Pundits on Widnes Vikings & Catalans Dragons
By Sky Sports Rugby League
Last Updated: 31/01/18 3:10pm
Super League XXIII is less than a week away - but who is in the best shape to be crowned kings at Old Trafford...?
Our experts will run the rule over each and every Super League club before its return next week, and first on the agenda are Widnes Vikings and Catalans Dragons, who open their seasons against each other on Sunday, February 4.
Three-times champions Widnes finished bottom of the pile at the end of the regular season in 2017 but finished second in the Qualifiers to preserve their Super League status.
The Dragons were also involved in the Qualifiers having finished 10th in the end of season standings, and ended up fighting for survival in the Million Pound Game against Leigh Centurions.
A pivotal 26-10 victory at Leigh saw Catalans book their Super League place for this season.
Here are the thoughts of our very own Barrie McDermott, Phil Clarke and Terry O'Connor on what lies ahead this season for Widnes and Catalans...
Phil: Injuries and the loss of Kevin Brown killed their chances in 2017 - they'll be hoping to avoid those kinds of problems this year.
Look out for Ryan Ince - a strong candidate for Young Player of the Year, along with Jack Walker at Leeds.
Terry: I've never seen a more determined Vikings outfit in pre-season. The emergence of their youngsters last year was a rare shining light in a difficult campaign.
With a fully fit squad from the off this time around, they're a confident side looking to right the wrongs of Super League XXII.
Barrie: A tough season ahead - but always a tough place to go, and the Vikings need to use that to their advantage. Their home form will be a priority.
Expect some raw, untested talent to get a run - but exciting halfbacks Joe Mellor and Tom Gilmore will need plenty of consistency and productivity.
Phil: Need to find the "Force Majeure" which once made the men from Perpignan so dangerous. They are perhaps the best team at combining the artistic and the primitive.
If they can get it right they could make top half - get it wrong and it will be another disappointing campaign for the Dragons.
Terry: The pressure is on. On their day, the Dragons are unplayable - but consistency will be key.
After a standout World Cup, Michael McIlorum could make the difference, and inspire his new team.
Barrie: With 16 out of their 25 involved in the World Cup, Steve McNamara's time to get plans in place for Super League XXIII has been severely limited. Their start will be key.
They did what they had to do last year, after a sluggish opening - but Michael McIlorum will supply grit and steel, while David Mead will provide some real strike.
Potential to make the play-offs - but home form is crucial.