With the new Super League campaign just over a month away, it’s that time of the year when everyone is producing their predictions of how this season will unfold. So, I thought I’d throw my opinions into the mix. Today I’m giving you my Grand Final prediction, how I see the Challenge Cup panning out and which superstars I believe will grab the individual prizes. But let’s start with how I see the final league table shaping up.
1. St Helens
The reigning Super League champions still have the best squad in my opinion. There have been some notable departures over the last few months especially in the pack – Luke Thompson, Dominique Peyroux and Zeb Taia – but Saints have smartly replaced them with quality recruits like Joel Thompson and the youngest ever Australian representative Sione Mata’utia. They have quality throughout their ranks and with Kristian Woolf more settled in 2021 I fancy them to get off to a faster start.
Key player – Lachlan Coote
Coote has been an underrated star in St Helens’ back-to-back title triumphs. For me, he’s the best fullback in the competition and certainly the most complete. He rarely produces a performance that’s below 7/10 and offers tries, assists and even established himself as a class goal kicker last season.
2. Wigan Warriors
Wigan impressed last season. They claimed the League Leaders’ Shield and returned to the Grand Final. They’ve recruited well bringing in John Bateman – one of the most sought-after players in the world last season – and adding the exciting Jai Field to their ranks. They should have an impressive 17 next season capable of claiming silverware.
Key Player – Jackson Hastings
The 2019 Man of Steel was again outstanding last season. He provided the Warriors with the perfect balance last season and created a scintillating partnership with Bevan French. The perfect organiser and creative spark for the Warriors, he impressed in the Grand Final and could be the man to deliver Wigan’s sixth Super League crown.
3. Leeds Rhinos
Last season, the Rhinos took a gigantic step forwards in their re-build. At times they were the best attacking side in the league and proved they could win big games as they claimed the Challenge Cup at Wembley. This season they won’t have to sacrifice league games for their cup run and I fancy them to continue to develop. They won’t have the consistency yet to finish any higher than third, but I think they’ll be capable of beating anyone.
Key Player – Luke Gale
Who else? The Rhinos skipper was the key to changing Leeds from a cellar-dwellers back into a competitive force. He’s creative and a top-notch organiser with one of the best kicking games in the league. If he remains fit, I believe Leeds will be in and amongst the top three all season.
4. Catalans Dragons
2020 represented an important step forward for the Dragons. Playing an awful lot of games outside of France, Catalans finally found consistency away from home and finished fourth equalling their second highest ever finish. They have some real quality in the likes of Tomkins and Maloney and I expect them to once again make the play-offs.
Key Player – James Maloney
Another outstanding half, James Maloney has a superb legacy in Australia. Last season we saw him recapture some of the heights that made him one of the NRL’s top players for the better part of a decade. He leads the Dragons around the field with real sharpness and I look forward to seeing him at his best again in 2021.
5. Huddersfield Giants
Many people’s dark horse for success in 2021, the Giants have all the pieces in place to have a superb season. They’ve recruited well adding the likes of Josh Jones and Ricky Leutele to an already impressive squad. But their biggest winter recruit was Ian Watson. Probably the best coach in the league at the moment, his success at Salford was masterful as he unearthed the untapped potential of many players. If he can have the same impact at Huddersfield there’s no reason why they won’t have a fantastic campaign.
Key Player – Aidan Sezer
Boy Super League is blessed with some fantastic halves at the minute and Aiden Sezer is one of them. After taking Canberra to the 2019 NRL Grand Final he arrived in Huddersfield and impressed quickly becoming one of the league’s top assisters and best organisers. He nailed down a place in the Dream Team and if the Giants are going to achieve success this season he will underpin it.
6. Warrington Wolves
This is my controversial decision. Warrington are a class side with some real stars at their disposal but last season I feel they failed to find the right balance. They didn’t finish the campaign in the best form and I can see it carrying on into 2021. If it does, the play-offs may slip through their fingers. That said, they have enough class to finish as high as third.
Key Player – Toby King
King was Warrington’s best player last season forcing his way into Shaun Wane’s England squad with his superb form. If he continues that form, a second consecutive appearance in the Dream Team is highly likely.
7. Hull FC
The Black and Whites have taken a gamble on Brett Hodgson as coach. A class player with all the makings of a class coach, there’s no reason this appointment can’t be a success in the long run. However, it often takes time for coaches to settle in so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a slow start from Hull. Yet, I expect them to settle under Hodgson and become a force towards the end of next season and beyond.
