Super League Christmas wishlist: What will each club be hoping for?
What will the Super League teams be hoping to see under the Christmas tree?
By Tom Mordey
Last Updated: 25/12/18 8:10am
With the new Super League season fast approaching, we look at what each team will be wishing for this Christmas to help them succeed in 2019.
Super League XXIV kicks off on January 31, when St Helens host reigning champions Wigan in the first Sky Live match of the season.
Sky Sports will show all 12 teams in the opening month of the competition, which also includes newly-promoted London Broncos.
But what will each team be wishing for come 2019? We run the rule over the 12 teams who will be vying to be crowned Grand Final champions in 2019.
Castleford - A fully fit Luke Gale
It wasn't anywhere near their 2017 exploits, but once again Castleford challenged at the top of the table in 2018, losing narrowly to Wigan in that showdown for a Grand Final place. They achieved that despite missing key players for chunks of the season. Try sensation Greg Eden had a lengthy absence, Zak Hardaker was sacked in February for his failed drugs test, and 2017 Man of Steel Luke Gale lost four months to a fractured kneecap.
And the prize playmaker's fitness is a cause for concern again. Gale had a second knee operation in the off-season, missing the International Series against New Zealand. Although he's started pre-season training, the half back says he won't be rushing back, admitting he did so at the end of last season. A creative force up there with the best Super League has to offer, the Tigers need a fully fit and fully firing Luke Gale if they're to compete for honours again in 2019.
Catalans - The 2018 Sam Tomkins
It was Rugby League's worst kept secret in 2018 - Sam Tomkins swapping Wigan for the South of France. But the deal was announced in May as Tomkins inked a three-year deal with the Dragons. He ended the season in perfect fashion, bowing out with another Super League winner's medal in Cherry and White, while his new club also made history, lifting the Challenge Cup.
The target, for both club and player, is how to progress in 2019. Steve McNamara's squad looks capable on paper - Matty Smith adding game management into their side after his move from St Helens, while Matt Whitley is an exciting English talent. The Nou Camp game against Wigan is a great opportunity for Rugby League to grow as well. But will we see the Catalans Dragons with Tomkins in their ranks battling it out at the top end of the table?
Huddersfield - Fireworks
Huddersfield have some serious firepower out wide in 2019. There's an argument to say they possess Super League's most dangerous wingers in Jermaine McGillvary and Akuila Uate. The latter is a new signing from the Manly Sea Eagles, having scored 129 tries in 200 NRL games.
Uate is also a former Australia, Fiji and State of Origin winger, once considered one of the world's best, although an ankle injury curtailed his season early last year. On the other side, you've got Jermaine McGillvary, England's World Cup star of 2017. He's signed a new contract in the off-season, possessing an even better strike record than Uate, with 151 tries in 202 Super League games. And that's a huge boost for the Giants given the reports McGillvary was set to move to the NRL after five tries in seven World Cup games brought his talent into view on the global stage.
He is a real powerhouse, capable of huge metres with ball in hand. And combined with Uate, you can expect fireworks from Huddersfield's outside backs next season.
Hull FC - Forgetting 2018
What happened to Hull FC in 2018? Back-to-back Challenge Cup winners, Lee Radford's charges were well fancied to fight for an Old Trafford appearance at the end of the season. Although they made the Super 8s, their campaign just fell apart. They lost 11 in a row, a run that included shocking results at Warrington (80-10) and Wakefield (72-10).
Adam Pearson promised changes in the off-season, but it hasn't really transpired. Despite signing five players, no big names have arrived that fans were calling for. FC did have a depleted side at the end of the season because of injuries, but rumours of player departures still continue heading towards the season.
Lee Radford has a talented squad at his disposal and a lot could depend on how they get the best of Jake Connor, who dazzled with England in the Autumn. 2019 could be interesting.
Hull KR - Continued progression
Hull KR's return to Super League went as well as could have been expected. They slugged it out in the Qualifiers, but retaining Super League status was achieved. Now it's time to kick on. There's a couple of eye-catching additions for 2019. Kane Linnett is an NRL winner, lifting the trophy with the North Queensland Cowboys in 2015. He should add serious quality, either in the second row or at centre.
Mitch Garbutt also arrives, giving plenty of power to the pack, as long as he stays fit, while players like Jimmy Keinhorst, Weller Hauraki and Ryan Lannon add strength in depth to the squad. Danny McGuire enters his final season as a Rugby League player, having just turned 36. He suffered a few niggling injuries in his campaign in the Red and White, so his fitness could prove crucial in how the Robins' year turns out.
It's no secret the club have been searching for a half-back partner for McGuire in the off-season and again, they could do with that extra bit of creativity. With that, Tim Sheens will have a side capable challenging the big guns.
Leeds - Fresh ideas
2018 was an annus horribilis for the Rhinos. The defending champions dropped into the Qualifiers for the second time in three years. It cost Brian McDermott his job and started a restructuring of the club that has seen Kevin Sinfield take up a Director of Rugby role and David Furner the head coach position. Big changes were promised and Leeds have acted with big signings. They brought in two marquee players during the off-season in Konrad Hurrell and Trent Merrin, both top-notch NRL players to accompany Tui Lolohea, who agreed to join back in July.
The Rhinos have plenty of work to do if they're to challenge in 2019. The pack still appears short of a bit of grunt and they need to avoid the long-term injuries that derailed the last campaign, including skipper Kallum Watkins missing most of the year. Furner knows the club, having won the Grand Final as a player in 2004, and has a wealth of experience, both as a coach and head coach in the NRL. Will he get a tune out of this Leeds squad?
