With the start of the Superleague season kicking off on Thursday, fans from across Yorkshire are looking ahead to the opening fixtures and what may be in store for their team come the end of the season. With half of the leagues clubs based in Yorkshire, we’re taking a look across the county and giving a round up of each team ahead of those first fixtures in just a few days time.
We start in West Yorkshire with Castleford. The Fords narrowly missed out on the playoffs last year finishing in 7th behind Hull KR but they will be looking to build on that this season. Last seasons Challenge Cup runners up head into the new season with new coach Lee Radford at the helm, an experienced leader with two impressive Challenge Cup victories back in 2016 and 2017, Cas can certainly have renewed hope for a playoff push this season.
With the retirement of long-serving players Michael Shenton and Grant Millington, Radford has looked to rejuvenate the side bringing in a plethora of talented and experienced players from other clubs as well as pushing through academy prospects into the first team. The signing of Jake Mamo from Warrington is one to excite the fans with the Aussie-born centre signing on a 3 year deal after impressing with 19 tries last season. Other signings include Radford’s former Hull FC centre Mahe Fonua as well as former academy player Callum McLellend.
Alongside the new boys, star hooker and England international Paul McShane takes over captaincy from Shenton and will look to lead Castleford up the league this season. Dubbed the ‘New Cas Era, fans can expect to see a resurgence under the new leader and will be hoping for more consistency if they are to make the playoffs. Potential future Superleague Jake Trueman returns from injury and will add to the attacking threat posed by The Tigers.
They kick things off against Salford on Friday and will look to lay out their early intentions for the season, but the squad will have to gel quickly with Radford, when asked about his starting team admitting: “There are some blokes who’ve played and you’re thinking ‘I can’t leave them out’, they’ve had good pre-seasons and they’ve turned up in the friendlies. I’m closer to it than I was a couple of weeks ago.”
Opening Fixture – Castleford Tigers v Salford Red Devils – Friday, Feb 11th
Sticking in West Yorkshire, we head to the John Smiths Stadium next, home of the Huddersfield Giants. Following a disappointing season last year seeing the six-time challenge cup winners finish just 9th in the league, there is a sense of optimism for the new season. This can be brought down to the breakthrough of young talents pushing through the Giants ranks and making names for themselves in the Superleague despite last seasons poor campaign.
Head Coach Ian Watson oversaw the development of players such as Will Pryce and Oliver Russell, with Pryce becoming the shining light from last seasons campaign. The Bradford-born halfback showcasing his huge potential with consistent fearless displays over the back end of the season. The real test for him comes this season as he looks to transition to a fullback but no doubt maintain his terrific form and development over the course of the year, hopefully guiding The Giants back up the table in the process.
The Giants youngsters are joined by a number of impressive new signings who look to bring balance to the Huddersfield squad; The most high profile of which is of course scrum-half Theo Fages from St Helens. The two time Grand Final champion brings a wealth of knowledge and a winning mentality to The Giants, and at 27 years old could lead the side for years to come. He is also joined by Tongan international Tuo Lolohea, a tough centre who worked with Watson at Salford previously and the experienced Chris Hill from Warrington.
Overall there’s plenty for Huddersfield fans to look forward too heading into the opening game against newly promoted Toulouse. Despite departures from Aidan Sezer and Darnell Mcintosh, The Giants can still expect a decent season and maybe even a playoff push if things go well for them, but Watson says ” He does not feel the pressure to get off to a fast start” potentially suggesting he has patience and a long-term plan in place for The Giants.
Opening Fixture – Toulouse Olympic v Huddersfield Giants – Saturday, Feb 12th
Heading east we now take a look at the first of the two Hull outfits taking place in this years Superleague: Hull FC. The Black and Whites are the 3rd Yorkshire club who can count themselves disappointed after last seasons failure to reach the playoffs. Despite looking nailed on for a top six place at the half way stage of last season, Hull won just one of there final 10 games to finish in 8th, eventually conceding the playoff spot to fierce rivals Hull KR.
The poor showing last at the end of last season has led Australian head coach Brett Hodgson to bring in four quality signings as Hull will aim to reach the playoffs this time round. Two foreign imports in Kane Evans and Joe Lovadua join from New Zealand Warriors and South Sydney Rabbitohs respectively and they will look to provide the quality Hull lacked last season. They are also joined by Leeds Rhino’s former captain and ‘Man of Steel’ Luke Gale. His leadership and strong character should provide a brilliant boost to the Hull squad ahead of the new season and it will be interesting to see how his talent rubs off onto the other players.
In terms of current stars, versatile youngster Cameron Scott has been urged by Hodgson to continue his development this season with the head coach admitting he is “looking forward to seeing him grow and become more intimidating on the field”. The 22 year old can slot into a number of positions across the back-row and will look to build on his performances from last season.
With Hull looking to rediscover the form that saw them win consecutive Challenge Cups back in 2016 and 2017, this year could truly be the season to do it. Minimal departures have left them with a strong looking squad that has a great balance of leadership to go with the odd youngster breaking through. The incentive of finishing above cross-city rivals KR should also drive on the Black and Whites this season as they look to break into that top six. If they can put the disappointment of last year behind them, the 2022 campaign should give them a real chance to push on under Hodgson and establish themselves as a top side for many years to come. Their first test comes against Wakefield this Sunday and will give everyone a good chance to gauge how the season could unfold.
Opening Fixture – Wakefield Trinity v Hull FC – Sunday, Feb 13th
After a fantastic season last time out seeing The Robins make the playoffs for the first time since 2013, Tony Smith’s Hull KR side can look ahead to this campaign full of confidence following last seasons successes. Their 6th place finish and eventual run to the semi-finals is testament to the fantastic attacking style instilled by Smith and they will now look to push on this season and replicate that form over the 2022 season.
