We have had to wait since October last year to see the season re-commence but this Friday its on again. The 2013 League leaders, Huddersfield Giants take on the Super league Champions, Wigan at the DW Stadium Friday at 8.00pm.
From bitter experience I can tell you it takes a few weeks to sort out how they are going to perform so that you can confidently have a decent punt so in this article we are having a quick look at what you can expect from each team.
Wigan Warriors – Under Shaun Wayne, look to be going from strength to strength in management, coaching and structure but our big concern is the loss of key players. Non more so than Sam Tompkins. Sparks of brilliance are hard to find at the top and to us Wigan look vulnerable. They are also going to play the Sydney Roosters in the World club challenge, down under and that is going to take its toll. I fear they will be playing catch up all season and whilst the newest Burgess looks an exciting 19 year old they need play makers. Will make the top 8 – probably top 4
Warrington Wolves – Problems for Tony Smith, lost of players gone or retired, fine that happens, but I have always believed that Warrington without Lee Briers are 6 points inferior. Well 2014 sees no Briers as well as no Morley, Hodgson or Monaghan. They have replaced a few but those who think Richie Myler is the saviour are wrong. He plays well in a very good team. I think with two losses in two finals they have missed the boat – Top 8 but I don’t see them Top 4. Controversial as the bookies make then favourites. We don’t sit on the fence here.
Huddersfield Giants – Still not made my mind up about Baloo – Coach Paul Anderson, did he inherit a very good team and is now dumbing it down or is he the creative genius behind the side. No hiding place this year and they really have high expectations after last years table topping performance. A lot rests on the shoulders of Danny Brough, who will beat up on poor sides and struggle against good ones and with no new big signings I think if teams watch the tapes of the Wigan and Leeds games late last year they will work out how to shut them down. I say they will struggle. Big Fall Coming.
Leeds Rhinos – Got to admit I am a huge Brian Mc Dermot fan and I like watching Leeds play. At this time last year I said Leeds were getting too old and too slow to be a force. I was wrong. It was all heart that got them to the semi’s and now some of those old bones have got to take the punishment again. Coach know that and he has found some really strong players in Zak Hardaker, Ryan Hall, Ben Jones-Bishop, Kallum Watkins, Joel Moon and the new signing Tom Briscoe – as well as stand-off Liam Sutcliffe, and the Papua New Guinea hooker Paul Aiton. The most exciting team in Superleague – Top and win the title – you read it here first. BTW – has anyone else spotted that the Super League logo is in Leeds colours?? Just saying!
St Helens – The Saints under Nathan Brown (incidentally I think he created the success for the Giants) are developing in to a serious side and last years 5th could have been better. Brown has signed Luke Walsh, who arrives from Penrith to try to fill the Sean Long boots, and Mose Masoe, the huge Samoan with a reputation for being a little untidy in the tackle, if you get my meaning (put him down for half the games). They will compete in every game and play fast furious, Rhino style football. I think they will play Leeds in the final – and lose. We will be with them a lot this year at some tidy prices against last years reputations.
Hull FC – Whilst sixth looked good last year I think it flattered Lee Radfords charges. For me this is a rebuilding job. They will play some good games and some poor ones and for that reason they are a betting enigma. We will try to avoid them where we can. Gareth Ellis is a very good player but his injury count is mounting and he cant win it by himself. Bottom 8 for me for the Airlie Birds.
Salford Red Devils – I spoke with owner Marwan Koukash last year and we both agreed that Rugby League was the last remaining professional sport that enjoyed prominent Sky Coverage where the least amount of money could make the greatest amount of difference. Shrewdly he has spent; both in appointing Brian Noble and in allowing Noble to sign genuinely good players. They have had 2 weeks in SA getting to know each other and whilst I don’t think 14 days is enough to get forwards, backs and centres to gel as a cohesive unit, in about 6 games time they will really be strong. The pressure will be on, from the media, to succeed and that wont help early but if they can relax they will be a real force in 2014. My Tip is 4th this season.
That leaves the Widnes Vikings, who have a real problem with their pitch and players, the Catalan Dragons who run hot and cold and I feel their enthusiasm for the sport is waning (did you know it was Frances’ national Game in the 1920’s), Wakefield Trinity who just don’t have the budget or personnel to consistently challenge, Castlelford Tigers who my be a bit of a dark horse for a top 8 place and will scare a few but will desperately miss Rangi Chase. That leaves Hull KR who have peaked in my opinion and will come back down to earth this year, The Bradford Bulls, where much will depend on how the league looks at their administration, points docking and player caps and finally the London broncos. Oh how the league would love this London thing to work, trouble is, it isn’t. They need help, money and some real enthusiasm behind them. None of which seems to be there. I hope they compete but I just don’t get it and whilst somehow they line-up again this year they have again had to move home from The Twickenham Stoop to The Edgware Hive, none of which works either on paper on or on the field.
So apart form the excitement of Leeds and Salford the rest looks a little lacklustre. I hope I am wrong but the lack of big name signings, new superstars and genuine excitement by the media suggests to me this could be a real topsie-turvy year. However there is money to be made and we will be making it
Pre season bets
Leeds to win the title. 5 units E/W @ 6/1 William Hill
Salford to win more than 15.5 Regular season Games – 10 units win @ 11/10 Betvictor