Rugby League Expert
Jon Wells: Rugby League World Cup gives glimpse of what Super League has in store for 2023
Sky Sports' Jon Wells has seen plenty to savour at the World Cup for when the new Betfred Super League season begins in February; Sky Sports will show 66 live Super League matches in 2023, including Rivals Round, all six games from Magic Weekend and the Grand Final
Last Updated: 04/11/22 1:32pm
Sky Sports rugby league pundit Jon Wells on why England's displays at the Rugby League World Cup show there is plenty to look forward to when the 2023 Betfred Super League season gets under way...
The eve of the Rugby League World Cup men's quarter-finals, and the day after the announcement of the 2023 Betfred Super League season fixtures, seems the perfect time to look back at the ruthless progress of the England men - who have cut a swathe through the group stages - as well as the amazing starts from the England women and England wheelchair teams.
And to look forward to what promises to be a stellar 2023 Super League season, with more eyeballs than ever before surely to be trained on the most competitive of domestic leagues - a competition that has in turn facilitated the success we have seen to date of the men's national side.
Thursday February 16: Warrington Wolves vs Leeds Rhinos (live on Sky - 8pm)
Friday February 17: Wakefield Trinity vs. Catalans Dragons (7.30pm) Leigh Leopards vs Salford Red Devils (live on Sky - 8pm)
Saturday February 18: Hull KR vs. Wigan Warriors (1pm)
Sunday February 19: Hull FC vs. Castleford Tigers (3pm)
This has been a World Cup that has seen the emergence on the international stage of "new" stars - think Dom Young and the belated England debut for Marc Sneyd - as well as the continued and inexorably rising stock of St Helens' wonderkid Jack Welsby (Man of Steel elect for 2023 - tipped now, remember that).
As impressive as all have been, none have really been that surprising. For those who have watched Super League down the years, you will already know what a talent Marc Sneyd is, you would know that Jack Welsby is destined for the very very top, and you would've been aware of Dom Young's magnificent performance for Yorkshire in the Academy Origin match at Castleford Tigers in April of 2019.
That was a match attended by more than one NRL scout, and the match which many believe signalled the start of Young's journey from Huddersfield Giants to Newcastle Knights. And by the way, that match also featured future Super League starlets Lewis Dodd, Mikey Lewis, Connor Wrench, Liam Tindall, Ellis Longstaff, Corey Hall and Josh Thewlis.
What was surprising was the ruthless nature with which England dominated Group A. True, they met an under-prepared Samoa in Round 1, and rarely had to get out of second gear in their subsequent victories over France and Greece, but you can only play what is in front of you.
Why and how so ruthless then? Why and how so competent, composed and controlled? Well, the first truth is that England have found their perfect coach.
Shaun Wane is about as single-minded an individual I have met in the game. He is a perfectionist, and demands his players and staff share that single-minded approach. But he is also seasoned, experienced, has welcomed ideas and philosophies from other leading figures in other sports, and in turn distilled all of this to a clear vision and pathway for his players to engage with and follow.
The second truth is the playing stock he has had to select from is as good as it has been for decades. More on why later, but the net result is cohesion.
Wane and his coaching staff have successfully melded and moulded, teased and intertwined talent, ego, experience, youth, skill, and stubborn application into a whole - for the first time in a long time - that is greater than the sum of its constituent parts. England stand a great chance of featuring in back-to-back World Cup Finals later this month.
But let's get back to the players. First, we need to acknowledge the input of the NRL-based contingent; the decision of Victor Radley to represent the country of his father's birth has undoubtedly been a huge boost for England, as anyone who has watched the group games - and particularly the opening clash with Samoa would attest.
Herbie Farnworth, Elliott Whitehead and Tom Burgess, along with World Cup leading try-scorer Young, ply their trade in the NRL too, and plenty of their England team-mates have also experienced the intensity of the Australian competition at various stages of their careers. That certainly helps. The NRL is widely accepted as the pinnacle of the club game worldwide.
The reasons for this are complex, varied and involve culture, money, talent pathways, participation numbers, and probably need a whole separate article to untangle - but it isn't that the players are better.
Super League is a fantastic competition which, in this World Cup cycle alone, has propelled Welsby, Sneyd, Joe Batchelor, Kai Pearce-Paul, Mikolaj Oledzki and Andy Ackers to an international stage on which they have all excelled.
And they excel because they are excellent players, surrounded by other excellent players, and become an excellent team through the unwavering focus of a decorated and excellent coach who got here, and got them there, through the firing kiln that is Super League.
The success of the England team has its roots in the competitive heat of Super League; the success of the latter enables the progress of the former. As sure as night follows day, a strong club competition means better representation on the international stage.
Of course, there are a million other things that help along the way - but the essence of this England team is forged in Wigan and Warrington, in St Helens and Salford, in the hills of Yorkshire and in the shadows of the mountain backdrop of Perpignan, between February and October.
So, back to where we started then: Enjoy the continued progress of England men; watch on as the women follow suit - and, by the way, can we acknowledge the decision by the Leeds Rhinos to begin paying their women's team from 2023 as a seminal moment for the game and an overdue tipping point is now surely on the horizon - and cheer, and wince, as the wheelchair team crash, bang and wallop their way through their opposition over the remainder of November.
Then, when the dust has settled, look forward to seeing all of that talent pull on their club jerseys for the start of the 2023 Super League season from Thursday, February 16.
It will be some season. St Helens defend their title, and it's a crown they wear well, but a resurgent Leeds Rhinos will want their say, as will Wigan Warriors.
Catalans Dragons will look to breathe fire again; Huddersfield Giants have recruited well; Salford Red Devils will make it hell for opposition and Warrington Wolves may well find their bite. The city of Hull will again be divided, but united in their respective quest to dethrone the champions - as will West Yorkshire's Castleford Tigers and Wakefield Trinity.
And welcome to Super League Leigh Leopards, promoted from a Betfred Championship which they utterly dominated in 2022. Yes, it will be some season - and we'll see you at the start line.
The new Super League season will get under way on Thursday, February 16 on Sky Sports, with Warrington Wolves taking on 2022 Grand Finalists Leeds Rhinos. A total of 66 games will be shown live on Sky Sports throughout the season.