JUST who will be the Huddersfield Giants’ biggest rivals in Super League XVIII?
That’s the question on the lips of all the fans wearing claret and gold as the 2013 campaign prepares to get under way next weekend.
As normal, the usual suspects will be right up there, with champions Leeds Rhinos, Wigan Warriors, Warrington Wolves and St Helens guaranteed to be in the hunt.
The bookmakers are not seriously looking beyond the ‘big four’, but ambitious Hull are being widely tipped to muscle their way in after making the biggest impact in a largely subdued transfer market in the close season.
They signalled their intent by winning the battle for the prized signature of England back-row forward Gareth Ellis following his decision to leave Australian NRL club Wests Tigers.
Every club in Super League was interested, but the fact Ellis chose to move to the KC Stadium showed the Black and Whites clearly mean business.
As a result, Friday’s mouth-watering opening between the Rhinos and Peter Gentle’s men could provide an early indication of both teams’ title hopes.
Leeds are guaranteed to be challenging once more and coach Brian McDermott will be hoping this time to launch their play-off campaign from a more comfortable position than fifth.
They are also stronger after eventually finding a replacement for Keith Senior in the gifted Joel Moon, who looked a class act at Salford last season and could provide a lethal combination with winger Ryan Hall.
Warrington are the bookmakers’ pick for the title despite opting not to make any new signings.
There is much to be said for continuity, as long as the Wolves’ large contingent of thirty-somethings can last the pace, and it would be no surprise if they were to go one better after slipping up at the last in 2012.
Big things are expected of St Helens under Nathan Brown but question marks surround the ability of Wigan to retain the league leaders’ shield.
Amazingly, it is five years since Saints last lifted a trophy but they look better equipped with Willie Manu in their ranks – and there is the Brown factor.
Wigan have lost too much experience to justify any real optimism. They will need new half-backs Matty Smith and Blake Green to hit the ground running if they are to remain competitive.
Another realistic Grand Final contender are Catalan Dragons, who will be in the reckoning as long as they manage to cover the early absence of inspirational half-back Scott Dureau.
Rookie boss Laurent Frayssinous, the first Frenchman to coach the Perpignan outfit, faces a tough act to follow in the footsteps of 2011 coach of the year Trent Robinson but he has the vastly-experienced David Waite to lean on.
But in this comprehensive guide, here’s a look at all of Huddersfield’s rivals.
Coach: Francis Cummins (since September 2012).
Co-captains: Heath L’Estrange and Matt Diskin.
2012 finish: 9th (after having six points deducted for going into administration).
2012 leading scorers: tries - Brett Kearney 15; goals - Luke Gale 65; points - Luke Gale 139.
Biggest Super League win: 96-16 (v Salford, 2000).
Biggest Super League defeat: 70-6 (v Hull, 2012).
Ground and capacity: Odsal, 26,019.
2012 average attendance: 11,755 (down by 2,212 on 2011).
Record Super League attendance: 24,020 (v Leeds 1999).
In: Matty Blythe, Ben Evans (both Warrington, on season-long loan), Jamie Foster (St Helens), Adam Sidlow (Salford).
Out: Tom Burgess (South Sydney), Bryn Hargreaves, Ian Sibbit, Ben Jeffries (all retired), Olivier Elima (Catalan), Jason Crookes (Hull), Craig Kopczak (Huddersfield), Phil Joseph (Widnes), Shaun Ainscough (Southcity Bulls, Aus), Karl Pryce (released), Kyle Briggs (Featherstone).
Odds to finish top: 80-1.
Prospects: New coach Francis Cummins could face a baptism of fire. He will have to operate with a slimmed-down squad, having lost a wealth of experience, and will need a huge slice of good fortune with injuries if he is take the Bulls into the top eight.
Coach: Ian Millward (since November 2011).
Captain: Michael Shenton.
2012 finish: 13th.
2012 leading scorers: tries - Nick Youngquest 16; goals - Kirk Dixon 38; points - Kirk Dixon 88.
Biggest Super League win: 74-16 (v Salford, 2002).
Biggest Super League defeat: 62-0 (v Warrington, 2011) (also lost 70-12 v Hull KR, 2012).
Ground and capacity: The Wish Communications Stadium (formerly Wheldon Road), 11,750.
2012 average attendance: 6,709 (down by 447).
Record Super League attendance: 11,731 (v Leeds, 2004).
In: Michael Shenton (St Helens), Jake Webster (Hull KR), Keith Mason, Lee Gilmour (both Huddersfield), Jordan Tansey (York), Justin Carney (Sydney Roosters), Weller Hauraki (Leeds).
