Rugby League: Team-by-Team Guide to the Stones Bitter Championship

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The Independent Online
BRADFORD NORTHERN

A couple of adventurous, even risky, signings in the backs will make Bradford more difficult to play against as well as more interesting to watch. Should keep well clear of relegation this time after flirting with disaster last season.

Coach: Peter Fox. In: Dave Watson (Halifax), Trevor Clark (Featherstone), Brimah Kebbie (Huddersfield), David Heron (Leeds). Out: John Pendlebury (Leigh). Prediction: 9th.

CASTLEFORD

Peter Coyne, although they must wait for him for a few weeks, is the play-making stand-off they have lacked and Tony Morrison, bought for pounds 30,000, is an absolute bargain who will strengthen their pack considerably. Out of the Yorkshire Cup, the winning of which has proved such a distraction in the past, and the best bet to challenge Wigan.

Coach: Darryl Van de Velde. In: Peter Coyne (St George), Tony Morrison (Swinton). Out: Graeme Bradley (released). Prediction: 2nd.

HALIFAX

Should see some reward for the interesting recruitment this summer - made possible by their status as one of the very few clubs with money to spend. Paul Bishop and Gary Divorty could be quite something at the scrum base. Will be very hard to beat at home.

Coach: Roger Millward. In: Paul Bishop (St Helens), Gary Divorty, John Bentley (Leeds). Out: Dave Watson (Bradford), Seamus McCallion (Leeds), Steve Smith, Wilf George (Batley). Prediction: 6th.

HULL

Three new Australians and the ongoing pursuit of Deryck Fox notwithstanding, Hull will miss Greg Mackey more than they realise. Royce Simmons will be a diligent and respected figure, but he has a tough task ahead of him in his first season.

Coach: Royce Simmons. In: James Grant (Balmain), Scott Gale (Canberra), Ivan Henjak (St George), Brendan Carlyle (ex-Scarborough). Out: Greg Mackey (Warrington). Prediction: 10th.

HULL KR

George Fairbairn did extraordinarily well to keep Rovers up last season, but the early form that made them safe will be hard to repeat this time. Cash is even tighter and that looks likely to lead to the loss of players like Graeme Hallas.

Coach: George Fairbairn. In: None. Out: None. Prediction: 13th.

LEEDS

This time, surely? For all their disappointments last season, ambition and hope still burn bright at Headingley. They have bought well this time; Alan Tait and Gary Mercer are class performers and Andy Gregory has one good season left in him. But are Leeds fooling themselves about Ellery Hanley's fitness, just as Great Britain did?

Coach: Doug Laughton. In: Alan Tait (Widnes), Andy Gregory (Wigan), Gary Mercer (Warrington), Seamus McCallion (Halifax), Mick Worrall (Salford). Out: Gary Divorty, John Bentley (Halifax), Bobby Goulding (Widnes), Cavill Heugh (Rochdale), Neil James (Sheffield), Phil Ford (Salford). Prediction: 4th.

LEIGH

It is bound to be a struggle for a club that almost went out of business and did remarkably well to win promotion. The suspicion is that they might have been better without it. The wily old pro, John Pendlebury, will be a good leader in trying times, but it is asking a lot of John Woods to return to the First Division at this stage.

Coach: Jim Crellin. In: Tim Street, Duncan Platt, Keith Newton (Oldham), John Pendlebury (Bradford), John Elias (Balmain), Mark Moran (Salford), Tony Burke (Warrington). Out: Mark Sheals (Oldham). Prediction: 14th.

ST HELENS

Stronger than last season, but nothing should be read into their Charity Shield victory over Wigan last Sunday. Will be as expansive as ever with the ball in their hands but doubts remain about their ability to withstand pressure in the big matches.

Coach: Mike McClennan. In: Augustine O'Donnell (Wigan), Jarrod McCracken (Canterbury), Chris Joynt (Oldham). Out: Paul Bishop (Halifax). Prediction: 3rd.

SALFORD

Had the basis of a good side last season and Craig Coleman, still one of the best organisers in the world, could prove the season's most significant overseas signing. Phil Ford will be an entirely different type of winger from Adrian Hadleigh but could score just as many tries if he has an Indian summer.

Coach: Kevin Tamati. In: Jason Critchley, Steve Wynne (Widnes), Craig Coleman (South Sydney), Andy Fairclough (St Helens), Phil Ford (Salford). Out: Adrian Hadley (Widnes), Mark Moran (Leigh), Mick Worrall (Salford). Prediction: 8th.

SHEFFIELD EAGLES

Better equipped for survival than two years ago, with Daryl Powell now an established Test player and others, like Mark Aston and Paul Broadbent considerably more mature. Garry Jack should prove an inspirational overseas signing.

Coach: Gary Hetherington. In: Garry Jack (Balmain), Bruce McGuire (Canterbury), Paul Carr (Hunslet), Neil James (Leeds). Out: David Close (Ryedale-York). Prediction: 11th.

WAKEFIELD TRINITY

Trinity's strength is in the back row, but both Gary Price and Michael Jackson are unhappy, which does not bode well for the season. Injuries to those two and others threaten a bad start to the season from which it could be difficult to recover.

Coach: David Topliss. In: Darren Fritz (Canberra), Peter Benson (ex-Gold Coast). Out: None. Prediction: 12th.

WARRINGTON

The return of Greg Mackey will offset the loss of Gary Mercer and the return of Mike Gregory in a couple of months is an exciting if uncertain prospect. Another hot and cold season.

Coach: Brian Johnson. In: Greg Mackey (Hull), Rick Thackray (Widnes). Out: Gary Mercer (Leeds), Martin Crompton (Wigan), Tony Burke (Leigh), Des Drummond (retired). Prediction: 7th.

WIDNES

The wisdom on Bobby Goulding has changed. Last year it was postulated that all would be well if you could get him away from Widnes; now he is going to be fine because he is back home. Much will depend on whether there is any more truth in the second contention than in the first.

Coach: Phil Larder. In: Adrian Hadley (Salford), Bobby Goulding (Leeds). Out: Alan Tait (Leeds), Steve Wynne, Jason Critchley (Salford), Joe Grima (Keighley), Rick Thackray (Warrington). Prediction: 5th.

WIGAN

Gene Miles and Andy Gregory will be missed more than Kevin Iro and Hanley last season, but the return of Andy Platt to the fold means that they will still steamroller sides in the forwards. Some of their young reserves will come through strongly as they recover from what could be a stumbling start.

Coach: John Monie. In: Martin Crompton (Warrington), Andrew Farrar (Wests, Sydney). Out: Augustine O'Donnell (St Helens), Gene Miles (retired), Andy Gregory (Leeds), Mark Welsby (Swinton). Prediction: 1st.

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