Super League 2019 preview: 'New beginnings' on and off the field as season kicks off

The 24th Super League season begins on Thursday with plenty of changes for fans and players alike

Ben Burrows
Wednesday 30 January 2019 17:25
The 2019 Super League season kicks off on Thursday
The 2019 Super League season kicks off on Thursday

A new year, a new season for Super League and, if you believe this year’s glitzy marketing slogan of choice, “new beginnings” for rugby league in this country.

There is certainly a freshness to a competition, which appears, at this stage at least, to have no clear favourite. Reigning champions Wigan have a new coach off the field and a new-look side on it. Habitual winners Leeds appear renewed too after a dismal 2018 while Warrington, always the bridesmaid, never the bride, actually look ready to get over the hump this time around. It all gets underway when the Warriors travel to bitter rivals St Helens on Thursday evening, with a host of new players, coaches, a rejigged league structure and even different rules for fans to get their heads around as we head into the league’s 24th incarnation.

Super League has never been a stranger to shaking things up down the years but this year’s changes promise to be some of the most significant yet. The introduction of NBA-style ‘shot clocks’ has grabbed the attention with teams now only getting a maximum of 35 seconds to pack down for a scrum and 30 to take a drop out. With some games stretching to nearly two hours last year the hope is a quicker, more audience-friendly product breaks out.

The amount of interchanges allowed has come down too, from 10 to eight, with again entertainment and attacking rugby at its core while golden point extra time will be introduced into the regular season to solve a problem that in truth didn’t exist. The play-off spots available at the top drop from eight to five while the relegation battle at the other end of the table has been simplified to a more traditional one-up, one-down system.

As ever the wheeling and dealing has taken centre stage over the offseason with some of the league’s biggest names on the move and a whole host of new talent arriving from Down Under. Sam Tomkins has swapped sunny Wigan for, on balance, even sunnier Perpignan and will be joined by fellow England international Matty Smith in the south of France. Both will hope to help the Dragons kick on from their historic Challenge Cup success in 2018. Kallum Watkins returns from injury to lead Leeds’ potential resurgence while former Man of Steel Zak Hardaker is back in the game with a point to prove at Wigan.

NRL star Blake Austin headlines the overseas imports as he jets into Warrington while Trent Merrin with the Rhinos, Akuila Uate at Huddersfield and Kevin Naiqama and Lachlan Coote at Saints are sure to provide some star power to ease the loss of Ben Barba’s departure back to the southern hemisphere.

It’s not just on the field where change has been afoot with some moving and shaking upstairs too. Adrian Lam steps into the undoubtedly large and unenviably difficult to follow shoes of the departed Shaun Wane at Wigan. He’s promising to deliver a newer, more entertaining Warriors in what will be his one and only season in charge with Shaun Edwards already waiting in the wings. Australian David Furner is the new man with a plan at Leeds and with the bar set so low after last season’s travails could perhaps have the easiest job of all. Tell that to the Headingley faithful, however, who will want tangible success and fast.

And what of London as the capital city returns to Super League after a four-year hiatus. Owner David Hughes is certainly talking a good game and there’s no doubt a competitive Broncos side would be a boon to the competition. But after the most surprising of promotions from the Championship a year ago it appears set to be a slog from the outset to maintain respectability in the land of the giants.

New beginnings all round then. Let battle commence.

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