St Helens v Leeds Rhinos
The competitions’ two most successful sides go head-to-head at the Totally Wicked Stadium tonight eager to get off to a winning start. St Helens and Leeds may not be as dominant as they were 8-10 years ago, but I am sure it will still be an exciting game. Saints have lost new boy Matty Smith to a long-term injury and will have been working on new systems and partnerships to get ready for the season. Leeds be eager to get back on track after a year to forget. With 13 Super League titles between them, don’t back against them reaching the Theatre of Dreams come October.
St Helens will be relying on their pack to get them up the field and keep Leeds at bay. The Rhinos will want their back line to find the form they had back in 2015 when they won the treble. I believe Keiron Cunningham needs a big year to keep the fans happy but not as much as his counterpart Brian McDermott. Leeds supporters are demanding a response from their squad and I think they will start the new season with a win.
Prediction: Leeds by 8
Widnes Vikings v Huddersfield Giants
Could this be a massive game for both sides already!? The Vikings have been dealt major blows throughout the off-season with the departure of captain Kevin Brown to neighbours Warrington and Joe Mellor to injury. Huddersfield had similar issues at the start of 2016 and look how they went. Danny Brough has promised that the Giants will do better this term but without really strengthening I’m not too sure. Widnes will be hoping to recapture the form of their early 2016 which saw them accumulate enough points to take part in the Super 8s.
The Vikings will be relying on the likes of Rhys Hanbury and Chris Bridge to get them over the line while Danny Brough must get his kicking boots on for the ipitch. I can see this being a real battle that will go down to the final minutes with the home side just edging it.
Prediction: Widnes by 4
Castleford Tigers v Leigh Centurions
A great game in store at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle. The Castleford squad has been added to with astute thinking and all the noise coming from Wheldon Road suggests pre-season has been productive. Leigh have signed well and look to be aiming for the bigger picture, as in Super 8s, rather than just keeping their Super League place. Daryl Powell will be hoping this will be the year his Tigers push on and attain some silverware.
Zak Hardaker is a fantastic replacement for Luke Dorn and Leigh must try and contain him as he looks to feed off Luke Gale and Rangi Chase. Leigh captain Mickey Higham will be ensuing the Centurions don’t drop any intensity from last season. Higham has done it all before and he will be looking forward to leading his hometown club in the top flight. It’s a tough start for the new boys but I think they will play their part in what should be a cracking game.
Prediction: Castleford by 10
Salford Red Devils v Wigan Warriors
A game nobody wants to start with! The Champions are in town for Salford who have been working hard to ensure there isn’t a repeat of the Million Pound Game of 2016. The Red Devils had a very mixed season with off-the-field distractions but on the pitch, they showed signs of improvement. Wigan will be hoping they have less injuries this season and it will take a good team to stop them winning back-to-back titles.
Going forward Salford look dangerous and they will need their main playmakers to be on song if they are to unlock Wigan’s tight defence. Shaun Wane’s side know how to grind out a result, look no further than the Grand Final for the truth of that, and usually come on strong in the latter stages of a game. The Warriors will also be looking for a solid start in preparation for the World Club Challenge next weekend and I think they will have too much in this one.
Prediction: Wigan by 12
Catalans Dragons v Warrington Wolves
The Dragons were tipped by many to reach Old Trafford after some good early season form in 2016 but eventually fell way short. Warrington returned to the Grand Final last season and for the third time they failed to make it a first win there. As much as I said Salford have the game nobody wants to start with maybe Warrington pip them? Not so much with the team the Wolves will face but the travel and preparation that goes into this trip for Super League clubs. Catalans usually have an impressive home record, but Wolves fans can take heart knowing their side won both games in Perpignan last season.
Catalans need to start well this season and ensure the wheels don’t fall off again later in the campaign. Warrington have some key players missing but Tony Smith knows how to get the points in Perpignan and I think he and the Wolves will find a way to do it again.
Prediction: Warrington by 6
Wakefield Trinity v Hull FC
These two sides potentially surprised a lot last season; Wakefield finished in the top eight and made the Challenge Cup semi-finals with Hull winning the cup and getting within 80 minutes of Old Trafford. Wakefield are in a good place ahead of 2017 and have made some astute signings. As for Hull, they will be hoping for a repeat of last year with a stronger finish to the season this time around.
Wakefield have a good squad this term and with Chris Chester and John Kear at the helm you know they will be well prepared. Lee Radford’s men will look to hit the ground running but this won’t be an easy game, as last season proved. This could well be the surprise result of the weekend and I think Trinity may catch the Airlie Birds cold.
Prediction: Wakefield by 10
*Pictures: Melanie Allatt (top), SWpix.com