Well, I can't go as far as to say as the season has started, but I can say that the first die has been cast in the new Super League season. Defending champions Leeds Rhinos (yes, it hurts massively before you ask) have got their season off to a winning start, seeing off a very spirited challenge from a revamped Hull KR with an epic comeback to win 20-12 at Headingly on Saturday night. That was the only game of the weekend, that game was rearranged because the NRL and the Australian champions refuse to play the World Club Challenge at that time of the season due to lack of match fitness. Personally I think they are looking for any old excuse for when they get whopped by the English team, but I can't go criticising Australia or the NRL, they are rugby league gods don't you know? I was sat down with a friend of mine last night and we were having a good old chat, mostly about the earlier seasons in Super League when picking winners, both home and away was an easy thing to do. We had a difficult time thinking of any easy away games this year. He is a Wigan fan (boo!) and whilst both our teams expect to win most of our home games, it's hard to pick any sort of easy result on the road. This is the toughest season of Super League to date as far as a tipster or pundit goes. I am more or less convinced that many issues will not be decided until the very last day of the season. That stretches miles and months away but it will be here before we know it. Of course there is a fight for more than league tables and prize money this time round. 2008 is the last season where relegation is a certainty for one team. There is a very good chance that the bottom placed team this term will not be relegated and a team above them could not be granted a franchise and as a result not given a place in 2009's Super League. I am not a fan of the franchise system as it takes away the relegation fight. Teams deserve to be relegated over the course of a season, teams deserve to be promoted over the course of the season. It is one of the biggest problems I have with the NRL. It just adds to the monotony of an already very dull league when the bottom placed team aren't playing for their careers. If I were a fan of Wakefield, Castleford and Salford, I would spend a LOT of time worrying myself this season. Because I make all three of those in danger of not getting a spot in next season's league. Salford WILL be promoted because they are too strong for the other teams in that league, as much as I would love to see them fall flat on their face. But are they an attractive proposition because they have a new stadium on the horizon. Incredibly, despite the fact that they aren't in Super League this season, I think Salford are the most likely to get one! That shows how wide of the mark the franchise system is, in my view. It's one of the world's most open secrets that the RFL are looking to get Celtic Crusaders into the Super League in 2009 due to the potential hotbed of support in south Wales. It's just a question of what they want to do with the proposed 14th slot. Do they bring a professional top flight team back to Cumbria, a proven area of rugby league interest and talent development? Do they continue their forays into France after the success of the Matalan Dragons? Do they rid us of Cas and Wakefield or Salford to get them both in. Do they get rid of Harlequins and juggle about or do they keep it at 12? I feel dizzy just writing about it. But I suspect there will be one, if not two, bitterly upset Yorkshire teams when the announcements are made. Before time passes me by and this article passes you by, I had better get on with running the teams down. Well, analysing them, I don't quite hate anyone quite enough to run them over with maybe the exception of Terry Newtonâ€¦ BRADFORD BULLS In: Paul Sykes (Harlequins), Ben Jeffries (Wakefield), Semi Tadulala (Wakefield), Chris Nero (Huddersfield), Wayne Godwin (Hull), Simon Finnigan (Salford) Out: Chris McKenna (Doncaster), Marcus St Hilaire, Ian Henderson (NZ Warriors), Ben Harris (North Queensland Cowboys), Nathan McAvoy (Leigh). Position last season: 3rd Franchise likelihood-o-meter: Certainties. I for one was shocked at how well Bradford did last season. I thought that with a couple of injuries they might miss out on the playoffs but instead they finished third and were, for a while, in the run for second place for much of the season until the last month or so when Saints and Leeds pulled clear. The one absence that Bradford will suffer is Lesley Vainikolo, who transferred mid season last term to go and play rugby union. His importance to the Bulls is something that will stick with them for a long time and he is going to be missed although he was "replaced" with Tame Tupou