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Super League form guide 2011

Wigan celebrate last year's Grand Final win
Will Wigan retain their Super League crown in 2011?

The 2011 Super League campaign begins in Cardiff this weekend just as it ended up in Manchester four months ago - with Wigan taking on their oldest and fiercest rivals St Helens.

The 2010 domestic rugby league season reached its conclusion under the lights at Old Trafford in October when Wigan ruined Keiron Cunningham's farewell party plans by beating St Helens 22-10 to become Super League champions for the first time in 12 years.

Now last season's top two lock horns at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday night, topping the bill on the first day of the new season.

Super League XVI, which opens with Magic Weekend for the first time, is scheduled to finish back in Manchester on 8 October.

BBC rugby league commentator Dave Woods offers his pre-season verdict on how it might all unfold over the next eight months.


BRADFORD BULLS

Bradford

Last year: 10th

New coach: Mick Potter

Ins: Patrick Ah Van (New Zealand Warriors), Shaun Ainscough (Wigan), Matt Diskin (Leeds), Olivier Elima (Catalans), Bryn Hargreaves (St Helens), Marc Herbert (Canberra Raiders), Shad Royston (Halifax), Ian Sibbit (Salford), Chev Walker (Hull KR), Gareth Raynor, Kyle Briggs (Featherstone Rovers)

Outs: Chris Nero (Salford), Steve Menzies (Catalans), Joe Wordle (Huddersfield), Matt Orford (Canberra Raiders), Michael Worrincy (Penrith Panthers), Wayne Godwin (Salford), Stuart Reardon (Crusaders), Rikki Sheriffe (Newcastle Falcons), Andy Tate (Wakefield), George Burgess (South Sydney), Glenn Hall (North Queensland), Ben Helliwell (Warrington), Danny Sculthorpe (released)

Dave Woods' verdict: After a miserable 2010, this should be a year of big improvements. New coach Mick Potter did great things at Catalans and doesn't get enough credit for the way he brought young kids through at St Helens. Some interesting new signings and the play-offs will be a minimum target.

Player to watch: Shad Royston. After signing from Halifax, he gets a chance to prove himself in Super League at a relatively late stage in his career.


CASTLEFORD

Castleford Tigers

Last year: 9th

Coach: Terry Matterson

Ins: Martin Aspinwall (Huddersfield), Jake Emmitt (St Helens), Nick Fozzard (St Helens), Willie Isa (Melbourne Storm), Richie Mathers (Warrington), Danny Orr (Harlequins), Nick Youngquest (Crusaders)

Outs: Matthew Dawson (Huddersfield), James Evans (retired), Joe Westerman (Hull), Michael Shenton (St Helens), Michael Wainwright (Dewsbury), Liam Higgins (Sheffield), Ryan Clayton (Halifax), Mitchell Sargent (retired)

Dave Woods' verdict: They've lost a couple of former favourites, but made some good signings too. The returning Danny Orr will be an inspirational figure for them, if he can stay fit. On their day, they will match anyone, but need to find the consistency that's often been missing in recent years.

Player to watch: Adam Milner. We'll hopefully see more of a fine young hooker who has a maturity that belies his age and a big future in the game.


CATALAN DRAGONS

Catalan

Last year: 14th

New coach: Trent Robinson

Ins: Scott Dureau (Newcastle Knights), Damien Blanch (Wakefield), Ian Henderson (New Zealand Warriors), Lopini Paea (Sydney Roosters), Jason Baitieri (Sydney Roosters), Steve Menzies (Bradford), Ben Farrar (Manly)

Outs: Olivier Elima (Bradford), Dallas Johnson (North Queensland Cowboys), Dane Carlaw (Brisbane), Casty McGuire (Parramatta), Chris Walker (Parramatta), Adam Mogg (Canberra), Jerome Guisset (retired), Brent Sherwin (released), Steven Bell, Dimitri Pelo, Kane Bentley, Andrew Bentley

Dave Woods' verdict: We could see a bit of a resurgence from the French side this season under new coach Trent Robinson. Reports are that spirits at the club are climbing again, with Robinson nurturing the French culture, rather than making the Dragons an Aussie outpost. Possible play-off contenders.

