The start of the 20th Super League season is almost upon us. With rugby league’s new era promising the most competitive campaign to date, here are 12 things to look forward to over the next nine months.
#12 Race for a top eight finish
Whereas in previous seasons a top eight finish secured a play-off spot, under rugby league’s new era it represents Super League survival. The necessity of a top eight finish has never been so important and the battle for those final elusive spots in the table could go down to the wire.
#11 NRL imports
The competition is set to be graced by a talent of NRL imports in 2015. Hull FC have recruited the experience of forward Mark Minichiello and nearby at Craven Park Terry Campese will lead out Hull KR. Ashton Sims looks an explosive prospect for Warrington and NRL outcast Todd Carney looks to rebuild his career with Catalans.
#10 Magic Weekend
After three years at the Etihad Stadium, the hugely popular Magic Weekend is relocating this season to Newcastle’s St James’ Park. All 12 sides will compete across two days in the non-rugby league hotspot and is another way of hopefully expanding the sport. With the Hull derby, St Helens v Warrington and Leeds v Wigan all to look forward to, there should be plenty of high quality rugby league on show for fans this year.
#9 Expanded World Club series
A move the RFL and ARLC have been negotiating for a number of years finally comes to fruition this season with an expansion of the World Club series. Super League champions St Helens face NRL winners South Sydney Rabbitohs in the main event on Sunday, 22 February. Grand final runners-up Wigan face Brisbane Broncos a day earlier and Warrington kick-off the three game series against St. George Illawarra on Friday, 20 February.
#8 Catalans Dragons
Castleford and Widnes may have stolen the limelight last season as the league’s surprise packages, but it was the Catalans Dragons who surprised most with a late season charge which saw them finish just 80 minutes away from a first Grand Final appearance. If new recruits Willie Tonga and Todd Carney settle and they can improve their away form, the Dragons will be the team to watch out for in 2015.
#7 Koukash’s comments
Salford Red Devils owner Marwan Koukash seems determined to take on the RFL over any matter, small or large, and is set to make more headlines this season. His latest plans to introduce a British team in the NRL and his persistence on getting the salary cap increased will ensure he doesn’t take a back seat in 2015.
#6 More Championship coverage
The licensing system killed off a lot of Super League interest in the Championship but the new league format means that the bottom four in Super League will face the top four Championship sides in the Qualifiers. The Championship will gain a lot more coverage this year and we could potentially see some of the sides lining up in Super League XXI.
#5 Will the Saints fall?
St Helens did not let injuries to some of their key players halt their title charge last season and despite often being labelled a ‘crisis’ club, went on to lift the League Leaders’ Shield and Super League trophy. Head coach Nathan Brown has now left and been replaced by former assistant coach and Saints legend Keiron Cunningham. Luke Walsh and new signing Travis Burns could form a lethal halfback combination which may lead the Saints to more success come October.
#4 Flower’s return
All eyes will be on the DW Stadium on April the 16th when Ben Flower could make his return to the Wigan side following his six month suspension after being sent off in last year’s Grand Final defeat. The prop-forward will miss the opening 11 games for the Warriors and will hope to win fans back round on his return as he looks to put his Old Trafford nightmare behind him.
#3 Youngsters coming through the ranks
2014 saw various young players come through, impress and hold down first team spots for their clubs. Hull FC winger Callum Lancaster, Wigan’s Oliver Gildart and Leeds’ Ash Handley are all tipped to breakthrough in 2015.
#2 Castleford: Progress or regress?
Castleford overachieved last season by reaching the Challenge Cup final and almost secured a first League Leaders’ Shield. They will no longer be heading into games as the underdogs, but could the loss of key players see them slide back down the league ladder this season?
#1 New Era
The new era promises to produce the most hotly contested season to date. Every minute of every game matters as teams chase that all important top eight finish before vying for Grand Final glory.