Super League contenders

How the squads shape up
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The Independent Online

BRADFORD

The Bulls will obviously be there or thereabouts this season, but they have lost too much experience to be regarded as automatic favourites. Jimmy Lowes, in particular, is close to irreplaceable. They also have to show that they have quite the same ravenous hunger as last season. They certainly had it against Penrith last Friday, but can they sustain it?

Prediction: 2nd and beaten Grand Finalists.
Last season: Winners.
Coach: Brian Noble.

In: Paul Johnson (Wigan), Logan Swann (NZ), Toa Kohe-Love (Hull).

Out: James Lowes, Daniel Gartner (retired), Mike Forshaw (Warrington), Lee Gilmour (St Helens), Scott Naylor (Salford).

CASTLEFORD

Castleford can at least look forward to an easier draw this time, but the pre-season signs are not good. Their former reliance on Danny Orr could leave them struggling in midfield and a couple of the players they were looking to for strike power are already injured. This could be a tough season.

Prediction: 9th.
Last season: 8th.
Coach: Graham Steadman.

In: Paul Newlove (St Helens), Sean Rudder (Newcastle), Sean Ryan, Craig Greenhill (Hull), Byron Smith, Ryan Clayton (Halifax), Ryan Sheridan (Widnes).

Out: Danny Orr (Wigan), Dale Fritz, Wayne Bartrim, Mitch Healey (retired), Michael Eagar (Hull), Andy Johnson (Salford).

HUDDERSFIELD

The Giants became fiercely competitive last year, especially when playing matches at home, but they now have to adapt to life without their former coach Tony Smith, who this season has moved to Leeds, and that could prove very difficult for the men from Huddersfield. They should do enough to steer clear of any relegation worries.

Prediction: 10th.
Last Season: 10th.
Coach: Jon Sharp (new).

In: Sean Penkywicz, Stuart Donlan (Halifax), Chris Nero (St George-Illawarra), Stuart Jones (St Helens).

Out: Jamie Bloem, Rikki Sheriffe (Halifax), Steve McNamara (retired), Jarrod O'Doherty (Newcastle, Australia), Graham Holroyd (Doncaster).

HULL

The draw is kinder to Hull this season and their luck with injuries can hardly be as bad as it has been in the past. The loss of Jason Smith for four months is a major blow, however, and could prevent them from building the early momentum they would like.

Prediction: 5th.
Last Season: 7th.
Coach: Shaun McRae.

In: Shaun Briscoe (Wigan), Andy Bailey, Richard Whiting (Featherstone), Ryan Benjafield (Penrith), Richie Barnett Jnr (Gateshead), Richard Swain (Brisbane).

Out: Matt Crowther, Steve Craven, Adam Maher, Tony Smith (retired), Dean Treister (released), Toa Kohe-Love (Bradford), Craig Greenhill, Sean Ryan (Castleford).

LEEDS

It has been said before, but this really should be Leeds' year. The blend of young players with the capacity for plenty of improvement in them and veterans with enough left in the tank for one final big effort looks about right. Then there is the coaching of Tony Smith which should bring the extra element to add to their performances in the big games. Liam Botham returns to his third sport after spending the winter with rugby union side Leeds Tykes.

Prediction: 1st and Grand Final winners.
Last Season: 2nd.
Coach: Tony Smith (new).

In: Marcus Bai (Melbourne).

Out: Andy Kirk (Salford).

LONDON

With a predominantly English team for the first time, you have to applaud the long-term strategy of the Broncos. The problem is that the majority of their indigenous signings do not exactly look ready to take Super League by storm.

Prediction: 8th.
Last Season: 5th.
Coach: Tony Rea.

In: Lee Greenwood, Andrew Brocklehurst (Halifax), John Kirkpatrick (St Helens), Jon Wells (Wakefield), Radney Bowker, Dave Highton (Salford), Mark O'Halloran (Wests-Tigers), Andrew Hart (South Sydney), Andy McNally (Castleford), Mitch Stringer (Sheffield).