Key Player – Jake Connor
There are few players as skilful as Jake Connor. When the ball’s in his hands it feels like anything can happen whether that’s a defence-splitting pass, a 40/20 kick or even a jinking and weaving run. Always a joy to watch, he’s been given the number 1 jersey and may settle at fullback and have one of his best seasons ever.
8. Castleford Tigers
From a coach just starting out to the longest serving in the league, this feels like a watershed season for Daryl Powell’s Tigers. They’ve been one of the top teams in Super League since he took over and that could remain the case in 2021. However, there are plenty of quality teams across the competition who feel more primed for success in 2021 than the Tigers.
Key Player – Jake Trueman
For me, Trueman is the future of the England halves. He’s exciting to watch and boasts every attribute you want from a top-quality half. You forget how young he is too and, in the years, to come as he hits his peak he could soon become Super League’s best player. At this moment in time, he’s a young lad capable of turning any game on its head.
9. Hull KR
The Rovers have recruited well going into 2021. In Korbin Sims they have real size in the middle of the park and have also added 6-time Grand Final winner Ryan Hall to their ranks. In fact, the Rovers have pockets of quality throughout their side and a coach who will get them playing exciting rugby capable of unravelling any team in Tony Smith. An unlikely push for the play-offs could be on the cards.
Key Player – Kane Linnett
Linnett has heaps of experience and is a superb leader for KR. He’s a top tackler and brings tremendous size. He could force his way into almost any Super League side and when he’s on top form he often inspires the Rovers to top performances.
10. Wakefield Trinity
After three consecutive top 6 finishes from 2016-18, the last two seasons haven’t been what Chris Chester and Wakefield would’ve wanted and I see 2021 being a similar story. That said, Wakefield boast a host of superb talent including the likes of Tom Johnstone who is one of the best wingers in the league. They could push for the play-offs should they have luck with injuries after a couple of seasons where their top stars have been ravaged by them.
Key Player – Tom Johnstone
As I just mentioned, Johnstone is one of the best wingers in the league and a candidate for England’s World Cup side. He has speed to burn and is a superb finisher capable of scoring tries in almost impossible circumstances.
11. Salford Red Devils
2020 was in many ways the natural sequel to 2019 for the Red Devils. They followed up their Old Trafford appearance with a trip to Wembley which sadly ended in defeat. Like in 2019 they proved they could beat anyone on their day and that could well be the case in 2021. But without Ian Watson I think they might struggle to reach the heights of the last two seasons.
Key Player – Krisnan Inu
Salford may have been unable to keep Watson they were able to keep talismanic winger Inu. The 2020 Super League Dream Team winger was one of the most outstanding performers in Super League last year whether he was bursting over for tries in the corner or nailing vital goals from the touchline.
12. Leigh Centurions
Leigh were the side selected to replace Toronto this season. They tick all the boxes of a Super League club. It’s nice to see them back and they’re not just here to make up the numbers. I fancy them to compete in every game and produce some memorable victories during the course of the campaign.
Key Player – Ryan Brierley
Whenever Brierley has played at Leigh, he’s scored tries for fun. In his first stint he scored 133 tries in 125 appearances. Back at Leigh, he’ll feel at home. They’ll look to him to be a creative spark and he could well score tries against the very best sides.
Young Player of the Year – Jack Welsby
The 2020 Grand Final hero will enter the 2021 season on cloud nine. Capable of playing anywhere in the backs, the Saints star will be guaranteed game time and his dynamic and attacking style will catch the eye. In the years to come he’ll be one of the best Super League stars.
Top try Scorer – Ash Handley
I don’t think there’s a more natural try scorer in the league. After finishing just behind Makinson in 2019, he took the top try scorer award last season. I fancy him to repeat the feat again in 2021 especially if the Rhinos build on their impressive 2020.
Man of Steel – Aidan Sezer
Huddersfield are set for a big year in 2021 and at the heart of it will be Sezer. The Giants’ scrum-half will build on his 2020 performances and I can see him guiding Huddersfield to the upper echelons of the league this season. If he does, he may well claim the Man of Steel award.
Grand Final Winners – Wigan Warriors
I reckon 2021 will bring the much-anticipated Grand Final rematch between the Warriors and the Saints. After the heartbreak of last season, I fancy Wigan to re-write the wrongs of 2020. Led by organiser, Hastings I believe that’s a real possibility and that we could see the end to Saints two-year reign as Champions.
Challenge Cup Winners – Leeds Rhinos
Often teams win the cup in back-to-back seasons. Hull did it in 2016 and 2017 and the two years prior to that the Rhinos themselves did it. With Gale in the halves and a bunch of exciting youngsters, I can see the Rhinos returning to Wembley and claiming the trophy against someone like Castleford.