Wolves and Saints to dominate
Super League, Challenge Cup and World Club Challenge-winning coach Ian Millward previews the new season.
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I've seen the Wolves at close-quarters during their pre-season stint in Australia and was very struck my the number of young faces looking to break through into the side.
A lot of experience has left but these kids have been waiting in the wings and are ready to step in - it's just a question of making sure they're not all exposed at the same time.
- 1pt Jamie Peacock to win Man Of Steel at 25/1 (General) - Will lift Leeds with his mere presence and a huge player if retaining last year's form
- 1pt Luke Walsh to win Man Of Steel at 20/1 (Paddy Power) - Expected to make a huge impact at St Helens
- 2pts Ryan Hall to be top tryscorer at 7/1 (Ladbrokes) - Gets fantastic service from Moon and a deadly finisher
- 4pts St Helens to beat Wigan in season match bet at 5/4 (Betfred) - Wigan will regress without Sam Tomkins and St Helens look sure to improve
- 4pts Hull KR to beat Hull FC in season match bet at 11/8 (William Hill) - I'm not convinced Hull FC have the mix right and Hull KR look more solid
They have the best back row in the competition in Trent Waterhouse, Ben Westwood and Ben Harrison and all three have huge roles to play in 2014.
Matthew Russell is an interesting signing at full-back. he's more of a runner than a passer, but Warrington do create space and he's the type to exploit that.
Stefan Ratchford has the ability to become the next Sam Tomkins, he is one of the most naturally talented players I've seen. He will play a lot at stand-off but can switch to full-back as the Wolves look to mix it up.
It's the same story with every side but if Warrington can keep their senior players on the field at the right time of the season they look primed to have a huge 2014.
2 St Helens
Saints are ready to win a trophy now, simple as that. Just look at the depth in their squad now, particularly the forwards. Richard Beaumont and Kyle Amor add to their punch up front and Mose Masoe is potentially a huge signing. Fans need to be patient with him - he'll take time to settle - but he reminds me very much of a young Ali Lauitiiti when he started out on his glittering career at Leeds. He has all the same attributes, strong, powerful, good with the ball in hand and a real crowd pleaser.
This St Helens pack will be relentless in coming forward at you and the key to them is they've finally found a half-back to replace Sean Long in Luke Walsh.
He's a good organiser, a talker and communicator with an outstanding kicking game.
The forwards will lay the platform for Walsh to shine and if everyone stays fit I see St Helens finishing in the top two and having every change of going on to Grand Final glory.
The Rhinos have the best three wingers in the competition in Ryan Hall, Ben Jones-Bishop and now Tom Briscoe and all across the back-line they are bursting with pace and creativity. Expect plenty of tries.
I'm also excited by the addition of Paul Aiton at hooker. He brings a new dimension around the ruck area and will also add toughness to their defence. Typically at Leeds there's a host of emerging, homegrown talent coming through to keep the senior players on their toes.
For me the Rhinos have the the best backs in the competition and if the forwards can stand up to the challenge week in week out, there's no reason why they'll not be in the top three and challenging for trophies.
Will the Giants pick up silverware this season? I just have doubts over whether their one, six and seven can work together consistently at a high enough level.
The signing of Chris Bailey was a very good move, he brings a good passing game to the edges of their game, and the inclusion of Antonio Kafusi gives them added size but the question we all want to know is can the Giants to the next level?
They have a really good squad and a very good coaching team so they'll be challenging but I just have a nagging feeling they could come up short in the big games.
I know some people won't like this but I thought Wigan overachieved last season, winning two trophies, it was a remarkable achievement by their coaches and players.
But every year they have to cope with losing key players. This time its Sam Tomkins, the best player in Super League. They've moved to fill the void by signing Matt Bowen, someone I worked with at North Queensland. He's one of the most skilful players I've ever seen but isn't as effective in wet conditions. I just wonder whether he has the petrol left in the tank to replace Tomkins?
Harrison Hansen has gone to Salford and he was a total professional while Lee Mossop was a major contributor to their go-forward. Pat Richards has gone too and as well as his goal kicking, he offered great stability to their defence on the edge.
John Bateman is an outstanding signing and will thrive at Wigan but the continual drainage of good players over the last three years has to catch up with them at some stage. If Shaun Wane wins a trophy this year it will be a magnificent achievement.
6 Catalan I think they're a very strong tip to finish in the six. A few things went against them last season, notably losing Brent Webb, Scott Druro and Louie Anderson for large chunks of the season. I know it's an old cliche but they'll be like three new signings this term.
New centre signing Ben Pomerov is very similar in style to Leon Pryce, a tall and lanky player. He likes to play on the right hand side and will be a threat to opponents and throw in the emergence of young full-back Morgan Escar and you have a side who will score points.
I like the inclusion of Jeff Lima, a total professional who will be well suited by their style of play and if Catalan can handle injuries and the constant traveling, they should be challenging on all fronts.