Player to watch: Jason Baitieri. His dad's a legend for the off-field work he did in Paris at the outset of Super League. Jason's a good young back-rower who will take the French cause to heart.


CRUSADERS

Crusaders

Last year: 8th

New coach: Iestyn Harris

Ins: Paul Johnson (Wakefield), Stuart Reardon (Bradford), Richard Moore (Wakefield), Jamie Murphy (South Wales Scorpions), Hep Cahill (Melbourne Storm)

Outs: Nick Youngquest (Castleford), Weller Hauraki (Leeds), Tommy Lee (Wakefield), Luke Dyer (Central Comets), Jamie Thackray (Barrow), Rocky Trimarchi (released)

Dave Woods' verdict: They have the advantage of a proper pre-season, which they didn't get in 2010 after all the upheaval at the club. And there will be a lot of people in the game wishing rookie coach Iestyn Harris well. The first couple of months will be key as they have to get off minus points as quickly as possible. The handicap of their four-point deduction may make the play-offs too tough to make.

Player to watch: Elliot Kear. Has a little more experience under his belt now and, in the countdown to the World Cup in 2013, it would be great to see a talented young Welshman emerge as a regular in the Crusaders' starting line-up.


HARLEQUINS

Harlequins

Last year: 13th

New coach: Rob Powell

Ins: Chris Bailey (Manly), Nick Kouparitsas (Sydney), Jack Latus (Hull KR), Mark Calderwood (Hull FC - trial), Mike Burnett (Hull FC - loan), Joe Mellor (Wigan - loan), Karl Pryce (Wigan - loan), Luke Ambler (Leeds - loan)

Outs: Ben Jones-Bishop (Leeds), Danny Orr (Castleford), Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook (St Helens), Will Sharp (Hull)

Dave Woods' verdict: It will be fascinating to see how they go this season. Anyone with a genuine interest in the future of rugby league knows how important it is for Harlequins to succeed. But it's going to be tough. New coach Rob Powell is only 30, hasn't played the game and has no experience of being a head coach at senior level. What a story it would be if they make the play-offs but, after losing a clutch of key players, that may be an unrealistic target.

Player to watch: Tony Clubb. He made a remarkable international debut last autumn and hopefully can use that experience to kick on again. As a relatively local product, he's the kind of player who needs to succeed to help the club's profile.


HUDDERSFIELD

Huddersfield

Last year: 5th

Coach: Nathan Brown

Ins: Matt Dawson (Castleford), Joe Wordle (Bradford), Jamie Simpson (Sydney), Luke O'Donnell (North Queensland), Matthew Sarsfield (Wigan)

Outs: Martin Aspinwall (Castleford), Brett Hodgson (Warrington), Stephen Wild (Salford), Simon Finnigan (Widnes)

Dave Woods' verdict: The Giants should now have self-belief that they can cut it in the big time. They've had two seasons around the top end of the table and should be capable of repeating those feats this year. The trick for Nathan Brown will be to get them to perform when it really matters in the crunch play-off and cup games.

Player to watch: Jamie Simpson. He could be a sparkling acquisition for the Giants, a real crowd pleaser. He's survived cancer and the flooding in Rockhampton, so there's no doubts about his character.


HULL FC

Hull FC

Last year: 6th

Coach: Richard Agar

Ins: Joe Westerman (Castleford), Will Sharp (Harlequins)

Outs: Craig Hall (Hull KR), Mark Calderwood (Harlequins), Mike Burnett (Harlequins), Dennis Tuffour (York), Shaun Berrigan (New Zealand Warriors)

Dave Woods' verdict: There was a feeling at Hull that they slipped a little under the radar last year, and that they weren't given credit for their early-season endeavours, so they'll feel they have a point to prove again. They need to keep Sean Long and Richard Horne on the field. They only managed 28 games between them last season because of injury. But they should be challenging for the top four again.

Player to watch: Joe Westerman. A new club and a new environment will hopefully see him settle into providing the consistent top-quality form of which he is so obviously capable.