who I'm not the biggest fan of myself. I think that Bradford have managed to bring in some good players in Sykes, who has excelled for Harlequins since he signed for them from Bradford. He made his debut for Great Britain last year and is a player on the up. Ben Jeffries is also getting a crack at playing for one of the bigger teams after spending a few seasons as being Wakefield's heartbeat. Whether or not he is able to make the step up to the higher parts of the Super League will be important to Bradford's chances of success this term. The Bulls need a massive season for certain â€“ they are massively in debt and need all the prize money they can get. On the flip side they have lost Ian Henderson, who was excellent for them at last season. Their loss is most certainly the Warriors' gain. Dan's prediction: 4th. Bit of a step back for the Bulls, who will go far in the Challenge Cup but will succumb to injury problems if they occur and will miss the power and influence of the Volcano Lesley Vainikolo. CASTLEFORD In: Luke Dorn (Salford), Scott Moore (St Helens - loan), Michael Korkidas (Salford), Mark Edmondson (Salford), Tom Haberecht (Balmain), Brent Sherwin (Canterbury) Out: Dwayne Barker (Harlequins), Tom Saxton (Featherstone), Tere Glassie (Dewsbury), Danny Brough (Wakefield), Mark Edmondson (retired due to injury) Position last season: First in Division One, Grand Final winners. Franchise likelihood-o-meter: Grave danger Castleford are a bit of a yo yo club to be honest. They have recruited wisely for the coming season after a successful campaign in 2007 when they returned to Super League after a season in exile, comfortably seeing off the challenge of the Widnes Vikings. This is the problem with Cas, you get no consistency with them. They are always hard to predict, perfectly capable of beating the likes of Wigan and Bradford but falling flat against teams of a similar level like Wakefield and Harlequins. That is what has cost them their Super League status on a couple of occasions and might well do again this season. If I had to pick a second favourite club in Super League it would be Cas and I think that stands for most people as well, but I can see a season of struggle for them. Danny Brough is a massively influential player and I thought he was playing a division below where he is capable of playing last season. He is capable of winning matches just by kicking in play alone. He has an atrocious hairstyle though. They have replaced him with Scott Moore who is Super League's youngest player in history when he made his debut for Saints in 2004 but has shown very little to suggest he will ever make it at Saints. He will be hooker, and how he and Luke Dorn will be vital to how Castleford are going to go on this season. They have beefed up their pack with Korkidas and whilst he will give away several penalties a game (because he has quite clearly had a lobotomy) he can be a matchwinner in the front row. If he goes on to prove me wrong he will have been influential in Castleford's fight against the bottom of the table and the possibility of not getting a franchise. I see them as the club most in danger of not getting the coveted nod. Dan's prediction: 10th, by the skin of their teeth. Will it be enough? CATALANS DRAGONS In: Dane Carlaw (Brisbane Broncos) Out: Stacey Jones (retired) Position last season: 10th (Challenge Cup finalists) Franchise likelihood-o-meter: Certainties. 2007 was a massive year for the Catalan Dragons. Despite the fact they finished bottom in 2006, they embarked on a remarkable Challenge Cup run that culminated in a loss to winners St Helens at the refurbished Wembley on a gorgeous August afternoon. In this run they pulled off one of the biggest shocks in rugby league history, if not sporting history, when they deservedly beat Wigan Warriors in the semi final in front of a stunned audience. I had my doubts as to whether or not the Dragons franchise was going to work but after a slow start on the field, success has continued off it with continually increasing crowds and massive popularity with away fans who enjoy a knees up in the gorgeous south of France. Last seasons improved league performances (including a 21-0 drubbing of then champions and minor premiers to be St Helens) and astonishing antics in the Challenge Cup say to me that there is a lot of life in the Dragons. The immunity from relegation saved the club in 2006 as it would not have existed in the lower leagues with enough success to continue. The natives love the sport and I see a big future for the Dragons. Coach Mick Potter has got them playing an attractive brand of rugby, so much so in fact he is being rumoured to be Saints' choice to replace Daniel Anderson at the end of the coming season. The