The 2017 Super League season begins this weekend
Castleford are making highly-impressive progress under Daryl Powell and their close-season recruitment has encouraged hopes of a serious title tilt. Zak Hardaker was Super League’s Man of Steel two years ago.
Key signing: Zak Hardaker (full-back). Has had his share of personal problems in recent times but talent is not up for debate.
Nobody seems quite sure how good Catalans can be this season, least of all themselves. The new half-back partnership of Luke Walsh and Richie Myler could hold the key to their hopes.
Key player: Greg Bird (second-rower). Back in Perpignan for his second spell with the Dragons and on a five-year contract too.
Traumatic does not do justice to life at Huddersfield in 2016. They sacked Paul Anderson in June after a disastrous start to the season and the pressure is on Rick Stone to conjure a big improvement.
Key player: Danny Brough (scrum-half). The Scotland international still possesses arguably the most dangerous kicking game in Super League.
Castleford Tigers – third
After winning at Wembley for the first time in their history with last season’s Challenge Cup final victory over Warrington, Hull should again challenge for silverware after signing Albert Kelly from bitter rivals Hull KR.
Key player: Marc Sneyd (stand-off). A key figure in last season’s Challenge Cup success, Sneyd will again guide Lee Radford’s side around the park.
From 2015 treble winners to 2016 relegation dwellers, Leeds need to reassert their authority on Super League this season. A top-eight finish is a must and the arrival of new hooker Matt Parcell should help steady the ship.
Key player: Danny McGuire (scrum-half). Long-serving star lacks the pace of old but these days his speed of thought compensates for what his legs can no longer achieve.
Leigh have developed a welcome winning habit in recent seasons and will aim to continue that on their Super League return. Their home form could hold the key to a top-eight finish.
Key player: Glenn Stewart (back-rower). Arguably the Centurions’ most impressive new recruit, the former Australian star should shine.
Rugby's controversial moments
Fri, September 18, 2015
From 'Bloodgate' to suspensions here are Rugby's most controversial moments.
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Harlequins' Tom Williams faked blood pouring from his mouth with blood capsuls in a scandal now referred to as 'Bloodgate', 2009
Warrington Wolves – second
SALFORD RED DEVILS
After the drama and ultimately the ecstasy of the Million Pound Game, Salford secured their Super League status at the expense of Hull KR. Now the time has come for less chaos and more progress.
Key player: Todd Carney (stand-off). Off-field incidents have blighted his career but he provided 17 try assists last season for Catalans.
St Helens made the play-off semi-finals in 2016 after an improved run of form towards the end of the year but another trophyless season would not sit well with supporters.
Key player: Matty Smith (scrum-half). The former Everton junior footballer is currently sidelined with a broken leg and his return cannot come quick enough.
Do not underestimate what an outstanding job Chris Chester performed at Wakefield in 2016. He transformed a struggling team into a respected force, guiding them to Super League safety and a Challenge Cup semi-final. Further progress expected.
Key player: Tom Johnstone (winger). The prolific finisher scored 20 tries in 25 games last season and was named Super League Young Player of the Year.
Wigan Warriors – first
Warrington have an unwanted tag as rugby league’s nearly men and will be desperate to get that monkey off their backs. They have reached three Grand Finals in the past five years and lost all of them.
Key player: Kevin Brown (stand-off). The close-season signing from Widnes has proved himself one of the best playmakers in the competition.
Widnes’ impressive early-season form last year saw them top the table and they went on to finish seventh to safeguard their Super League status. But losing Kevin Brown is a savage blow.
Key player: Charly Runciman (centre). The Australian has proved a big hit since joining the Vikings in August 2015 and should prosper again.
Wigan were decimated by injuries throughout 2016 but produced a magnificently spirited display to overcome Warrington at Old Trafford. Some key players have since left but Shane Wane’s recruitment looks shrewd.
Key player: Thomas Leuluai (scrum-half). Leuluai has returned from a stint at the New Zealand Warriors to come back to Wigan, where he played from 2007 to 2012.