At the start of a Super League season where the action on the field could easily be overshadowed by the action off it, the search is on for the players who can make a crucial difference to clubs with an uncertain future. With new, three-year licences to be allocated in mid-campaign, the pressure is on clubs to show that they have a part to play in the future shape of the competition.
Nowhere is that more true than at Salford, regular strugglers in recent years, playing their final season at The Willows and desperate to go to their new home beside the Manchester Ship Canal in 2012 not just as a Super League club but as one with momentum. Nobody has recruited more energetically this winter, but their overriding need is for a general to guide them through the minefield. They believe they have that in Luke Patten, the 30-year-old full-back from the Canterbury Bulldogs in Sydney.
"He could have the same sort of impact as Brett Hodgson at Huddersfield a couple of years ago," says the City Reds' coach, Shaun McRea. The comparison is an apt one. When Huddersfield knew they were losing Hodgson to Warrington this season, they tried to sign Patten as a direct replacement.
Instead, Patten chose Salford on a three-year deal, and the main reason was Daniel Holdsworth. Injuries restricted the half-back to a highly impressive half-season last year, but McRae has appointed him captain this time. He has proved a highly effective recruiting sergeant. He played alongside Patten at Canterbury and the two live with their partners next door to each other in one of the leafier parts of Salford.
"There were chances of going other places, but having DJ here made a real difference to me settling in," Patten says. "On the field as well, I reckon if you get your No 1 and your No 7 working well together, an awful lot of the rest falls into place. I think Daniel will thrive on the captaincy. He's what I would call a confidence player; he plays best when people show that they have confidence in him."
Patten has wanted to play in England since travelling here to play for Canterbury against Leeds in the World Club Challenge in 2005. Part of the attraction is the proximity of so many different countries and cultures. Another is being part of the Salford team that leaves The Willows and sets up shop at nearby Barton. "It's a chance to play a part in a bit of rugby league history," says Patten.
One thing he would not mind shedding during his time in Britain is the nickname that has followed him through his career since his schooldays – The General.
"General Patton wasn't even spelt the same way, but I've never shaken it off. I suppose there are worse nick-names you could get. I got it because I was always involved in organising teams I played in. I don't feel I've earned it over here yet. I should probably go back to Private."
Salford expect him to rank more highly than that, and they expect plenty from other high-profile recruits such as Phil Bailey and Feka Paleaaesina from Wigan, Vinnie Anderson from Warrington and Huddersfield's Steven Wild.
Most of the newcomers are battle-hardened veterans rather then boy soldiers, but for Salford it is all about making an impact this season. Their dream is to go to Barton as a winning side and expand their appeal across Greater Manchester, much as Sale have done in rugby union. To do that, of course, they must be a Super League club, and one of that number will lose its licence for next season.
That no longer looks likely to be Salford. Wakefield start the new season in Cardiff next weekend with far worse problems. It you are looking for the mark of doom, it is probably on their foreheads. That is a relief to Crusaders and Castleford to name but two; what could have been a messy mid-season cull now looks suspiciously like a fait accompli.
There are those who would say the same of the top end of the table. After all, Wigan won Super League in style last season and are undeniably stronger for the addition of Brett Finch, Jeff Lima and Ryan Hoffman from Melbourne. But last year's Challenge Cup-winners, Warrington, are stronger as well and could finally have the ability to go the distance.
The best of the rest are under new management and much will depend on how Leeds and St Helens respond to the man-management styles of Brian McDermott and Royce Simmons respectively.
There should be little to choose between the Hull clubs, either of whom could be a threat if they have a measure of luck with injuries. Huddersfield have lost the talismanic Hodgson, but will still be capable of going on long winning runs.
Much hinges on the style of rugby that will be played, with Leeds and Saints leading the backlash against what they claim is Wigan's stifling defence. It is not such a philosophical divide. Rugby league has always been a game where you try to play when you've got the ball and stop the opposition playing when you haven't. Last year Wigan did both, and anyone who hopes to match them must do the same in Super League XVI.
Where will they finish? 8th
After missing the play-offs for the first time last season, the Bulls will improve – but maybe not by much. They have a lot of new signings to bed in, some of them distinctly risky.
One to watch: Amid all the comings and goings, Kyle Briggs from Featherstone has a chance to establish himself at stand-off.
Where will they finish? 10th
The key result for Cas will be the renewal of their Super League licence. On the field, the return of Danny Orr will help to make up for the loss of Joe Westerman and Michael Shenton.
