All 12 Super League teams have things to be proud of when looking back at their recent history with eight of them winning silverware in the summer era whilst two more have at least competed in major finals. However, each club can rue a major missed opportunity in their recent past. So, with that in mind, here’s every Super League club’s biggest missed opportunity.
Castleford had been the entertainers in 2015 and 2016 but then turned that entertaining brand of rugby into a dominant brand of rugby in 2017 as they won 25 league games from 30 as they cruised to the League Leaders’ Shield by a margin of 10 points helped by their four wins over second-place Leeds. This saw them head into Old Trafford as overwhelming favourites only to be played off the park by the Rhinos who upset the odds to claim an eighth Super League title. This was the moment for the Tigers and was their best chance to win a first title only to not really compete in Manchester with Mike McMeeken recently admitting they let themselves down in the decider. Had star player Zak Hardaker been able to feature things might have been different but having tested for a banned substance earlier that season, the Tigers elected to leave him out. Since then, Castleford haven’t reached those heights again.
Catalans will be hoping the same doesn’t happen to them. After a brilliant campaign from the French outfit as their attack and defence caught the eye with two wins over Champions St Helens as well as a thumping of Wigan. Based on Consistency they were the best team in the league but they proved second best at Old Trafford as St Helens made it three in a row. This was Catalans’ best opportunity to win the Super League title and they squandered it. Perhaps they will look back on the spell of the final against 12 men and wonder if they should’ve done more in that period. Instead, they only mustered a 10-6 advantage which soon turned into a 12-10 deficit.
In a similar scenario, Huddersfield were unable to make it to the Grand Final in 2013 despite finishing top of the league after a brilliant campaign in which they were clearly the most consistent side in the competition. Losing to Wigan in the first week of the play-offs certainly didn’t help as it saw them sacrifice their potential right to choose their semi-final opponent in the club call. In the end they themselves were selected by Warrington in the semi-finals where their best chance to play in the Grand Final slipped through their fingers. They’d lose another semi-final in 2015 as well, not making a good account of themselves in a defeat to Wigan having been a brilliant side all season.
Hull FC: 2016
After winning the Challenge Cup Final against Warrington at Wembley in all-time classic, Hull FC fans could realistically dream of the treble as they went into the final four games top of the league but defeats to St Helens and Wigan left the Black and Whites needing two wins from two to win the League Leaders’ Shield. Success against Wakefield in the penultimate round of fixtures left them second going into the final game knowing that a win over Warrington would secure a first League Leaders’ Shield but their 23-6 defeat against the Wolves not only denied them top spot but it sent them down to third sacrificing home advantage in the semi-finals giving second-place Wigan the edge and seeing the Warriors down Hull denying them a place at Old Trafford.
Hull KR: 2009
In 2009, Hull KR reached the Super League summit on a number of occasions coming up with a dramatic victory over St Helens early in the season as something special began to unfold at Craven Park. The Robins were outwardly spoken about the ambitions especially in the Challenge Cup but a surprise golden point defeat to Warrington, who finished the season in 10th, in the quarter-finals burst their bubble with star second-rower Clint Newton later explaining just how disappointed they were to not make the semi-finals. They finished the season fourth before a humbling at the hands of table topping Leeds saw them head into an elimination battle with Wigan at home only for the Warriors to cruise to the final four meaning Hull KR’s best chance at playing in a semi-final slipped through their fingers despite having four players in the Dream Team, as many as Leeds and more than St Helens.
In 2004, Leeds finally fulfilled their potential running away with the League Leaders’ Shield with 50 points losing just two league games. This made them, the defending champions, the overwhelming favourites for Super League glory in 2005. They showcased their class in the 39-32 World Club Challenge triumph over Canterbury and proved to be the competition’s best ever attacking side scoring a record number of points with 70-point victories over the likes of Wigan. Ali Lauitiiti also made history scoring five tries against Wakefield. However, bizarre slip ups against the likes of London saw them give up top spot to St Helens but they did make it to the two major finals entering both as favourites. They surprisingly lost to massive underdogs Hull FC in the cup 25-24 before losing to third placed Bradford in the Grand Final having beaten them in the previous season’s decider and racking up 40 points against them at Odsal that season. It could’ve been a season in which Leeds won four trophies but they only came away with one.
