The new Super League is just days away – and as always, there are no shortage of talking points to be dissected and discussed surrounding every single club.
Whether it’s team selection quandaries, the scale of a club’s ambitions or simply what level of pressure some coaches and teams are under, there’s plenty to ponder.
Here’s Love Rugby League’s view on the biggest talking point at all 12 of the Super League clubs ahead of the big kick-off on Thursday night..
It seems premature to write a season off before it has even started, but you wonder if there is a long-term approach being put in place at Castleford Tigers. While some suspect they could be under threat with IMG’s grading, the reality is that wherever they finish in the table, the Tigers are likely to be a Super League club in 2025: meaning they have been able to put a squad together with more than one eye on the future.
That has started at the top, with Craig Lingard seen very much as one of the game’s leading coaches in the years ahead. The recruitment has focussed on bringing in younger, fresher talent with points to prove too. 25-year-old Luke Hooley starts at full-back, while 24-year-old Rowan Milnes will be given an opportunity to flourish in Super League at half-back. Both have the chance to show they belong at this level. Only two of Castleford’s off-season recruits are over the age of 25: 27-year-old Nixon Putt and 26-year-old Sam Wood.
A much more youthful squad could surprise some in 2024, but you feel it will be the years ahead where they really shine.
It will be a new-look spine which is tasked with taking Catalans Dragons to a third Super League Grand Final this year, with the legendary Sam Tomkins, Mitchell Pearce and Tyrone May all having left for a variety of reasons in the winter. In their place comes a clutch of players tasked with building on recent success in France.
Arthur Mourgue finally gets the chance to become Catalans’ long-term answer at full-back, and there is an expectation he will deliver given how he has performed so far in his fledgling career. At half-back, Jayden Nikorima is one of the most exciting recruits anywhere in Super League, and he looked set to form a solid half-back pairing with Theo Fages: until the Dragons signed Jordan Abdull late in the piece to provide added competition. Can that quartet fire Catalans to more success?
There are varying degrees of expectation everywhere you look in Super League: but one club near the top of the charts for early pressure may well be Huddersfield Giants. It has been yet another busy off-season for Ian Watson, with a glut of new signings coming in through the door once again – taking his tally as head coach to well over 30.
After a disappointing season last year, you feel it may well be imperative that their squad settles and gels quickly. That’s not to say Watson would be under any pressure – he has the support of the Giants‘ hierarchy, underlined by the signing of Tom Burgess. But to banish the memories of 2023, a good start will certainly convince any doubters that Watson’s long-term vision can be a success.
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The disappointment of last season’s 10th-placed finish for Hull FC likely still lingers for a lot of Black and Whites. Of course, victory in the derby on Thursday night will consign that to the past quickly – but in and amongst the off-season recruitment at the club, one big difference this year could be the return of Jake Trueman.
Still undoubtedly one of the most talented half-backs in the competition, Trueman’s season was cruelly cut short last year with a ruptured Achilles. There is no rush on him to return but when he does, he will be like a new signing: one that FC missed so dearly in the latter stages of 2023. If he can get back on the field regularly, there is no doubting Hull are a stronger side. Despite all their big-name recruits, it is a fully-fit Trueman who could be most influential in their push for the play-offs.
On the other side of Hull, there are much loftier ambitions than a play-off push. Recent seasons have seen Hull Kingston Rovers progress from a side fighting at the bottom end of Super League to one who now quietly fancy themselves to challenge for silverware on all fronts.
Last year’s painful Challenge Cup final defeat to Leigh Leopards will have whetted the appetite even further – and with Willie Peters heading into his second season in charge, you wonder if some Robins fans now deem a trophy as the minimum expectation for a club with a mouthwatering array of talent at their disposal.
2023 will live long in the memory for everyone associated with Leigh Leopards. A year which began with a controversial rebrand some were determined to see fail ended with victory in the Challenge Cup final and a play-off push. But Leigh and Adrian Lam are no longer the underdogs: the perception many have of them has shifted, and that can sometimes be significant.
