A new year means a new rugby league season and, with that, there comes many things that fans of the greatest sport on earth can look forward to.
Here, Get ’em Onside gives the first five of it’s extensive list to whet the appetite of rugby league fans ahead of the big kick off at the end of this month…
There are certain events in sport which unite all the fans and when Hull KR’s Shaun Lunt returns to the field in 2019, that will be one of those moments. After being rushed to hospital last September, Lunt was left wondering whether he would survive after being diagnosed with bacterial meningitis. Further issues with an abscess in his spinal cord and sepsis followed before the Cumbrian rake was able to return home. Thereafter, he still had regular visits from medical professionals and had to take antibiotics through an IV drip as well as more tablets than you could shake a stick at. Now, the 31-year-old former Super League winner is back with the KR squad preparing for their Super League campaign and, while it isn’t believed that Lunt will be ready for their season’s big kick off against Hull FC, he will no doubt be a beneficiary of the substantial well-wishes of the rugby league family when he returns to the pitch.
Rhinos’ resurrection and revamped groundEmbed from Getty Images
2018 was a season of disappointment and change for the Rhinos. After winning the 2017 Super League Grand Final, Leeds started the season reasonably well with early victories over Warrington and St Helens away from home as well as edging at tight clash with Hull FC at Headingley. That, however, wouldn’t last and a shocking run of form saw the club sack Brian McDermott mid-season. The decision wouldn’t arrest the club’s slide towards The Qualifiers, though, and the club only just managed to survive. The arrival of legend Kevin Sinfield as the club’s Director of Rugby saw changes made and, following the culmination of the Rhinos’ season, bigger changes have occurred. Backroom staff have been shuffled, new head coach Dave Furner has arrived from the NRL and he has brought with him top quality recruits.
Trent Merrin (Penrith) and Konrad Hurrell (Gold Coast Titans) have both arrived and the pair have very recent experience of international rugby with Australia and Tonga respectively. Hurrell’s international teammate Tui Lolohea has also arrived in Super League and the club are now being touted as challengers for a top-five spot and qualification for the new play-off structure. 2019 is likely to be one of transition for Leeds as Sinfield, Furner and CEO Gary Hetherington aim to restore the club to former glories but, with the new South Stand already open and the revamped North Stand set to shortly follow, this season is one full of promise for the Rhinos.
New stadium for York
Those of you who may have followed the fortunes of York’s two professional sports clubs will be aware of the long drawn out saga over the city’s new stadium. The best part of two decades in the planning and various suggested start and open dates passed without a spade in the ground but, alas, this summer York City Knights are set to move into a new community stadium. While the team will only play two matches there this season – Bradford Bulls and Featherstone Rovers – the optimism and excitement is palpable. The club’s return to the second tier after a lengthy absence has only served to intensify that and there is a belief that, under the stewardship of highly rated head coach James Ford and chairman Jon Flatman, the Knights are a club certainly on the up. Already boasting top quality training facilities in the city, the new stadium promises to be a huge boost for rugby league in the Minster city.
Capital presence back in SLEmbed from Getty Images
For the first time since 2014, Super League rugby will be heading to the capital club after London Broncos stunned Toronto with a 4-2 victory in last season’s Million Pound Game. While many are tipping Danny Ward’s men to finish bottom and suffer an immediate return to the second tier, the Broncos upset the odds last year and will be striving to do the same this. With a young squad at their disposal – many of the players either being from London or having learned their trade in the city – the talent on show through The Qualifiers suggests that the Broncos will be able to mix it with the lesser lights in Super League. While the loss of talisman Jarrod Sammut will have been a disappointment, the arrivals of Jordan Abdull and Morgan Smith from Hull FC and Warrington respectively show that the Broncos are an attractive proposition for youngsters. The pair were highly rated at their former clubs and, in the shape of Abdull, Ward has a player with a level of Super League experience many of his squad don’t. Even if the Broncos do end up struggling and go down, the return to Super League of London can only be a good thing for the sport as a whole and there is plenty of talent in the squad who will be keen to showcase their ability at the elite level.
Trueman stepping up to the plate once more
Luke Gale’s season-ending achilles injury has probably cemented Jake Trueman’s already-strong chances of being one of Castleford’s first choice halves this season. Handed the number six jersey after being named Super League’s Young Player of the Season in 2018, the teenager will be expected to further develop and truly establish himself as the Super League star he is more than capable of being. Without Gale in the squad, much of the Tigers’ playmaking will come through the 19-year-old and his ability both to organise and play with ball in hand makes him a threatening opponent to come up against. Twenty-eight appearances last year saw the youngster score eight tries for Daryl Powell’s Tigers and, while some are suggesting that the team’s lack of recruitment against their other top Super League rivals could see them drop out of the play-off picture, Trueman’s performances will go a long way to determining Castleford’s season.