Dragons have done enough to get their franchise. They deserve to keep it and I hope to see the sport continuing to blossom again to what it once was before the Vichy regime almost totally destroyed the sport in the 1940's. On the field, it's not quite as clear cut this season. Most teams on the face of the earth would miss Stacey Jones, as he retired for the 1465th time over the winter and this time it does actually looks like he means it. Until the Kiwis have an injury crisis come the World Cup of course. They have brought Dane Carlaw in who is at the tail end of his career but has the distinction of scoring a State of Origin winning try for the Maroons in 2002. He will be a good signing, a very experienced head. The Dragons aren't just about imports, they have many talented young lads coming through and the future is bright for French rugby league. Keep an eye out for Justin Murphy though â€“ the flying Australian (literally flying if you recall the incident at the JJB where he tripped over an advertising hoarding and landed on his head on concrete stairs, and played on) is one of the most important players for the Dragons with an awesome try return over the past two seasons. With pace and power he is one of the top wingers in Super League. Dan's prediction: 8th as the Dragons miss Jones but bring through more talent.. HARLEQUINS In: Gareth Haggarty (Salford), Dwayne Barker (Castleford), Danny Ward (Hull KR), David Howell (Canberra) Out: Paul Sykes (Bradford), Lee Hopkins (retired), Tyrone Smith (Brumbies rugby union), David Mills (Hull KR), Andy Smith (Halifax), Stephen Bannister (Salford) Position last season: 9th Franchise likelihood-o-meter: Anxiously looking over their shoulders. There are many people who argue that Harlequins RL are a waste of a place in the Super League. I argue otherwise to be honest, they are part of the RFL's brave new world, which began with Super League. They are an attempt to attract interest in the sport in the south of England. It's a big ask, but the Quins, under whatever guise at whatever ground, have always come out fighting and have rarely been in danger of losing their position in Super League. They are ever present. It's true that they don't bring through many youngsters and rely on the outcasts of the bigger clubs, but they don't complain about it. Are they ever going to be a success? Depends on how you define it. I think they already are. They have been in Super League for every season and turning into Quins RL in 2006 is a massive step forward for them. After seeing it as a hostile takeover at first from Quins RU I have come to realise what a good idea it is. It has given them a permanent identity with a definite home, which they have never had with any certainty. The crowds need work though and the club needs to bring in some quality on the field as a priority. They have lost their best player by a mile in Paul Sykes and they will also miss the industry of Tyrone Smith. They have size in the pack with Haggarty and Danny Ward but the backs look very ropey. I see this being a long season for the Quins. Dan's prediction: 11th. The RFL are at a crossroads with the Quins in my view. They can give them a franchise and keep the south of England love of league in their sights or they can give the franchise to a team guaranteed to get bigger crowds and attract better players. Who knows? HUDDERSFIELD In: George Gatis (NZ Warriors), Luke Robinson (Salford), Paul Whatuira (Wests Tigers), David Hodgson (Salford), Danny Kirmond (Featherstone) Out: Brad Drew (Wakefield), Paul Reilly (Wakefield), Chris Nero (Bradford), Robbie Paul (Salford), Mat Gardner (Salford) Position last season: 5th Franchise likelihood-o-meter: Certainties. The last two years have been massive for the Huddersfield Giants. After their Challenge Cup run of 2006 when they reached the final only to be hammered by the awesome Saints team of that season, they kicked on last season with bigger attendances and a vast improvement in league form. It could have all been so different for the Giants after their appalling start last term â€“ they lost their first seven matches and looked certainties to be relegated. But the club kept a level head and kept coach Jon Sharp out of the firing line, resisting the temptation to sack him which would have been all too easy given the increased expectations. They eventually bowed out of the playoffs at Hull FC despite a spirited showing and can be well pleased with their showings in 2007. They have also invested wisely over the winter bringing in Great Britain winger David Hodgson and NRL winner Paul Whatuira. I find it hard to stomach praising fat head Luke Robinson but along with Hodgson he was the only class that Salford had to offer last season and he