Going into 2014, now with Marwan Koukash as the owner, the Red Devils made some exciting signings bringing in former Man of Steel Rangi Chase, Grand Finalists Francis Meli and Tony Puletua and the first man ever to win the Super League, Challenge Cup and NRL during a playing career in the shape of Adrian Morley. The likes of Phil Clarke even tipped them for Grand Final glory only for the club to slip to 10th in the league with just 11 wins from 27 despite the money funnelled into the club by Koukash and the mid-season signing of Kevin Locke.
St Helens: 2018
I could’ve gone for either 2018 or 2019 for the Saints. In both seasons, the Saints arguably should’ve won the treble but instead of six trophies from six, they only came away with three over the course of two seasons. Ultimately, I’ve gone for 2018 because that season the Saints had been near unplayable in the league racking up 52 points from a possible 60 which is still the heights total ever seen in Super League only replicated in 2019 by the same side. However, despite this, the Saints were denied a place in either of the major finals in 2018 after a shock defeat to Catalans in the Challenge Cup in which they were surprisingly blown away before they slipped up against Warrington in Super League. After being so impressive all season, to play in neither of the showpiece finals was a major disappointment.
After the RFL announced the introduction of licensing in time for the 2009 Super League season, Toulouse pushed for a place in the top tier alongside fellow French side Catalans. However, the result would only serve to worsen the fact they’d lost out to the Dragons for a Super League licence in 2005. However, they were denied a place in the league with Championship clubs Salford and Celtic Crusaders preferred ahead of them. They were however invited into the Championship with a view to applying for a 2012 licence giving them an opportunity to settle into the British leagues and build a solid side capable of securing a place in Super League three years later. Instead, having failed to live up to the hype in the Championship, the club returned to the French competition in 2011 winning consecutive Elite One Championships in 2014 and 2015. After that, they returned to the British leagues culminating in their promotion in 2021 but it could’ve happened much earlier had they taken the chance afforded to them in 2009.
With just three games left of the 2017 season, Wakefield were in the top four and heading for a semi-final spot but a dramatic defeat to St Helens in Round Five of the Super 8s left the door open for the Saints and others to sneak in ahead of them. Then a one-point loss at Hull, whom they could have finished ahead of had they finished the season strong, left them needing St Helens to slip up in the final round of fixtures before having to beat Champions Wigan. Despite victory against the Warriors, St Helens’ win over Salford left Trinity in fifth still waiting for a first Super League semi-final appearance.
The Warrington side Tony Smith put together in 2011 was one of the best in Super League. They had one of the best attacks in Super League history scoring over 1000 points as they claimed the League Leaders’ Shield. At times seemingly unstoppable, the Wolves began the play-offs with a thumping 47-0 win over Huddersfield before selecting fifth place Leeds in club call. To the surprise of many, Leeds shocked the Wolves with a 26-24 win in the semi-finals on their way to the Super League title. To miss out on Old Trafford after such a brilliant campaign has to be considered one of the most heart-breaking missed opportunities after fans had believed all season that they’d see their side play in a first Grand Final. However, it could be said the Wolves missed an opportunity a year later when they were 80 minutes away from the double only to lose to underdogs Leeds again whilst in 2016 they could’ve won the treble had they had more luck and better performances in the two major finals.
Like Warrington the year before, Wigan appeared to be the best team in the league only really rivalled by Warrington for much of the league campaign. Overwhelming favourites for both Super League and Challenge Cup glory, the Warriors must have been licking their lips when they were drawn against Leeds in the cup semi-finals having beaten the Rhinos 50-8 recently. However, they were denied a return to Wembley by a shock Leeds win but still chose to play Leeds in the Super League semi-finals selecting them in the club call. A 13-12 defeat followed seeing them twice denied a place in a major final by the fifth place Rhinos.