2012 Stobart Super League Preview
The Stobart Super League begins again this Friday and all the teams will be looking to start off well on the long journey to the Grand Final in October. Sports Gazette assesses this weekend’s matches and looks at the chances of the sides in this year’s competition.
Sports Gazette’s Predicted 2012 Table:
1st Warrington Wolves
2nd Leeds Rhinos
3rd St. Helens
4th Wigan Warriors
5th Catalan Dragons
6th Hull FC
7th Huddersfield Giants
8th London Broncos
9th Bradford Bulls
10th Castleford Tigers
11th Hull Kingston Rovers
12th Wakefield Trinity Wildcats
13th Salford City Reds
14th Widnes Vikings
Leeds Rhinos (Grand Final Winners) vs Hull Kingston Rovers (8th): Friday 8pm
(2011 positions in Brackets)
The defending Champions have been quiet over the winter but possess some of the greatest talents in the Super League. Rob Burrow’s wonder-try in the Grand Final, dubbed ‘The Greatest Grand Final Try’ showed how much creative talent that the Rhinos have. Couple this with a bruising forward pack which allows the talents of Burrow, Danny McGuire and Ryan Hall the freedom to play on the front foot, Leeds once again look a force this season.
New Hull boss Craig Sandercock could not ask for more of a baptism of fire. He has lost experience in players like Clint Newton, Mick Vella and Shaun Briscoe and he will also be without playmaker Blake Green for much of the early season after a blood clot was found in his leg. Hull will do very well to match their 8th placed finish from last year and they could not ask for a harder start.
Match Forecast: It is impossible to look past Leeds for this game which will be skipper Kevin Sinfield’s 400th game for club and country. The Rhinos will have far too much for Craig Sandercock’s men and the visitors would do well to escape back across the Pennines without too much damage to their point’s difference.
Best Bet: This fixture has seen Leeds win 42-8 and 42-12 over the past 2 seasons so a Leeds win by 31-40 points (10/1 Paddy Power) looks a good option.
Widnes Vikings (5th in Championship) vs Wakefield Trinity Wildcats (13th): Friday 8pm Live on Sky Sports 1
Widnes who were granted a Super League license last season have assembled an entirely new squad. Experience such as Willie Isa, Shaun Briscoe and Jon Clarke will help the team adjust to life amongst the elite. Points scoring may be an issue, top scorer last season Steve Tyrer has left for Halifax and the new back line will not give opposition defences nightmares. This team is very much a blend of youngsters finding their way in the game and players looking to prolong their twilight years in the Super League.
Yet for all Widnes’s struggles this season, they couldn’t ask for a more favourable opening night game. If the Celtic Crusaders hadn’t withdrawn their application Wakefield would, in all likelihood, would have lost their license. 18 new faces show the frantic efforts on the part of everybody at Belle Vue to try to improve on last year’s finish. On paper the Wildcats have made some promising signings. Ali Lauitiiti will bring power, experience and more importantly a winning mentality to the club, young Kiwi Stand Off Isaac John could prove to be a very shrewd signing and new club captain Steve Southern brings solid NRL experience.
Match Forecast: This game is tough to call. Both sides are relatively unknown due to their high turnover of players and both will be desperate to get an early win on the board, in what will be a long season for the pair. Ultimately though, home advantage should just swing it the way of the Vikings.
Best Bet: A half time/ full time bet on Wakefield/ Widnes (7/1 Ladbrokes) could be on the cards. Wakefield don’t win many games and Widnes can use home support to spur them on in the second half.
London Broncos (12th) vs St Helens (3rd): Saturday 3pm
Will a change of name mean a change of fortune for the Super League’s only southern based club? The signs are looking good so far. Boss Rob Powell is assembling a good squad down at the Stoop. A host of quality players from the Southern hemisphere such as union convert Craig Gower, Australian international Antonio Kaufusi and 2011 NRL Grand Final winner Shane Rodney have all become Broncos. As the Harlequins, 2011 started well but things quickly went sour this 2012 crop seem to be made of sterner stuff and the playoffs are definitely in the Broncos sights.
St Helens will still be smarting from the Grand Final loss and begin the 2012 season without talismanic forward James Graham who has moved to the Canterbury Bulldogs leaving a massive hole up front. Kyle Eastmond has switched codes to join Bath and Leon Pryce has swapped Merseyside for Perpignan. These losses have been offset by the signing of New Zealand’s mercurial stand-off Lance Hohaia who joins a Saints back line filled with international quality. Saints will once again be there or there abouts this season spurred on in no small part by desire to avenge last year’s disappointment.
Match Forecast: The London Broncos will be a much tougher proposition in 2012 but they are not at the level of the Saints yet. Saints should have enough to see off the Broncos.
Best Bet: Saints to win by 11-15 points (5/1 Paddy Power) in what promises to be a high scoring game.
