Rugby league: Super powers of league: Guide to the top division's 12 teams from the Bulls to the Warriors
Dave Hadfield was a schoolboy convert to rugby league, the game which, one way or another, has dominated his life ever since. After working for newspapers in Shropshire and Blackpool (where he covered the fortunes of Blackpool Borough) he travelled the world, working mainly in Hong Kong and Sydney. He became The Independent's rugby league man in 1990 and has written five books on the game and broadcast extensively for Sky and the BBC. Dave played his last game at the age of 53 and would have set up a try if anyone could have been bothered supporting his break. When not writing about the sport, he now limits himself to a bit of tick and pass with his local club, the Bolton Mets. Family includes supporters - of varying degrees of dedication - of Salford, Wigan, Sheffield Eagles and St George Illawarra.
Thursday 02 April 1998
Coach: Matthew Elliott
Bradford will not again go 20 matches unbeaten - or anything like it. In fact, they will have to develop a new dimension to their play if they are to have a chance of retaining their title. But Elliott is a coach who will be well aware of this. A new organiser in Shaun Edwards and a flair outside back in Tevita Vaikona will both be valuable additions, if they are given their heads, but the loss of James Lowes for the opening weeks is a major blow.
In: Shaun Edwards (London), Tevita Vaikona (Hull), Paul Deacon (Oldham). Out: Paul Loughlin (Huddersfield), Jeff Wittenberg (Huddersfield), Glen Tomlinson (Hull), Gary Christie (Widnes RU).
Coach: Stuart Raper
Cas caught the imagination with two dramatic wins in the Challenge Cup and they are set to sustain the improvement that they showed after the arrival of Raper midway through last season. There is a new air of confidence around the place and they have recruited well, but they could still be short of depth in some positions and might not be able to claim a place in the top five.
In: Barrie-Jon Mather (Perth), Francis Maloney (Oldham), Michael Smith (Canterbury), Gael Tallec (Wigan), Danny Ellison (Wigan). Out: Graham Steadman (retired), Chris Smith (St Helens), Jason Roach (Warrington), Brendon Tuuta (Warrington).
Halifax Blue Sox
Coach: John Pendlebury
Major changes in the playing staff and relocation to The Shay. Some of the signs from the newcomers are good, but there are doubts about the ability of their pack to last the pace in warm weather and on dry pitches. Still, the mood among the players seems better and they will be capable of causing a few upsets.
In: Gary Mercer (Leeds), Des Clark (Gold Coast), Gavin Clinch (St George), Damian Gibson (Leeds). Out: Asa Amone (Featherstone), Michael Jackson (Sheffield), John Schuster (Blackheath), Mike Umaga (Rotherham), Wayne Jackson (Hull KR), Paul Highton (Featherstone).
Coach: Garry Schofield
Huddersfield face a formidable task this season with a squad only modestly strengthened for their first season in Super League and a coach who, for all his pedigree as a player, is new to the pressures of being in charge. Their one ground for optimism is that there is plenty of size and experience in the forwards, which could make them harder to break down than some opponents might suspect.
In: Chris Orr (Gold Coast), Danny Arnold (St Helens), Paul Loughlin (Bradford), Jeff Wittenberg (Bradford), Joe Berry (Keighley), Mark Milner (Keighley). Out: Ali Davys (released), Ikram Butt (Hunslet), Paul Dixon (retired).
Coach: Peter Walsh
Had everyone had been pulling in one direction, Hull could have been the "good news" story of the season. It would take only moderate success to bring five-figure crowds back to The Boulevard, but a thin squad - especially in the forwards - and all the tensions behind the scenes suggest that a tough season indeed.
In: Alan Hunte, Steve Prescott, Simon Booth (all St Helens), Fili Seru (Illawarra), Glen Tomlinson (Bradford), Jamie Smith (Workington), David Stephenson (Oldham), Jason Temu (Oldham), David Baildon (Gold Coast). Out: Tevita Vaikona (Bradford), David Boyd (Australia), Steven Holmes (Australia), Mike Dixon (Hull KR).
Coach: Graham Murray
There is a key on my computer for "this should be the year when Leeds finally live up to expectations" but I'm not sure whether to use it this time. Murray is a coach of proven ability, but there are still too many question marks in too many key positions and their early exit from the cup and dodgy pre- season form argue against them. There is the ability there, however, to put together a run of results once they get it right.
