Every friendly you can watch today to get ready for the new season and what we can learn from each fixture

Boxing Day is one of my favourite days in the rugby league calendar. Yes, it’s bitterly cold and with it being the first set of friendlies going into the new season the quality isn’t exactly that you’re likely to see 10 months later at Old Trafford, but it was feels special. It is opening a new chapter of the game we love and reading the first few enticing sentences of the story we’re set to see unfold in 2022.

A World Cup year whilst a number of Super League sides are set to push for success in 2022, the new year could be one of the biggest and best in recent memory. But it all starts today. With two games set to take place today, let’s consider how the stories of 2022 may open up in today’s rugby.

There was supposed to be a third game today between Batley and Dewsbury but that has been cancelled due to the pandemic.

Bradford v Halifax

Hoping for a Christmas treat? Then head down to see Bradford take on Halifax. This is one of the biggest games in the second tier these days as the two share a huge rivalry even meeting in a Challenge Cup quarter-final in 2019. On the back of play-off finishes for both sides last term, there’s big expectations on the shoulders of both Yorkshire clubs going into 2022. Let’s begin with the Panthers. They finished third last year as the best team aside from the runaway top two and in 2022 they’ll be even better with exciting arrivals like Kyle Wood and Wigan target Lachlan Walmsley through the door. They’re just two of Halifax’s brilliant set of signings going into next term leading some supporters to believe the club to build on their third-place finish last season and make a real fist of promotion next year making this a huge game for them today especially with over 10 new signings at the club leaving Simon Grix with the difficult job of gelling them into a team in time to challenge at the start of the new season in late January. Today’s derby is the first step on the road to building a top Championship team.

As for Bradford, the four-time Super League Champions always have huge expectations circling them after being one of the early dominant forces of the summer era. 2022 will mark eight years outside the top flight for the Bulls and with Halifax recruiting well alongside Leigh and Featherstone being tipped as the favourites by most bookmakers, Bradford are being harshly overlooked. For John Kear’s side, it’s a case of life after Brough with the Man of Steel announcing his retirement after a stellar career. His retirement leaves massive pressure on the arriving Dec Patton who failed to make a splash at Salford following a positive start to his career at Warrington. This could be his chance, alongside Jordan Lilley, to kickstart his career. Like Patton, the Bulls have something to prove in 2022 and they can grab the attention again with a victory at the expense of one of the sides expected to finish in the top four this afternoon.

Leeds v Wakefield

The last time Leeds and Wakefield met on Boxing Day, Luke Gale was making his first appearance in a Leeds shirt since playing in the same fixture 12 years earlier. It was seen as the start of a new era with four new signings settling into the side alongside three mid-season signings from the previous year. Yet, just two years and a pandemic later, today’s game against Wakefield is again considered the start of a new era. Leeds have three signings set to debut this afternoon with many Rhinos fans believing that this is their best chance for five years to push for Super League glory. To underline their title credentials, they’ll need an impressive performance today. Fans are also excited to see what the new halfback partnership, following the exit of the aforementioned Gale, of Aidan Sezer and Blake Austin in action and how it could sharpen up Leeds’ attack in 2022 with many expecting their style of play to shift from a half either side of the pitch to one in which both halfbacks link together with their differing skillsets complimenting one another. Today’s game will shed light on how the Rhinos will attack next year and whether they may be capable of scoring tries all across the pitch, an asset they lacked in 2021 with just 15% of their tries scored down the right. It could also demonstrate whether or not they’re true contenders for Super League glory.

As for Wakefield, after a positive end to 2021 under new coach Willie Poching, today could indicate whether or not they’ll carry the momentum that saw them defeat Leeds towards the end of last year into the start of 2022. With pre-season preparations under his belt, we’ll also get a better view of how Poching wants his side to play next year and how he intends to use some of his new signings like Lee Gaskell and Liam Hood both of whom are set to feature. Overall, their performance and how the new boys at the club settle in could also indicate whether or not Trinity could seriously push for the play-offs or even their best season since back-to-back fifth place finishes in 2017 and 2018.

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