2016 was a landmark year for rugby league – it saw Leeds and Huddersfield massively underperform, while the Super Eights’ system claimed its first victim of relegation in Hull KR and its first victor of promotion in Leigh.
The eventual winners of the Grand Final were Wigan, who edged past Warrington at Old Trafford. The latter also came close at Wembley but Tony Smith’s men couldn’t lift the Challenge Cup ahead of Hull FC.
There is undoubtedly lots more to look forward to in 2017, but here are five key aspects to look out for in the new campaign.
1. Can Warrington continue their 2016 form?
Warrington came so close to a treble in 2016, but lacked that killer touch in both the Grand Final and the Challenge Cup final. Half-back pairing Chris Sandow and Kurt Gidley were hugely influential last term, but the Wire have since lost the former during the off-season.
The Australian has been replaced by former Widnes stand-off Kevin Brown, who will be the man responsible for re-forging one of 2016’s strongest pairings.
2. A Leeds Rhinos resurgence?
On the flipside, 2015 treble winners Leeds had a dreadful season, eventually placing in the Qualifiers. The squad was massively affected by pre-season floods which forced them out of their Kirkstall training ground, before the side suffered damning results such as a 56-12 demolition away to Widnes.
Brian McDermott’s boys will be hoping that last season was a blip in what has been an otherwise magnificent Super League history for the club. The Rhinos will be looking to get back in contention for the title, where they have belonged for so long.
3. Will Leigh prove their worth in the top flight?
Leigh Centurions became the first side to benefit from promotion in the new Super Eights’ system, a reward they have long been calling out for.
Niel Jukes’ side bossed the Championship for a number of years and will finally get a chance to play against the established top flight teams once more. The Centurions could have a solid season too, after signing high-profile players such as former Catalan man Glenn Stewart.
4. Wakefield to kick on from last season?
Wakefield Trinity had a brilliant year in 2016, making the top eight after a great regular campaign. Chris Chester was the side’s spark; he replaced Brian Smith as head coach in mid-March and led the Yorkshire side to landmark victories over the likes of Wigan and Leeds.
Chester now has a full pre-season to prepare for 2017, and if he can get his side to play the way he wants, Trinity could be in for an even better season than 2016.
5. Hull FC to continue top-flight haul?
Hull FC were undoubtedly one of the star teams last season, and picked up both the Challenge Cup and a Man of Steel Award as their just desserts.
It will be a tough test for the Airlie Birds to maintain their great form in 2017, but key performers like Jamie Shaul and and Danny Houghton are those who will provide it.