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Ranking every Super League team’s performance vs expectation in 2021

It’s safe to say no one expected the season we were dealt in 2021. Catalans defied the odds to become the first French team to play in a Grand Final having finished top of the pile and relegation candidates Hull KR made it as far as the semi-finals playing some magnificent stuff. Expectations were defied all year as we enjoyed a brilliant campaign but who exceeded expectations the most in 2021 and who flattered to deceive? Today we’re ranking every Super League team’s performance in terms of how much they lived up to or surpassed pre-season expectations.

12. Huddersfield

Going into the new season, Huddersfield were seen as the dark horses. Plenty of people were comparing their squad to St Helens’ believing that it could rival the Champions for quality especially with Aidan Sezer in the halves and with Ian Watson at the helm. However, it soon became clear that Watson’s vision was much more long term than most expected. This was not his squad and he still had a few more players to bring in and youngsters to develop before he had a team which resembled what he wanted. We’re likely to see something closer to that in 2022 as the Giants look to crack the play-offs for the first time since 2015. It should be said injuries haven’t helped them in 2021 but those absentees have enabled the emergence of Will Pryce and co meaning this year wasn’t all doom and gloom for the claret and gold.

11. Hull FC

Expectations weren’t so high for Hull in 2021 as they were in 2020. They passed the dark horses tag onto Huddersfield but they were still expected to make the top six especially following the arrival of Josh Reynolds. Brett Hodgson was tipped to breathe new life into the club and bring an attacking flair building on their strong finish to 2020. But, despite a decent start to the year, the Black and Whites crashed out of the play-off race with nine defeats in their last 10.

10. Castleford

Like Hull, Castleford were fancied to finish in the top six. The arrival of Niall Evalds was an exciting one whilst Jake Trueman and Danny Richardson promised to continue their development into the new season. Complimented by a strong pack and with Daryl Powell revealing he was set to leave at the end of the year a few weeks into the new campaign, a big last season was expected for Super League’s longest serving coach. An exciting cup run somewhat derailed Castleford’s early season momentum and they found themselves finishing disappointingly outside the top six thanks to two defeats in their final two games.

9. Wigan

After finishing top of the pile last year and going so close to Grand Final glory in Hull, Wigan were expected to again push St Helens all the way at the top in 2021. With the attacking talents of Bevan French and Jackson Hastings at their disposal, it seemed silly to write off another Wigan-Saints final. Despite a perfect start in the opening seven games, the Warriors collapsed and sunk down the table and out of the race for top spot. Their fourth-place finish was still reasonable and sees them higher than Castleford and Hull FC, but it was still below expectations as was their play-off defeat to Leeds.

8. Leigh

Leigh were expected to go down but in house their end of season goal will have been to stay afloat in Super League or at least come close as London did in 2019. Unfortunately, despite a valiant effort, they went down with only two wins to their name both of which came when they were virtually consigned to relegation. They’ll come back fighting in 2022 as they again challenge for promotion.

7. Salford

The expectations surrounding Salford before the season weren’t too exciting. Expected to survive but make no real push for play-off rugby in the absence of Ian Watson, very few will have tipped them for finals rugby. Of course, those within the club will have been hoping for a play-off push but none came. Their 11th place finish was somewhat expected and they’ll want a more successful season next year.

6. Wakefield

It’s a similar story for Wakefield. Most expected them to finish in the bottom four and that they did. However, their end of season form defied expectations and saw them finish the year with some impressive wins and some even more impressive performances. It’s that end of the season which sees them named above Salford in this list.

5. Warrington

The Wolves were again tipped to be around the top two by most with some expecting them to continue their lacklustre finish to 2020. However, the class of Gareth Widdop and co shone through guiding them to a third-place finish in which they showed – in terms of league form anyway – that they’re not too far away from the top two. That said, most expected them to finish outside the home semi-final spots and they did but disappointingly they even went on to crash out of the play-offs in week one which most certainly did not expect. Thus, their league form met expectations but their knockout performances were disappointing as they missed out on Wembley and on the final four in Super League.

4. Leeds

Leeds pretty much met the pre-season expectations most people had. Many saw Leeds as a side who’d finish in or around fourth spot and that they did as they replicated 2020’s fifth place finish and went a step closer to Old Trafford than they did last term despite the injury problems which plagued their season from start to finish. In terms of expectations mid-season, Leeds exceeded them going from the bottom four to just outside the top four with a decent run of form from the halfway point on. That said, their humbling semi-final defeat shows there’s still a lot of work to be done if Leeds want to force their way back into the title picture.

3. St Helens

The reigning Champions were expected by most to make it three in a row at the start of the season and they certainly didn’t let anyone down meeting the lofty expectations most pundits had for them prior to the season. They also added the Challenge Cup to their recent trophy haul as they again proved to be Super League’s dominant club at the moment. They’ll have been disappointed with their second-place finish but you have to be pleased with two out of three trophies.

2. Catalans

Despite the quality in their ranks, the solid recruitment pre-season and their impressive fourth place finish last year, no one expected Catalans to finish top. However, they soon showed that they’d learnt lessons from their semi-final defeat to St Helens last term and became a dominant winning machine for most of the season finishing top of the pile for the first time in their brief history. Unfortunately, they couldn’t do the job at Old Trafford but came very close. Still, just getting to the Grand Final saw them exceed expectations.

1. Hull KR

The only club who shocked more people this year than Catalans was Hull KR. Tony Smith’s attacking and off the cuff style yielded huge success on Humberside this term. The Robins went from a side seen as the next favourites for relegation after Leigh, to a play-off outfit. I’ll be the first to admit I tipped for them for a 10th place finish and they went on to finish sixth before a fantastic play-off win over Warrington took them to their first ever Super League semi-final. They went from being a team some expected to be relegated in 2021 to one of the final four sides in the competition after an exhilarating season.

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