The 2019 Super League season starts January 31st, and is set to be the most competitive year in European rugby league in recent years.
There have been impressive signings throughout the league, with marquee players joining from the NRL. Therefore, Last Word on Rugby decided to look at how the season could pan out.
Team-by-team analysis of each side, looking at the key transfers, retirements and factors that might influence the 2019 season. Could we see the first new name on the Super League trophy since 2004?
Justin Holbrook’s men were the outstanding side during the regular season, finishing 10 points ahead of nearest challengers Wigan, who they finished 6 points ahead of Wigan, Huddersfield finished 10 points outside the top 4; Wakefield finished 5th. ‘Man of Steel’ Ben Barba scored 28 tries but, St Helens had only the League Leaders Shield to show. A memory of their semi-final defeat to Warrington will be motivation enough, as Saints look to end a five-year wait for a Grand Final triumph.
Barba has left for North Queensland Cowboys but Holbrook will hope to offset this with several NRL imports. These include Lachlan Coote (Cowboys), Kevin Naiqama (West Tigers) and Joseph Paulo (Cronulla). And with the return of prop Alex Walmsley from injury, Saints look well placed to end their Old Trafford jinx.
St Helens boss Justin Holbrook says he can't wait to see powerhouse prop Alex Walmsley finally return to the field in 2019, after sitting out almost the entirety of last year with a neck injury. Read more: https://t.co/ncG5Y5I5qZ pic.twitter.com/whA57f6BH6
— RL News (@RLNewsCoUk) January 17, 2019
Yet again, the Wire came desperately close to the landing the trophy that has eluded them for so long; losing 12-4 to Wigan at Old Trafford in 2018. Acknowledging this, they look to be challengers again in 2019 with smart business decisions headlined by key signing half back Blake Austin (Canberra Raiders).
Joining him at Warrington, is Jake Mamo (Huddersfield) and Lama Tasi (Salford) providing Super League experience. Conversely, Tyrone Roberts has returned to the NRL after his ill-fated spell in England – fans will be more confident in their playmakers, with Austin hoped to have a more telling impact.
This all points to it perhaps finally being Warrington’s year.
This could finally be the season of the Dragons! One where they fulfill their potential in the Super League, and force their way into the top five come the end of the season.
Coming off their historic Challenge Cup triumph, the Perpignan side has recruited impressively, most notably with Sam Tomkins (Wigan). Their formidable pack has also been bolstered by the signing of 22-year-old back-rower Matt Whitley (Widnes).
Aside from Josh Drinkwater leaving (Hull KR), Steve McNamara has kept his side together, adding halfback Matty Smith (St Helens). Their home form will keep them in contention and experienced winners like Tomkins and Smith could prove invaluable.
The 2017 champions had trouble again defending their title, ending up in the bottom four for the second time in three years. Legendary coach Brian McDermott was sacked following a run of seven consecutive losses, with club legend Kevin Sinfield his replacement ‘only just’ keeping the Rhinos up.
Former player Dave Furner has been installed as the 2019 coach, sanctioning marquee signings Konrad Hurrell (Gold Coast Titans) and Trent Merrin (Penrith Panthers). Tui Lolohea (West Tigers) has also swapped the NRL for Super League, in a group of signings that may just help the Rhinos start the new season on a positive note.
Captain Kallum Watkins [returning from an ACL injury] provides further encouragement. However, the loss of try-scoring machine Ryan Hall (Sydney Roosters) leaves an opening on the left wing, that Furner must fill with a quality outside back.
The current Betfred Super League champions, and while a truth in all sporting leagues – it will provide the Cherry and Whites with a strong base to begin with.
— Betfred Super League (@SuperLeague) October 13, 2018
It is all change at Wigan with coach Shaun Wane, John Bateman (Canberra Raiders) and Sam Tomkins (Catalans Dragons) bowing out with a Grand Final triumph.
