Rhinos ready to start from scratch as Super League returns


Another wide-open Super League season appears to be in prospect as Leeds Rhinos prepare to begin the defence of their title at home to Warrington Wolves on Thursday.

The Rhinos swept all before them in 2015, becoming only the third team to finish top of the table, win the Grand Final and also secure the Challenge Cup.

England international Kallum Watkins is confident a new-look Leeds side, shorn of departed club stalwarts Jamie Peacock, Kevin Sinfield and Kylie Leuluai but boosted by new faces such as Keith Galloway, Brett Ferres and Beau Falloon, can lead the chase for honours once again.

However, success did not come easily for the Rhinos last term, with only a last-minute Ryan Hall try against Huddersfield securing the League Leaders' Shield before Wigan Warriors were edged out 22-20 in the Grand Final at Old Trafford.

Watkins is aware his team-mates will need to start from scratch again this year, rather than resting on their laurels following a tremendous treble-winning campaign.

The fleet-footed centre told Omnisport: "I think it's important that we put that [the 2015 treble] away. It was tough last year, we just got there in the end. Obviously it's a new challenge now, a new season ahead.

"We need to get off to a good start, which is important for us, and the focus on the other things will come later in the year. 

"We've got to show that hunger again, we've got to show that desire again."

Perennial challengers Wigan have Sam Tomkins back from the NRL, although the star full-back will miss the opening rounds as he continues his recovery from knee surgery. Tomkins' elder brother Joel has also picked up a knee problem and faces six weeks out.

Warrington will look to former Newcastle Knights playmaker Kurt Gidley to inspire an upturn in fortunes after falling well short of expectations in 2015, while Catalans Dragons have made a number of high-profile additions, with former Wolves half-back Richie Myler, Pat Richards, Glenn Stewart, Paul Aiton and Dave Taylor among the new arrivals in Perpignan.

A youthful St Helens squad impressed last year, ultimately losing at Headingley in the semi-finals, and can be expected to challenge again, but the race for a top-four place could well prove more competitive than ever as the likes of Huddersfield and Castleford Tigers also aim to kick on following respective third- and fifth-place finishes.

Former New Zealand forward Frank Pritchard is another notable close-season recruit, having moved to Hull FC - the team that rounded off last season's top eight. 

Widnes Vikings, Hull KR, Salford Red Devils and Wakefeld Trinity Wildcats were forced to fight for their Super League futures in the inaugural qualifiers - the latter eventually beating Bradford Bulls in the 'Million Pound Game' to retain top-flight status - and will hope better times lie ahead in 2016.