needs to help replace Robbie Paul, who is a tough set of boots to fill. Although with that sizeable noggin, Robinson is well on the way to replacing Paul's disturbingly over inflated ego. Jamooks. The Giants have also let a lot of good players go. I was surprised to see them release Brad Drew to Wakefield, and see one of the best kicking games in Super League go along with him. Paul Reilly, a huge club man who had been there for a decade, was also for me a surprise exit but Jon Sharp is a canny, if dislikeable coach who knows what he is doing. Dan's prediction: 6th. With the race for the playoffs tighter than ever and others improving around them, Shudds will have it tougher this year but will see off the challenge to get the last playoff berth. HULL FC In: Shaun Berrigan (Brisbane Broncos), Adam Dykes (Cronulla Sharks), Todd Byrne (Hull), Peter Cusack (South Sydney) Out: Wayne Godwin (Bradford), Richard Swain (retired), Shaun Briscoe (Hull KR), Hutch Maiava (released), Matthew Head (Wests Tigers), Shayne McMenemy (WA Reds, Perth) Position last season: 4th Franchise likelihood-o-meter: Certainties. After a spell of flirting with not being in the playoffs, Hull had a strong enough finish to 2007 and managed to secure the 4th spot with relative ease. It was a long season though and a lot of Hull fans were disappointed the Airlie Birds didn't capitalise on their second placed finish in 2006. Roll forward to this season and I see a tough season coming up for one team in Hull at any rate. Shaun Berrigan is a class act and probably the biggest name signing over the winter for the whole league but he is fitting into a team that is mediocre. Peter Cusack will boost the forwards but the inconsistent Richard Horne and Gareth Raynor aside, I don't see what all the fuss is about. They are already deep in the midst of an injury crisis and are without 8 first team players for Friday's trip to Warrington. I think the ordinary nature of the squad will play as big a part as the injuries and I think Hull are going to be the big one of the regulars that doesn't make it into the six this season. Richard Swain is a big miss for them and they will also miss Godwin, who was Swain's understudy and they will miss Briscoe, who whilst loatheable again, is one of the best in the business. The unfortunately named Matthew Head will also be fondly remembered after some excellent performances in the latter stages of the season in 2007. Dan's prediction: 7th. Crippling injury problems and a lack of genuine quality will hit the Black and Whites hard and their top six quest will fail, but only just. HULL KR In: Shaun Briscoe (Hull), Ben Galea (Wests Tigers), Jake Webster (Gold Coast Titans), Peter Fox (Wakefield), Chev Walker (Bath RU), Daniel Fitzhenry (Wests Tigers), David Mills (Harlequins), Clint Newton (Melbourne), Garret Crossman (Melbourne), Luke Menzies (Batley), Liam Watts (Castleford). Out: Danny Ward (Harlequins), Luke Dyer (Celtic Crusaders), Mark Lennon (Celtic Crusaders), Mark O'Neill (retired), Ian Hardman (St Helens), Matty Brooks (Oldham), Byron Ford (Oldham), Tommy Gallagher, Gareth Morton (Oldham), Andreas Bauer (Doncaster), Jon Goddard (Halifax), Iain Morrison (Widnes), David Tangata-Toa (Celtic Crusaders), Ryan Tandy (Widnes), Jim Gannon (Widnes) Position last season: 11th Franchise likelihood-o-meter: If the stadium is improved and the fans behave, almost there. After a decade and more in the wilderness, last season saw the triumphant return of Hull KR to the Super League, and it was great to see them here as well. Their early season exploits, including wins at home to Leeds and two wins at the JJB, caught the imagination and they looked set for a playoff charge which ended up fizzling out as fitness levels and injuries told. They controversially recruited Paul Cooke from city rivals Hull FC and he was massively inspirational as they stayed up comfortably in the end. Coach Justin Morgan, another one linked with the Saints job in 2009, has moved swiftly in the winter and shipped out many of the players that got the team promoted to the Super League in 2006. They have made some very big signings, particularly managing to coax Shaun Briscoe across the city, despite the supposed intentions of Wigan, and bringing Chev Walker back from his union nightmare. A lot of people are talking about KR going over the cap but having looked at these ins and outs I don't find that likely myself â€“ they have shipped out a lot of players and will have had loads of room on the cap. I was impressed with the display against Leeds â€“ it was only the last 15 minutes that let them down, they will feel very disappointed with the way they let it slip. But this is a team on the up. They will improve on their league position