HULL KINGSTON ROVERS

Hull KR badge

Last year: 7th

Coach: Justin Morgan

Ins: Craig Hall (Hull FC), Blake Green (Canterbury Bulldogs), Willie Mason (North Queensland Cowboys)

Outs: Chev Walker (Bradford), Jack Latus (Harlequins), Chaz l'Anson (Widnes), Frankie Mariano (Wakefield), Mike Ratu (Halifax), David Mills (released)

Dave Woods' verdict: Willie "or won't he" Mason has been the talk of the off-season, and it will be interesting to see what kind of impression he makes on Super League XVI when he finally arrives. But Blake Green, the less well-known Aussie stand-off, could have an even bigger impact on Rovers' fortunes. They are another side who should be targeting the top four.

Player to watch: Liam Watts. Unbelievably consistent last year, given his age. Another year like that will prove his pedigree. He should be pushing for England honours by the autumn.


LEEDS

Leeds

Last year: 4th

New coach: Brian McDermott

Ins: Ben Jones-Bishop (Harlequins), Ben Cross (Newcastle Knights), Weller Hauraki (Crusaders), Zak Hardaker, Rory Kettlewell (Gloucester)

Outs: Matt Diskin (Bradford), Luke Ambler (Harlequins), Greg Eastwood (Canterbury), Dane Manning (Batley), Tom Bush (York), Scott Donald (retired)

Dave Woods' verdict: Leeds will be without a couple of their star names at the start of the year as Jamie Peacock and Danny McGuire recover from injuries. But they have the quality to overcome that and the two of them should be fresh and bouncing for the business end of the season. New coach Brian McDermott is clearly a popular choice with the players and you wouldn't bet a lot of money against them winning the competition.

Player to Watch: Kallum Watkins. Had an eye-catching start to his career, but suffered a big setback with a bad injury last year. He's fit now and may struggle to get straight into the starting line-up, but he will get his chance. Expect him to dazzle when he does.


ST HELENS

St Helens

Last year: 2nd

New coach: Royce Simmons

Ins: Michael Shenton (Castleford), Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook (Harlequins), Josh Perry (Manly Sea Eagles)

Outs: Keiron Cunningham (retired), Matt Gidley (retired), Matty Smith (Salford), Nick Fozzard (Castleford), Jake Emmitt (Castleford), Bryn Hargreaves (Bradford), Paul Johnson (Wakefield), Maurie Fa'asavalu (Harlequins RU), Ste Tyrer (Widnes), Jamie Ellis (Leigh), Andy Yates (Hunslet), Jack Bradbury (Oldham), Chris Dean (Wakefield), Gaz Frodsham (Widnes - season's loan), Tom Armstrong (Leigh - dual registration)

Dave Woods' verdict: It's been fashionable in recent years to predict the decline of Saints and the absence of Keiron Cunningham will be felt. But they still have a very useful-looking squad. Josh Perry, James Roby and James Graham is as good a starting front row as any in Super League. They've made some quality signings in Michael Shenton and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and have Sia Soliola back to full fitness too. They have a shout of having a very good year.

Player to Watch: Michael Shenton. This year could be a real step-up for him and England coach Steve McNamara will be happy to see one of the finest prospects around prove his talents in a position that has been a problem of late.


SALFORD

Salford

Last year: 12th

Coach: Shaun McRae

Ins: Matty Smith (St Helens), Wayne Godwin (Bradford), Chris Nero (Bradford), Luke Patten (Canterbury Bulldogs), Stephen Wild (Huddersfield), Vinnie Anderson (Warrington), Iafeta Palea'aesina (Wigan), Phil Bailey (Wigan), Sean Gleeson (Wakefield), Adam Neal (Warrington)

Outs: Ian Sibbit (Bradford), Jeremy Smith (Wakefield), Philip Leulaui (Lezignan), Luke Swain (Carcassonne), Karl Fitzpatrick (retired), Malcolm Alker (retired), Stuart Littler (released), Willie Talau (released)

Dave Woods' verdict: The City Reds could be a real handful this year, with top eight a distinct possibility. They've made more signings than almost anyone else and they've brought in a lot of players who know their way around the park. They're probably not quite good enough to start dreaming about a trip to Old Trafford, but they will cause some real shocks this year. They are my dark horse tip for a Challenge Cup final appearance.

Player to watch: Jodie Broughton. Quick and elusive and a fiercely bright character. There's every chance he could be leading the try-scoring charts this year or at least scoring some of the most memorable tries of the season.


