Super League 2018: Dave Craven – It would be great if things could stay the same – for a change

Castleford captain Michael Shenton, left, and coach Daryl Powell.
Castleford captain Michael Shenton, left, and coach Daryl Powell.
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PREDICTING who will prosper and who will suffer in the new Super League season is not the easiest of tasks.

In fairness, nothing ever is truly simple in rugby league.

Some of the recent bizarre off-field affairs illustrate that; interim RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer saying Toronto Wolfpack won’t be guaranteed a place in Super League in 2019 even if they win promotion via the Qualifiers…?

Then there is 2019 itself; no one has anything concrete to say about that yet, whether the current league format will remain or not, whether the competition will increase to 14 clubs and relegation disappears yet again. Apparently, around seven of the 12 current Super League clubs are pushing for the division to be upped in size which would presumably mean nobody dropping out.

But which other sport would you find where such issues are even open for debate at this late juncture?

If Super League does go back up to 14 in 2019, then the Million Pound Game – which everyone hopes to avoid – will surely be rendered redundant yet, bizarrely, we are told it is firmly entrenched in the calendar.

Things can change, mind. That’s all part of the problem. Too much messing around.

Hopefully the RFL will get in a new chief executive to replace Nigel Wood who will bring some clarity to it all and lead with fresh ideas and purpose.

That said, in all honesty, who will really want that job if Super League club bosses are essentially now manoeuvring to run their competition on their own?

By the time the incoming CEO arrives, there might not be much left to run. A hefty salary will, no doubt, be awaiting, though.

Ralph Rimmer

Ralph Rimmer

For now, at least we can look forward to some action on the field. With champions Leeds kicking off at Warrington on Thursday night, the same time as Challenge Cup holders Hull FC host Huddersfield Giants, the competition has a couple of interesting opening games.

Perhaps the round one pick is League Leaders’ Shield winners Castleford heading to St Helens – who many fancy in 2018 – on Friday although newly-promoted Hull KR making their return against Wakefield Trinity at a rocking Craven Park will be similarly intriguing.

But who are the ones to watch? If the way they finished last year is anything to go by, Saints should certainly be ones to look at.

It was amazing to see the transformation made by Justin Holbrook to the side that was so poor under Keiron Cunningham earlier in the season and the pieces all seem to be falling into place.

By the time the incoming CEO arrives, there might not be much left to run. A hefty salary will, no doubt, be awaiting, though.

With Jonny Lomax, Ben Barba, Mark Percival, Theo Fages and Tommy Makinson in their ranks, the mix of pace, creativity and firepower is intoxicating.

Throw in James Roby and Alex Walmsley and it is easy to see why it could be the right time for Saints to finally re-emerge at the top table. Castleford are confident last season won’t be a one-off; the scars of that Grand Final loss to Leeds will remind them of how close – but still how far –they were from title glory.

You would expect Daryl Powell’s side to learn from that painful experience but it remains to be seen just how well they will adapt without Zak Hardaker.

Leeds can’t ever be ruled out even if it will be so surreal not seeing Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow jinking around in blue and amber any more.

Of the rest, keep an eye on Warrington, Hull and maybe even –just maybe – Catalans.

St Helens's Alex Walmsley

St Helens's Alex Walmsley