a simple semi-final playoff; 1 v 4 and 2 v 3. Last season saw Leeds win the Shield in the last second with a Ryan Hall try at Huddersfield, leaving the table with Leeds top on 41 points ahead only on point’s difference to Wigan.
Super League Grand Final favourites: Wigan Warriors.
After two consecutive Grand Final appearances that both ended in narrow defeats, Shane Wane’s Wigan will be determined to go one step further. Recruitment has been strong with the main highlight being the return of local lad, Sam Tomkins having come back from the NRL side, Vodafone Warriors. The fullback/halfback has the ability to beat any defender in front of him and can be the difference for Wigan in those tight games.
League Leaders’ Shield favourites: Wigan Warriors
Closely followed by: St Helens, Warrington Wolves & Leeds Rhinos.
This year I see Wigan being the most consistent. They were unbeaten in Super League at home last year and if they sort out their away record and with the aforementioned Tomkins back, they’ll be too difficult to catch.
It will be interesting to see if St Helens can improve on their two semi-final appearances in 2015 and if Leeds Rhinos can continue their magnificent success without the talismanic trio of Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai. Man of Steel, Zak Hardaker and arguably the best centre in Super League, Kallum Watkins will be hoping that is the case.
Challenge Cup favourites: Leeds Rhinos
It’s hard not to look past the 2014 and 2015 Challenge Cup winners, Leeds. They have been present for five of the last six Challenge Cup finals. To get to the final it only takes the Super League team’s three matches, so predicting the winner in this competition is trickier as it can depend on the draw.
Dark Horses: Catalan Dragons, Hull FC & Castleford Tigers
Catalan have recruited extremely well and if they can improve their dismal away form and continue to keep their tremendous home form going, this side can achieve a lot. The aim is for a top 4 finish and it’s very much achievable.
Hull FC just made the top 8 last year and with some good signings, namely in Frank Pritchard they have a chance. Top 4 is probably out of reach but progression can see them challenging the big boys more regularly and potentially reach a Challenge Cup final.
Castleford were brilliant to watch last year in attack but their defence let them down. If they can tighten up then a top 4 spot is well within their capabilities. New signing, Joel Monaghan from Warrington will be a fantastic coup especially if he keeps to his one try a game ratio.
Making up the numbers: Salford Red Devils, Hull KR, Widnes Vikings & Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.
Wakefield have hired very well and they should definitely improve on last year’s last place finish while the circus that is Salford will still most likely languish around the tail even with Tim Sheens in charge. Widnes, despite their magnificent halfback Kevin Brown, still lacks the firepower but could sneak into the Super 8’s. Hull KR have lost Tyrone McCarthy and I just cannot see them mounting a challenge.