This year fans will see a host of changes to gameplay in a bid to speed up match tempo and make the game more exciting for spectators. The biggest of these changes is the Shot Clock, with teams taking more than 35 seconds at scrums and drop-outs now facing a penalty. Teams will also find they’re only allowed eight interchanges, instead of ten, making the game more attack focused. Finally, Golden Point extra time is being introduced for teams level after 80 minutes with the aim of encouraging sides to go for a win instead of just settling for a draw.
The action kicks off on Thursday as St Helens host reigning champions Wigan for the season opener. St Helens will have something to prove this season after topping the table last season, but then losing to Warrington in the semi-finals.
Meanwhile last season’s champions Wigan Warriors have lost many key players, plus long-serving coach Shaun Wane, and all eyes will be on Adrian Lam’s leadership for the opening game.
Friday’s triple header starts as Catalans Dragons head to Castleford. Dragons will hope to avoid their terrible start to the 2018 season, with a full season under the wing of Steve McNamara. He will hope new signings Matty Smith and Sam Tomkins will boost the backline as they look to build on last season’s Challenge Cup success.
Castleford Tigers’ Head coach Daryl Powell meanwhile will feel a touch nervous about their chances since Luke Gale ruptured his Achilles in training earlier this month. Young player of the year, Jake Trueman, may find he has to take up the slack in Gale’s absence. Powell will still have his eye on the play-offs if they can get off to a strong start.
Huddersfield Giants will head to Salford to take on the Red Devils. Ian Watson will hope to keep Salford clear of relegation this year and Huddersfield will look to new signing Matt Frawley to fill the hole left over from Danny Brough. Simon Woolford saw some success with the Giants last year and will hope to push them into the top half of the table this season.
Friday also sees the Hull KR and Hull FC derby. Hull KR clinched victory in the last meeting of the town rivals, with a 20-16 win at the KCOM Stadium back in July 2018. Hull FC had their fair share of problems last season too, ending the year with 11 consecutive losses. With Head Coach Lee Radford’s contract up at the end of the year, pressure will be on him to make some big changes for this season.
Saturday’s only game will see Warrington host Leeds Rhinos. After an underwhelming performance last year for Leeds, leading to the sacking of Brian McDermott, the pressure will be on for new coach Dave Furner to bring the club back to their former glory. They face a tough opening game against Wolves, who will be buoyed by new signing Blake Austin.
The final match of the weekend sees newcomers London Broncos take on Wakefield Trinity at home. Last year the Broncos defied the odds to make it into the Super League after nudging past Toronto. This year, Danny Ward’s men will be fighting for survival. On the other hand, Wakefield will be looking to beat their last season’s placing of seventh, and will be looking to new signing veteran Danny Brough to help them with their ambitions.
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