Friday, 29 January 2010

Super League XV

Super League XV kicks off in less than 24 hours and I already feel like a little kid waiting for Santa Claus to appear. I just hope that by the end of the season I won’t have realised that Santa Claus isn’t real. Indeed, I hope to meet Santa Claus several times this season if the draw decides to pop in for the occasional visit! I’ll even take just seeing the big guy’s costume!

I probably haven’t prepared as fully as I would have liked due to several reasons, but I have spent today setting up my trading platform for the 2009 season. Last year, I used the grid interface on Bet Trader Pro and that was an outstanding piece of kit which catered exactly to my needs - namely through having multiple back / lay windows open at once and being able to have different markets open at once and still be able to have bet submission windows open which could place instant bets. Obviously, Bet Trader Pro no longer exists but that may not be as bad as I had feared.

The Geek’s Toy will now be my trading platform of choice for 2010 and this is a piece of kit which is simply phenomenal and contains several outstanding features which go beyond my needs! Of course, it will take me a while to get fully used to it, but the fact that it has so many customisable settings is superb and allows you to create your own individual trading platform for your trading needs. The Geek’s Toy also boasts excellent forums with several great contributions and I would unashamedly advise all readers to sign up and make it even better.

Now, onto this weekend’s games. I regularly wrote Thursday previews last year and aim to do the same this year. I also plan to say a bit about how I think the teams will fare in general this year.

Leeds Rhinos are clear favourites this year and it’s little wonder why. The Rhinos boast a young side who are continuously improving and possess a central nucleus of players at the peak of their careers whilst their main rivals, St Helens, are definitely a team in a decline / rebuild period. The only major loss from their 2009 squad is Lee Smith who has been ably replaced by Brett Delaney from Australia. Delaney is more of a defensive centre than an attacking one, but it’s not like the Rhinos are short in attack and their right hand side defence now looks as good as any whereas last year it could be argued that Lee Smith (who I feel is a huge loss to Rugby League) displayed some positional naivete at times.

The scariest thing about the Rhinos is that they boast a new signing in Greg Eastwood who is replacing no-one from their 2009 squad! He was meant to be Gareth Ellis’ replacement in 2009 and whilst his arrival was delayed the potential issues that this could have caused were more than ably solved by the emergence of Carl Ablett into a genuine Super League player. So the Rhinos look the clear favourites to become the first ever time to win four successive Grand Finals.

Equally clear, is that their opening week opponents, Crusaders RL, are likely to be at the bottom of the table come the end of the year. Relocated from Bridgend to Wrexham has been a controversial decision and one that several feel overlooks the reason for their initial inclusion in Super League, but the Welsh outfit are here for two years at least and if they can build on a likely sell out crowd tomorrow, they could also remain for a while longer.

However, if they want to achieve that, they will need to either overhaul their playing squad or rely on a terrific job from Brian Noble. There’s no doubting that in Noble, Jon Sharp and Iestyn Harris, the Crusaders have a coaching staff as good as any in the league, but there’s also no doubt that their playing squad is amongst the weakest in the league.

You can expect the Crusaders to improve as the season goes on, and their squad does look improved from 2009, but you can expect them to receive a second straight wooden spoon at the end of the year unless their collection of fringe NRL players, Hull bad boys and Welsh youngsters (And going by Brian Noble’s comments and previous form, you can expect them to only be used sparingly) have the season of their lives.

So, there’s no doubt that Leeds should be clear favourites on Friday to defeat Celtic. The Rhinos are probably better player for player in the 17 man team, but you can never be totally certain. Last year in the same game, the Rhinos went 22-0 up after 20 minutes before drawing the next 60 6-6! And who can ever forget Wales’ first half performance against Australia in the 2000 World Cup Semi Final.

Still, with the Rhinos currently being laid at 1.08, let’s remember that last year Bradford Bulls travelled to St. Helens in April and defeated the Saints who started at 1.05. Whilst form lines were more apparent then, the talent levels were uncomparably closer than they will be on Friday night. The very large amount to lay at 1.05 suggests to me that the price will end up hovering around 1.05 / 1.06 pre match and there’s certainly no value in laying that but equally, there’s probably insufficient value in backing 1.05. I’ve never been the best at predicting kick off prices though. My prices are often greatly different to what everyone else’s is.

As the next match shows…

I am much lower on Harlequins than most people are. I have a huge amount of respect for Brian McDermott, but I fear for the Quins this year. I make the 10/1 on them to finish bottom exceptional value and you only have to look at their squad to realise why. Whilst they do have some genuine young talent and a hugely exciting prospect in Ben Jones Bishop, they equally have an insipid collection of players who have never looked likely to have successful Super League careers.

