New faces can take Saints top
Our Jordan Fiddes looks ahead to Super League XVIII and predicts St Helens will be the team to beat in 2013.
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"The chance to feature in the most successful Rugby League World Cup of all time at the end of the year is guaranteed to bring out the best in every Super League player."
That's the view of Super League Chief Executive Nigel Wood ahead of the 2013 season - and who are we to argue?
Accoridng to some, last year's Super League didn't live up to the pre-season hype we have come to expect from our great sport.
In saying that, we did see record attendances and increased viewing figures in 2012, but on the pitch it didn't quite match up to the previous year.
2013, on the other hand, has all the attributes to be one of the most important, exciting and exhilarating seasons of all time and here's why ...
The most talked about team of 2012 begin with a "fresh start" for Super League XVIII and they have already made great strides since going into administration last season.
The Bulls have managed to retain most of their squad from last year, including highly-rated youngster John Bateman and England Knight Luke Gale, and also add a few, much needed, new faces.
Jamie Foster comes in on the wing and Matty Blythe from Warrington is likely to play just inside him at centre.
Blythe managed 23 offloads in just 17 games last season so I expect those two outside backs to make a good partnership out wide for the Odsal club.
Ben Jefferies will be a big loss to the Bulls but, if the majority of the squad can remain unscathed, they should be able to cope in the half-backs without him.
The big question for Bradford will be if their pack can match the rest of Super League.
They have replaced Craig Kopczak and Olivier Elima with Adam Sidlow from Salford but with a few injuries they look very light in the forwards.
2012 finish: 9th
Predicted 2013 finish: 7th
Odds to win Grand Final: 100/1
One to watch: John Bateman
After narrowly avoiding the wooden spoon by points difference last season, the Tigers will be looking to make huge improvements in 2013.
Anyone visiting The Probiz Coliseum this season will see a new-look Castleford side and the locals have high hopes for advances on the field.
Losing stalwarts such as Danny Orr, Steve Snitch and Ryan Hudson could prove costly but the Tigers have been very active in the transfer market.
Michael Shenton returns for a second stint to captain the club and they've also recruited fellow centre, and former New Zealander, Jake Webster from Hull KR.
They've managed to hang onto former Man of Steel Rangi Chase who will once more need to be on top form all season if Castleford are to progress.
Chase was fourth on the list for try assists last year and with fresh backs outside him, this could prove clinical if it continues.
2012 finish: 13th
Predicted 2013 finish: 12th
Odds to win Grand Final: 150/1
One to watch: Justin Carney - Signed from Sydney Roosters
After saying goodbye to coach Trent Robinson, the Dragons have appointed Frenchman Laurent Frayssinous.
Relatively unknown to Super League, he has some big boots to fill after Catalans experienced one of their most successful seasons to date in 2012.
The recruitment of ex-Great Britain coach David Waite, however, will prove massive for the Dragons.
The Australian was very popular amongst the England players when he coached them back in 2001 and will be looking to have a similar effect on his Catalans players as he comes in as their attacking coach.
Clint Greenshields leaves the 2012 squad after a fantastic stint in the south of France but he is replaced with ex-Leeds Rhino and fan-favourite Brent Webb at full-back.
They have also re-signed Olivier Elima from the Bulls to replace the retiring David Ferriol.
Catalans have again managed to secure the services of Steve Menzies for yet another year and at the age of 38, there's no counting on this one being his last.
The old-stager offloaded more times than any other Catalan forward last year so it's no wonder they were keen for him to sign for another term.
The Dragons can now boast security and stability in their squad for the first time and I expect them to have a similarly successful year in 2013.
2012 finish: 4th
Predicted 2013 finish: 6th
Odds to win Grand Final: 20/1
One to watch: Scott Dureau
Consistency will be crucial for the Giants in 2013 if they are to improve on last season.
After a great start to the campaign, the men from Fartown lost 12 of their last 15 games and only just scraped into the play-offs.
The Giants parted ways with coach Nathan Brown mid-way through the season an he was replaced with current boss Paul Anderson.
Huddersfield only won three games under Anderson's coaching last year so lots of improvement will be needed if they are to replicate their early 2012 form.
A lot will also depend on how the void left by Kevin Brown is filled as the former captain heads over the Pennines to Widnes.
In Danny Brough they have one of the brightest stars of the modern game, but in 2012 he struggled toward the end like most of his teammates did.
With more kicks in general play than anyone else in Super League last term, Brough will be counting on his teammates to make the most of the good field positions he creates.
The return of Shaun Lunt is a much needed boost to the squad and he will certainly add some extra enthusiasm fresh from winning a Grand Final winners ring with the Rhinos.
Lunt enjoyed a good spell with the Champions scoring nine tries in just 11 starts in all competitions.
However, there hasn't been much movement from the Giants in the transfer market so I could see a similarly inconsistent year for the Yorkshire men.
2012 finish: 7th
Predicted 2013 finish: 8th
Odds to win Grand Final: 33/1
One to watch: Shaun Lunt
Big things are expected from the Black and Whites in 2013 after spending big in the transfer market.
