It’s that time of year, when all rugby league fans, myself included, start making bold predictions about their teams prospects for the season ahead, and all sorts of other possibilities so, for what it’s worth, here are my predictions for what will happen in the 2018 season!
As a Hull FC supporter myself, I’ve enjoyed watching a resurgence from being a side that were nearly relegated in 2014, to being back-to-back Challenge Cup winners and Top 4 dwellers, and yes I’m expecting very similar in 2018, although I have a feeling that the silverware that ends up residing at the KCOM Stadium this year, will be that which is handed out at Old Trafford in October.
Yes Hull have lost Gareth Ellis to retirement, and Mahe Fonua to the NRL, both were only really a matter of time, but contingencies have been put in place long before those announcements were made, and they will prove fruitful in my own estimation.
I could particularly point out several big games when Hull dealt with missing Ellis, the one that comes most readily to mind being the masterful performance when Castleford Tigers were humbled in the Challenge Cup quarter-final, another being the thumping of Warrington Wolves in the game when the Black & Whites remembered fallen hero Jack Harrison.
Replacing Fonua is USA international Bureta Faraimo, a man who Lee Radford described as “A smoking gun” after his debut in the pre-season friendly against Catalans Dragons, a game which saw Faraimo claim his first try, as well as the man of the match, with a performance that had Hull fans purring.
Replacing Ellis as captain is 2016 Steve Prescott Man of Steel Danny Houghton, replacing the former England international at loose-forward is anybody’s guess, with Lee Radford having an embarrassment of riches available to him in that position, including Tonga captain Sika Manu, Italy captain Mark Minichiello, England contender Liam Watts or even loan returnee Jordan Abdull.
It has to be said that, in recent years, the established ‘Big Boys’ such as Leeds, Warrington, Huddersfield and Catalans Dragons have found it very hard going at times, with all having spells in the Bottom 4, and fighting for their lives in the qualifiers, if that trend continues, I’m not saying it will, but if it does I think Wigan Warriors could be the ones who have to watch out.
Losing the quality of McIlorum and Gelling on the eve of the new season has left a big hole to fill and if the Warriors were to get off to a slow start 23 games is not many to turn it round if you’re say six points off the pace after the first few games, I also believe that the channel hoppers from the South of France could also be in for a long season, depending on how David Mead blends in, and how fit Greg Bird stays.
Another problem for Shaun Wane’s side could be their problem in the goal-kicking department, much of that will depend on the fitness of reluctant kicker George Williams, and Morgan Escare.
There will be change in the Top 4 I believe, with the semi-finals being contested, in no particular order, by Hull FC, St. Helens, Leeds Rhinos and one of Warrington Wolves, Castleford Tigers or Wakefield Trinity.
The Challenge Cup is an interesting one, having won it for the last two years one would expect Hull FC to be among the early favourites, but St. Helens or Castleford Tigers could easily have a strong say in it, possibly dependent on their priorities and their Super League form.
My predictions are therefore:
League Leaders Shield: St. Helens
Challenge Cup: St. Helens (Possibly)
Grand Final Winners: Hull FC
Bottom 4: Widnes Vikings, Salford Red Devils, Hull KR and either Wigan Warriors or Catalans Dragons
MPG: Leigh Centurions to beat Widnes Vikings
Also promoted: Toronto Wolfpack, Also relegated, I’ll leave that open to debate!
Steve Prescott Man of Steel: Jake Connor