I also wonder where their inspiriation will come from, especially with two of their best players missing the start of the season in Luke Dorn and Rob Purdham. Dorn can be hugely inconsistent and do nothing for 79 minutes, but can create something from nothing and is a huge loss whereas Rob Purdham has always been a player I have enormous respect for and who I feel has never garnished the respect he deserves. Purdham is at home anywhere on the pitch and is far more creatively talented than he is given credit for. He displays excellent leadership and all he lacks is that extra ounce of athleticsm that would have made him a truly great player.

All that said, it is entirely possible that Brian McDermott could push this bunch of players into overachieving, especially if one or two of the young players raise their games and Purdham and Dorn come back quicker than expected.

Meanwhile, I am higher on Wakefield than most are. I don’t have a definitive placing for them just yet, but I feel they will be around the 8th spot. They fall into the middle of the Bradford / Catalans / Hull KR / Castleford group of clubs. They will miss the leadership and acumen of Brad Drew, but Ben Jeffries could fill that void by returning to the form he showed to earn a move to Bradford.

If the Wildcats do have a weakness, it is definitely in their backline where they have lost Tony Martin, Ryan Atkins, Matt Petersen and Scott Grix whilst Damien Blanch will also miss the start of the season. Luke George and Sean Gleeson look set to step up but that looks like a loss. George can score heavily but is suspect in defence and Gleeson looks more of a back up at this level. New signing Daryl Millard is capable of doing well but quite often overseas players take a while to settle and whilst Paul Johnson, Jason Demetriou and Kevin Henderson can be shifted to centre when required, none have the pace to worry a defence.

That said, Wakefield look very strong up front with new signings Shane Tronc and Paul King joining Michael Korkidas and Richard Moore in a front row that can set the platform for new signings Terry Newton and Glenn Morrison to control. Morrison in particular could be the domestic signing of the season if he can remain healthy although that is a big if and with Jeffires, Danny Brough, Sam Obst and Tevita Leo Latu all capable of posing questions, enough chances could be created to allow the Wildcats to possibly suffer from a below average conversion rate.

One final note on John Kear’s squads is that they traditionally start well before fading away which suggests a heavy pre-season in say contrast to Brian Noble whose sides usually start poor but peak for the playoffs. It is possible that Kear may look to switch things up this year with his best squad (on paper) for some time, but his history makes the Wildcats exceptional value against Harlequins.

Now, there are two ways to approach the opening weeks of the season. You can either accept that no-one has a true reading on teams yet, or you can embrace this unpredictability. Sure, there is a lot more luck involved now, but Wakefield look a hugely attractive price against Quins. At a neutral venue, I would make Wakefield 1.5 favourites and I have written enough about home advantage previously, to believe they are outstanding value this weekend at a current best price of 5/4. Even when I try to talk myself out of this view, the best I can do is call this a 50/50 game.

The Wildcats should have enough muscle and intelligence to out play the Quins and whilst a home victory would not stun me, nothing ever does in Rugby League, the current price looks worthy of a nice investment.

Update: Just as I went to hit post, someone is laying Leeds at 1.08 for £5,000 and I am shocked. I’ve already looked to get onto my maximum level and most of that was below 1.08. There is no money to back at 1.07 and hardly any at 1.06 so someone with a very big bank could look to make a very nice profit.


  1. Two incisive opening match previews, a great read, many thanks.

  2. Hi, Add my blog to your list? I've added yours. Thanks, John.

  3. Thanks very much for the ego boost Red Red Robin!

    Hopefully, you'll be equally complimentary of my views on Hull KR this year. (Although, I doubt it!)

  4. Being a Robins fan you get used to the non complimentary views over the years but we hold our own now and ths season should see us build on what's been achieved so far. Hopefully!

  5. No doubt you've done a great job upto now, but I look at your forwards this year and just think you may struggle. I like Justin Morgan, but if he is going to ignore Ben Fisher and David Mills as some rumours suggest just due to fall outs and the Clinton deal falls through then you may struggle. Vella, Wheeldon, Lovegrove and Watts probably won't provide the platform for Murrell to get the ball to Dobson whilst Cooke saunters around disinterested!

    But, if you get Clinton, play a recognised hooker and get Cooke motivated, then you should do well.

    Though at the moment, I'm afraid I am lower on KR than most people are.