Out: Bill Peden (retired), Chris Thorman (Parramatta), Tony Martin (NZ), Russell Bawden (UTC).

ST HELENS

The coach Ian Millward has brought in some new muscle for the front row, but it is still debatable whether he yet has the quality he needs in that department. The development of his two Samoan signings from the Rugby World Cup will be one of the most intriguing aspects of the coming season for St Helens.

Prediction: 3rd.
Last Season: 4th.
Coach: Ian Millward.

In: Lee Gilmour (Bradford), Ricky Bibey (Wigan), Nick Fozzard (Warrington), Maurie Fa'asavalu, Dom Feaunati (Samoa RU).

Out: Darren Britt, Barry Ward, Darren Smith (retired), Paul Newlove (Castleford), Anthony Stewart (Salford), Stuart Jones (Huddersfield).

SALFORD

It looks very difficult for Salford to survive in Super League and much will depend on what sort of value they get from their imports. Already, fixtures like their opening match at home to Widnes look potentially crucial.

Prediction: Last.
Last Season: Promoted from National League One.
Coach: Karl Harrrison.

In: Mark Shipway (Manly), Sean Rutgerson (Canberra), Bryn Powell (Hunslet), Scott Naylor (Bradford), Andy Kirk (Leeds), Anthony Stewart (St Helens), Andy Johnson (Castleford), Joel Caine (London).

Out: Alan Hunte, Steve Blakeley (retired), Danny Arnold (Halifax), Dave Highton (London), Radney Bowker (London).

WAKEFIELD

Trinity have done well to hold on to the likes of Gareth Ellis and have brought in some quality imports. David Solomona, in particular, has match-winning potential in this country. It could be a season of marked improvement at Belle Vue.

Prediction: 7th.
Last Season: 11th.
Coach: Shane McNally.

In: Justin Ryder (Newcastle), Semi Tadulala (Melbourne), Liam Finn (Halifax), David Solomona (Parramatta), Sid Domic (Warrington), Jason Demetriou (Widnes), Albert Talipeau (Sydney).

Out: Brad Davis (Villeneuve), Martyn Holland, Matt Seers (released), Ian Knott (Leigh), Richard Newlove, Matt Wray (Featherstone), Jon Wells (London), Adrian Vowles (retired).

WARRINGTON

Warrington will get a boost from playing at their fine new stadium, but they have a more demanding draw this season and will go well to match last year's achievements. The contribution of two new props from Australia will be vital. If they can provide the platform there is the ability there to take the Wolves to the play-offs again.

Prediction: 6th.
Last Season: 6th.
Coach: Paul Cullen.

In: Mike Forshaw (Bradford), Danny Lima (Manly), John Wilshere, Chris Leikvoll (St George-Illawarra).

Out: Nick Fozzard (St Helens), Sid Domic (Wakefield), Rob Smyth (Chorley), Lee Penny (Vale of Lune RU).

WIDNES

It shapes up as a tough campaign for Widnes, with a squad that looks thin across key areas where depth is needed, some bad omens appearing during the pre-season and the long-term future of their coach, Neil Kelly, still unresolved. It could all go rather sour for them this season, although with the talent in the squad they might just have what it takes to stay up.

Prediction: 11th.
Last Season: 9th.
Coach: Neil Kelly.

In: Aaron Moule (Melbourne), Andy Hobson (Halifax), Troy Wozniak (Wests-Tigers).

Out: Ryan Sheridan (Castleford), Anthony Farrell (Halifax).

WIGAN

Wigan did superbly in the second half of last season, but their squad is too small to give much cause for confidence this time. Injuries to key men have already stretched their meagre resources and much will be asked again of raw youngsters who stretched themselves to rise to the occasion in 2003 - and have the benefit of that experience this year.

Prediction: 4th.
Last Season: 3rd and beaten Grand Finalists.
Coach: Mike Gregory.

In: Danny Orr (Castleford).

Out: Shaun Briscoe (Hull), Paul Johnson (Bradford), Ricky Bibey (St Helens), Nick Graham (Wests-Tigers).

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