The weight of expectation now lies firmly on Leigh’s shoulders going into 2024. They are expected to compete and challenge at the right end of Super League this year again and with eye-catching signings like Matt Moylan, it’s not hard to see why.
Leeds Rhinos have made no secret of their desire for a much more successful season in 2024 – and that has been underlined by their recruitment in the off-season. The headline duo, of course, is Salford Red Devils pair Brodie Croft and Andy Ackers – with both part of a brand new spine that has undergone a major overhaul in recent months.
But the one thing which never changes at Headingley, despite all the turnover in personnel, is the heavy and significant expectations surrounding the Rhinos. One of the game’s heavyweight clubs, irrespective of their form in recent years, there is always a demand for the very best at Leeds, and that heavy expectation can bring with it heavy pressure. Can Rohan Smith and his players handle that and get back in the winner’s circle? If not, an ultra-demanding Leeds support base will certainly make their feelings heard.
How do you even approach a season where you know you could win the Grand Final and still be asked to quietly leave the competition at the end of it? That’s the question surrounding London Broncos going into 2024: but despite that grim feeling surrounding their future in the competition, there are still plenty of things to play for.
Mike Eccles has a group of young and hungry players eager to prove a point. With a large southern contingent in there, there’s a glorious opportunity for the Broncos to provide a great advertisement for the strength of the game in the capital by claiming a few scalps. Some of those players in his squad will also want to put themselves in the shop window for 2025 and beyond – and they have the chance to do so this season. What defines success as a group? It’s difficult to answer right now. But the players have plenty of individual motivation.
The pre-season predictions will have a familiar feel to them for Salford Red Devils supporters. Written off once again, deemed to be struggling at the lower end of the table – and if one club have made a mockery of the so-called experts in recent years, it is the Red Devils.
They have the tools to compete for a play-off place again despite some big off-season exits, but the one place you worry about Paul Rowley’s side is in the depth of their squad. Their squad numbers illustrated how thin on the ground they are for bodies and if they lose just one or two big names, there isn’t a great deal to call on beneath. That could be the difference between a successful season and a frustrating one for Salford this year.
There is only one story you can focus on at St Helens going into 2024: the ominous task of replacing the club’s greatest-ever player. There is a sizeable James Roby-shaped hole in Paul Wellens’ squad this year – but the one real positive is that they have signed one of the most impressive replacements they could have in the shape of Daryl Clark.
But it is not just in the hooking role where Saints may miss Roby. His leadership qualities were all-too obvious on so many occasions in recent years, and that responsibility will now have to be taken up by other senior players in the squad. Clark will give them a lift in attack, but Roby was a colossus in defence too. In truth, Roby can’t be replaced – but if they can show there is life after him, the Saints are one of the favourites to go on and win the title, you feel.
There are two ways to view Sam Burgess’ lack of experience as a head coach as he begins a new chapter of his career at Warrington Wolves. The obvious angle is that without any previous roles as a head coach, that could prove to be Warrington – and Burgess’ – undoing as they finally aim to win the league title that has escaped them for so long.
But without any scars or bruises to heal, Burgess has been able to bring a fresh approach into proceedings at the Halliwell Jones Stadium. The mood in camp is positive, and Burgess has made a real push in shifting the mentality among his players, underlined by their pre-season excursions at an army camp, instead of the usual warm-weather trip away. Burgess’ lack of coaching experience could be a hindrance: but it could turn out to be a help if they hit the ground running, too.
It’s one of the best problems a head coach can have: and Matt Peet certainly has one or two selection headaches to ponder this year after assembling one of the most eye-catching squads Super League has ever seen.
The backline perhaps goes a long way towards picking itself, but it is in the pack where Peet will have to leave a few people upset. Who is his starting hooker? Brad O’Neill has the number nine shirt on merit after a fine 2023, but Kruise Leeming returns to Super League ready to take his career to the next level. You could pick nine or ten frontline props that could all fit into Peet’s side, with a similar glut of talent in the back row.
Injuries will bite throughout the course of the year, that is simply the nature of the beast. But it’s hard to imagine Peet ever getting to a stage where he’s short on talent. It’s why many have Wigan Warriors down as favourites to go back-to-back.