Monday, 8 February 2016

2016 Rugby Super League has started

The opening games in the 2016 rugby league season kick off on 4 February when league champions and Challenge Cup holders Leeds Rhinos host Warrington Wolves. With Kevin Sinfield having switched codes to rugby union, Leeds have a new captain in Danny McGuire, who says he’s glad to see the new format adopted last year maintained for this season. 

With the intention being to make game more competitive, the 2015 Rugby Super League contained 12 teams – two less than the previous year. A season that therefore began without the relegated Bradford Bulls and London Broncos ended in Leeds narrowly beating Wigan 22-20 in the Grand Final at Old Trafford, with a record attendance of 73,512. It was the first time that Leeds had beaten their opponents in a major final and the result meant that the long serving trio of Jamie Peacock, Kylie Leuluai and Sinfield departed in glory. 
Sinfield became the first man from the sport to be nominated for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award and finished second to Andy Murray. 
McGuire, a local lad who scored two tries in the defeat of Wigan, says: “I know it is going to be difficult to replace the greatest captain there has been in Super League but I’m looking forward to taking on the extra responsibilities.” 
McGuire is also set to lead Leeds as they bid to win the World Club Challenge for the fourth time in their history when they face NRL champions North Queensland Cowboys at Headingley just two weeks into the new season. 
McGuire was happy to see promotion and relegation re-introduced last season and believes the slimming down of Super League was highly successful.
“It produced more competitive, closely fought games than before – none more so than Ryan Hall’s try at Huddersfield in the last minute of the last game that helped us win the league leaders’ shield. But there was also plenty of drama in many other games and I have heard a few fans say it was the most entertaining season they’d known.” 
McGuire believes the domestic challenge to Leeds will again come from those who finished in the top six last season, including Castleford Tigers and Warrington Wolves. He is also looking forward to seeing how Sam Tomkins performs on his return to Super League with Wigan after two seasons with NRL side New Zealand Warriors. “He was playing well for Wigan before he left. Warrington have also spent a lot on new players from abroad. I don’t expect there to be a lot between the top sides.” 
Having invested in their academy, Rhinos have also chosen to bring in four new players this season in Beau Fallon, Keith Galloway, Anthony Mullally and the England international player Brett Ferres, who left Huddersfield Giants acrimoniously. “It’s going to be tough to peak for the World Club Challenge game and then retain consistency to reach the Super 8s before peaking again to try and retain the Super League,’ concludes McGuire. “But that’s our target.”

Castleford Tigers 
Having only just missed out on the top four play-offs last season coach Daryl Powell has largely been content to retain the same squad. Australian Joel Monaghan has moved from Warrington to add his experience to a team that includes Ben Crooks, who has a point to prove after a disappointing season with NRL side Parramatta Eels. Will the Wheldon Road side win their first major trophy since 1986? 
Catalans Dragons 
The decision by the Perpignan side to retain the successful 2014 side backfired last season when the Dragons finished in eighth place in the table. The French club have signed experienced Irish winger Pat Richards – previously a great success with Wigan Warriors – from Wests Tigers in the NRL, as well as Paul Aiton. 
Huddersfield Giants 
Looking for a replacement for star forward Brett Ferres after they were forced into selling him when his wife accused him of cheating on her with wife of teammate Craig Huby. Giants often fall away after making the top four in Super League. Much might depend on how Ryan Hinchcliffe, from Melbourne Storm, and former New Zealand Warrior Sam Rapira adapt. Captain Danny Brough will be looking forward to leading Scotland in this season’s Four Nations tournament in October. 
Hull FC 
Improved last season to finish in seventh place but then won only once in the Super 8s and failed to make the play-off semi-finals. They’ve been busy in the transfer market and the signing of Frank Pritchard, the New Zealand and Samoan second row international, will help ensure that coach Lee Radford’s team are competitive. New man Scott Taylor was signed from Wigan Warriors and can expect a rough reception when his side face another of his former clubs, Hull KR, in the local derby. 
Hull Kingston Rovers 
The Robins, thrashed 50-0 by Leeds in the Challenge Cup final last season, retained their place in Super League when they finished top of the subsequent qualifiers. They’ve appointed Jamie Peacock as new head of rugby with a big input in recruitment – buying Iain Thornley, Chris Clarkson, Thomas Minns, Ryan Shaw and Robbie Mulhern. A top eight spot is the aim but long term the hope is Peacock will use his experience at Leeds Rhinos to develop home talent through the new City of Hull Academy. 
Leeds Rhinos 
Treble winners in 2015 Leeds will be the team to beat. Departures of Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai are a big blow. Yet the signing of four new players, especially Brett Ferres, allied to emerging young talent such as Ash Golding, Liam Sutcliffe, Jordan Lilley and Ashton Handley, should ensure that a Leeds squad containing the likes of Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow will be thereabouts when trophies are handed out. 
Salford Red Devils 
Another close season of major recruitment at a club formed in 1873. After a disappointing 2015, owner Marwan Koukash allowed Rangi Chase, signed for £115,000 two years before, Harrison Hansen and Cory Paterson to leave as free agents. A further eight have also departed and in return 10 new players have arrived, including Justin Carney on loan from Castleford. 
St Helens 
Defending champions finished in fourth place in the table last season before losing out on
a place in the Super League final when they lost 20-13 against Leeds Rhinos in the play-off semi final. They’ve signed Salford’s Theo Fages and Lama Tasi, Jack Owens from Widnes and Dominique Peyroux from NZ Warriors. There must be some doubt as to whether this will be sufficient to bring a trophy this season to the 18,000-capacity Langtree Park. 
Wakefield Wildcats 
Won just three of their 23 Super League fixtures and only retained their place after beating Bradford Bulls in the qualifying play-off decider. Brian Smith was appointed as coach part of the way during last season and has chosen to radically alter the squad with Tinirau Arona, Anthony Tupou and Bill Tupou arriving from the NRL. Even so, it would be a surprise if Wakefield finished outside the bottom four. 
Warrington Wolves 
New signing Daryl Clark, who collected the Man of Steel Award for being the outstanding Super League performer in 2014, had a disappointing season and Warrington didn’t sparkle in 2015, failing to make the play-off semi finals. So coach Tony Smith has spent heavily on Tom Lineham and Joe Westerman, with Hull FC receiving around £275,000 when they allowed the pair to move west. Kurt Gidley has also signed from NRL club Newcastle Knights and the former Australian captain can play in a number of different positions. Wolves will surely do better this season. 
Widnes Vikings 
Eighth in 2014, ninth in 2015. Coach Denis Betts has boosted his squad with Chris Houston from Newcastle Knights, while Chris Bridge, Setaimanta Sa and Corey Thompson have also arrived. It may not be sufficient to prevent the Chemics from finishing in the bottom four and requiring them to again compete with the top four in the Championship for a place in Super League in 2017. 
Wigan Warriors 

The re-signing of fans’ favourite Sam Tomkins after his two years with New Zealand Warriors, who paid a world record fee of over £450,000 to sign the England international full-back, is one of just two arrivals at Wigan. With six players having left the club – the most successful one in rugby league – coach Shaun Wane looks set to give young academy players their chance in a side that has lost in the Super League final in the last two seasons. 

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