One to watch: Richard Owen is now the one survivor of the Tigers' "Amber Generation". If he returns strongly, it will be like having a gifted new player.
Where will they finish? 11th
A disgraceful last in 2011, the tighter coaching regime of Trent Robinson should help the French. Better discipline, on and off the field, is key.
One to watch: Scott Dureau is a scrum-half Robinson knows well from Australia and he could unlock the potential of the Dragons' squad.
Where will they finish? 12th
Making the play-offs last year was a stunning achievement, but things have been even more chaotic off the field this winter, with limited recruitment.
One to watch: A full season of the bucaneering Jarrod Sammut would give the North Wales side a player who can win matches out of nothing.
Where will they finish? 13th
Plenty of emerging local players, but the numbers ready for Super League look thin. The loss of coach Brian McDermott to Leeds is a major blow.
One to watch: Tony Clubb was one of England's few successes in the Four Nations. A big centre with good footwork, he is always hard to stop.
Where will they finish? 5th
Now firmly established but will miss Brett Hodgson and are not quite equipped yet to take the next step up.
One to watch: Scott Grix looks like being the man with the daunting task of taking over from Hodgson. He's a gutsy, versatile player, but it's a lot to ask.
Where will they finish? 7th
Hull's problem is likely to be the same as last year: the lack of alternatives to two injury-prone veterans at half-back. They must pray that Richard Horne and Sean Long stay fit.
One to watch: Joe Westerman meandered through his last season at Castleford but if he recovers his attitude and form he is a prodigious talent.
Hull Kingston Rovers
Where will they finish? 6th
Thanks to various loopholes, Rovers have 10 overseas players, so they have no excuse for not being able to put a capable side on the paddock.
One to watch: No sign of Willie Mason but if he gets here, he has charisma to put bums on seats. How good a player he is these days is another question.
Where will they finish? 3rd
Some rebuilding to be done after the end of their dominance, and it must be done by a new coach, without the usual abundance of talent coming through.
One to watch: Ben Jones-Bishop. Was played at full-back last season but also has the ability to play wing and centre.
Salford City Reds
Where will they finish? 9th
Some energetic recruitment and The Willows Factor, in their last season at their historic home, mark Salford as potentially big improvers.
One to watch: Stephen Wild has the ability to be one of the stand-out loose forwards in the competition.
Where will they finish? 4th
Under new coach Royce Simmons, who is old-school in the good sense, Saints will always be entertaining. There is potential for disruption, however, in playing all season at Widnes.
One to watch: Cockney prop Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook has blown in like a breath of fresh air.
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats
Where will they finish? 14th
Dead men walking. Barring a miracle, Wakey will find in mid-season that they have lost their Super League ticket. Their squad looks too thin.
One to watch: The Australian veteran Glenn Morrison's role as captain is going to be pivotal.
Where will they finish? 2nd and Grand Final winners
Last season's already strong squad is distinctly stronger. This year, they could have what it takes to win the big matches at the end of the season.
One to watch: Joel Monaghan's misadventures in Australia are the Wolves' good fortune. He has looked pure class in pre-season.
Where will they finish? 1st and Grand Final runners-up
Clearly the best last season, and clearly better this time. Michael Maguire's headache is that he has almost too many options in some departments.
One to watch: All eyes on the Melbourne Three but the return to form of Amos Roberts can give Wigan the equivalent of a new star player.
Competition: Win tickets to Millennium Magic Weekend
Want to guarantee your seat at the opening round of fixtures of the Super League XVI season? The Independent on Sunday has joined forces with The Co-operative, sponsors of The Co-operative Championships and Conference and official partner of the RFL, to give you the chance to win two pairs of tickets to the Magic Weekend at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff next weekend.
Our winners will each receive a pair of stand tickets for both days, which include all 14 Super League teams playing over two days, under one roof and in front of a packed house at the Millennium Stadium; seven matches that will surely prove to be a thrilling spectacle of rugby league.
The games include a repeat of the 2010 Old Trafford Grand Final with Wigan Warriors versus St Helens, the Hull derby and last year's Challenge Cup-winners Warrington Wolves facing Huddersfield Giants.
All you have to do to stand a chance of winning a weekend ticket courtesy of The Co-operative is answer the following question:
Who won the Super League Grand Final in 2010?
Send your answer and your contact details – including full postal address and daytime telephone number – to email@example.com
Deadline for entries is 11am on Tuesday.
Entrants must be aged 18 years or over. For full draw rules go to independent.co.uk/legalReuse content