Despite being the reigning champions, the departures of the aforementioned trio could prove pivotal in 2019. Adrian Lam is tasked with following the considerable success of Wane but will have the services of Zak Hardaker as well as their famed academy.
Simon Woolford will begin his first full season as Huddersfield coach, confident of being in the end of season shake-up for the first time in four years. They made a late charge for the top four only, miss out by six points to ‘cracking the big time’.
Eye-catching signings including winger Akulia Uate (Manly Sea Eagles) has Giants fans optimistic.
Reiss Butterworth (Bradford Bulls) provides squad depth. Notable outgoings include talisman halfback Danny Brough (Wakefield) and Australian fullback Jake Mamo (Warrington). With these departures in mind, the capture of the versatile Tom Holmes could prove a shrewd piece of business.
Chris Chester will hope his side can finally force their way into the play-off picture, after a respectable 7th place finish in 2018.
Making some good signings in the off-season; including Danny Brough (Huddersfield), Craig Kopczak (Salford), and George King (Warrington), they will also have Tom Johnstone back fully fit – who still managed 23 tries in an injury-hit 2018 campaign.
ICYMI | No it wasn’t a dream, Danny Brough has signed a two year deal at Trinity pic.twitter.com/Jgs9FhwMka
— Wakefield Trinity (@WTrinityRL) November 4, 2018
The Tigers will be looking to finally triumph at Old Trafford, after losing in the semi-final to Wigan. They will have to cope yet again without star halfback Luke Gale, who will miss the entirety of the season, suffering an Achilles injury.
Castleford will hope Jake Trueman can step up in his absence as he did in 2018. The only signing so far for Cas is Jordan Rankin (Huddersfield) with Joe Wardle going in the opposite direction. A lack of signings could spell a difficult season ahead.
Expectations are higher on the other side of Hull, where the Robins will be looking to build on survival in 2018 and push for the top eight.
Head coach Tim Sheen’s men have made some good signings with centre Kane Linnett (North Queensland Cowboys) and halfback Josh Drinkwater (Catalans). They also raided Leeds for Mitch Garbutt and Jimmy Keinhorst. There have been 10 departures from Craven Park but squad depth and experience should be enough for survival.
Last season ended terribly for Hull, with 11 straight defeats including at 72-10 humbling at Warrington, and an 80-0 thrashing at Wakefield. Owner Adam Pearson launched a stinging attack on the players after the Warrington defeat. His promise to bring in players has seen Matty Dawson-Jones (Leigh) and Jordan Thompson (Leeds) join among others. However, Jordan Abdull is the only player to have left the KCOM. T
His loss means fans of the Black and Whites could be in for a tough season with the majority of the underperforming squad retained.
Salford Red Devils
The Red Devil’s struggled in 2018, finishing 11th after injuries and a lack of squad depth. However, the late season signings of halfback Jackson Hastings and hooker Joey Lussick (both Manly Sea Eagles) proved inspired and saw them survive. Hastings signed a one-year deal extension in the off season, and Ken Sio (Newcastle Knights) could prove important.
— Super League Clubs (@SLClubs) October 3, 2018
Despite this, a lack of depth could be their undoing although they should have enough to survive.
London had to cope with head coach Andrew Henderson leaving at the end of 2017 for Warrington. However, they appointed Danny Ward and he masterminded an outstanding campaign. It culminated in promotion when they won the Million Pound Game away against pre-season favourites, the Toronto Wolfpack.
Back in Super League for the first time since 2014, they are favourites for an instant return to the second tier. The reasoning for that prediction is that the capital side ‘doesn’t seem to have enough quality or depth’ to prove everyone wrong. Promotion might have been easier, then actually staying up in the highly competitive Betfred Super League [Tier One].
With this, Last Word on Rugby has covered all the combatants for the 2019 Super League season. This may include the champion, as well as the challenges – which one prevails will only be known at the conclusion of the regular season; in September after 29 grueling rounds of rugby league.
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