Out: Joe Arundel (Hull), Danny Orr, Ryan Hudson, Nick Youngquest (all retiring), Josh Griffin (Leeds Carnegie RU), Stuart Jones, James Grehan (both released), Paul Jackson (Whitehaven), Steve Snitch, Lee Mitchell, (both Australia), Ben Blackmore (Huddersfield), Ben Johnston (Dewsbury, on loan), James Clare (Doncaster, on loan), Rhys Williams (returned to Warrington), Ryan Brierley (Leigh).
Odds to finish top: 150-1.
Prospects: It is looking like another tough season for the Tigers, who ended 2012 with seven straight defeats. Wily coach Ian Millward has rung the changes but he will once more rely heavily on Rangi Chase for inspiration. It could be a battle to avoid the wooden spoon.
Coach: Laurent Frayssinous (since October 2012).
Co-captains: Gregory Mounis and Remi Casty.
2012 finish: 4th.
2011 leading scorers: tries - Vincent Duport 17; goals - Scott Dureau 117; points - Scott Dureau 285.
Biggest Super League win: 76-6 (v Widnes, 2012).
Biggest Super League defeat: 60-12 (v Leeds, 2006).
Ground and capacity: Gilbert Brutus Stadium, Perpignan, France, 11,500.
2012 average attendance: 9,280 (up by 893).
Record Super League attendance: 11,122 (v Wigan, 2006, at Stade Aime Giral) (also drew 18,150 for visit of Warrington to Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium in 2009).
Out: Clint Greenshields (North Queensland), Setaimata Sa (London Irish RU), David Ferriol, Sebastien Raguin, Ben Fisher (all retired), Cyril Stacul (Pia).
In: Zeb Taia (Newcastle), Brent Webb (Leeds), Olivier Elima (Bradford).
Odds to finish top: 22-1.
Prospects: The loss of the hugely influential Scott Dureau through illness for the first few weeks of the season could be crucial but new coach Laurent Frayssinous has enough talent at his disposal to ensure his side are competitive.
Coach: Peter Gentle (since November 2011).
Captain: Andy Lynch.
2012 finish: 6th.
2012 leading scorers: tries - Tom Briscoe 20; goals - Danny Tickle 76; points - Danny Tickle 188.
Biggest Super League win: 82-6 (v Salford, 2004).
Biggest Super League defeat: 64-10 (v St Helens, 2002) - also lost 71-0 at Bradford in 2005 play-offs.
Ground and capacity: KC Stadium, 25,404.
2012 average attendance (including play-offs): 11,654 (down by 777).
Record Super League attendance: 23,004 (v Hull KR, 2007).
In: Gareth Ellis (Wests Tigers), Joe Arundel (Castleford), Daniel Holdsworth (Salford), Jason Crookes (Bradford), Shannon McDonnell, Ben Galea (both Hull KR), Paul Johnson (Wakefield).
Out: Jordan Turner, Willie Manu (both St Helens), Tony Martin, Mike Burnett (both retired), Sam Moa (Sydney Roosters), Martin Aspinwall (Leigh), Reece Lyne (Wakefield), Will Sharp (London Wasps RU), Ryan McGoldrick (released).
Odds to finish top: 12-1.
Prospects: Many are expecting the arrival of Gareth Ellis to turn Hull into potential champions but coach Peter Gentle will be hoping his failure to land a new top-quality scrum-half does not come back to haunt him.
Coach: Craig Sandercock (since November 2011).
Captain: Michael Dobson.
2012 finish: 10th.
2012 leading scorers: tries - David Hodgson 16; goals - Michael Dobson 103 ; points - Michael Dobson 243.
Biggest Super League win: 70-12 (v Castleford, 2012).
Biggest Super League defeat: 60-20 (v Warrington, 2007 - also lost 40-0 v St Helens, 2010 and 56-6 v Catalan Dragons in 2011 play-offs).
Ground and capacity: Craven Park, 8,983 (temporary during construction work).
2012 average attendance: 7,786 (down by 534).
Record Super League attendance: 10,250 (v Hull, 2011).
In: Evarn Tuimavave (Newcastle Knights), Cory Paterson (North Queensland), Sean Gleeson (Salford), Travis Burns (Penrith Panthers), Omari Caro (London), Alex Brown (Batley), Greg Eden, Adam Walker (both Huddersfield).
Out: Shannon McDonnell, Ben Galea (both Hull), Jake Webster (Castleford), Scott Murrell (Halifax), Scott Taylor, Blake Green (both Wigan), Louis Sheriff (Brisbane Redcliffe), Joel Clinton, Dave Peterson (both Mackay, Australia), Jason Netherton (released).