but despite quality editions the playoffs are a bridge too far â€“ this time. Dan's prediction: 8th. They will be quite a way off the playoff scene but more importantly, not flirting with the dross at the bottom. LEEDS In: None Out: None Position last season: 2nd (Grand Final winners) Franchise likelihood-o-meter: Think of the most likely thing on Earth, then double itâ€¦ I think the above stats say it all about Leeds. They have had no business in the transfer market, they simply haven't needed to. They have everything they need in place. They finished runners up to Saints last season in a close battle but overwhelmed the tired champions in the second half of the final and went on to comfortably seal their second Super League triumph. The only major bit of business at Headingly over the winter was with the coaching staff. Tony Smith left the club after 5 years to take over as Great Britain head coach and he has been replaced by Brian McClennon, managing his first club. McClennon clearly has pedigree â€“ he is the man who coached New Zealand to their astonishing Tri Nations success in 2005. But is he cut out to take over a young team on the up? Probably. They are so young, quick and fit, and they can score tries all over the field in every position. I hate to say it, but I can't see past Leeds again this season. Dan's prediction: 1st (and Champions) ST HELENS In: None Out: Scott Moore (Castleford - loan), Ian Hardman (Widnes - loan) Position last season: 1st (Grand Final losers, World Club Challenge Winners, Challenge Cup Winners, Minor Premier winners) Franchise likelihood-o-meter: There's no such thing as the Super League without the Super Saints. I am still hurting about losing the grand final to Leeds, but when I look at the honours list from last season, how can I be? We won everything else we could, but some people want too much. We simply run out of steam after the Challenge Cup win last season and laboured through the rest of the season. I knew we would lose to Leeds, they stopped us scoring in the second half three times last season, which is a fantastic achievement. I celebrate every trophy like it's the last I will see, and I think we might have reached the end of our cycle. So, so many of our players are at the wrong end of their careers. Matt Gidley, Willie Talau, Sean Long, Kieran Cunningham, Lee Gilmour, Paul Sculthorpeâ€¦ that's the spine of our team and in a years time we are likely to have to replace most of them, if not all of them. That's a lot to lose in one go but it needs doing. We have been the best team for the past 15 years but our cycle is over sadly. We are running out of time. We need to replace some of the best players the club has ever seen and it just doesn't work like that sadly. We need to bring people through and we need to bring in class. We also need a new coach. All this is to come in 2009 but it will be a factor in 2008. We have brought nobody in because we have no room on the cap. We have had two technical breaches (yes Wigan fans, technical breaches, not breaches) in the last two seasons and so nobody has come in and nobody significant has gone, although I do think highly of Ian Hardman, he would get into a lot of Super League teams I reckon. We are a prop forward down due to the serious injury Cayless has suffered and if we lose one more prop we are in big, big trouble. We are also a Sean Long injury away from having no kicking game. We have the ability, but I can't help but think injuries will bite as our players get old and we will have a struggle. I don't even think we will reach the final this time. I would love to be proved wrong and our old timers come out and give one last hurrah but I honestly don't think we will. However, fully fit and firing on all cylinders we are capable of beating anyone. Dan's prediction: 3rd. Injuries will bite and we'll tire. WAKEFIELD In: Brad Drew (Huddersfield), Paul Reilly (Huddersfield), Tony Martin (NZ Warriors), Danny Brough (Castleford), Damien Blanch (Widnes), Scott Grix (Widnes), Oliver Wilkes (Widnes) Out: Peter Fox (Hull KR), Ben Jeffries (Bradford), Semi Tadulala (Bradford), Olivier Elima (Catalans Dragons), Paul March (York), David March (York), Mark Applegarth (York), Ned Catic (Lyon), Maxime Greseque ( Pia), Waine Pryce (Featherstone), Mark Field (Dewsbury), Paul White (Salford) Position last season: 8th Franchise likelihood-o-meter: Dead team playing. Incredibly, Wakefield were in with a shout of getting into the top 6 on the last day last season. It was a particularly stunning achievement considering they were staring relegation in the face early on and are pretty much dross anyway. One thing you have to give them though is that they are difficult to beat at Wakefield and a trip to Belle Vue