It not often happens where the eventual Grand Final winners are not the side that performed the best during the regular season, but that is the case with the Rhinos this year.
Nevertheless, it is testament to the character of the side that they could perform in the manner that they did at Old Trafford on Saturday night, and give the perfect send-off for the retiring Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire, bound for Hull Kingston Rovers.
Given the situation that Leeds found themselves in last year, it is amazing to think that they could bounce back with such desire and passion this time around.
The template for the Headingley side’s success was their ability to grind results out regardless of their performance. This was highlighted by eight of their victories during the season, all with a margin of less than six points between them and their opponents.
Despite success this year, the Rhinos will have it all to do next year to achieve similar success; the incoming Richie Myler from Catalans knows that he will have huge boots to fill in McGuire, and young Liam Sutcliffe will need to prove that he can be a long-term successor and leader in the Leeds halves.
Only time will tell, but the Rhinos might well have an incredible fight on their hands if they wish to secure repeat Grand Finals triumphs once more in 2018.
Leeds Grade- A
Ultimately, the Centurions did all they could to retain their Super League status, but have fallen back to the second tier at the first attempt.
Had Leigh shown the same fight and desire in the regular season than they did in the Middle 8’s, most notably a 30-6 away win in Perpignan, we might well have been talking about losing our only top-flight French side.
However, Neil Jukes’ men couldn’t do enough, and not even the late arrival of Keiron Cunningham as Director of Rugby could sway things back in their favour.
In all fairness, they had a largely balanced squad which was able to compete with the top sides on several occasions. However, they didn’t really have the quality in the half-back positions to really challenge the ‘big boys’ of Super League on a regular basis.
The arrival of Daniel Mortimer perhaps came too late to really add depth into their creative positions, yet, if Leigh can keep the likes of Josh Drinkwater and Ben Reynolds together next year, they might have enough to bounce back up.
Make no assumptions, the Championship is going to be a fierce competition next year, with impressive looking Toronto, Toulouse, and Centurions’ sides trying to make it to the big time.
However, if Leigh looks at the Hull KR blueprint for returning to Super League, they might just be able to manage it, although a lot will hinge on the possible departure of their biggest names.
Leigh Grade- D+
Salford Red Devils-
Like so many other sides, things were looking good for Salford midway through the campaign, with some even tipping them to nestle themselves into the top four of Super League.
However, that proved to be way off the mark, with the Red Devils ending the campaign in seventh following 10 defeats in their last 11 matches.
So what went so wrong?
It looks a lot like the Reds simply ran out of steam at the crucial time. With the likes of Gareth O’brien, Robert Lui and Ben Murdoch-Masila in their ranks, the AJ Bell side were always likely to perform well, but their inability to keep competing until the end of September was unfortunately their downfall.
Dream Team forward Murdoch-Masila was a shining light for the Red Devils, but with rumours of a possible departure to either Warrington Wolves or Hull KR on the cards, their side will be a lot weaker without him.
With Michael Dobson among a possible collection of top players departing the club in the off-season, Salford either need to buy well in the market- without the investment of Dr Marwan Koukash- or prepare for a long and difficult 2018.
Salford Grade- C
This campaign has really been a mixed bag for the Saints, littered with negatives, most notably their failure to reach the top four and the departure of Keiron Cunningham midway through the campaign, but also with glimpses of a positive 2018 to come.
New Boss Justin Holbrook has got his side playing a fine brand of rugby which will go down well with the locals, yet the signing of Ben Barba could suggest that he is starting to assemble a squad capable of winning rugby.
Regan Grace was perhaps the stand-out young player of 2018, and he could be crucial for his side going forward.
Likewise, the consistently impressive showings of prop Alex Walmsley and hooker James Roby- both of whom have been selected for England’s forthcoming World Cup squad alongside the outstanding Mark Percival and Jonny Lomax- show reasons to be cheerful for the Saints.
Yes, their early season viewing, not helped by the untimely leg break of Matty Smith weeks before the proceedings kicked off, will not have gone down well with season ticket holders. However, their side is now looking a lot more promising and, like many other teams, a couple of additions to the forward pack might pave the way for 2018 success down at the Totally Wicked Stadium.
St Helens Grade- B-
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