HUDDERSFIELD Giants are once again widely predicted to secure a top-eight Super League finish and a place in the play-offs.
After finishing a club record third in 2009 and fifth last season, it’s easy to see why.
But their Super League rivals will obviously have something to say about that!
More will become clearer this weekend when the new season gets off to an explosive start at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
All 14 clubs will be in action over the two-day Magic Weekend extravaganza, with the Giants going head-to-head with Warrington Wolves in the opening 2011 fixture on Saturday (1.00).
But which clubs are set to have a big year, and which could find the going tough?
Let’s take a closer look.
This season is potentially BRADFORD BULLS’ most important to date.
Last season promised so much for the Odsal faithful, but a weak squad and the injury to Matt Orford saw them finish outside the top eight for a second season running.
But this year could be different.
The Pledge 10,000 scheme has been positive, attracting over 11,000 season ticket sales, and it’s all part of the Bulls bid to bring back the club’s past glory by filling the terraces once more.
And this has been backed up by the recruitment of 11 players under new coach Mick Potter, the former St Helens boss.
Much will depend on how Australian signings Patrick Ah Van and Marc Herbert settle in, while big things will be expected of former Leeds Rhinos hooker Matt Diskin.
But Ian Sibbit, Bryn Hargreaves, Gareth Raynor, Shad Royston, Kyle Briggs, Oliver Elima and Chev Walker could also have big roles as the Bulls look to put two lean years behind them.
CASTLEFORD TIGERS will be out to make the top eight this season after narrowly missing out to the Crusaders in 2010.
With the new stadium becoming an increasing reality there is a lot to be positive about down at the newly-christened PROBIZ Coliseum.
Despite losing top men Joe Westerman and Michael Shenton to Hull FC and St Helens respectively, coach Terry Matterson has made some very shrewd signings.
Danny Orr makes a return to his hometown club after seven years away and could form a devastating half-back combination with the outstanding Rangi Chase.
Richard Mathers (Warrington), Willie Isa (Melbourne Storm), and former Giants Nick Fozzard and Martin Aspinwall will add good strength to their squad.
Prop Fozzard will add experience to a fairly young pack while making the hard yards, and he is a more than an adequate replacement for the outgoing Mitchell Sargent.
Last season CATALANS DRAGONS finished bottom of Super League, which signalled the end of coach Kevin Walters’ two-year reign.In his place they have appointed the French-speaking Australian Trent Robinson, a move some regard as brave.
The former Newcastle Knights and Sydney Roosters assistant coach has the right experience on his CV, although questions will be raised as his only head coach role was with fellow French side Toulouse Olympique.
But he has certainly been able to attract some quality signings to South of France.
The arrival of Steve Menzies from Bradford Bulls will greatly add to their experience, while Ian Henderson makes his Super League return and is joined by fellow Australian NRL stars Ben Farrar and Scott Dureau, along with French-born Jason Baitieri. Damien Blanch has also touched-down from Wakefield.
But with Jerome Guisset, French captain Oliver Elima, Dimitri Pelo, Steve Bell, Dallas Johnson and Brent Sherwin having departed, they could struggle again.
CRUSADERS RL will be relieved to be a part of Super League XVI after being forced into administration at the end of last year.
As a result, the Wrexham-based side starts the season on minus four points, while new boss Iestyn Harris has seen some of his key players leave the Racecourse Ground, most notably Weller Hauraki to Leeds and Nick Youngquest to Castleford.
On top of that, constant speculation regarding the exciting Jarrod Sammut’s future will be a concern for the faithful.
But the Crusaders have still been able to entice several players, including experienced Super League campaigners Paul Johnson, Richard Moore and Stuart Reardon.
But the most notable addition could be that of assistant coach, Barry Eaton, who made a name for himself as head coach at Keighley.
HARLEQUINS RL are tipped for a poor season after a flurry of departures including head coach Brian McDermott to Leeds Rhinos.
After finishing last season in 13th, confidence will be low at The Stoop and new coach Rob Powell’s task is to try and reinvigorate some belief and achieve a respectable mid-table position despite no marquee signings.
Powell has brought in Chris Bailey and Nick Kouparitsa from Australia, as well as loaning fringe forwards Mike Burnett and Luke Ambler, and giving winger Mark Calderwood the chance to resurrect his career.
But they don’t look adequate replacements for departed Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Danny Orr and Ben Jones-Bishop, Will Sharp and Luke Williamson.
They do still have some quality in the likes of Luke Dorn, Tony Clubb or Chad Randall, but if they suffer injury, it could be a long season.
Injuries have been the scourge of HULL FC in recent seasons, and coach Richard Agar will be hoping for better luck this time around.
Pre-season didn’t start too well, hooker Shaun Berrigan leaving at short notice.
But there’s no question they boast a multi-talented squad.
World-class trio Craig Fitzgibbon, Mark O’Meley and Sean Long arrived last season, and they have now been joined by Castleford hero Joe Westerman and exciting Quins winger Will Sharp.
The only players to leave the KC Stadium are Craig Hall, retired prop Peter Cusack, Mark Calderwood and Mike Burnett.
Hull’s issue this year will be similar to years gone by, the fitness of their half-backs, particularly that of Richard Horne.
But if Horne and Long can play regularly this year, they’ll pose a massive threat.