They beat the majority of Super League to the signing of England international Gareth Ellis from Australian club West Tigers.
He'll be the biggest name returning to Super League this year and a lot of weight will be on his shoulders to perform.
Ellis was named 'West Tigers Player of the Year' three years in a row from 2008 so this is a major coup for the Airlie Birds.
Also joining up with the Black and Whites this year is Daniel Holdsworth from the Salford City Reds.
He was seventh on the list for try-assists in 2012 and with forwards such as Ellis running behind him, Super League XVIII is set to be even more successful for the half-back.
Shannon McDonnell comes in from local rivals Hull KR adding further flair and creativity to an already impressive squad.
With the exciting acquisitions to their squad, there will be a lot of pressure on the Airlie Birds and I think it will be a year too soon for the new recruits to push for a Grand Final spot in 2013.
2012 finish: 6th
Predicted 2013 finish: 5th
Odds to win Grand Final: 14/1
One to watch: Gareth Ellis
Things haven't been too much quieter at the newly-named MS3 Craven Park Stadium in the off-season either.
Although they may not have made the marquee signings of their city neighbours, they have recruited eight new faces for 2013.
Blake Green has moved to Wigan and he is replaced at number six by Travis Burns.
The controversial full-back/stand-off had his NRL season cut short due to a 12 game ban, but coach Craig Sandercock knows him well having previously worked with him at Manly Sea Eagles.
The Robins have also recruited highly-rated youngster Greg Eden from the Huddersfield Giants on a three-year deal.
The 22-year old had an impressive season with the Giants which resulted in a call-up to the England Knights squad and he takes the No 1 shirt vacated by Shannon McDonnell.
It's very much an English line-up at Rovers and the astute signings have the potential to improve the Robins' 10th place finish last year.
2012 finish: 10th
Predicted 2013 finish: 9th
Odds to win Grand Final: 66/1
One to watch: Greg Eden
To win a Grand Final from fifth place is some mean feat, but to do it twice is astonishing.
To do it three times would be remarkable but, with the acquisitions made by other clubs in the off season, I can't see it being repeated.
But that doesn't mean they won't have a good season though.
The Rhinos haven't been quiet in bringing new faces and I predict a much more consistent season for them this time out, pushing them up the league ladder above fifth place.
Aussie Mitch Atchurch joins from Penrith Panthers as a relative unknown, as well as proven Super League asset Joel Moon from the Salford City Reds.
Moon was the sixth highest off loader in 2012 and a likely pairing with Ryan Hall on the wing, the Rhinos' left side could be the most potent in Super League.
The members of the 2012 Grand Final winning squad will also benefit from the new signings and another off-season together.
2012 Young Player of the Year Zak Hardaker will move to full-back permanently and Carl Ablett will be able to enjoy time in his preferred position in the pack with the introduction of Joel Moon at centre.
With these rotations and further impact out wide for the Rhinos, I can see them improving on last year's fifth place finish.
2012 finish: 5th
Predicted 2013 finish: 3rd
Odds to win Grand Final: 4/1
One to watch: Zak Hardaker
The permanent appointment of Tony Rea as head coach of the Broncos could prove instrumental in 2013.
The London club saw a huge improvement in results and performances when he took over from Rob Powell in July 2012, as they won four of their last five league games.
Although they may have been quiet in the transfer market, they still have a number of players who underperformed in the early stages of last season in their ranks.
If Craig Gower can find the form he showed early in his career, then he has the potential to become one of Super League's top performers and with another year now under his belt, I wouldn't bet against it.
Gower scored 233 points in 238 games for Penrith Panthers in the NRL before his move to Rugby Union so another year of Super League experience may reignite his illustrious RL career.
Keiran Dixon was one positive to come out of an otherwise disappointing season for the Broncos.
The winger scored an impressive 12 tries last year and will be another youngster looking to improve in 2013.
2012 finish: 12th
Predicted 2013 finish: 13th
Odds to win Grand Final: 250/1
One to watch: Craig Gower
Salford City Reds
This will seem like the longest year in history for the famous Salford City Reds.
With administrators knocking at the door and a number of their high profile players having already left the City of Salford Stadium, things look pretty bleak already for them in 2013.
New owners could be on the horizon but it may be too late to bring in new faces before the start of Super League.
Full-back Luke Patton announced his retirement back in November and, having already lost Matty Smith to Wigan, the club look bereft of playmakers for the coming season.
Daniel Holdsworth to Hull FC and Joel Moon to Leeds could prove costly and with seemingly no money to replace them, I don't hold out much hope for them.
The form of Jodie Broughton last time out was a silver lining and they will be hoping he can build on his 15 tries going into the new season.
2012 finish: 11th
Predicted 2013 finish: 14th
Odds to win Grand Final: 400/1
One to watch: Jodie Broughton
I'm predicting top spot for St Helens for the first time since 2008.
At times last season Saints looked unbeatable, most notably against the pink-haired Rhinos and Warrington in the play-offs.
If they can maintain that type of form throughout the season, I could see 2013 being a very successful year for them.
