FORGET CHRISTMAS, this is the most wonderful time of the year.
We’re all rugby fans – players or supporters – and this weekend is when we get back to doing what we do best.
I am genuinely excited about what’s going to happen over the next nine months and I think there’s a real buzz about the competition this year.
To be honest, with the new format we are all a bit in the dark about how things will pan out and everyone’s on their toes even more than they normally are at this time of year.
I don’t want to sound like a marketing man, but I think the competition is going to be really, really strong this year.
The RFL are saying ‘every minute matters’ and I think it really does.
If you are serious about finishing high up the ladder and being involved in the big games at the end of the year, you can’t afford to start slowly.
The competition usually takes a few rounds to really get going and for all the teams to find their feet, but this year you don’t have that luxury.
You have to start the season really well. I don’t think anybody cruises through the regular season – I know we’ve been accused of that in the past and it isn’t true – but the new format means if you drop a few points early on you will be playing catch-up and it will make it hard to finish in the top-eight, never mind the four, which will be everybody’s aim.
Finish in the top-four you get an extra home game, plus points are carried over from the weekly rounds, so it’s important to finish as high as you can, with as many wins as possible, before the Super-8s even begin.
Everybody is going to have something to play for, either challenging for the title if you are in the top-eight or to stay in Super League if not, so there’ll be some massive matches.
One thing about rugby league is, no two seasons are ever the same.
As a sport we are always innovating and bringing in new ideas and the latest format is a massive change.
Like a lot of people, I don’t know how it will go. I think it’s a case of wait and see what happens this year.
Once the season is over we will have a better idea of the pluses and minuses of the new format, but we can’t change it now.
We all want rugby league to thrive and if changes are brought in that help it do that, then I am all for it.
At the moment we all have to get on with it and hopefully it makes the sport better in the long-run, for players and supporters and people who bring the money in.
The format isn’t something we, as players, sit around talking about. Everyone’s aware of what’s happening, but at the end of the day it’s still our job to go out, play rugby and win games. That’s all I am concentrating on and I’ll let what happens off the field take care of itself.
At this time of year everyone always says it has been their toughest pre-season ever.
I don’t want to repeat that cliche, but we have put the work in over the last three months (under head coach Brian McDermottt) and I think we’re in good shape.
Last year we had the best defensive record in Super League, which we were proud of and at times we attacked really well. We were capable of scoring plenty of points, but sometimes we let ourselves down with a lack of composure and skill.
In pre-season we’ve gone back to basics a bit, working on things like passing technique.
Adam Cuthbertson – Cuthbo – has come in and his off-loading game will give us a new dimension. I think he is going to be a very good addition for us, but we have to be able to play to his strengths, make sure we get the ball away and have people in support.
Time will tell, but I think we’re going into the season fit, well-prepared and ready and we’re looking forward to what the year will bring.