HULL KR will be desperate to build on last season’s seventh-place finish last season and coach Justin Morgan has made some valuable additions in the off-season.
The most high-profile is big Australia Test forward Willie Mason, (inset) who arrives on the back of 24 appearances for the Kangaroos.
And coach Justin Morgan has looked to solve his stand-off issues by bringing in Blake Green to partner Michael Dobson.
The 24-year-old arrives with four years of NRL experience under his belt and the young half-back pairing should provide a fresh and exciting brand of rugby.
Craig Hall has made the switch from city rivals Hull and will provide useful cover for what is a very pacy three-quarter line, while very few players have actually departed Craven Park.
Former Quins boss Brian McDermott has taken over at LEEDS RHINOS from Brian McClennan after originally being brought in as his assistant.
Jimmy Lowes is set to join him as second in command and, with the departure of Willie Poching and Francis Cummings, there is some concern for Leeds fans in that department.
But they have made two top pack signings in Ben Cross from the NRL and Crusaders’ Weller Hauraki, while Ben Jones-Bishop returns from a successful spell at Harlequins.
Leeds have also kept their core players together, although they have lost Matt Diskin, Scott Donald and Greg Eastwood, who is back in Australia due to home sickness.
It could prove a pretty tough year for the men from Headingley this time around.
At the end of last season ST HELENS had to say some sad farewells to their home and players.
The 2010 campaign was their last at Knowsley Road and it was also the final seasons for legends Keiron Cunningham and Matt Gidley, while Maurie Fa’asavalu has moved to Rugby Union and Matty Smith has made a move to Salford permanent for the new season.
On top of that, promising young prop Bryn Hargreaves has been snapped up by the Bulls while Castleford pick up veteran Nick Fozzard and Jacob Emmitt to bolster their pack
With construction of their new stadium underway, Widnes’ Stobart Stadium will become their temporary home for one season.
Saints also have a new coach in former Wests Tigers No2 Royce Simmons, who has brought in three top signings in Josh Perry, Michael Shenton and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook.
But they will be lucky to make a fifth straight Grand Final, matching the record of the Bulls as they face a host of teams who are spending the full salary cap and increasing competition.
SALFORD CITY REDS’ final season at the Willows should be an exciting one.
Shaun McRae has made 10 new additions for 2011 and within his signings there is quality.
Full-back Luke Patten arrives from the NRL and has been described as the best overseas signing of 2011.
Others to arrive are Chris Nero and Wayne Godwin (both Bradford), Vinnie Anderson (Warrington), Iafeta Paleaaesina and Phil Bailey (Wigan) and the Giants’ Stephen Wild.
In terms of departures, the Reds have lost the likes of Malcolm Alker, Karl Fitzpatrick, Stuart Littler, Willie Talua. Phil Leuluai, Luke Swain and Ian Sibbit.
John Kear has his work firmly cut out at WAKEFIELD TRINITY WILDCATS with the club entering administration last week.
With the ownership of Belle Vue in doubt and with a licence review less than 10 months away there is cause for concern if you are a Trinity supporter. Finances are poor and it has shown in their recruitment.
Former Salford half-back Jeremy Smith will give good cover to Sam Obst and Ben Jeffries, while Tommy Lee, Motu Tony and Kevin Penny will be solid enough.
But it’s clear former captain Jason Demetriou, Paul Cooke – who has decided he wants a year out of the sport – Tevita Leo-Latu and Damien Blanch will be sorely missed.
Back-to-back Challenge Cup winners and Super League title favourites, 2011 could be the year WARRINGTON WOLVES hit their greatest heights.
The squad remains almost the same as last season, although with two world-class signings added in.
Brett Hodgson moved from Huddersfield and will certainly be up there again as a Super League Man of Steel contender.
And Joel Monaghan has to be the most talked-about signing of the off-season after leaving Canberra Raiders following the publication on the internet of a lewd photograph.
Leaving the Halliwell-Jones are Richard Mathers, Vinnie Anderson and Chris Hicks of last year’s first choice 13.
But Tony Smith still looks to have arguably Super League’s most impressive squad and they will difficult to beat.
With so many quality players from full-back to loose forward, Smith’s toughest problem will be how and who to pick his team week by week.
The front-row is frightening and their back line includes some of the world’s quickest and most skilful players, with the likes of Matt King and Ryan Atkins.
Reigning Super League champions WIGAN WARRIORS will be hoping for more of the same this season, and with the additions made it is hard to see them not managing more success.
After years of hurt for the Wigan faithful, coach Michael McGuire guided them to Super League glory to prove his worth to chairman Ian Lenagan.
Sam Tomkins has been handed the No1 jersey, implying he could take up the full-back role for the new year after spending some of last season there.
The Warriors moved early to sign three Melbourne Storm stars in Jeff Lima, Ryan Hoffman and scrum-half, Brett Finch.
On top of last year’s fantastic squad they are mouth-watering signings that will all be looking to help guide Wigan back to their glory days of the 90s.
Mark Riddell heads back Down Under and out of the door while out-of-favour wingman Sean Ainscough becomes one of the Bulls’ dozen new signatures for 2011.
They have allowed Karl Pryce and Joe Mellor out on a year’s loan to Quins while releasing Cameron Phelps who failed to impress the new coach last year.
The Warriors have Super League’s most balanced starting side and, more notably, their bench and reserve players are all of the highest Super League standard.