St Helens begin the defence of their Super League title at Huddersfield tonight with their coach warning that keeping the trophy will be harder than winning it.
This fixture has been extracted from round three of the competition because Saints will be playing Brisbane Broncos in the World Club Challenge that weekend. It means an early examination against one of only four teams to beat the champions last season.
"I'm expecting a tougher competition than last year," said Saints coach Daniel Anderson. "There are better overseas players, better young players coming through; better all round."
Saints have lost three of last year's squad - Jamie Lyon, Vinnie Anderson and Paul Anderson, who is now on the Huddersfield coaching staff. They will also be without the injured Paul Sculthorpe and Paul Wellens and probably Jason Hooper. That could mean Leon Pryce moving to full-back, with the equally versatile James Roby at stand-off and Matt Gidley and Bryn Hargreaves making debuts.
It all gives Saints a slightly unfamiliar look and limits the value of Paul Anderson's knowledge of his old team.
Huddersfield will not be the same team as last year, if Jon Sharp's pre-season strategy has worked. His complaint last year was the Giants belied their name by being the smallest team. This year, they should be among the biggest thanks to a weights programme and the arrival of imposing figures like John Skandalis and Darrell Griffin.
Ryan Hudson returns after a two-year drug ban and Shane Elford and Jamahl Lolesi will make their debuts. Huddersfield have also signed 19-year-old back Sean Gleeson on loan from Wigan.
Bradford, who raced in 16 tries as they thrashed Keighley Cougars 88-0 last night in their final warm-up game before the Super League, have signed the former England back Nathan McAvoy for the second time.Reuse content