isn't something anyone fancies at any given time, let alone a freezing March Friday night when it's throwing it down in the worst stadium in the league. I see a season of struggle for Wakefield and I see them finally finishing bottom. They play horrible, slow down, lie-on tactics synonymous with the Crazy Frog (also known as John Kear) and they have lost three of their best players in Fox, Jefferies and Tadulala. They have let a lot of people go and haven't necessarily replaced them with sufficient quality. Brad Drew is an astute signing (but why did Huddersfield let him go?) and Danny Brough is a good player but I don't see any of the other signings, Tony Martin aside, as good Super League players. Damien Blanch is out for three months as well now, the injuries have kicked in. If it's a real crisisâ€¦ you really do fear for them. I also think they will be seriously be in danger of not getting a franchise. Real danger. Dan's prediction: A season of strife, struggle, head high tackles and a bottom placed finish along with no franchise for 2009. WARRINGTON In: Matt King (Melbourne), Chris Hicks (Manly), Michael Monaghan (Manly), Louis Anderson (NZ Warriors) Out: Henry Fa'afili (Biarritz), Brent Grose (Sydney Roosters), Chris Leikvoll (Australia), Michael Sullivan (Canterbury) Position last season: 7th Franchise likelihood-o-meter: Certainties. Perennial underachievers, Warrington fans have been declaring themselves as "the future" for four years as now. Since a significant investment of cash into the club, they have brought the transfer fee back to Super League after a prolonged absence and are always sniffing about when top quality players are available. The problem is that Warrington always choke. I personally blame the coach. Not only does Paul Cullen look like Mayor Quimby, he continues to get ordinary results with a good set of players. Missing out on the playoffs was a very poor state of affairs last season especially when Wigan got docked points. It was a disaster and I am honestly surprised Cullen is still coach. He has continually underachieved and I think his days are numbered. I would love to see how close Wire are to the cap. They must be very, very close with the players they have. They have made the best signing of the winter for me in Matt King, who is a class centre. I would loved to have seen Saints be in the hunt for him, maybe we will be at some point. Hicks and Monaghan are awesome players and whilst I think Louis Anderson is overrated he's still a good player. They will though miss the prolific Fa'ifili, who was let go due to salary cap reasons. Again â€“ would love to see their paperwork. Added to what they have, it's a good squad. But I have faith in Cullen to make a screw up. Dan's prediction: 5th and a good foray into the playoffs. WIGAN In: Andy Coley (Salford), George Carmont (Newcastle Knights), Richie Mathers (Gold Coast), Karl Pryce (Gloucester RU) Out: Bryan Fletcher (Australia), David Vaealiki (Manly Sea Eagles), Shane Millard (Australia), Danny Hill (Widnes) Last season: 6th Franchise likelihood-o-meter: There are four things certain in life. Birth, taxes, death, and Wigan getting a franchise. Birth aside, I don't know which one is worse. Last, and least, we have our good rivals from over the lump, Wigan. After two years of missing out on the top 6 and one season where they looked like they were going to get relegated (and only stayed up due to breaking the salary cap), Wigan have got their act together over the last 12 months and embarked on a remarkable journey from 6th spot that saw them get to within 80 minutes of a return to the grand final after a 4 year absence. In Trent Barrett, they have genuine world class (if I don't say it enough he might storm out of the TRF Man of Steel awardsâ€¦) and someone who can win a match literally al by himself. They have brought in some good players over the winter, Karl Pryce being the highlight for them as far as I'm concerned, and they have shipped out David "better than Lyon" Vaeliki who was a financial and sporting disaster, one of the worst imports in Super League history. In Brian Noble, they have an arrogant but talented coach and I think Wigan will win the Challenge Cup this year. I also think they will get to the Grand Final but will lose to Leeds. This is all dependant on injuries. If they strike then I'm sure Wigan fans will agree, it could be a hard season ahead. I'm sure they won't though. Dan's prediction: 2nd (Challenge Cup winners, grand final losers) Anyway, I have been writing this all night. It's full on thinly veiled swipes I accept, all in good humour and taste of course. So, here's to another 8 months of god's own game, rugby league. Now get posting! Disagree? Why not write your thoughts down?