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Super League XXVIII season preview: St Helens could make slow start

The 28th Super League season starts on Thursday with Warrington hosting Leeds in a fixture that has the potential to set the tone for another big-hitting campaign.

A change of leadership means St Helens could struggle early on in their quest for an unprecedented fifth straight Grand Final win and that might just open the door for their improving rivals.

At the other end, Wakefield could be the main victims of newly-prompted Leigh's strong recruitment, with the Leopards also having an early Man of Steel candidate among their ranks.

After a successful World Cup and a busy off-season, rugby league is on the up and Super League XXVIII has the potential to be the best yet.

WhatSuper League 
WhereVarious
WhenThursday 16th February - Saturday 14th October 2023
How to watchChannel 4 and Sky Sports
Odds (Outright)St Helens 2/1, Wigan 3/1, Leeds 13/2, Catalan Dragons 8/1, Warrington 8/1

All change at St Helens

Saints became the first side to win four Grand Finals in a row by beating Leeds 24-12 in last September's Old Trafford showpiece but may take time to find their feet with a new man at the helm.

Club legend and former assistant Paul Wellens has taken over from Kristian Woolf and will be looking to continue the work done by Woolf and his predecessor, Justin Holbrook.

The champions will miss the opening round because they are in World Club Challenge action against their NRL counterparts Penrith Panthers and make their first domestic appearance of 2023 away at Castleford on Sunday 26th February.

Saints are 2/1 in the Grand Final Winner market but, despite minimal turnover in their squad, may still take time to adapt under Wellens and it could be Leeds who benefit.

The Rhinos looked to be on to a good thing under Rohan Smith, who replaced Richard Agar after the club had lost five of their opening six Super League games in 2022.

While stalwarts such as Tom Briscoe and Liam Sutcliffe have departed, the acquisitions of Derrell Olpherts and Sam Lisone look shrewd.

Leeds are 13/2 to be the Grand Final winner, with 3/1 Wigan and 8/1 Catalan Dragons certain to go close. Warrington's strong recruitment means they should also go well at 8/1 in the Grand Final Winner odds but the team to watch could be Huddersfield at 14/1.

Ian Watson's side agonisingly lost to the Warriors in last year's Challenge Cup final, going down to Liam Marshall's late score, and just as he did at Salford, the 46-year-old looks to be building something special in Kirklees.

The return of Jake Connor after five years at Hull FC will give them a real X-factor in the back-line, as will the singing of former Saints centre Kevin Naiqama.

Salford look good to continue 2022 form

A record of three wins in their opening 11 Super League fixtures could easily have derailed Salford but the Red Devils found their gear mid-season to reach the semi-finals.

They again look to have added in solid rather than spectacular fashion and are a decent 11/4 for a Top 6 Finish.

It could be a similar story for Hull FC, who begin a new era under Tony Smith. The uncle of Leeds' boss Rohan, the 56-year-old guided the Rhinos to Grand Final glory in both 2004 and 2007, as well as finishing runners-up with Warrington in 2012.

After transforming FC's city rivals Hull KR, he left Craven Park last July after a run of one win in seven on the back of announcing he would be departing at the end of 2022.

The Airlie Birds, 6/5 for a Top 6 Finish, have always been the nearly men of Super League but the signing of Jake Trueman from Castleford hints at an exciting half-back partnership alongside fellow newbie Jake Clifford.

After beating Wakefield 56-0 in their final pre-season match, they look ready to hit the ground running and are 8/13 to open with a win on Sunday against Castleford.

Wakefield set to struggle

That defeat for Trinity does not bode well for the West Yorkshire outfit. The last four newly-promoted sides have gone straight back down but the rebranded Leigh Leopards could go well after a significant recruitment drive.

Wakefield's transfer activity has been less impressive, with the losses of James Batchelor and Tom Johnstone especially worrying.

Rookie coach Mark Applegarth has replaced Willie Poching at the helm and could have his work cut out, with Wakefield 15/8 To Finish Bottom, despite winning five of their last seven in 2022.

Leigh are 2/1 in the same market but look significantly stronger than Wakefield, who, barring youngster Lewis Murphy, appear weaker than last year and could be in real relegation danger based on their warm-up results.

Welsby one to watch

Jack Welsby carried his 2022 Saints form into the World Cup but was possibly wrongly utilised by Shaun Wane as England lost out to Samoa in the semi-finals.

The 21-year-old will start the 2023 season at full-back but has the skills to pop up around the field and his pure talent might help save Saints as they look to adapt to any tweaks to their game plan.

Welsby missed out to Salford's 16/1 Brodie Croft in the battle for the 2022 Man of Steel but looks well priced at 14/1 to take the award in 2023.

Leigh hooker Edwin Ipape is 12/1 for the Man of Steel, the same price as Wigan's Bevan French.

French made history by scoring seven tries against Hull FC last July on his way to finishing the regular season with 33 tries in 22 matches.

After missing the opening five weeks through a hamstring injury, the Australian soon formed a fabulous back-three trio with Marshall and Jai Field and Marshall and could get better service with new signing Tony King set to feature inside him.

French is 7/2 to be Top Tryscorer, with Saints' Tommy Makinson 10/1 but the value could be in Salford's Ken Sio. Priced at 16/1, Sio topped the scoring charts in 2021 and followed French in last year with 26 scores. 

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