With the Christmas festivities over for another year and 2015 finally here, the return of Super League is just one month away. All sides are involved in friendly fixtures as they continue their pre-season preparations. Here are a few games to look forward to ahead of rugby league’s new era.
Warrington Wolves v Widnes Vikings
Wednesday 7th January, Halliwell Jones Stadium, 7.30pm
Local rivals Warrington and Widnes meet in this rearranged annual festive friendly. The Wolves have won all encounters against the Vikings in this Christmas fixture since 2006, most recently edging a narrow 36-32 victory at the Select Security Stadium in pre-season last year.
Warrington fans can look forward to a first glimpse of new signing Ashton Sims as well as 2014’s Man of Steel Daryl Clark. The Vikings could hand debuts to Aaron Heremaia and Manase Manuokafoa.
Leeds Rhinos v Bradford Bulls
Sunday 25th January, Headingley Carnegie Stadium, 3pm
This Yorkshire derby may not be the spectacle it once was or hold the importance it once held, but a Leeds-Bradford clash should whet the appetite of both sets of fans ahead of the new campaign.
Bradford will be looking to prove they still have what it takes to compete with Super League’s elite despite their relegation from the competition at the end of last season.
The Bulls face a season in the Championship with ambitions of qualifying for the Qualifiers and a return to the Super League in 2016.
Leeds’ new signings Adam Cuthbertson and Mason Tonks could be on show for the Rhinos as they look to begin 2015 a lot better than they ended 2014.
Hull FC v Hull KR
Sunday 18th January, KC Stadium, 2pm
The Hull derby always promises to be a great contest and this ‘friendly’ is the first of a minimum of four games being played between the sides this season.
New half back pairing Leon Pryce and Marc Sneyd will be on show for the black and whites, as well as fellow new signing Mark Minichiello. There has been plenty of change at Hull KR and Darrell Goulding, Ryan Bailey and Kieran Dixon could make their debuts for the Robins.
The contest was evenly split last season with two wins each. Who will draw first blood in 2015?
Leigh Centurions v Wigan Warriors
Sunday 18th January, Leigh Sports Village, 3pm
Promotion to the Super League is on the agenda for Championship champions Leigh Centurions in 2015 and a strong performance against local rivals Wigan will throw down the gauntlet for the season ahead.
The Warriors will be looking to bounce back in 2015 following a trophyless campaign last season. Lee Mossop returns to the side and will be looking to rebuild his career and put his NRL nightmare behind him.
Castleford Tigers v Widnes Vikings
Sunday 25th January, The Mend-A-Hose Jungle, 3pm
A friendly of particular importance in rebuilding the relationship between these two sides following the disorderly scenes from Widnes fans which followed Castleford’s Challenge Cup semi-final win last August.
The Tigers will be looking to prove that their extraordinary 2014 campaign was not a fluke, and is a task made more difficult given the loss of key players from last year.
New signings from Melbourne Storm Junior Moors and Ben Roberts could feature.
Catalans Dragons v London Broncos
Saturday 17th January, Stade Gilbert Brutus, 6pm local time
London are another relegated side from last season looking to show they still have the quality to compete with Super League’s best. Liam Foran, Daniel Harrison and Wes Naiqama are three of several new additions to the Broncos side, which arguably looks stronger than last year’s squad.
After a slow start to 2014, Catalans ended the campaign just 80 minutes away from Old Trafford and will have ambitions to make it all the way in 2015. Willie Tonga, Todd Carney and Remi Casty are in line to make their debuts for the Dragons.
USA Pioneers v Leeds Rhinos
Sunday 11th January, Jacksonville, 2pm local time
Twenty four players from across ten teams in the USARL will assemble a squad to take on Challenge Cup holders Leeds to culminate the Rhinos’ US pre-season tour.
Despite the fact the scoreline could resemble more of a cricket than rugby score, the game is seen as an opportunity to develop the sport across the pond and to see if the players can compete at the next level.
It’s a great way to build on the legacy of the 2013 World Cup, especially after the success of the USA Tomahawks in that competition.
St Helens v Wigan Warriors
Sunday 25th January, Langtree Park, 3pm
In what could be anything but a friendly, reigning Super League champions St Helens meet Wigan for the first time since Grand Final glory over their rivals in October.
Following his sending off in that final, Ben Flower will miss his first game through suspension for the Warriors and is unable return till April.
New signing Travis Burns could feature for Saints and fans will be pleased to see Luke Walsh return to the side after his 2014 campaign ended through injury last July.