Super League’s season launch has often been accused of being a damp squib with strange fixture selections and erratic scheduling making for a lacklustre start to the premier competition.
That certainly should not be the case in 2019, though, as Super League chief executive Robert Elstone – in his first full season at the helm – promised the “start of exciting new beginnings.”
Taking a cursory glance over the fixtures for the new season, which were announced yesterday, you can quickly see the competition is serious about getting their act together.
The opening round of action in 2019 has something for everyone and all the ingredients to help Super League kick-off in style, not least an instant derby meeting between Hull KR and great city rivals Hull FC at KCOM Craven Park on Friday, February 1.
That is one of three matches televised by Sky Sports over the opening weekend starting with another fierce rivalry; champions Wigan Warriors travel to League Leaders’ Shield winners St Helens on Thursday, January 31.
Leeds Rhinos – desperate to revive under new head coach David Furner and with ‘marquee’ signing Konrad Hurrell in their ranks – visit beaten Grand Finalists Warrington Wolves for a Saturday tea-time kick-off in the third of those televised games.
There are two other fixtures on the Friday night – Castleford Tigers hosting Challenge Cup holders Catalans Dragons and Huddersfield Giants welcoming Salford Red Devils – before Wakefield Trinity start out at newly-promoted London Broncos on the Sunday.
Elstone said: “The 2019 season will mark a change of direction for the Super League, and the start of exciting new beginnings.
“We want our fans to be really excited about that first weekend, and how better to do that than with a Saints-Wigan derby, pitting the champions against their local rivals who were also last year’s League Leaders?
“And then to follow it up with a Hull derby?
“We’re equally excited about the extra Saturday games which our broadcast partners at Sky Sports are showing in the early stages of the season, allowing the drama of the opening round to unfold throughout the weekend.
“Throw in the World Club Challenge between Wigan Warriors and the Sydney Roosters (Sunday, February 17), the unique appeal and challenge of Super League’s Easter weekend – and of course the season builds to a real climax with the battle for places in the Top Five Play-Offs, building to the Betfred Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford.”
The Grand Final will be held on Saturday, October 12.
The Dacia Magic Weekend, meanwhile, is scheduled for the second Bank Holiday weekend in May with fixtures and the venue for the 2019 festival to be confirmed next week.
We want our fans to be really excited about that first weekend, and how better to do that than with a Saints-Wigan derby, pitting the champions against their local rivals who were also last year’s League Leaders?Robert Elstone
Liverpool’s Anfield is thought to have held off competition from Newcastle’ St James’ Park – host for the last four years – to stage the event for the first time.
Each team will play 29 fixtures – 14 at home and 14 away, plus the Magic round – meaning they play seven of the other 11 teams three times and the other four just twice.
That fixture pattern – the return of the maligned ‘loop’ games following Super 8s’ demise – has been determined by the teams’ finishing positions in 2018.
With regards the return of the Top Five Play-Offs, which decided the first Grand Final in 1998, there is now greater reward for the winners of the League Leaders’ Shield who could take a direct passage to Old Trafford with victory in a single home match in the second round of the play-offs.
Super League was keen to address this issue as, during the last four years of Super 8s, there had been little advantage given to the side finishing top.
Indeed, the fourth-placed side only had to win one game to reach the Grand Final but, in 2019, the task is greater and, the team finishing fifth, for example, would have to win three away matches to make it to Old Trafford.
Leeds face a difficult start as they play all their opening four games away from home until the £40m revamp of Emerald Headingley is finished.
Furthermore, that run includes not just Warrington but champions Wigan and League Leaders’ St Helens.