St Helens and Warrington joint favourites for the Shield

The most eagerly anticipated Betfred Super League Season this decade gets underway next week , with a raft of top signings from the NRL .

It’s far too early to start thinking about the Grand Final , it was Good Friday before Wigan looked like potential winners last year , Leeds in 2017 didn’t look like potential winners until the Super 8 started , so we’re going to concentrate on the odds to finish top of the pile after 29 games . Each team plays each other twice , then an additional random 6 plus magic .

Saints and Warrington start joint favs at around 3/1 , with champions Wigan around 6/1.

Thankfully the ridiculous Super 8’s are gone now and with this new structure comes  a real incentive to finish top , 1st place gets a bye in week one and 2 chances (both at home if needed) to reach the Grand final . So whether or not the shield itself holds value with the Coaches 1st place certainly will .

Barba has gone now for Saints but they’ve added quality in the likes of Lachlan Coote , Kevin Naiqama and Joseph Paolo but more significanty the return of influential prop Alex Walmsley from injury . The injury to the big prop was a crucial factor in Saints failure to reach Old Trafford and his return is a major boost . Add to this the best player in Super League , James Roby , Golden boot winner Tommy Makinson and Danny Richardson who should keep improving and Saints are justified at the top of the bookies lists . I certainly wouldn’t put anyone off backing them , especially with this new structure , but I just favour the other team at the top of the market Warrington . Both sides though look bankers at 1/6 for the top 5 .

Wire improved massively last year , after a disastrous 2018 , and reached both major finals . They ultimately came up short again at Old Trafford , but there’s no doubt Coach Steve Price has installed a real winning mentality in his troops . They too have recruited well Blake Austin and Jason Clark heading for the HJ , and hopefully the return of Ben Currie early in the season to add to this .

They are no stranger to the hubcap , winning it twice this decade , and I think they can make it 3 and take no 1 seed heading into the play offs . Morale is good , they beat off a host of clubs to get Gareth Widdop for 2020 , and would be my pick to top the pile . Daryl Clark looks back to his best , but it’s Austin I’m most looking forward to seeing this year . A true star Down Under he should put bums on seats in our domestic league . Tom Lineham ended the season well at Langtree Park and he could score a bagful on the wing , it should be fascinating but I just fancy Wire to pip Saints for the Shield .

As for the rest , it’s life without Wane for champions Wigan . There’s no doubt he got the best out of his side and knew how to keep sides out , but it’ll be a more expansive game from the Warriors under Adrian Lam and it’ll be interesting to see if this brings out the best in the likes of George Williams . It’s good to see Zak Hardaker back and let’s hope he can stay out of trouble , but it’s the players who have left that Wigan may struggle to cope without . Particularly the irreplaceable John Bateman . Tomkins will also be a big miss , as was shown by his performance in the Grand Final . Wigan as always won’t be too far away but again it could be later in the season when they get going . There’ll be plenty tempted by the 6/1 for Wigan but 3rd or 4th place could be where they end up .

The next 2 in the betting are very interesting , 2018 hubcap winners Castleford at around 9/1 and Leeds at around 7’s .

In many ways Castleford’s effort in making the top 4 last year was as impressive as their heroics in 2018 with injuries hampering them , and this could be another tough season for the Tigers . We’re still unsure how they intend to replace Luke Gale but it has to affect their pre season , and whilst Eden will be popular in the top try betting I feel the Tigers may have to settle for 5th or 6th . 5th would be a good season but this remains to be seen . The Tigers are around 5/6 for the play offs , but I’d have them around  6/5

There’s no doubt Leeds have added real quality with the likes of Tuimoala Lolohea , Trent Merrin and Konrad Hurrell but they will need real improvement after an unacceptable 2018 . Yes they won the Grand Final the season after their trip into the bottom 4 in 2016 but that year they showed improvement at the end of the season and topped the middle  8 . Last year they even struggled against the championship sides and Coach Dave Furner really has his work cut out . Whist I do think the signings should see Leeds back in the play offs I don’t see them challenging Wire or Saints . If they’re to regain their trophy it may have to be away from home in the post season . Yes , Leeds had bad luck with injuries last year but I don’t see them having the quality in the backs as of the big 2 . 1/2 looks about right for the Rhinos to make the top 5

Hull FC also had a poor 2018 , they again had terrible luck with injuries , but 12/1 is about right for them this year . They could rival Cas for 5th but I don’t see them going higher than that . They have been very consistent over the last few years , and to their credit made the top 8 with bad injuries last year but may look to the cup again for silverware . The injuries still haven’t fully cleared up , I am though looking forward to seeing Jake Connor continue the form that got him an England call and he could be an outside bet for Man of Steel . Rumours of a long lay off for Albert Kelly persist but Marc Sneyd’s return should improve their kicking . FC are 6/4 for a top 5 spot and being honest I think there are 5 better sides in the comp this year .

Next come real dark horses Catalans at around 16/1 , they finally won silverware at Wembley last year and now have on board Grand final winner Sam Tomkins to add to a talented squad . Matty Smith could be a very shrewd buy but the Dragons have never coped with the travel and I can’t see that changing this year . They will be a real danger if they can make the top 5 at 7/4 but may just finish outside . They could challenge Cas and Hull for 5th , but they need to find a cure for travel sickness .

Huddersfield and Wakefield are next at around 25/1 , and Trinity start 2019 with former Giants star Danny Brough . Both sides have recruited well , Akuila Uate is a top class Giants recruit from the NRL but I don’t see either in the play offs . Tom Johnstone will be popular for top try bets but there looks real quality in Super League this year and I feel both squads aren’t quite strong enough . Given there heroics over the last few seasons 15/8 may tempt a few for Trinity to make the top 5 , but for me they may just miss out . 9/4 for the Giants to make the 5 , I’d be looking for at least 7/2 .

Next up at 66/1 come Hull KR , whilst Craven Park is always a tough place to go Rovers just don’t have the squad to trouble the top sides . Kane Linnett is top drawer and Joel Tomkins looks to have put off field problems behind them , meaning they will be hard to beat at home but a long hard season may just catch up with them . There should be no relegation issues with only one down and I feel the Rovers board will be happy with that . 8/1 for a top 5 finish is about right .

Salford could find 2019 very tough , Jackson Hastings is a fabulous signing but the Red Devils need a few more to be competitive . After an impressive 2018 Salford struggled last year and were relieved to end 2018 still in Super League , whilst I don’t see them finishing bottom it has to be said 6/1 is way too big . London should save them , but a run of form at home for the Broncos could put Salford in trouble . I hope not Super League needs a club in Salford . The Red Devils are 100/1 to finish top , fans can get 9/1 for a top 5 finish .

Finally come new boys London , promoted after their heroics in Toronto in the million pound game . They have to make do without their best player as Sammut has gone to Wigan and you have to feel that 1/3 is fully justified for the Broncos to finish bottom . It’s great to see them back and I hope a restructure for 2020 can keep them in Super League but I think that is the only way they can be saved . The squad isn’t up to this level as yet , they didn’t even win the Championship last year and as said have lost their best player . Dreamers can get 25/1 for a top 5 finish and 250/1 for the Capital club , but the wooden spoon looks unfortunately inevitable .

Have to say I can’t wait for it all to start , it gets underway a week on Thursday as Wigan travel over the lump to Saints , bring it on . It’s been  a long hard winter . As always please gamble responsibly .