In: Marc Glanville (Newcastle), Brad Godden (Hunter), Daryl Powell (Keighley). Out: Gary Mercer (Halifax), Damian Gibson (Halifax), Wayne Collins (Dewsbury), Phil Hassan (Salford).
Coach: Tony Currie
The Broncos were a terrible disappointment in their Cup semi- final defeat by Wigan, but it is to be expected, given their turnover in personnel. They should be forceful in the pack and there is real pace in the backs, but the links to bring it all together are not yet obvious. Watch out for a surge in the second half of the season.
In: John Timu (Canterbury), Grant Young (Auckland), Chris Ryan (Perth), Darren Higgins (Perth), Matt Toshack (S Queensland), Steele Retchless (S Queensland), Glen Air (Illawarra), Mark Carroll (Manly), Damien Chapman (Perth), Luke Goodwin (Oldham). Out: Tony Mestrov (Wigan), Tony Martin (Melbourne), Shaun Edwards (Bradford), Josh White (Salford), Russell Bawden (Melbourne), David Krause, Mick Seaby, Andrew Hamilton, Kerrod Toby, Paul Smith, Kim Howard, Andrew Duncan (all released).
Coach: Shaun McRae
A clear-out was needed to freshen up the mix at Knowsley Road and they have certainly had that,but how will it all settle down? But Sculthorpe is a quality acquisition and there is still a wealth of rugby ability spread through the side. Saints will still be very good indeed on their day, but might lose out in the key games against other leading sides.
In: Paul Davidson, Brett Goldspink, Paul Atcheson (all Oldham), Paul Sculthorpe (Warrington), Chris Smith (Castleford), Damien Smith (St George). Out: Derek McVey (released), Alan Hunte, Steve Prescott, Simon Booth (all Hull), Danny Arnold (Huddersfield), Chris Morley (Warrington), Andy Northey (Northampton).
Coach: Andy Gregory
Matching last season's sixth-placed finish would be a major achievement, especially after the deflating experience of losing a Challenge Cup semi- final they had in their grasp last weekend. Gregory's man management is idiosyncratic but effective and his triangle of half-backs at the heart of his side shows his commitment to progressive rugby. But they lack a forward - like John Cartwright last season - to keep the ball alive.
In: Martin Crompton (Oldham), Josh White (London), Mike Neal (Oldham), Joe Faimalo (Oldham). Out: John Cartwright (released), Fata Sini (released), Ian Blease (Swinton), Ian Watson (Swinton).
Coach: John Kear
Kear is a coach right on top of his game at the moment and there is an enviable sense of unity and purpose about the Eagles. They believe they can do anything and are capable of building on their cup exploits. The leadership of elder statesmen like Paul Broadbent and Mark Aston remains vital and either would be badly missed.
In: Darren Shaw (Canberra), Michael Jackson (Halifax), Gareth Stephens (Hull), Dave Watson (Gold Coast), Steve Molloy (Featherstone). Out: Danny McAllister (Gold Coast), Alex Thompson (Hull KR), David Mycoe (Sheffield), Jean-Marc Garcia (St Esteve), Jason Erba (released), Steve Edmed (released).
Coach: Darryl Van de Velde
Van de Velde's purge of New Zealanders and Polynesians almost amounts to ethnic cleansing. The introduction of hard-nosed Australians in their place is part of a rebuild that will make them harder to beat, but they still look to lack the quality, and will struggle away from Wilderspool.
In: Danny Nutley (S Queensland), Adam Fogerty (ex-St Helens), Brendon Tuuta (Castleford), Adam Doyle (Wests), Steve McCurrie (Bedford), Danny Farrar (Penrith), Jason Roach (Castleford), Mike Eagar (S Queensland), Vince Fawcett (Oldham), Chris Morley (St Helens). Out: John Hough (Oldham), Paul Barrow (Swinton), Nigel Vagana (Auckland), Tony Tatupu (Auckland), Paul Sculthorpe (St Helens), Paul Hulme (Swinton), Salesi Finau, Mateaki Mafi, George Mann, Kelly Shelford (all released).
Coach: John Monie
All Monie's professionalism and organisation were visible in the semi- final thrashing of London Broncos and Wigan's squad - judiciously strengthened this winter - is the strongest in the competition once more.
In: Tony Mestrov (London), Robbie McCormack (Hunter), Mark Bell (St George), Danny Moore (Manly), Denis Betts (Auckland). Out: Stuart Lester (released), Paul Koloi (released), Doc Murray (Lancashire), Ian Sherratt (released), Danny Ellison (Castleford), Gael Tallec (Castleford).
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