Clockwise from top left: Jack Welsby (second from right) and St Helens miss James Roby (second from left); Wigan’s Jai Field and Kaide Ellis defend their titles; Elliot Minchella and Hull KR have their sights set on silverware, while Lachlan Lam and Leigh are looking to repeat last year’s success.Composite: Getty Images; Shutterstock
After narrowly avoiding relegation last season, Castleford have used the off-season – and the relative safety afforded them by IMG’s rating system – to rebuild with one eye on the future. Perhaps the most promising coach outside of Super League, Craig Lingard, has taken over and started overhauling an aging squad. Only two of their winter signings are over 25 and while there may be a bright future ahead, this could be a formative and tough season for a young side.
Coach Craig Lingard Captain Paul McShane Main role Jacob Molenaar Last season 11th Prediction 11th
A rebuild in Perpignan leaves an element of doubt about last year’s grand finalists. Almost their entire backbone, Mitchell Pearce, Tyrone May and Sam Tomkins, have left. The responsibility of sending the Catalans back to Old Trafford falls on younger shoulders, with French full-back Arthur Mourgue tasked with replacing Tomkins. Fortunately for Steve McNamara, he still has a wealth of talent to call upon.
Coach Steve McNamara Captain Ben Garcia Main role Jayden Nikorima Last season Second and second place in the grand final Prediction 3rd
One of a number of clubs set to see significant improvement after a disappointing ninth-place finish in 2023. Ian Watson has again recruited heavily, but much depends on how well overseas imports such as half-back Adam Clune establish themselves. There is no shortage of talent, but they still seem to be a fraction behind the leading group.
Coach Ian Watson Captain Luke Yates Main role Jake Connor Last season 9th Prediction 9th
Like Huddersfield, Hull FC will be keen to show that they are better than last year, when they limped to an extremely disappointing 10th place. The return to fitness of talented halfback Jake Trueman will undoubtedly give them a boost and a rebuild of their pack means there is cautious optimism that the good times could return to the west side of Hull. They will participate in the play-offs, but so will a few teams.
Coach Tony Smith Captain Danny Houghton Main role Jake Trueman Last season 10th Prediction 8th
Hull Kingston Rovers
On the east side of Hull the ambitions are slightly loftier. No longer a perennial relegation candidate, last season’s race to the Challenge Cup final has whetted the appetite for further success. They have once again recruited well, with former Catalans halfback May and NRL mainstay Peta Hike eye-catching additions. The top six seems likely, but nowadays the expectation is that things will go better. They’ll want silverware.
Coach Willie Peters Captain Elliot Minchella Main role Mikey Lewis Last season 4th Prediction 5th
Nowhere is the weight of expectation heavier than in Headingley. Finishing eighth is unacceptable for a club of Leeds’ stature and they have been busy in the transfer market. The 2022 Man of Steel, Brodie Croft, is the standout addition across the league, but there are plenty of other interesting additions that make a playoff push likely.
Coach Rohan Smith Captain Cameron Smith Main role Brodie Croft Last season 8th Prediction 6th
Will there be a second season syndrome? Leigh was tipped by some to finish bottom last year and did slightly better than that. Not only did they make the play-offs, but they also won the Challenge Cup. They have not rested on that, with former Kangaroos half-back Matt Moylan putting in an eye-catching performance. They have the tools to challenge again.
Coach Adrian Lam Captain John Asiata Main role Lachlan Lam Last season 5th Prediction 4th
The romance surrounding London’s remarkable promotion from the Championship quickly dissipated with the news that they had finished 24th in the IMG rankings. It means that whatever they do this season, they will be removed from the competition when the rating system goes live this year. Injuries to key men have already hurt them and their squad seems incapable of competing at this level. It will be a tough year.
Coach Mike Eccles Captain Will Lovell Main role James Meadows Last season Winners of the Championship Grand Final Prediction 12th
Salford Red Devils
They enjoy upsetting the experts. Paul Rowley and his men are regularly tipped to struggle at the bottom and always find a way to prove people wrong. Can they do it again? Potential, but it will be difficult. The loss of Croft and Andy Ackers to Leeds will hurt and their squad looks worryingly thin. Keep their main men fit and they can make the play-offs; if injuries occur, they are in trouble.
Coach Paul Rowley Captain Kallum Watkins Main role Ryan Brierley Last season 7th Prediction 10th
For the first time in four years, St Helens go into the season without the title of reigning champions. Their attempt to reclaim the trophy they have become so familiar with is complicated by the ominous task of replacing their legendary hooker and captain, James Roby, who has retired. Daryl Clark arrives from Warrington to fill that gap and if he finds his best form there is every chance a side can go all out elsewhere with minimal disruption this off-season.
Coach Paul Wellens Captain Johnny Lomax Main role Jack Welsby Last season 3rd Prediction Winners 2nd and grand final
The Sam Burgess era begins with a familiar question: can Wolves win a first league title since 1955? The 35-year-old was tasked with ending a similar drought as a player at South Sydney and he succeeded. However, it will be much more difficult to do this as a coach. Burgess has a team to compete with, but as many before him have discovered, going all the way is a big ask.
Coach Sam Burgess Captain Stefan Ratchford Main role George Williams Last season 6th Prediction 7th
If you thought winning the grand final last year would lead to Wigan becoming complacent, think again. They are even stronger with key recruits including Catalans’ Adam Keighran and England hooker Kruise Leeming strengthening an already impressive squad. Matt Peet’s side are the favorites to win again and it’s not hard to see why.
Coach Matt Pete Captain Liam Farrell Main role Jai field Last season Winners of the 1st and Grand Finals Prediction 1st