Ahead of what's set to be the closest and most unpredictable Gallagher Premiership season to date, Gareth Jones advises where to to seek value and what to avoid.
The 2018/19 campaign turned out to be among the most surprising and competitive in the history of the competition.
Fourth to sixth place all finished on 56 points, with seventh on 55. Leicester Tigers, the most successful English side ever, fell into a relegation battle, just avoiding the drop, while Newcastle tumbled from a fourth-place finish the previous campaign to be bottom.
Due to what happened last term and the effects the World Cup will have on domestic teams this season is set to eclipse last in terms of unpredictability.
With that comes a difficult challenge to find value, but let's take a look at where we might find some - and at any potential honeytraps.
The best bet...
- Sale Sharks to finish in the top four at 2/1
The Sharks finished seventh last season after a terrible start, losing four of their opening five matches. But note this - they earned 55 points, just one fewer than Northampton in fourth. They've recruited excellently this summer, bringing in much needed depth, competition and steal. England backrower Mark Wilson and South African lock Lood de Jager ooze power and quality and are fine additions.
Further Springbok additions Coenie Oosthuizen, Akker van der Merwe and the Du Preez backrow twins will make sure the Sharks forwards have an even bigger bite.
In Faf de Klerk they have arguably the best scrum-half in the world, who could return to the club a World Cup winner, along with de Jager. In the backs, Simon Hammersley from Newcastle adds creativity and flair.
If they improve their away form they have a big chance of making the top four play-off spots. The last time they did that? 2006, and they went on to win the title too.
The best of the rest...
- Harlequins to finish in the top four at 5/2
The last time Harlequins won the Premiership was back in 2012. What's interesting about that is that that was also a World Cup season. Only Nick Easter was on England duty at the start of that campaign and this time around the Quins are only missing two England stars. It could prove to be a huge advantage.
Paul Gustard's first season in charge was meant to be one of building and transition, but so typical of the former Saracens and England coach he worked quicker than expected and the London outfit missed out on a play-off place by virtue of earning one less win than Northampton.
With a second pre-season under his belt, recruiting more of his type of players and having former England stars Danny Care, Chris Robshaw and Mike Brown in this squad from the start of the season, Quins should be even better this time around.
- Worcester to be relegated at 4/5
Worcester were excellent last season, winning nine games and finishing third from bottom, 15 points clear of the drop. However they've lost a lot of their long-serving quality like Ben Te'o and Josh Adams and it is hard to believe their new additions will plug the gap.
In their four cup matches so far the Warriors have lost three and, of more concern, have leaked over 20 points in two and over 30 in the others.
Meanwhile the returning London Irish have learned from Bristol's survival last season by signing up top quality and experience with the likes of Sean O'Brien, Paddy Jackson, Waisake Naholo.
This helps them form their strongest Premiership side in recent memory and strengthens belief that Worcester will struggle to avoid relegation.
- Top try scorers: Denny Solomona (12/1) and Chris Ashton (8/1)
Denny Solomana finished joint-top try scorer last term with 12 and that's despite Sale losing four of their opening five matches and failing to perform away from home.
With the Sharks expected to be even stronger this time around, and Simon Hammersley a more creative influence at full back to work with, Solomona will be disappointed not to be near the top of the charts again.
The same can be said for opposite winger Chris Ashton, who is still fuming at not making the England World Cup squad and is a man that loves to make a point.
These two guys will not be involved for England this season, and with potential top-scorer rivals like Jonny May, Stuart Hogg, Joe Cokanasiga and Liam Williams currently in Japan on World Cup duty and then set for two months of Six Nations in the new year, it means Solomona and Ashton should play a lot more Premiership minutes than most of their rivals.
What to avoid...
- Leicester to finish in the top four at 7/2
On the face of it, this price represents incredible value for England's most successful side and one that has only missed out on the play-off places twice in the professional era.
Yes they should be better this season - it would be hard not to be. But don't be fooled. Those two play-off misses have come in the last two years, highlighting their decline. After finishing second bottom last term their player recruitment and coaching changes have not been significant enough to provoke the required turnaround in fortunes.
To put it simply, when you look at their coaching and playing staff it just lacks the quality that most of the other 11 Premiership outfits posses and Leicester will struggle to get close to the play-offs.
A key reason for Leicester avoiding relegation last term was the excellent form of England fly-half George Ford and the finishing of wing Jonny May, who will miss a good proportion of the season due to the World Cup and Six Nations, and it is hard to see where Leicester's inspiration will come from without them.
I'd expect Leicester to be down towards the bottom again. If you really want to bet on the Tigers look at them to be relegated at 20/1.
- Bath to finish in the top four at 3/1
Bath were another side to finish on the same number of points as fourth placed Northampton, so 3/1 again looks a good price at face value.
But consider this: they have a new director of rugby in charge in club stalwart Stuart Hooper, who is cutting his teeth in the role and has a lot of learning to do as he comes up against much more experienced, wily coaches.
Added to this Bath are currently missing England stars Sam Underhill, Joe Cokanasiga, Jonathan Joseph, Ruaridh McConnochie and Anthony Watson. They will all be huge boosts when they return, but all are injury prone and after the exertions of the World Cup, followed by the Six Nations next year, you wonder how many appearances these guys will actually make in the famous, blue, black and white.
With the greatest respect to their additions, most are squad fillers at best rather than standout game changers.
They've underachieved since the game went professional in 2005, failing to ever win the league title, and I cannot see 2019/20 being any different.