Odds to finish top: 80-1.
Prospects: The departure of Blake Green leaves a huge hole in the Robins’ attacking armoury and much will depend on the impact of the club’s trio of overseas newcomers. They are sure to be competitive but could once more miss out on the play-offs.
Coach: Brian McDermott (since November 2010).
Captain: Kevin Sinfield.
2012 finish: 5th.
2012 leading scorers (including play-offs): tries - Ryan Hall 27; goals - Kevin Sinfield 140; points - Kevin Sinfield 304.
Biggest Super League win: 86-6 (v Huddersfield, 1999).
Biggest Super League defeat: 68-14 (v Wigan, 1996).
Ground and capacity: Headingley, 20,000.
2012 average attendance: 14,526 (down by 143).
Record Super League attendance: 23,035 (v Bradford 2003).
In: Joel Moon (Salford), Mitch Achurch (Penrith Panthers), Joe Vickery (Tweed Heads), Paul McShane (returned from loan at Widnes).
Out: Shaun Lunt (returned after loan spell to Huddersfield), Brent Webb (Catalan), Weller Hauraki (Castleford).
Odds to finish top: 7-1.
Prospects: The long-serving spine of the Rhinos’ attack is a year older but the champions still look good for another tilt at Old Trafford and centre Joel Moon could prove to be a shrewd signing.
Coach: Tony Rea (since August 2012).
Captain: Craig Gower.
2012 finish: 12th.
2012 leading scorers: tries - Luke Dorn and Michael Robertson 15; goals - Michael Witt 45; points - Michael Witt 114.
Biggest Super League win: 72-8 (v Wakefield, 2005).
Biggest Super League defeat: 82-6 (v Warrington, 2011).
Ground and capacity: Twickenham Stoop, 15,000.
2012 average attendance: 2,808 (down by 324).
Record Super League attendance: 9,638 (v Paris, at The Valley, 1996).
In: Shane Grady (Thirroul Butchers, Australia), Tommy Lee (Huddersfield), Alex Hurst (Swinton).
Out: Omari Caro (Hull KR), Julien Rinaldi (retired), Karl Temata (Limoux), Jason Golden (York), Rob Thomas (London Skolars), Lamont Bryan (Featherstone), Ben Bolger (Abu Dhabi Harlequins).
Odds to finish top: 150-1.
Prospects: The Broncos finished 2012 with four wins from their last five matches under the returning Tony Rea and, if he can continue to get the best out of the club’s under-performing stars, they could be pushing for the top eight.
SALFORD CITY REDS
Coach: Phil Veivers (since November 2011).
Captain: Stephen Wild.
2012 finish: 11th.
2012 leading scorers: tries - Ashley Gibson 16; goals - Daniel Holdsworth 69; points - Daniel Holdsworth 162.
Biggest Super League win: 56-16 (v Bradford, 2011).
Biggest Super League defeat: 96-16 (v Bradford, 2000).
Ground and capacity: Salford Community Stadium, 12,000.
2012 average attendance: 5,192 (up by 438).
Record Super League attendance: 10,146 (v Catalan 2011).
In: Martin Gleeson (unattached), Andrew Dixon (St Helens).
Out: Joel Moon (Leeds), Luke Patten (retired), Sean Gleeson (Hull KR), Daniel Holdsworth (Hull), Iafeta Paleaasina (Limoux), Luke Adamson (Bath RU), Vinnie Anderson (Carcassonne), Josh Veivers (Ipswich, Australia), Adam Sidlow (Bradford), Adam Walne (Workington).
Odds to finish top: 250-1.
Prospects: The City Reds are sure to struggle in the early rounds but, once the club’s takeover is completed and Phil Veivers brings in his reinforcements, they should enjoy a good second half to the season.
Coach: Nathan Brown (since November 2012).
Captain: Paul Wellens.
2012 finish: 3rd.
2012 leading scorers: tries - Paul Wellens 20; goals - Tom Makinson 48; points - Tom Makinson 148.
Biggest Super League win: 78-4 (v Leigh, 2005).
Biggest Super League defeat: 70-0 (v Leeds, 2004).
Ground and capacity: Langtree Park, 18,000.
2012 average attendance: 14,113 (up by 6,138).
Record Super League attendance: 18,098 (v Warrington, 1996).
In: Jordan Turner, Willie Manu (both Hull), Alex Walmsley (Batley).
Out: Chris Flannery, Shaun Magennis (both retired), Michael Shenton (Castleford), Scott Hale (Dewsbury), Jamie Foster (Bradford), Andrew Dixon (Salford).
Odds to finish top: 3-1.
