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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 February 2008, 17:23 GMT
The Dave Woods verdict
Bradford BullsCastleford TigersCatalans DragonsHarlequinsHuddersfield GiantsHull FCHull KRLeeds RhinosSt HelensWakefieldWarrington WolvesWigan

By Dave Woods
BBC Sport rugby league expert

After the tease of last weekend's opener between Leeds and Hull KR, Super League XIII proper will begin this weekend with all 12 teams in action.

Is it going to be St Helens and Leeds sharing the glory once again or will the chasing pack get in on the act in the first season where the spectre of relegation has been removed?

BBC Sport's Dave Woods gives his verdict on how the 12 contenders will fare this season.

Click on a team badge to get Dave's verdict on each team's prospects.

BRADFORD BULLS

They remain a solid bet to be chasing the top honours again this season.

The addition of Ben Jeffries gives them a bit of extra zip at half-back, and Chris Nero is a very under-rated centre who could be a major player for the Bulls.

Nero's signing could be even more important if persistent rumours of Shontayne Hape moving to rugby union prove to be true.

They have the know-how and the talent to be as good as anyone over a full season, but just like every other side in Super League, they need luck with injuries.

Big year for: Sam Burgess. Every year from now on is going to be a big one for one of the best young prospects to emerge in the last 12 months.

But this being a World Cup year, expect Burgess to cement his place in England's plans with a blockbusting season.

CASTLEFORD TIGERS

With the pressure of relegation off, this is very much a development year for the Tigers. A challenge for a place in the top six would be a bonus, but is unlikely to be sustained for a full season.

Castleford's Joe Westerman
Westerman will be hoping to make a big impact on Super League

You can expect Cas to pull off one or two shock wins over the more established sides throughout the campaign, but they may well finish bottom, which would be no disgrace.

The best thing about Cas being back is the crackling atmosphere at The Jungle and the chance for some of their promising youngsters to test themselves on the big stage.

Big year for: Joe Westerman. He won't be 19 until the World Cup is nearly over, so may not feature in England's plans. But he is certainly a talent to watch out for.

He's Cas through and through and comes from a great local production line that has produced some of the world's best over the decades.

A star in the National League last term, expect to hear plenty about the young back-rower over the coming months.

CATALANS DRAGONS

Last year was a breakthrough year for the Dragons, reaching a Wembley cup final and improving their league standing.

You'd expect the third year to be an improvement again, now that that indiginous French players are fully used to the weekly intensity of Super League.

To say they will miss Stacey Jones is an understatement, but hooker Aaron Gorrell will be a big player for them. He missed just about the whole of last season with injury, but is back to prove his sharpness from dummy-half.

It should be another season on the fringes of the top six battle, with a few big scalps taken on the way.

Big year for: Adam Mogg. He's another hugely under-rated player in Super League - a case of out of sight, out of mind for many British fans.

But he's got genuine star quality and is such an important cog in the Catalans machine. He could be a Man of Steel contender.

HARLEQUINS

Their thoughts will undoubtedly be trained on a place in the top six, but 2008 may well go down as being a development year for the Quins.

Danny Ward
Ward faces some big challenges at Quins after his move from Hull KR

It's exciting to see so many young Londoners in their squad; bringing through local talent is exactly what any expansion club should be doing, otherwise what's the point?

They were light in the front-row last term, but have signed Danny Ward and Gareth Haggerty who will bring different attributes to the team's "go forward".

I can't see them making the play-offs, but one year out of the running may be very good for their long term future.

By the way, making their coach Brian McDermott favourite for the sack is utterly ridiculous.

Big year for: Danny Ward. McDermott knows the prop from old at Leeds and at 27, Ward still has time on his hands.

He's had a few off-field problems in the past, but his new coach should get the best out of him. He could be the cornerstone of the capital side's pack.

HUDDERSFIELD GIANTS

Two years ago they were Challenge Cup finalists, last year they made the Super League play-offs for the first time, so can the Giants go one better and win something this year?

They have lost a couple of key players in Brad Drew and Chris Nero, but have arguably strengthened their squad with the likes of Luke Robinson, David Hodgson and Paul Whatuira coming in.

You'd have to fancy them for a top-six spot at least. It's a good news club all-round with crowd sizes expected to rise too. They have the potential to be one of the game's powerhouse clubs in a few years.

Unlikely to reach a Grand Final, but a good draw and a following wind might see them into a Challenge Cup showpiece again.

Big year for: Ryan Hudson. Again with one eye on the upcoming World Cup, Hudson has the chance to play himself into England reckoning. His role for his club becomes more important now that Drew has departed.

HULL FC

Given their early season injury list, Hull fans will be hoping all the bad luck has been dealt with right at the start.

Hull FC's Thomas Lee
Lee is one of a host of talented locals in the Hull FC squad

If they continue to be as unlucky in the fitness stakes, it could be a very long year for the Airlie Birds.

Fully fit, Hull's squad has the ability to compete with the best and could finish anywhere in the top six.

