Looking at who could challenge, and who might not, undoubtedly it is hard to look past reigning champions St Helens. They just have quality throughout and that will definitely put them in good stead again.
Saints just have too many good players not to be up there. Having won it two years on the bounce, the challenge now is maintaining it and not dropping off but I do feel they have too many quality players to allow that to happen.
If anyone is to beat Kristian Woolf’s side to the punch, I think it will be Wigan Warriors.
They were obviously very close last year when, as we all witnessed, that Grand Final really could have gone either way. But the addition of Australian half-back Jai Field gives them yet another attacking threat. They already have plenty with Bevan French and Jackson Hastings so, to add someone as elusive and exciting as Field as well, makes them even stronger.
John Bateman returning from the NRL means they have got that extra steel and toughness, too, which Wigan are always renowned for regardless.
Elsewhere, Leeds Rhinos have been building for a few years.
Last season was the one where they really stepped up and started competing again with the Challenge Cup win and being there or thereabouts all season.
I’d expect them to have a similar campaign. Zane Tetevano will add steel to their middle, probably what they’ve needed for a while.
Losing Adam Cuthbertson will be a loss given the danger he brought with his off-loading. But Tetavano, a Kiwi international who has played in two of the last three NRL Grand Finals, can add that X-Factor around the middle.
And it’s great to see Kyle Eastmond back in rugby league with Rhinos. He lit up Super League before he switched to union. I was impressed with him when I played alongside him for England.
Huddersfield Giants are touted as a side who will do something this season after Ian Watson was made head coach and given the number of players they have invested in.
I’m not sure if they themselves would revel in that expectation – it’s always nice to go a little bit under the radar. But those signings, people like Ricky Leutele, Joe Greenwood and Josh Jones, are quality ones that I feel could, potentially, offer some real impact. If they get it right, Huddersfield could certainly be challengers.
However, rugby league seems to be different to other sports in that it’s not just about who you sign. It’s about how they come together as a team and that willingness to fight for each other. That can take time so, while there’s potential to impress this year, it could be another 12 months before we really see the quality come through at Giants.
Obviously, we’re looking to make our own mark at Hull FC under a new head coach in Brett Hodgson. It’s been good to get some new ideas and a new voice and Hodgo is certainly making his mark. We have to change some of the culture at Hull – we know that – and the players are reacting well to the changes he has made while Josh Reynolds, the State of Origin half-back we signed, could make a big difference.
One club people will talk about again is Warrington Wolves. Their success, in my mind, will hinge on Greg Inglis Much depends on his performances. It’s the reason why they’ve signed him. The ex-Kangaroos and Queensland star is that good. If he can be that player that he has been, not too long ago, it will be a frightening prospect. There’s not many centres with that much ability – power, strength, speed – here at the moment.
There’s a real gap in the market for him to be a genuine potential Steve Prescott Man of Steel winner if he performs. And that will be the only thing: I’m sure he’ll be confident in himself but can he get back to being that player?
Having had more than a year out retired, that will be the big question. But if he does, that could be the difference for Warrington as they seek that long-awaited first title since 1955. They have announced that head coach Steve Price will be leaving at the end of the season.
That can always go one of two ways: either the players decide to dig in for the coach or the worry is how much are those players willing to fight knowing the coach is not going to be there in 12 months time?
Who are they trying to impress with things like future contracts? That would always be the worry for me in these situations.
I don’t know what relationship the current players have with Steve Price. But if they dig in, and Inglis goes well, it will make it interesting.
And, obviously, the same has now happened at Castleford Tigers with Daryl Powell...
Gareth Ellis was speaking to Dave Craven
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