Ones to watch
Phil Clarke picks out five players who could be making the headlines in Super League XVIII...
Last Updated: 30/01/13 4:46pm
Super League is back and you can see the new season get underway live on Sky Sports 1 HD, with defending champions Leeds hosting Hull FC on Friday and St Helens going head-to-head with Huddersfield on Saturday.
Gareth Ellis, Kevin Sinfield, Eorl Crabtree and Paul Wellens will be just some of the familiar names in action over the weekend - but Sky Sports expert Phil Clarke has picked out five rising stars who could be making headlines this season.
Greg Eden - Hull KR
Phil Clarke: It's possible that full back is the most important position on the rugby field these days; if all else is equal then the team with the best full back will win. Just look at the Australian Grand Final of 2012: the two teams who contested had arguably the two best full backs in the NRL. Hull KR finished 10th last season and have the chance, if Eden plays well at full back, to feature in the play-offs. Scoring tries is one half of the job, helping his team to stop them is the other - and Rovers need to restrict their opponents to less than the 27 points a game that they conceded on average last year.
Kieran Dixon - London Broncos
The best performers in any sport all have two things: firstly, they have some natural ability - it's just 'in them' - and secondly, and perhaps more importantly, they have an ability to learn quickly, both from the things that they do well and from the mistakes that they make. Let's see just how much this young man learnt in 2012 and how good he's going to be in 2013. I believe that if his attitude is right Dixon will play for England at some point in the future.
Joshua Jones - St Helens
Identifying and tipping young players to become the best in their sport is almost impossible, but Jones looks to me from the outside like the sort of player who may well feature for England in the World Cup in the autumn. If his progression is as fast in 2013 as it was last year then I think he'll be singing the national anthem at some stage after the Grand Final. He seems to have the physique and the 'feet' to play centre, and most importantly the focus necessary to defend in that position.
Stevie Ward - Leeds
Without wanting to put too much pressure on him, he has 'the world at his feet' (or in his hands, as we tend to pass it more than kick it). He looks like the best all-round rugby league player in this country and is embedded in a club that knows how to win. In three years' time he could well be the captain of England and has some brilliant role models around him. It will be interesting to see what positions/roles he gets to play at Leeds this season.
Gareth O'Brien - Warrington
From the days when I saw Wigan win the league and Challenge Cup up for five successive seasons in the early 90's, I've always believed that a champion team needs a relatively unknown youngster to provide the enthusiasm and help them to glory. In those days it was somebody like Jason Robinson who provided the spark. Last year Leeds had Zac Hardaker launching their attacks from the backs. If this year's Champions happen to be the Warrington Wolves then don't be surprised if a relatively unknown wolf gets the headlines. Tony Smith has several names to pick from, Ben Currie being one that is regularly cited. Gareth O'Brien is another, and although he's competing with Lee Briers and Richard Myler in the half backs, he might well become a familiar face in Super League action in 2013.