WAKEFIELD TRINITY WILDCATS

Wakefield

Last year: 11th

Coach: John Kear

Ins: Jeremy Smith (Salford), Frankie Mariano (Hull KR), Kevin Penny (Warrington), Tommy Lee (Crusaders), Paul Johnson (St Helens), Josh Veivers (Wigan), Stuart Howarth (Wigan), Andy Tate (Bradford), Motu Tony (Whitehaven), Chris Dean (St Helens)

Outs: Jason Demetriou (Keighley), Tevita Leo-Latu (Salford), Sean Gleeson (Salford), Kyle Bibb (Dewsbury Rams), Paul Johnson (Crusaders), Damien Blanch (Catalans), Richard Moore (Crusaders), Paul Cooke (released)

Dave Woods' verdict: Adversity for them and there's every chance they will finish the year with their Super League status taken away from them. John Kear will have them fired up in the early weeks and there will be a shock win or two along the way. But, ultimately, the weight of the points deduction and the fact that their fate is out of their hands could drag the Wildcats down.

Player to watch: Tommy Lee. He joins that long list of Wakefield players of recent years who have something to prove. A much-talked-about talent in his early days, he's still relatively young and can kick-start a top career with his exploits this term.


WARRINGTON

Warrington

Last year: 3rd

Coach: Tony Smith

Ins: Brett Hodgson (Huddersfield), Joel Monaghan (Canberra), Ben Hellewell (Bradford)

Outs: Richie Mathers (Castleford), Adam Neal (Salford), Vinnie Anderson (Salford), Kevin Penny (Wakefield), Chris Hicks (Parramatta)

Dave Woods' verdict: Just as they have been for the last couple of years now, Warrington look like a well-balanced squad with a quality coach at the helm. They are as capable of challenging for the top honours as anyone. But just like everyone else, keeping key players fit will be vital. Top four is a target - top two is definitely achievable.

Player to watch: Joel Monaghan. The circumstances surrounding his move to Warrington may have been unusual, to say the least. But, by default, the Wolves have landed a top-quality player. He could be one of the stars of the season.


WIGAN

Wigan

Last year: CHAMPIONS

Coach: Michael Maguire

Ins: Brett Finch (Melbourne), Jeff Lima (Melbourne), Ryan Hoffman (Melbourne)

Outs: Shaun Ainscough (Bradford), Iafeta Palea'aesina (Salford), Phil Bailey (Salford), Josh Veivers (Wakefield), Stuart Howarth (Wakefield), Mark Riddell (Salford), Matt Sarsfield (Huddersfield), Joe Mellor (Harlequins - loan), Karl Pryce (Harlequins - loan), Cameron Phelps (released)

Dave Woods' verdict: They aren't nailed on to win Super League XVI, but they are going to take some shifting. Take one title-winning side, add three class acts from Melbourne and you have a team with the pedigree to march through the season in top spot. Michael Maguire is attracting a lot of attention from Australia and there is a danger that, if the speculation of his return down under intensifies, it could derail Wigan's season somewhere along the line. But that's unlikely. I reckon they'll win it again.

Player to Watch: Gareth Hock. He returns from his three-year enforced absence in mid-season and, if he comes back with all the block-busting, high energy presence that he had before his ban, he'll be a massive hit.



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see also
Bradford season preview 2011
09 Feb 11 |  Bradford
Castleford season preview 2011
10 Feb 11 |  Castleford
Crusaders season preview 2011
09 Feb 11 |  Crusaders
Harlequins RL season preview 2011
09 Feb 11 |  Harlequins
Huddersfield season preview 2011
09 Feb 11 |  Huddersfield
Hull FC season preview 2011
09 Feb 11 |  Hull
Hull KR season preview 2011
09 Feb 11 |  Hull KR
Leeds season preview 2011
09 Feb 11 |  Leeds
Salford season preview 2011
10 Feb 11 |  Salford
St Helens season preview 2011
11 Feb 11 |  St Helens
Wakefield season preview 2011
09 Feb 11 |  Wakefield
Warrington season preview 2011
10 Feb 11 |  Warrington
Wigan season preview 2011
10 Feb 11 |  Wigan


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