Peter Smith: Super League’s unpredictability this year is a breath of fresh air

Warrington Wolves head coach Tony Smith.
Warrington Wolves head coach Tony Smith.
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SINCE SUPER League began 20 years ago, only four teams – Leeds Rhinos, St Helens, Wigan Warriors and Bradford Bulls – have won the title.

Last weekend all three of those still in Super League suffered home defeats. That highlights how unpredictable the 2016 competition has become.

Warrington Wolves have set their stall out to do what Leeds did in 2015 and win the title a year after finishing sixth.

With only one defeat so far and boasting the competition’s best attack and meanest defence, they look well set to do that.

Warrington have an outstanding coach – Tony Smith – who already has two title triumphs to his credit from his spell with Leeds and have spent big to build an outstanding squad, so it is a question of when, rather than if, they eventually win their first championship since 1955.

Wigan, beaten by Warrington last weekend, are up near the top as expected, but the rest of the table has an unfamiliar look, with Widnes Vikings and Catalans Dragons occupying the other top-four places.

Widnes have had a great start to the year, but the smart money was always on them faltering if Kevin Brown got injured and so it has proved.

Their home form is an asset, but they will probably drop away before the competition splits after 23 rounds, though their early results – especially the recent victory at Wigan – have been a breath of fresh air.

Catalans have a hugely talented squad, with a massive pack and possibly the most talented player in Super League in stand-off Todd Carney.

Now they seem to have conquered their travel sickness, they are genuine dark horses. Hull have also got over a recent wobble and are playing to their potential, as wins over Warrington and at Saints have illustrated.

In any other year, Saints’ poor start would be a major story. They are underachieving badly and their coach Keiron Cunningham would be under huge pressure if he wasn’t a local legend.

Castleford Tigers have shown great resilience in the face of a serious injury crisis, but their season – like ninth-placed Salford’s – could go either way.

But what is happening in the bottom four is probably more fascinating than events at the top of the ladder.

Sacking a coach rarely brings about an improvement in results, but it seems having one resign out of the blue can do the trick.

Chris Chester, axed by Hull KR earlier in the campaign, has come in and had an immediate and dramatic effect on Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, who are one of the form teams in the competition.

On April 11, 2015, they were slaughtered 80-0 at Warrington. Twelve months later they face another tough game at home to Wigan this weekend, but will go into it on the back of three wins in nine days over Easter.

To put it into perspective, that’s as many as they managed against top-flight opposition in the whole of last year – and one more than defending champions Leeds have picked up so far this term.

As captain Danny Kirmond told The Yorkshire Evening Post this week, Wildcats are playing with smiles on their faces and it’s working for them.

Most encouragingly, Wakefield have unearthed two gems in 18-year-old full-back Max Jowitt and winger Tom Johnstone, 20.

Jowitt is not yet established in the team, but provided outstanding passes for two of Johnstone’s hat-trick of tries against Salford last weekend and looks to be an outstanding talent. Wildcats have been smart getting Johnstone on a long-term deal, because the big clubs will soon come calling.

Hull KR also appear to be making progress under a new boss – James Webster, ironically sacked by Wakefield last year – which makes things even tougher for the bottom two of Leeds and Huddersfield Giants. Both have the talent to get out of trouble, but so far have shown few signs of being able to turn things around.

As for the other former champions, Bradford Bulls, they are fourth in the Kingstone Press Championship after successive defeats, at Halifax and home to Sheffield, as well as a Challenge Cup-tie at Dewsbury. If they don’t buck their ideas up, they won’t even have a derby against Leeds and Huddersfield in the middle-eights to look forward to.

Ashton Golding. PIC: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

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