Rugby League: Team-by-team guide to the Stones Bitter Championship - Sport - The Independent

Rugby League: Team-by-team guide to the Stones Bitter Championship

BRADFORD NORTHERN

The addition of Paul Newlove to the backs and Paul Dixon to the forwards gives Bradford a formidable look for the coming season. If they get off to a good start and keep key players fit, they could be a real threat.

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Coach: Peter Fox. In: Paul Newlove (Featherstone), Paul Dixon (Leeds), Neil Holding (St Helens), Phil Hepworth (amateur). Out: Tony Anderson (Huddersfield).

Last season: 3rd. Prediction: 3rd.

CASTLEFORD

Will still be capable of the occasional stunning performance and have high hopes of Tony Kemp but they would give a lot for a stand-off at his peak. A couple of other weaknesses point to this not being one of their best seasons.

Coach: John Joyner (new). In: Richard Russell (Oldham), Tony Kemp (Newcastle), Ian Smales (Featherstone). Out: Peter Coyne (Australia), Shaun Irwin (Oldham), Paul Fletcher (Oldham), Neil Battye (released).

Last season: 6th. Prediction: 6th.

FEATHERSTONE ROVERS

The loss of Newlove is a body blow, because his pounds 245,000 fee is unlikely to have brought them a player or players who will win matches as he did. By no means a bad side, though, and their prowess at home should keep them clear of relegation.

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Coach: Steve Martin. In: Steve Molloy (Leeds), Andy Currier (Widnes), Gavin Hill (Canterbury), Gary Price (Wakefield), Carl Gibson (Leeds), Vince Fawcett (Leeds, trial). Out: Paul Newlove (Bradford), Ian Smales (Castleford), Wayne Taekata (released).

Last season: 1st in Second Division. Prediction: 12th.

HALIFAX

The acquisition of Hampson (when fit) and Hagan should solve their problems at full- back and stand-off and the first summer under Malcolm Reilly should have given them the physical strength and endurance they have lacked. That will be enough to make them genuine challengers.

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Coach: Malcolm Reilly. In: Steve Hampson (Wigan), John Schuster (Newcastle), Michael Hagan (Newcastle), David Boyd (Newcastle), Michael Jackson (Wakefield), Lee Harland (Leeds), Steve Lay (Hunslet, trial). Out: Greg Austin (Keighley), Mike McLean (Australia), Brent Stuart (New Zealand), Adam Fogerty (St Helens), Peter Bell (Dewsbury), David Cooper (Hunslet, trial), Damien Pickles (Huddersfield).

Last season: 7th. Prediction: 2nd.

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HULL

The former Australian scrum-half, Des Hasler, could be an inspiring figure, but Hull need plenty of inspiration. There are too many unsettled players and too little money for Royce Simmons to look forward to anything other than a long, hard winter.

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Coach: Royce Simmons. In: Des Hasler (Manly), Danny Divet (Carcassonne), Jeff Doyle (North Sydney). Out: Ivan Henjak (retired), Scott Gale (Australia).

Last season: 9th. Prediction: 10th.

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HULL KINGSTON ROVERS

You cannot fault Rovers' effort over the last couple of difficult seasons. But this one will be even more difficult, as they simply do not have the personnel to be anything other than brave opponents who lose with honour.

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Coach: George Fairbairn. In: David Hosking (Manly). Out: Lee Richardson (retired).

Last season: 14th and last. Prediction: 16th.

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LEEDS

There is no good reason why Leeds, with their key players all a year older and tireder, should do any better than last season, when their gamble on fading stars failed miserably. The young players Doug Laughton has brought in are not yet sufficiently ready.

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Coach: Doug Laughton. In: Steve Parrish (Batley), Ian Scott (Workington), Neil Harmon (Warrington), Richard Eyres (Widnes), Gary Rose (Featherstone, trial). Out: Graham Middleton (Batley), John Gallagher (London Crusaders), Paul Dixon (Bradford), Shaun Wane (Workington), Andy Goodway (Oldham), Carl Gibson (Featherstone).

Last season: 5th. Prediction: 7th.

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LEIGH

A wily coach an an abundance of team- spirit will take Leigh so far but no further. Survival is the name of the game at Hilton Park; they are capable of remaining in the First Division and that will do a great deal for their prospects of weathering their off- field problems and surviving as a club.

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Coach: Steve Simms. Out: Andy Ruane (Barrow), Paul Topping (Oldham), John Woods (retired), Barry Ledger (Swinton).

Last season: 11th. Prediction: 13th.

OLDHAM

The revolving door at The Watersheddings has been whirling like a gyroscope, making it harder than ever to assess the abilities of Peter Tunks' ever-changing cast of characters. Bob Lindner is being asked to inspire those around him as well as produce his own best form. It is bound to be a struggle but they might well cobble enough points together.