Another trip to Old Trafford is not beyond them, and no-one will fancy being paired with them in the Challenge Cup.

They have made some quality signings to make up for the loss of the likes of Shaun Briscoe and Richard Swain

Big year for: Tommy Lee. The signings of Adam Dykes and Shaun Berrigan and Richard Horne's presence suggested, on the surface, a season on the sidelines for the youngster.

But all three of those have picked up injuries of varying severity already, so Lee could be vital back-up. He'll be hoping to get plenty of chance to shine and move to the next level of his highly promising career.

HULL KR

They could have been forgiven for resting on their laurels after last year's survival.

But if any club shows the ambition that exists in Super League now, it has to be KR.

Their squad turnover has been breathtaking but the early signs are that they could well be pushing for a top-six spot and they will trouble most teams this term.

Again, the Challenge Cup probably remains there best hope of reaching a final, but they are going to be fun to watch this season.

Big year for: Ben Galea. He's not a headline-making player on the pitch, but, boy, does he do the basics well.

A tireless and normally error-free forward, he will make the Robins very difficult to beat by adding steel in the middle of their defence.

LEEDS RHINOS

The fact they haven't made any major signings speaks volumes for the squad that was already in situ at Headingley.

Leeds coach Brian McClennan
McClennan will hope for more success with the Rhinos

The reigning champions should go very close again. They have quality and self-belief.

It will be interesting to see if any of the dynamics change under new coach Brian McClennan, but it's unlikely that too much will be different on the pitch.

They have the class to be as good as they want to be.

Big year for: Lee Smith. A shining talent for the last two years, he can take a big step towards maturing as a player this year.

A World Cup place is not beyond him, even though England now have a growing depth of talent on the wings.

ST HELENS

It's the end of an era for Saints with coach Daniel Anderson on his way out at the end of the season.

There is an undoubted bond between players and coach that will drive them throughout the season.

One or two Saints players could be reaching the peak of their powers, too. Inevitably age is catching up to Keiron Cunningham and Sean Long, for example, but they will still be at the top of their game this season at least.

The squad perhaps lacks depth, but you know that any of the kids coming through will be exceptionally talented.

Big year for: Paul Sculthorpe. After all his injury problems, he'll be hoping to stay fit and healthy this term. If he can he will be a major player for Saints and should push himself back into England's plans too.

A fully fit Paul Sculthorpe would be a major boost for club and country.

WAKEFIELD TRINITY WILDCATS

The Wildcats have come a long way under John Kear.

Wakefield coach John Kear
Kear will be hoping that Wakefield can progress during the campaign

When he took over they were relegation certainties, but survived. Last year they were favourites for the drop, but very nearly made the play-offs.

This term they will start as some people's tips for a top-six place.

They have lost a few, but have also made some very astute signings.

Top six is a definite possibility, and the Challenge Cup, especially with Kear's track record, could be a happy competition for them, too.

Big year for: Scott Grix, a player of undoubted talent who now has the chance to shine on the Super League stage.

He is good enough to be a star player and should cement his place in the Ireland squad for the World Cup.

WARRINGTON WOLVES

They could be anything this season.

The signings they've made, the players they've already got, they should be a top-six shoe-in and realistic challengers for every piece of silverware.

But we've said that before haven't we? The great underachievers need to shed that tag and I think this time they just might.

This is the best squad they have had for a long time and the club has the potential to be as big as any other in Super League.

This is the season the Wolves turn it around and become more than just contenders. Now, there's a prediction.

Big year for: Michael Monaghan, my prediction for Man of Steel this year. He's not quite as headline-grabbing a signing as Matt King, but Monaghan's role in the middle of the park and his partnership with Lee Briers will be vital to Warrington's success.

WIGAN WARRIORS

The way they finished last season suggests they are ready for a return to the trophy hunt this year.

Wigan's Trent Barrett
Barrett's skills will prove crucial for Wigan's chances

They haven't made a raft of big name signings, but Richard Mathers is an inspired choice for what was becoming the problem full-back position.

A lot depends on how the front row holds up and the relationship between the sublimely talented Trent Barrett and Thomas Leuluai is key again.

But it is a club that seems to have had a new shot of confidence and they will be key contenders on all fronts. After five trophy-free years they will desperate to get out the silver polish again.

Big year for: Stuart Fielden. His form has been famously patchy since the Tri-Nations tournament down under 18 months ago and he badly needs a big year.

Still only 28, he has time to get back to being the best prop in the world. A top domestic season followed by a rampaging World Cup would be just what most rugby league fans would love to see.



SEE ALSO
Super League XIII - Let battle commence!
07 Feb 08 |  Rugby League
Super League XIII Q&A
04 Feb 08 |  My Club
Super League XIII - Ins and Outs
18 Dec 07 |  Rugby League
Penny ready to weave more magic
07 Feb 08 |  Warrington
Quins ace tipped for England call
06 Feb 08 |  Harlequins
Leading the way in London
06 Feb 08 |  Harlequins
World Cup wonders - Who should go to Oz?
29 Jan 08 |  Rugby League


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