Prospects: Saints are guaranteed to be challenging once more and new coach Nathan Brown knows he does not need to change much to enable to end them to end their seven-year itch for a trophy.
Coach: Richard Agar (since November 2011).
Captain: Danny Kirmond.
2012 finish: 8th.
2012 leading scorers: tries - Ben Cockayne 16; goals - Paul Sykes 70; points - Paul Sykes 155.
Biggest Super League win: 68-6 (v Halifax, 2003).
Biggest Super League defeat: 72-8 (v London, 2005).
Ground and capacity: Rapid Solicitors Stadium (formerly Belle Vue), 11,000.
2012 average attendance: 8,172 (up by 1,620).
Record Super League attendance: 11,000 (v Castleford, 2006).
In: Justin Poore (Parramatta), Reece Lyne (Hull), Brad Singleton (Leeds, on loan).
Out: Paul Johnson (Hull), Andy Ellis, Matt James (both Featherstone), Dale Morton, Russ Spiers (both Dewsbury), Steve Southern (released), James Davey (Sheffield Eagles), Adam Slater (Burleigh Bears), Motu Tony (retired).
Odds to finish top: 150-1.
Prospects: After over-achieving in 2012, the challenge for Richard Agar is to ensure his team can back up their efforts and maintain their momentum.
Coach: Tony Smith (since March 2009).
Captain: Adrian Morley.
2012 finish: 2nd.
2012 leading scorers: tries - Chris Riley 25; goals - Brett Hodgson 82; points - Brett Hodgson 196.
Biggest Super League win: 68-4 (v Widnes, 2012).
Biggest Super League defeat: 72-2 (v St Helens, 2002).
Ground and capacity: Halliwell Jones Stadium, 15,000.
2012 average attendance: 11,070 (down by 79).
Record Super League attendance: 15,000 (v St Helens, 2012).
Out: David Solomona (retired), Matty Blythe, Ben Evans (both Bradford, on season-long loan), Lee Mitchell (released).
Odds to finish top: 7-4 fav.
Prospects: No new signings and 10 thirty-somethings in their squad but Warrington have enough star quality to be pushing for a first Super League title after going so close to doing the double in 2012.
Coach: Denis Betts (since November 2010).
Captain: Jon Clarke.
2012 finish: 14th.
2012 leading scorers: tries - Patrick Ah Van 14; goals - Patrick Ah Van 29; points - Patrick Ah Van 114.
Biggest Super League win: 46-8 (v Salford, 2012).
Biggest Super League defeat: 70-4 (v Hull, 2004).
Ground and capacity: Stobart Stadium, 13,350.
2012 average attendance: 6,046 (up by 2,302 on 2011 Championship).
Record Super League attendance: 9,825 (v Warrington, 2005).
In: Kevin Brown (Huddersfield), Gareth Hock (Wigan, on season-long loan), Stefan Marsh, Joe Mellor (both Wigan), Phil Joseph (Bradford).
Out: Anthony Mullally (Huddersfield), Simon Finnigan, Thomas Coyle (both Leigh), Kurt Haggerty (Barrow), John Kite (released), Paul McShane (returned to Leeds after loan spell).
Odds to finish top: 250-1.
Prospects: Widnes will be better for the experience in 2012 and will believe the capture of Huddersfield captain Kevin Brown, in addition to his brother-in-law Gareth Hock, can help propel them up the table.
Coach: Shaun Wane (since November 2011).
Captain: Sean O’Loughlin.
2012 finish: 1st.
2012 leading scorers: tries - Josh Charnley 32; goals - Pat Richards 63; points - Josh Charnley 240.
Biggest Super League win: 78-4 (v Workington, 1996).
Biggest Super League defeat: 70-0 (v Leeds, 2005).
Ground and capacity: JJB Stadium, 25,004.
2012 average attendance: 15,208 (down by 79).
Record Super League attendance: 25,004 (v St Helens 2005).
In: Scott Taylor, Blake Green (Hull KR).
Out: Thomas Leuluai (New Zealand Warriors), Brett Finch (Melbourne), Jeff Lima (South Sydney), George Carmont (retired), Stuart Fielden (Huddersfield), Matty Russell (Gold Coast), Gareth Hock (Widnes, on season-long loan), Stefan Marsh, Joe Mellor (both Widnes), Ryan King (released).
Odds to finish top: 3-1.
Prospects: Wigan face a difficult task overcoming the loss of four quality overseas players, including two half-backs, as well as Gareth Hock, so it is hard to see them retaining the league leaders’ shield.
Odds courtesy of William Hill who have given odds of 40-1 for Giants to finish top and predict a seventh placed finish.