London - Survival
London were one of the stories of 2018, stunning Toronto Wolfpack in the Million Pound Game to secure a Super League return. But the hard work starts here for Danny Ward and his men. And it's only got harder - Jarrod Sammut left to join Wigan in the off-season, leaving Broncos short on creativity ahead of the new campaign.
But there's plenty of homegrown talent in the Broncos' side, six of them featured against the Wolfpack, with flying winger Kieran Dixon perhaps the best known following his long stint in Super League. Ward himself is a real asset, a Champion with the Rhinos in 2004, securing a remarkable success in his first season in charge after Andrew Henderson quit to be Steve Price's assistant at Warrington.
Assisted by fellow Super League winner, Jamie Langley, Ward has some job on his hands. Survival would be an amazing achievement.
Salford - On and off-field work to continue
Salford have nailed elements of their recruitment for 2019. Jackson Hastings and Joey Lussick both arrived from the NRL ahead of the Qualifiers and both players have made a significant impression on and off the field. Just have a look at their social media activity. Meeting and engaging with fans regularly is brilliant to see, especially for a club like Salford who lack the fanbase of certain Super League sides.
On the field - Hastings and Lussick were a sensation at half back and hooker since their moves from Manly, contributing significantly as Salford retained their Super League status. Hastings, in particular, was a wanted man before signing on at Salford, given his sensational playmaking ability. His partnership with Robert Lui could be one of the best in the competition. Could they surprise a few this season?
St Helens - A trophy
The trophy wait continues. It's now four seasons without major silverware for the Saints. Their last Grand Final victory came in 2014 and they haven't won a Challenge Cup since 2008. Last season promised so much and delivered so little. St Helens, with Ben Barba on fire, took Super League apart in the first half of the season. It looked impossible for anyone to stop them. But their mesmeric full-back faltered, a move back to the NRL in the offing, and the Saints began to stumble.
The warning signs were there. Catalans thumped them in the Challenge Cup semi-final in a major surprise. And although the Saints still won the League Leaders' Shield, finishing top by six points, Justin Holbrook's side didn't quite have the same aura during the summer months. And on home soil in the play-offs, Warrington turned them over.
The hard work starts again. Barba has gone, but there's some big names coming in. Kevin Naiqama should light up the backline, Lachlan Coote will replace Barba at full-back and Joseph Paulo adds more physicality to a pack that has Alex Walmsley returning. Will this be the year?
Wakefield - Keep the feelgood factor
What a remarkable few years it's been for Wakefield. Chris Chester has led the club to successive fifth-place finishes, defying all pre-season predictions. And the good work only looks like continuing. Chester has signed a new three-year deal as reward for his hard work, while prize asset Tom Johnstone inked his new contract back in July up until 2022. He was Super League's second top scorer with 24 tries and scored a hat-trick on his England debut against France. And don't forget he's only 23.
Recruitment has been shrewd again. Danny Brough is the standout name, returning to the club for another two years. He turns 36 before the season kicks off, but Brough is still a class act, capable of tearing any team apart with his kicking game. His partnership with Jacob Miller is an exciting prospect. Wakefield's pack will provide plenty of go-forward, with David Fifita leading the way and Craig Kopczak added to the ranks.
Bill Tupou is still with the club despite being linked with a move away and he joined team-mates Johnstone and Matty Ashurst in the 2018 Super League Dream Team. Only St Helens had more players selected. There's no reason Wakefield can't continue to push for the play-offs, with fifth good enough to make it next season.
Warrington - Blake Austin to hit the ground running
Another season, another new NRL half back under big pressure to deliver at Warrington. Chris Sandow flickered brightly, Tyrone Roberts struggled as the club's marquee man and now it's the turn of Blake Austin to try and end Warrington's Grand Final hoodoo. An experienced NRL campaigner who's played over 120 top-level games at Penrith, Wests Tigers and Canberra, Austin has signed a three-year deal as the club's marquee player.
The feeling in Australia is that Austin still has plenty left to give in the NRL. He offers an impressive attacking game, with good feet and an eye for the tryline and is well adept at setting them up as well. Jason Clark is another big signing for the Wolves as they aim to end that 64-year wait for a league title. Will Austin be able to handle the pressure of trying to secure that?
Wigan - Attack, attack, attack
The Warriors are the defending champions. Yet again, Shaun Wane's side found a way to win at the business end of the season. But now it's all change at the DW Stadium. Despite winning every major trophy during his tenure as head coach, Wane moves on. Adrian Lam's comments ahead of starting work for 2019 make interesting reading.
He talks about playing with a flamboyant style, a stick with which Wane was often beaten, especially when Wigan finished sixth in 2017. During the regular season in 2018, the Warriors scored 128 tries, the fifth most in the competition. The Rugby League on offer could certainly be more entertaining.
But does style win over substance? Wane has delivered the substance on a regular basis during his time in charge and it's now up to Lam in his year before Shaun Edwards takes over to prove that both can come hand in hand.
The Betfred Super League is back on our screens on January 31, with reigning champions Wigan playing St Helens in the first-ever traditional opening-night derby. The next day features the Hull derby, before we head over to Warrington to see the 2018 Grand Finalists take on the most successful club of the Super League era, Leeds Rhinos, at home on February 2. An action-packed opening weekend ahead of what will be a highly-competitive 2019 Super League!