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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 February 2008, 10:18 GMT
Super League XIII - Let battle commence!
Super League XIII launch

Leeds Rhinos and Hull KR got the new season under way last Saturday - but that was only an appetiser.

Super League XIII really begins in earnest this weekend, when all 12 clubs seek to put down a marker for 2008.

Here, BBC Sport takes a look at what the British rugby league public can expect over the next nine months.

What's different about Super League this season?

Steve Ganson

Well, quite a lot really. No relegation for a start, which should have a massive impact on how clubs approach the game. Expect plenty of exciting play as teams focus on winning matches and thrilling the fans rather than avoiding the drop. More kids should get an opportunity to shine, too, as clubs place their faith in youth rather than experience.

The other big change will allow referees to take charge of matches involving their hometown clubs. That should please Steve Ganson. Given all the success St Helens have enjoyed recently, he's missed out on officiating the big finals.

So who are the favourites?

Daniel Anderson

Leeds and St Helens, who contested last year's Grand Final, will again be the teams to beat. They've chosen not to make any major signings for 2008, which means they clearly have a lot of faith in their players. The Rhinos have a new coach in Brian McClennan while this will be the last season at the helm for Saints boss Daniel Anderson. Both teams will be wanting to make 2008 a year to remember - but for different reasons.

Bradford, Wigan, Warrington, Hull KR, Hull FC and Huddersfield should be in the shake-up for honours at the end of the year, too. For Castleford, Catalans, Harlequins and Wakefield, the Challenge Cup offers a more realistic chance of glory in 2008.

What's all the talk about Warrington?

Michael Monaghan

Well, they've been tipped to make a big impression by a lot of pundits following the signings of Matt King and Michael Monaghan. That said, the Wolves have had a good squad for a couple of years now and failed to live up to expectations. Can they handle the pressure? We're about to find out.

Will there be any surprises?

Wakefield Trinity Wildcats badge

Wakefield could upset the applecart. They've got a shrewd coach in John Kear and some decent players coming through. However, their rivals will be more wary of them this year after some impressive performances in 2007.

Any shocks are more likely to come in the Challenge Cup. Catalans Dragons made it all the way to the final last year. But it really depends on the draw. If a few big teams get knocked out early, then anything could happen.

Any players we should be watching out for?

Sam Burgess

Bradford prop Sam Burgess and Warrington winger Kevin Penny, obviously. Both players made a big splash in 2007 and should go from strength to strength. Look out for Joe Westerman, too. The versatile Castleford player is being hailed as the new Paul Sculthorpe. As for the foreign imports, King and Hull FC's Shaun Berrigan both ooze class.

Why is 2008 regarded as a pivotal year for the game?

World Cup trophy

Two reasons. Firstly, it's the last Super League season before the introduction of the licence system, so clubs in and out of the top flight will be going all out to show they deserve a place in an expanded elite division from 2009.

Secondly, the World Cup returns in October - and there hasn't been one of those since 2000. If the game is to increase its global appeal, then the tournament needs to be a success. That means plenty of tight games. Australia will probably win it, but let's hope someone gives them a game.

So can we expect plenty of thrills and spills?

Yep. It's a cliché but Super League just gets bigger and better every year. It's sport at its bravest, purest and most keenly-contested. Let battle commence!



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