Salford City Reds (11th) vs Castleford Tigers (9th): Saturday 6pm Live on Sky Sports 1
Salford begin life in their new stadium looking to improve upon their 11th placed finish last year. New coach Phil Veivers will have to accomplish this task without two of last year’s lynchpins. Promising young England international Stefan Ratchford and Ray Cashmere have both jumped ship over the winter and replacements Shannan McPherson and Joel Moon will be under pressure to perform straight away. Ultimately it looks like being a tough first season for Veivers and his men but a strong performance pre-season against Wigan gives them cause for optimism.
Opponents Castleford are as near to a one man team as you can get in the Super League. 2011 Man of Steel Rangi Chase is a cut above his Tiger’s team-mates and if he plays well this season then Castleford will have an outside play-off chance. Losing Martin Aspinwall will be leave a dent in the Tigers midfield and new boss Ian Millward will have to use all his experience to avoid a disappointing season for the Tigers.
Match Forecast: Another even clash between two sides for whom sneaking into the playoffs would be a great result. Chase’s ability to create something out of nothing could well be the difference between the sides, and may well ruin Salford’s big day at their new home.
Best Bet: Salford/Castleford Half Time/Full Time (8/1 Ladbrokes) looks good odds especially as Rangi Chase can exert his influence as the game wears on against tiring defenders.
Bradford Bulls (10th) vs Catalan Dragons (6th): Sunday 3pm
Off the field life for Bradford looks much more settled. The RFL has put up money to ensure that the club can stay at iconic home Odsal, but now the focus turns back to the battle to re-install Bradford as the powerhouse that they once were. Losing Andy Lynch to Hull and Patrick Ah Van to Widnes will be big setbacks although Manase Manuokafoa, Luke Gale and Karl Pryce are all highly accomplished players who would be an asset for all playoff chasing teams.
For the Dragons last season was a breakthrough year and the French outfit has added well to that team. Leon Pryce, Louis Anderson and Julian Bousquet have given even more strength in depth to the Dragons and no team in the Super League enjoys their trip down to Perpignan. With the ageless Steve Menzies leading a pack that includes the battering ram that is David Ferriol, and with the Half Back combination of Thomas Bosc and Scott Dureau feeding a clinical backline, the Catalans tick all the boxes when it comes to genuine title contenders.
Match Forecast: The Catalans won on their last visit to Odsal and have been impressive in despatching Wakefield and the Broncos during the pre-season. Bradford have looked shaky in pre-season and you would have to fancy the Catalans repeating last year’s success at Odsal.
Best Bet: The Catalans won heavily in this fixture last year and a Catalan win by 21-30 points (Paddy Power 11/1) should not be sniffed at.
Hull FC (7th) vs Warrington Wolves (1st): Sunday 3pm
The home side have seen a lot of movement during the closed season but they appear a stronger outfit this time out. Andy Lynch, Mark O’Meley and Eamon O’Carroll are as physical as they come up front. Richard Horne and Kirk Yeaman will provide the creative spark behind the scrum. Tom Briscoe is one of the hottest prospects in the Super League and with 50 tries in 85 games it is not hard to see why. Hull FC could well be the surprise package of the season, so don’t discount them from a top 4 finish.
Changes have been kept to a minimum for the Wolves and whilst the return of Matt King to Australia is a huge loss for the team, the capture of youngster Stefan Ratchford from Salford shows that the Wolves are looking to the future as well as the present. Ratchford will be invaluable coming off the bench supporting the aging but still top-class duo of Lee Briers and Brett Hodgson. This is a team packed full of quality and they looks odds on to repeat last season’s regular season victory.
Match Forecast: This game sees some of the most physical players in the league come head to head in what could be an early season cracker. Whoever controls the battle in the forwards should come out of this with the win, and for that you would have to have the away side as your favourites.
Best Bet: Warrington to be leading at Half Time/Full Time (11/10 Ladbrokes) looks like a very solid investment.
Wigan Warriors (2nd) vs Huddersfield Giants (4th): Sunday 3pm
The home side have lost Joel Tomkins to Saracens Rugby Union and have also lost the experience of Andy Coley and Paul Deacon. New coach Shaun Wane will have very little time to bed in as the pressure will be on from day one to live up to last year’s performances. Much will depend on the form of Thomas Leuluai and skipper Sean O’Loughlin, but the supporting cast of Sam Tomkins, Pat Richards and Gareth Hock are all more than capable of winning games single-handedly.
The Giants look unlikely to repeat last season’s 4th placed finish, having a much smaller squad than last season, but what they lack in quantity they certainly have in quality. In Luke Robinson they have one of league’s top hookers and if he can feed the two ‘B’s’ in Danny Brough and Kevin Brown with good ball then the Giants will be a highly effective attacking unit. Eorl Crabtree is one of the best forward runners in the league and he is ably supported by Jason Chan, David Fa’alogo and Luke O’Donnell. The Giants will be a match for any team on their day, but the depth of the squad makes it likely that as suspensions and injuries take hold they could be left looking a little bare.
Match Forecast: The home side are odds-on favourites to win this one and look like they will have the firepower to slay the Giants.
Best Bet: Wigan to win by 21-30 points (Paddy Power 4/1) looks an interesting bet. If the Warriors get on top early then the points could well rack up in this one.