George Riley's superleague.co.uk Blog
So after Wigan and Huddersfield dished up an appetising hors d'oeuvre we're braced for round one proper of First Utility Super League in miserable conditions across the country.
The Giants stood tall at Wigan like they did for the whole of last season, proving at the first opportunity that they mean business again. So what else did their victory at the double-winners tell us? For me, not a lot. Wigan will go just fine in defending both domestic trophies. The Warriors are rarely the same proposition when you take Captain Sean O'Loughlin out of the team, and with top scorer Josh Charnley missing too plus Michael McIlorum clearly not fit, that's the England spine gone. Add to that the impending distraction of a flight to Auckland the next day and it was no surprise the champions were off the pace. No disrespect to Huddersfield - I thought they were outstanding and would have won by more but for Danny Brough's uncharacteristically wayward wand, and may well have been too strong anyway. But Wigan won't be dominated like that too often this season. The Giants meanwhile have made it quite clear they expect to repeat their run to the League Leaders' Shield.
Warrington and St Helens pick things up in Thursday night's like Sky game, and I'll be fascinated to see how the teams match up. It's a big year for Stefan Ratchford at Warrington who has had to be patient in his role as the Wolves' odd-job man before League legend Lee Briers' reluctant relinquishing of the number six shirt. I'm excited too to see if full-back Matty Russell can take his eye-catching World Cup displays into Super League.
Like Ratchford ascending Briers' throne, Jonny Lomax steps into Paul Wellens' sizeable slippers at Saints. I expect Nathan Brown's side to be much stronger this year having recruited well and assembled a massive pack, although they could still do with a number six alongside Luke Walsh.
Brian Noble says he would have liked Salford's "Devilution" to go under the radar but admits there is no chance of that with the publicity extrovert owner Marwan Koukash is courting. The self-confessed "big mouth" of Super League delivered an astonishing half-hour monologue at the Red Devils season launch in which he set out his bid to change the way the game is run and structured. The launch was at The Lowry at Salford Quays. Koukash insisted the event take place at a venue with a view of Old Trafford. He addressed the Salford squad, turned and pointed at the famous stadium and instructed them that he expects to be there in October for a Grand Final. Like him or loathe him, agree or disagree with what Koukash wants to do, he knows how to get press. At least five national newspapers wrote up his rant the following morning. His talk won't win any trophies though. So now it's time for Morley, Hock, Hansen, Chase and co to justify his optimism, but the buzz Koukash has created means we will all be watching to see how Salford fare. Marwan wants a Grand Final appearance, and a minimum top-four finish. I think he'll be disappointed but would expect the Red Devils to make the playoffs and possibly go top six.
It is unfortunate that on the eve of a new season, and following a hugely successful home World Cup, the headline story has been one of our top players switching to Union. My understanding is that Sam Burgess’ code switch is very much on, although a disagreement between the RFU and Bath over who pays South Sydney Rabbitohs to release the player remains a stumbling block. I would of course be absolutely gutted to see Burgess go, like any League fan. But with Union again praying on our brightest stars it does at least prove that we are doing a lot right.
The BBC has announced details of its new commitment to Super League on radio and it’s a hugely exciting prospect. We’ll be providing over 70 live commentaries this season with the boss now keen that we make 5 live Sports Extra the home of Rugby League on radio. There will be a half hourly weekly podcast too with big interviews and match reaction and for me represents a real breakthrough.