Rovers will not look to rest on their laurels this season and have managed to retain the impressive core to their squad, whilst also making some exciting new signings. Fullback Lachlan Coote has been brought in from St Helens and as a NRL and Grand Final Winner, the Aussie knows what it takes to perform on the big stage. His experience should compliment the brilliance of star halfback Mikey Lewis perfectly. Lewis shone for the over-performing Robins last season and if his brilliant form continues who knows what could be in store for him and KR this season. His hard work also earned him a new four-year contract at the club, much to the delight of Rover’s supporters.
Alongside those two, Jordan Abdull impressed and was nominated for the Man of Steel award. Kane Linnett was also immense and it will be these four who should star for Hull KR this season. If Smith can keep the squad playing at the same tempo as last season there is no reason not to be hopeful but he is also keen not to put too much pressure on his players:”There’s nothing I can do about what other people expect. All we can do is do our best and try our hardest. That’s what we expect of each other and that’s what we’ll try and do, we’ll always try to get better. But I’m going to say that every team starts at zero again. What happened last year, or what’s happened at the club for the last 20 years shouldn’t have any bearing on what’s about to happen.”
The Robins kick off the new campaign at home to a tough Wigan Warriors side in what will be a true test of their ability and mentality on Saturday. KR will be hoping a good opening day result against one of the league’s top sides can set the precedent for what could potentially be a historic season in the clubs history, but time will tell if last season was just a one-off, or if they have developed into a formidable side capable of consistently breaking into those playoff places.
Opening Fixture – Hull KR v Wigan Warriors – Friday, Feb 11th
Back to West Yorkshire now and we take a look at The Rhinos. A 5th place finish saw them reach the playoffs but they couldn’t quite make it through to their first Grand Final since 2017. Despite a poor start to the season, Leeds battled hard and made it into the top six but they will be hoping for more consistency this time around to give themselves a chance at competing with the top teams in the league.
Head Coach Richard Agar already has an impressive squad at his disposal including the likes of experienced captain Matt Prior and winger Ash Handley. This combined with powerful, young forward Morgan Gannon breaking through into the team last season, has left Leeds with an abundance of quality players that have the potential to battle for a top six spot this year and possibly even aim higher. One big miss will be the departure of captain Luke Gale to Hull FC following his fall out with management and it will be interesting to see how they can regroup and move forward.
Four reinforcements have arrived in the off-season to bolster the team, halfbacks Aidan Sezar and Blake Austin, both former teammates in the NRL arrived and will look to form a strong partnership this season in the backline. Tongan international winger David Fusitu’a also adds an injection of pace out wide as well as St Helen’s forward James Bentley, who although young, has experience in winning trophies with a highly successful Saints team in recent years. Rhino’s fans will be hoping these big signings can have a big impact on their season and help them win their first Grand Final in five years.
Leeds don’t have the easiest start to the season with games against Warrington, Wigan and Catalans Dragons in the first 3 rounds. But the Rhino’s will be hoping for better results early on than last season, and should be motivated by the possibility of gaining some ground on early playoff rivals. Rhino’s fans can certainly be hopeful for a good season and a potential push for a top two spot, although unlikely could still be a possibility if Leeds can pick up enough good results against the sides around them. Agar seems upbeat about Rhino’s chances this season: “We can’t get too excited. The potential in the team, what we can achieve and the style of football it can play, I think we just sometimes have to get that balance and rein it in. We don’t want to do it too much. Getting that balance right in the early rounds is going to be key, but the staff have been great this year, we’ve had a positive pre-season.”
Opening Fixture – Leeds Rhinos v Warrington Wolves – Saturday, Feb 12th
The final side we’ll be looking at here sees us travel half an hour from Headingley down through West Yorkshire to take a look at Wakefield Trinity. Their 10th placed finish last season ranks them as the lowest placed Yorkshire side but their end of season form should give them the confidence to push on and improve this season. Trinity came on leaps and bounds last season following the appointment of temporary boss Willie Poaching, whose five wins from seven games landed the Samoan the full-time job at Belle Vue.
With a new coach at the helm comes new signings and Trinity have certainly brought in a few impressive talents ahead of this season. Scotland international hooker Liam Hood joins to replace the departing Kyle and Josh Woods. Poaching is familiar with the big number nine, having worked with him in the Leeds’ academy. Winger Tom Lineham also joins from Warrington to provide some much needed experience in the side.
Alongside this, Wakefield have managed to keep hold of key players David Fifita and Jacob Miller. The former was Trinity’s star man last season, topping their scoring charts as well as making numerous big tackles across the season, featuring in all of their games also. Captain Miller also stays for his seventh season and brings some great leadership qualities to the side. Poaching is beginning to build his own side, to play in his own way and if Wakefield’s end of season form is anything to go by, they could be a surprise dark horse for next season.
Wakefield head into the opening round against fellow Yorkshire outfit Hull FC in what is bound to be an exciting fixture. Wakefield cannot afford to start slowly this season with the league seemingly much more competitive this year and more chance of being dragged into a relegation battle. On the other hand, the more positive amongst Trinity fans may be quietly hopeful of a playoff push. Winger Tom Johnstone spoke of the upturn in form and the teams new mentality under Poaching: “He’s opened our eyes to the fact that we’re not just playing for ourselves, we’re playing for the community around us, the past players and the players we’re with now. It’s just much more of a collective vibe and I think it’s really working.” It will be exciting to see if this mindset can push Wakefield on to glory this season.
Opening Fixture – Wakefield Trinity v Hull FC – Sunday, Feb 13th