7 Hull KR
Life after Michael Dobson could be hard for Rovers, especially as their two halves, Travis Burns and Kris Keating, aren't really organisers. Keating is a tough, uncompromising and very competitive half but one without Dobson's kicking game so you may see a different style of play from Hull KR this term.
One thing they do have is plenty of size and depth in the forwards. Michael Weyman and Neville Costigan bring great experience to the side and Jonathan Walker and Justin Poore will add to their already outstanding go-forward.
This formidable pack will help the new half-back partnership settle down and Rovers will be looking for a consistent year from Greg Eden. There's no better player when it comes to sniffing out scoring opportunities and he could be sort to really thrive behind this Rovers juggernaut.
The key for Salford is to get early wins under their belt and gain confidence. They've clearly been on a huge recruitment drive and in Rangi Chase and Tim Smith have a half-back partnership to rival any in the competition. Chase will create tries for fun when on-song and Smith has an outstanding kicking game.
Junior Sa'u is a new centre who is very strong and powerful and will be suited to playing in Super League while Steve Rapira will be one of their best signings in the forwards. He's a second-rower who has had knee problems but is a very strong player and capable of huge hits in defence.
Salford, not surprisingly, have great depth around their squad and will have a good season if they start well and Chase and Smith stay fit.
This Hull team will win their share at home but despite more signings, I'm not convinced they've sorted the problems in their side.
It's hard for a half-back to blend in during their first year, especially when they're young and playing overseas, so Jacob Miller will be looking for a big second season with the club. Jordan Rankin is out to establish himself at stand-off.
I'm just not convinced the mix is right. I think Hull may struggle on the road a little this term and they very much need Ben Crooks to continue his development as their main attacking threat. Danny Houghton at hooker is the heartbeat of the team, they need him to stay injury free.
The key for the Bulls is keeping the spine of their team fit. Brett Kearney, Jarrod Sammut, Luke Gale and Matt Diskin will ensure they are competitive in most games, providing they are out on the field.
Given their financial issues it isn't surprising to see Bradford lacking a little in depth and despite recruiting Gareth Carvell and Dale Ferguson they're a tad short of size in the pack - and speed in the centres.
However if one, six, seven and nine stay fit they should stay safely away from the bottom two and the spectre of relegation.
I really like the way Widnes recruit with one marquee signing a year. First it was Kevin Brown, then Gareth Hock and now Danny Tickle. That said I feel they overachieved a little last year and may find it tougher this time around.
They will continue to be very hard to beat on their own patch, in part because opposition players are wary of the playing surface, but on the road they have lacked intensity and confidence.
I can't see them finishing in the top eight this time around and Denis Betts will be hoping to avoid too many injuries, a bad run in that department could just leave them looking over their shoulders.
The big question everyone will be asking is how can Castleford cope with life without Rangi Chase? He has controlled their attack for several years now and has been their dominant player. He regularly featured in the top three try assists and clean breaks in the competition and leaves a big hole.
Of their new halves Luke Dorn is a good attacking player but suspect defensively and Brett Seymour needs to bounce back after a few injury ravaged years. Mark Sneyd has a good kicking game and could have a big role to play.
Daryl Powell has strengthened the overall depth of his squad but I just question the mobility of their front row. The Tigers' X factor has to come from hooker Daryl Clark who is their best player and main attacking threat.
I think Richard Agar is one of the best coaches in Super League but he faces on heck of a challenge. Wakefield had to clear out most of their senior players because of financial problems - and it's the wrong time to be doing that.
Some very good judges speak highly of their new half back Pita Godinet but as I write this he's still not over in England and playmakers need plenty of time to settle in.
The Wildcats will rely a great deal on Dean Collis creating tries for them down the right centre and it's vital he stays fit, but he has a history of hamstring problems. I just wonder whether a few of the other established stars can step up again in a huge year for the club.
I just can't see how London won't run last. They have no depth or quality to their squad and have had no time to prepare for the new season. It's embarrassing that they're still being asked to throw a squad together with the first games looming large.
Conclusion: A fascinating season ahead in which I take Warrington and St Helens to be the two challenging for Grand Final glory at the end of the campaign. Leeds will be a major force again and can be big players in the Challenge Cup.
For Man On The Steel award I'm with the oldest and newest players in Super League. Jamie Peacock is a total professional and the one player every coach in the game knows lifts a side by his mere presence. He was a colossus for Leeds last year and if in the same form this year has to be recognised by his peers.
I've already mentioned the impact I'm expecting Luke Walsh to have at
St Helens and if he does he'll be in the running for all the individual awards.
For top try scorer I can't look any further than Ryan Hall. I don't think Josh Charnley will get as many opportunities this term and Hall is outside the outstanding Joel Moon at Leeds. He's a very creative player.
As for season match bets - I like the look of St Helens in against Wigan and Hull KR to garner more points than their city rivals Hull.