On 31st January, the Super League will get back underway for a new season when St Helens and Wigan clash at the Totally Wicked Stadium. It is in, fact, a clash between the two favourites for the Grand Final. Or, more aptly, it is a clash between two teams that some bookies have deigned as favourites for the Grand Final, whereas other have not. Warrington have also been installed as favourites with several top bookies and, to an extent, Castleford are right up on the shoulders of the other trio.
That all points to an exciting Super League XXIV season ahead, with a four-way tussle at the top of the table. Sure, those four sides finished in the top four places last term, but it should be remembered that there was a hefty gap of 15 points between 1st place St Helens and 4th place Warrington by the time the Super 8s wrapped up.
St Helens tipped to go one better than 2018
The current odds, sourced through the Boylesports app, slightly favour St Helens at 10/3 to go all the way and clinch their first Grand Final since 2014. Warrington are just behind at 4/1, with Wigan and Castleford following at 9/2 and 5/1 respectively. Odds for the regular season are just a shade lower for each of the quartet, with St Helens leading the way at 3/1.
However, while a competitive top 4 will please most fans, the majority will want to see Super League XXIV competitive from top to bottom. While odds are not always an indicator of guaranteed success, it still points to Leeds Rhinos (9/1), Hull FC (11/1) and Catalan Dragons (12/1, all odds from Boylesports) having a fighting chance of a Grand Final win. Indeed, it’s only when you get down to the likes of Salford and London Broncos it feels like the bookies have dismissed their chances.
Ben Barba will be huge loss
The question, then, is who will come out on top on 12th October at Old Trafford? While St Helens were, by and large, the best side last year (despite going out in the semi-final), the loss of ‘Man of Steel’ Ben Barba will likely hit them hard. St Helens had no issue with scoring last season, something that was spread throughout the team. However, Barba was the focal point of almost everything good, chipping in with a combined 52 tries and assists. It’s not clear whether new signings like Kevin Naiqama and Lachlan Coote can fill that void.
It is, of course, to difficult to call, but one side that looks to have a nice balance and decent momentum heading into the season is Castleford. They have retained the majority of their elite performers from last season, including the likes of Paul McShane, Luke Gale and the Super League young player of the year Jake Trueman. Moreover, Tigers also boast the bookies’ consensus pick for Super League XXIV’s Man of Steel – Greg Eden. Castleford have yet to win a Grand Final and have but one solitary appearance in the Rugby League’s showpiece. 2019 could be the year that all changes.