Dave Craven: Why all the signs are pointing to this being ‘Year of the Tiger’

Relaxed: Castleford Tigers are the team to beat in Super League in 2017, says Dave Craven. ('Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)
Relaxed: Castleford Tigers are the team to beat in Super League in 2017, says Dave Craven. ('Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)
Have your say

IF I get this all spot-on, which is highly unlikely given my history in these matters, I refuse to listen to anyone arguing I had an unfair advantage or the result is void.

Yes, it is the start of the new season, which means time for my worthless Betfred Super League predictions.

However, obviously, given the competition’s staggered start, by the time you read this, we will have already witnessed Leeds Rhinos and St Helens plus Castleford Tigers v Leigh Centurions and Widnes Vikings v Huddersfield Giants, too.

Yet I kid you not, this article was written on Thursday afternoon – honest – so I have not had any crucial insight whatsoever.

Anyway, who am I going for? Cas’ to finish top? Why not?

Maybe it is the romantic in me but I just feel the Tigers are certain to win some silverware soon and maybe the League Leaders’ Shield could be it.

The Grand Final, too? That would be some feat having never yet been to Old Trafford for the showpiece. I’m going to say Warrington could at last do that.

But if Daryl Powell can enjoy some decent luck with injuries, and get the best out of flair players Zak Hardaker and Rangi Chase, this is certainly the best squad he has overseen – with Michael Shenton and Andy Lynch fit again, Luke Gale at the hub of it all, and everyone at Wheldon Road saying Paul McShane is ready to shine.

Even accounting for the unsavoury loss of Denny Solomona and his 42 tries, I do feel 2017 could be momentous for Tigers.

If it is not, given their style, we will at least enjoy watching them.

Some people are not sure about Kevin Brown’s arrival at Warrington but I feel the England stand-off’s purchase from Widnes could be the best bit of business completed by Tony Smith in some time.

Leeds will surely not endure the same level of misery they encountered last season yet will still face a fight to find their more customary top-four rather than bottom-four placing.

They need to keep key players such as Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow healthy. That is vital.

Huddersfield are also in need of a big response after last year’s last-place finish but, realistically, they could find it tough again.

They have lost some consistent forces in the likes of NRL-bound Joe Wardle and the retired Eorl Crabtree while few of their signings catch the eye.

Champions Wigan should be strong; the re-signing of scrum-half Thomas Leuluai and winger Joe Burgess means covering the exits of Matty Smith and Josh Charnley should be seamless.

The addition of Albert Kelly should improve creativity at Hull FC but has their best hope of a Grand Final gone?

Wakefield have added some genuine quality and it would be no surprise if they secured the top-eight again but do not expect Catalans Dragons, despite a raft of new stellar names, to be anything different to their hugely irritatingly inconsistent selves.

I do fear for Widnes. Everyone knows they will miss Brown’s influence but by how much? I think to the tune of 12 or 14 points.

Salford escaped last term after one of the most remarkable ends to a game in the sport’s history but so much of their hopes rely on whether they can get a visa for Australian Todd Carney while promoted Leigh will upset plenty but it may still not be enough to avoid the Qualifiers.

Craven’s prediction (after 23 rounds): 1, Castleford; 2, Warrington; 3, Wigan; 4, Hull FC; 5, Leeds; 6, St Helens; 7, Catalans; 8, Wakefield; 9, Huddersfield; 10, Leigh; 11, Salford; 12, Widnes.