Coach: Peter Tunks. In: Bob Lindner (Illawarra), Paul Groves (St Helens), Jason Fogerty (Huddersfield), Shaun Irwin (Castleford), Paul Fletcher (Castleford), Mike Kuiti (Rochdale), Paul Topping (Leigh), Andy Goodway (Leeds), David Jones (Wakefield), Charlie McAlister (Whitehaven), John Clarke (amateur), Alf Goulbourne (amateur). Out: Richard Pachniuk (Rochdale), Paul Hourigan (Rochdale), Tommy Martyn (St Helens), Richard Russell (Castleford), Gary Christie (Wakefield), Mark Sheals (Wakefield), Iva Ropati (released), Shaun Tyrer (Whitehaven).

Last season: 2nd in Second Division. Prediction: 14th.

ST HELENS

Saints had their best chance to take the title from Wigan last season, when they had Gary Connolly, Jarrod McCracken and (most of the time) a fit Kevin Ward. They will not present the same threat this time.

Coach: Mike McClennan. In: Tommy Martyn (Oldham), Adam Fogerty (Halifax), Ian Pickavance (Swinton). Out: Gary Connolly (Wigan), Ricky Cowan (New Zealand), Jarrod McCracken (Australia), Neil Holding (Bradford).

Last season: 2nd. Prediction: 4th.

SALFORD

New coach Garry Jack must pull Salford out of the depressing form that cost Kevin Tamati his job. If he can recover his own best form at full-back, he will make a difference, but everything points to another mixed season.

Coach: Garry Jack (new). In: Garry Jack (Sheffield), Scott Naylor (Wigan), Michael Neil (Illawarra). Out: Craig Coleman (Australia), David Cruickshank (Australia).

Last season: 13th. Prediction: 11th.

SHEFFIELD EAGLES

The overdue appointment of a coach to relieve Gary Hetherington of one set of responsibilities bodes well for Sheffield. Bill Gardner will bring in new ideas and the Eagles have plenty of young players capable of improving on last season's ultimately, disappointing performance.

Coach: Bill Gardner (new). In: Chris McKenna (Brisbane), David Fraisse (France). Out: Garry Jack (Salford).

Last season: 10th. Prediction: 8th.

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WAKEFIELD TRINITY

A depressing close season for Wakefield, who have seen the heart ripped out of their side with the loss of Nigel Wright, Gary Price and Michael Jackson. Despite some good young players and a couple of capable new Australians, I do not see that depression lifting by April.

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Coach: Dave Topliss. In: Matthew Fuller (South Sydney), Dave Woods (Canberra), Gary Christie (Oldham), Mark Sheals (Oldham), Lee Hanlan (Batley). Out: Nigel Wright (Wigan), Michael Jackson (Halifax), Peter Benson (Australia), Darren Fritz (Australia), Gary Price (Featherstone), David Jones (Oldham).

Last season: 12th. Prediction: 15th.

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WARRINGTON

Jonathan Davies gives the Wire a match- winning goal-kicker and try-scorer as well as a crowd-pulling personality. That will have a beneficial effect, But there are too many uncertainties elsewhere in the club for it to turn everything around immediately.

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Coach: Brian Johnson. In: Jonathan Davies (Widnes), Craig Teitzel (Illawarra), Jonathan Roper (amateur). Out: Neil Harmon (Leeds), Duane Mann (released), Rocky Turner (Doncaster).

Last season: 8th. Prediction: 5th.

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WIDNES

There could be grim times ahead for Widnes, whose financial problems have led to a damaging weakening in the quality of their squad. Phil Larder will have a difficult and frustrating job.

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Coach: Phil Larder. In: Rodney Howe (Newcastle), Jon Grieve (Manly), Steve O'Brien (amateur). Out: Jonathan Davies (Warrington), Kurt Sorensen (Whitehaven), Les Holliday (Dewsbury), Jonathan O'Neill (Australia), Andy Currier (Featherstone), Richard Eyres (Leeds), Phil McKenzie (Workington), David Marsh (Swinton), Chris Ashurst (Swinton).

Last season: 4th. Prediction: 9th.

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WIGAN

THe acquisition of Nigel Wright and Gary Connolly makes the champions look better than ever in the backs. The young players who performed so well last season will continue to improve. The only question mark is over how John Dorahy will cope with the particular pressures of the job.

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Coach: John Dorahy (new). In: Nigel Wright (Wakefield), Gary Connolly (St Helens), Craig Murdock (amateur). Out: Steve Hampson (Halifax), Andrew Farrar (retired), Scott Naylor (Salford), Stuart Turner (Swinton), Paul Gartland (Swinton), Ian Lucas (retired).

Last season: 1st. Prediction: 1st.

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