Jordan Turner comes in from Hull FC to replace Michael Shenton, adding a little more creativity and pace out wide.
Making a massive 2,119 metres last year, it showed him to be one of the best attacking centres in the competition.
The star-signing from Hull FC, however, is loose-forward or second-row Willie Manu.
The Tongan international was new coach Nathan Brown's first signing and he beat off stiff competition from elsewhere to land him.
His 12 tries in 2012 made him the top-scoring second row in the whole of Super League.
Lance Hohaia and Anthony Laffranchi have had another year of Super League experience which will add to the impressive looking Saints for 2013.
Whether they will go all the way to the Grand Final is another matter but, for now, I see the Saints as the team to beat in 2013.
2012 finish: 3rd
Predicted 2013 finish: 1st
Odds to win Grand Final: 11/4
One to watch: Lance Hohaia
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats
Wakefield were the surprise package in 2012, eventually sneaking into the play-offs - but I don't think they'll be taken as lightly in Super League XVIII.
They have managed to hang onto loan signings Paul Sykes and Richie Mathers and that stability is a good sign for the Wildcats.
However, being an unknown quantity last year was Wakefield's strength, but this year the clubs around them know what to expect.
They have recruited ex-State of Origin forward Justin Poore for 2013 and he will add an extra bit of weight into the Wakefield pack.
The prop started his career in England with a bang, literally, getting sent off 20 minutes into his debut for punching in the friendly against Leeds.
Tim Smith was also instrumental in Wakefield's success last year.
The former Parramatta, Wigan and Cronulla stand-off was second to only Michael Dobson in the try-assists table last season, with a massive 34.
If Smith continues his 2012 form, then the Wildcats will be hard to beat but they will need to make sure last year's narrow victories are a bit more comfortable if they are to make the play-offs again in 2013.
2012 finish: 8th
Predicted 2013 finish: 10th
Odds to win Grand Final: 150/1
One to watch: Tim Smith
The Wolves were the nearly men in 2012 as they finished one point behind top side Wigan in the league and narrowly lost to Leeds in the Grand Final.
As Tony Smith mentioned after the game at Old Trafford, losing a Grand Final is motivation for winning future ones and this year could be that chance.
They have retained much of the same squad from 2012 and experience will be key for Warrington this year.
There will be a lot of interest in the players reaching the twilight of their careers - Lee Briers, Adrian Morley and Brett Hodgson to name a few - but it could be the younger ones who prove successful for the Wolves.
Richie Myler was outstanding in the latter stages of the season and took that form into the Tri-Nations for England.
At only 23, Myler still has a lot to offer the Super League and is more than capable to take the reins from Lee Briers if necessary.
Another youngster hoping to improve on last year is Stefan Ratchford.
The former Salford man scored 14 tries in just 20 games in 2012 and I wouldn't be surprised if he is a key figure in the Warrington side of 2013.
They have experienced success in the Challenge Cup in recent years so they certainly know how to win the big games and this year they could easily transfer their cup success into Super League.
2012 finish: 2nd
Predicted 2013 finish: 2nd
Odds to win Grand Final: 5/2f
One to watch: Richie Myler
Picking up the wooden spoon was widely anticipated for the Super League new-boys in 2012 but expectations are much higher in Super League XVIII.
There is a good chance that Salford will finish bottom due to their off-field problems, but the Vikings look a much more dominant force regardless for an even higher finish in 2013.
It may not be enough for a play-off spot but they will certainly hope to climb the Super League ladder.
Kevin Brown is the big-name signing for the year ahead and he will add some much-needed guidance and nous to the team.
Brown scored 157 points in 135 appearances for Huddersfield which also included 39 tries.
The Vikings struggled to gain any momentum in their first season back in Super League so Brown might be the man to lead them in 2013.
With a lot of new faces in 2012, they have now had time to gel and I can see the Stobart Stadium returning to the fortress it once was.
2012 finish: 14th
Predicted 2013 finish: 11th
Odds to win Grand Final: 350/1
One to watch: Kevin Brown
Wigan have lost a few key members of their squad going into 2013 so a lot will rest on the shoulders of the new signings.
Blake Green comes in as a straight swap for Brett Finch and Matty Smith gets the No 7 jersey vacated by Thomas Leuluai.
Finch and Leuluai were the top two attacking kickers for the Warriors in 2012 so the new half-backs have some big shoes to fill.
Smith began to show his credentials at the back end of last season and he made an impressive 15 tactical kicks in just seven games.
A lot of faith has also been placed on the Wigan youngsters including Jack Hughes who moves up the squad list to No 4, in place of George Carmont, after an impressive 2012 season.
Hughes is highly rated at the DW Stadium and why not - he made nearly 1,000 metres with ball in hand in his first full season.
As always, Sam Tomkins will be the main man for Wigan but he may be under even more pressure this year due to the departures.
Although Wigan will once again be a tough team to beat, I think the progress made by other clubs in the off-season may push them down the standings.
However, if their new half-backs can click from the off then I might be eating my words!
2012 finish: 1st
Predicted 2013 finish: 4th
Odds to win Grand Final: 10/3
One to watch: Jack Hughes