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The 2020 Super League season gets underway at the end of January and thanks to the influx of talent coming from Australia and other sports, this is expected to be the most exciting season yet. Dave Kuzio goes through the teams he believes will be causing the headlines in 2020.
In recent years, Super League has lost a lot of playing talent to the NRL and rugby union, but 2020 sees a massive change on that front. All the talk in pre-season has been of newly-promoted Toronto Wolfpack signing global superstar Sonny Bill Williams – that is one major coup for rugby league.
SBW is known worldwide, couple that with the attraction of a Canadian side in Super League, then myth that rugby league is only played on the M62 corridor could well and truly be shattered.
Williams is not the only name to fly the nest. Catalans Dragons pulled off a major signing with James Maloney joining from Penrith Panthers. Wigan have signed George Burgess from South Sydney Rabbitohs, Gareth Widdop has gone to Warrington from St George Illawarra, Huddersfield snared Aidan Sezer from Canberra and Hull brought over Manu Ma’u and Tevita Satae from Parramatta Eels and New Zealand Warriors respectively.
Super League will be full of top-quality talent in 2020, the only question is ‘Can anyone stop St Helens?’
Grand Final Winner: Warrington @ 4/1 Betfred
St Helens are the defending champions after they defeated Salford Red Devils in the 2019 Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford last October. Saints were head and shoulders ahead of everyone else last season, they finished the regular weekly rounds a staggering 16 points ahead of second placed Wigan. That proved how dominant they were.
Now for 2020, they haven’t really added to their squad in terms of big-name players. The only real change is that of the head coach. Justin Holbrook left the Saints after guiding them to the title to join NRL side Gold Coast Titans, he has been replaced by Kristian Woolf.
Woolf has already admitted he has not changed too much from last season as he believes this set of players are capable of getting better and better.
Now all eyes will be on St Helens to repeat their accolades of last season, but I am not backing them to be the victors at Old Trafford come the end of the season. There is a long-standing joke in rugby league that asks the question ‘Have you ever seen the Wire the league?’ with other suggestions that ‘It’s always your year’. This is in reference to them not being crowned champions since 1955.
Well I believe that hoodoo is finally going to come to an end in 2020. Head coach Steve Price has turned this Warrington side into serious title contenders, they may have drifted off at the end of last season but there is something special about the Wolves this year.
If Widdop and Blake Austin can strike up a good partnership, then they will be difficult to stop. The likes of Josh Charnley, Stefan Ratchford, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Chris Hill, Daryl Clark and Anthony Gelling are all big-game players and I definitely see it being their year.
League Leaders Shield Winners: St Helens @ 9/4 Betfred
Rugby league is often heavily criticised for having a competition that sees the best and most consistent team of the whole season not being crowned champions.
Yes, that is the case. It has been like that since 1998 so it’s never going to get changed so people need to move on. The race for the League Leaders Shield last season was blowout, once the Saints got in front, they never looked like being caught.
I do think the race to finish first will be a lot closer in 2020, but once again I cannot see past St Helens being top of the pile. I don’t think they will reach the Grand Final, but I expect them to be the most consistent side leading up to the play-offs.
They have a settled squad, plus with no new signings there shouldn’t really be any teething problems. They will just go out and play their expansive style of rugby, while the other teams around them are still working out where to fit their new players.
Big Prediction: Toronto to finish in top five @ 7/2 Betfred
People new to the sport of rugby league will just look at last season and think St Helens are miles better than everyone else and no one else has a chance. That could still be proved to be the case, but hopefully we will see a tighter competition in 2020 with the race for first place going to the last game of the season.
Toronto Wolfpack enter the 2020 Super League as the promoted side from the Championship. I’ve already mentioned that they have made the headlines with the capture of SBW, but they are far more than just their marquee players. Head coach Brian McDermott is as experienced as they come, he has won the Super League on seven separate occasions – three as a player and two as a coach. He knows what it takes to be a winner and he will not settle for anything less.
I’m not saying they will win the Grand Final, because they will not. But they will have a good strong debut season and I fully expect them be fighting it out for a place in the top five.
Team To Get Relegated: Hull Kingston Rovers @ 7/4 Betvictor
A lot of rugby league fans do not agree with having relegation of any kind, but that’s just the way it is in professional sport. You need a champion and you need at least one team to be relegated.
London Broncos were the team to go down last season after just one year in Super League. They lost to Wakefield Trinity on the final game of the season to confirm their relegation.
This year, Hull Kingston Rovers are the favourites to go down and it’s very difficult to argue against it. The Robins have already lost prop forward Mose Masoe with a career-ending spinal injury before the campaign has got underway. The Robins have made quite a lot of changes in the off-season with the likes of Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Jordan Abdull, Harvey Livett, Matty Gee, Ryan Brierley, Daniel Murray and Jamie Ellis all coming in. But as good as some of these players are, it might not be good enough to stay up.
They recruited a lot of players because they also allowed a good number to leave. Key playmaker Danny McGuire decided to retire, while Chris Atkin, Ryan Lannon, James Greenwood, Joel Tomkins, Josh Drinkwater, Craig Hall, Shaun Lunt, Danny Addy and Ryan Shaw have all left the club. The loss of Mcguire, Tomkins, Drinkwater, Lunt and Hall leaves a massive whole in their squad and despite trying to replace them already, some of these players are not replaceable.
Tony Smith is a quality coach, but if he gets any more injuries then it will be a long hard season for Rovers.
Man of Steel Winner: Zak Hardaker @ 20/1 Betfred
The Steve Prescott Man of Steel award is given to the player deemed to have had the biggest impact over the whole season. The selection panel hand out points at each game and the one with the most is named Man of Steel.
Jackson Hastings is the current holder of the Man of Steel award following an outstanding season for Salford last time out. He has since moved clubs to join Wigan and will once again be seen as one of the favourites to lift the trophy again.
There are a number of top-quality candidates this season. SBW automatically springs to mind, while the likes of Blake Austin, Zak Hardaker, James Maloney, Lachlan Coote, Aidan Sezer and Gareth Widdop will all be looking to catch the selection committee’s eye.
My pick goes to Wigan full-back Zak Hardaker. Hardaker has had a troubled past with off-the-field incidents, but he seems settled at the Warriors and he is now seen as one of the leaders in the team. He returned to action last year following a lengthy suspension after failing a drugs test. It took him a few months to get back in the swing of things, but he showed glimpses of the form that saw him win this award in 2015. This year, he will be looking to show the world that his past is behind him and that he is one of the best full-backs in the world.