Now then, lids and lidettes.
We hope you had a good Christmas and a happy new year and all that.
We know, we’ve updated this thing since the turn of the year. But a combination of smashing your car up and not getting the puppy you asked Santa so nicely for can leave you a little short of the festive spirit.
Anyway, as the first team squad are spamming our Instagram timelines of their bare arses in Tenerife (over there), we thought it would be a good time to discuss our thoughts for the season ahead.
Obviously, we expect to be challenging for trophies again come the end of the season, but we will need to overcome an off-season of upheaval and disruptions.
Even before Chris Sandow fucked off, we were already looking at starting the season without two of our best players, with the injury future man of steel Ben Currie picked up last season ruling him out for nine months or so and Stefan Ratchford picking up an injury while on international duty, so likely to miss the start of the season, messing up the first choice ‘spine’ of the team.
Now, with the season just four weeks away, Kevin Brown is having to come into the squad and fit in to the structures we play and accustom himself to the players around him and the whole ‘spine’ of the team requiring readjusting ahead of a tough looking start to the season that includes a trip to Catalonia and the visit of the Brisbane Broncos.
Hardly ideal preparation, but champion teams overcome adversity and if we want to be a champion team, that’s what we have to do.
From the reports coming out of the pre-season training camp, Brown seems to have fitted in well with the squad.
He has been around super league for well over a decade so will be familiar with most of the players anyway and Ben Westwood was quoted in the Guardian as saying from what he had seen of Brown, he had a similar ability to Brett Hodgson to pick out the right pass every time.
He also noted how he probably fits better into a structure than Chris Sandow, which if we are being honest, is possibly what we are missing to overcome the final hurdle of finally winning a Grand Final.
What Sandow brought to the team will be sorely missed, make no mistake. The ability to unlock a defence with his off-the-cuff style, those magic moments that illuminated the first half of last season in particular, but on both occasions last season, we lost in a major final to teams whose 7 played a disciplined, structured game and dominated the kicking game.
With Gidley moving to 7 to accommodate Brown at 6 and – when fit – Ratchford coming out the back as the third pivot, the spine of the team should perhaps be more balanced this season and hopefully give us the ability to grind out a result with a trophy at stake.
It was clearly with that in mind that St Helens secured the signature of Matty Smith, a scrum half whose kicking game has helped his team get on the front foot in two Grand Finals now.
He took what sounds like a nasty knock against the Smellies in last weekend’s friendly and could be out for a while, but if he is fit at the business end of the season, Saints – who gate-crashed the top four last season after finding form at precisely the right time – will look a strong candidate to make Old Trafford.
Aside from Saints, Wigan will be strong again, replacing Smith with their own prodigal son Tommy Leuluai while Joe Burgess returns to the club and Morgan Escare joins an already impressive-looking backline.
On paper, we want to suggest that the top four will be the same as last year, while Leeds, Cas and Catalans make the top eight comfortably and the rest of the shite battle it out for the remaining spot to avoid the dreaded middle eight shootout.
However, Hull, being Hull, could do absolutely anything.
A discussion at P&P towers over who we should tip for the first coach to be sacked saw us agree that Neil Jukes at Leigh could go if they struggle early on, considering the squad they have assembled, while Ian Watson is probably sitting in the hottest seat in the game. Koukash disposed of proven trophy winner Brian Noble at the drop of the hat, so if the City Reds aren’t hitting his desired standard, he won’t have a problem showing the former Rochdale, Oldham and Swinton half back the door.
But we wouldn’t be surprised if history repeats itself over in East Yorkshire and Hull find themselves starting slowly and dismissing the coach who has just lead them to Cup glory, like with Jon Kear all those years ago.
Dennis Betts seems to be made of Teflon, so Widnes could get relegated and their board would ‘keep the faith’ more than a Northern Soul enthusiast at an all-nighter in Scarborough. (Ask your Dad.)
So, to summarise, we expect next season to go pretty much the same as the last one ,in terms of who finishes where at least.
We could have said that 900 words ago and saved everyone’s time, but fuck it. There’s fuck all on the telly and it’s about -10 outside, so what else were you gonna do anyway?
We’ll try to be funnier this year. No promises, though.
In a bit.