Super League is heading into its 26th season in 2021, but perhaps fewer have been more eagerly awaited after such a volatile year.
Teams have recruited – whether that be head coaches or players – and markers have been set in pre-season.
But, just what should rugby league fans look out for in round one this upcoming weekend?
Marshall against former club
Former St Helens assistant Richard Marshall is in his first head coaching role with Salford, but he takes on his former club St Helens on Friday night in both sides’ first game. It will be interesting, not least because it is a baptism of fire for the former Halifax boss, but also because Marshall knows the Saints better than any other Super League boss.
Will injured stars play?
It may be a case of bluffing opponents into a false sense of security, but the most high-profile signings all seem to be lacking fitness. Greg Inglis at Warrington is a major injury doubt, Leeds’ Kyle Eastmond is lacking fitness and Wigan’s new man Jai Field is touch-and-go. It will all come down to an hour before their respective kick-off times to see whether or not the trio will take to the field, but if they do, expect excitement.
Leigh to invoke 2017 spirit
When Leigh were demoted back in 2017, they actually beat this weekend’s opponents, Wigan by 50 points to 34. So, the Centurions know they have what it takes to spring a surprise over one of the best teams in the competition. Can history repeat itself?
The battle of the ‘dark horses’
Sunday’s 12.30pm kick-off sees Hull FC take on Huddersfield in the penultimate game of the weekend. Both sides have been making serious waves in pre-season with optimism high amongst both sets of supporters. New coaches will take to the dugout with Brett Hodgson leading out FC for the first time and Ian Watson for the Giants to make it one of the most interesting ties of an opening weekend yet.
Battle of the departing coaches
Whilst Hodgson and Watson have just arrived, the last fixture of the weekend sees Daryl Powell and Steve Price go head-to-head as Castleford take on Warrington. Both coaches will be leaving their respective teams at the end of 2021 with Powell rumoured to be filling Price’s shoes at the Halliwell Jones Stadium in 2022. Will the knowledge of their departures affect either team?