Sport Terry O'Connor's 2021 Super League season review

20:16  23 september  2021
20:16  23 september  2021 Source:   skysports.com

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Following the conclusion of the 2021 Super League regular season, Sky Sports Rugby League expert Terry O'Connor reviews all 12 clubs' seasons. Castleford Tigers

I think this season has been a tad disappointing for Castleford. In some games, it has seemed like there's been something missing for them.

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In previous years, I have tipped them quite a lot against certain teams, but this season something didn't seem right, and I tipped them to lose on a few occasions.

Next season will be interesting for the Tigers, having lost both their captain Michael Shenton and coach Daryl Powell, two people who have been a part of the fabric for such a long time - there are big shoes to fill.

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That being said, with Lee Radford coming in, you'd expect to see a response, especially with a full pre-season. I think Kenny Edwards will be a great signing for the Tigers in 2022 and I think I would back them to be around the playoff places.

Terry's Tip: 8th

Actual Finish: 7th

Catalans Dragons

I think Steve McNamara has done an incredible job of building a winning culture at the Dragons.

In years gone by, we have seen so many exceptional players sign for Catalans, but arrive with too much baggage, or it just hasn't worked. This time round, McNamara has managed to create a fantastic blend of British, French and southern hemisphere that just click and look a threat in every single match they play.

I think they can absolutely get to the Grand Final and win it - and as a fan of the game and Super League, I'd love to see a new name on the trophy. They deserve it for the season they have had.

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Terry's Tip: 2nd

Actual Finish: 1st

Huddersfield Giants

It's been a difficult season for the Giants. Lots was expected from them following Ian Watson's appointment for the 2021 season and lots of money was spent, though I don't think this season should be the one that you judge Huddersfield or Watson on.

He will still need further time to build on the foundations that have been laid this year, and will want to make a few additions, following the departures of Kenny Edwards and Aidan Sezer.

I think the additions of Tui Lolohea and Theo Fages, two players who Watson already knows, will prove to be shrewd signings for the Giants in 2022.

Terry's Tip: 10th

Actual Finish: 9th

Hull FC

Hull FC started the season like a house on fire, and I think a lot of people thought the addition of Josh Reynolds would ensure that Jake Connor could be freed up (so much so that I tipped him for Man of Steel for 2021!). Sadly, for the black and whites, it only lasted for about half a season before cracks became visible.

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I think 2022 will see wholesale changes for Hull FC, as I can't see Adam Pearson or Brett Hodgson putting up with it for much longer, especially when their potential has already been shown earlier in the season.

The season ended in such a disappointment for the Hull FC fans, who will rightly believe they should be in the playoff places at worst.

The capitulation at Wakefield happened a number of times under previous coach Lee Radford and has now happened under Hodgson - this will undoubtedly make the coach and chairman question the character of the individuals who put on the famous black and white jersey.

Terry's Tip: 5th

Actual Finish: 8th

Hull KR

At the start of the season, I think I was one of those pundits who didn't see this coming! I thought Hull KR would improve upon last season, though the bar was exceptionally low, given the Robins finished bottom and only won three games.

I think Tony Smith has to take immense credit for the players he has completely transformed, in particular George Lawler, George King and Jordan Abdull who I think have been outstanding all season and have played a pivotal role for the Robins.

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The overseas players have also made a great contribution to the Robins, with Smith getting the best out of Brad Takairangi, Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Kane Linett - as well as the young local stars Jez Litten and Mikey Lewis shining. It has been an incredible season for Hull KR.

I think Hull KR are a wildcard in the playoffs and anything can happen! Smith will be letting his players know they aren't favourites and will be telling them to have a go - all the pressure will be on Warrington on Friday and I'm sure there'll be a few nerves at the Halliwell Jones Stadium!

I think the expectations for 2022 will be massive, anything less than what they have achieved this season will be seen as negative, so I expect the fans will think the Robins should be at least in the playoffs next season.

Terry's Tip: 6th

Actual Finish: 6th

Leeds Rhinos

I think to finish fifth with all the injuries the Rhinos have had this season is a massive achievement, especially when you consider four more wins would have seen them finish second in the table - and they threw away wins twice against Catalans, against Huddersfield and Warrington.

If you take out certain poor decisions, or throw more experienced players into the mix for those games, you might find the Rhinos would have got the wins - but there are fine margins in Super League. I will say I think despite the absentees, the Leeds youngsters have stepped up and impressed many within the game for their performances this season.

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Leeds are my tip for the playoffs - the Rhinos have done it twice before from fifth place in 2011 and 2012 and I just think with the likes of Zane Tetevano and Mikolaj Oledzki returning, they look like a good outfit.

I think 2022 looks like it's shaping up to be a good year for Leeds, with the signing of former Canberra Raiders halves Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer, alongside the arrival of James Bentley from St Helens - the squad looks incredibly strong.

Terry's Tip: 3rd

Actual Finish: 5th

Leigh Centurions

It's always hard for a newly promoted side, but poor Derek Beaumont had to assemble a team in such a short space of time which gave him and Leigh no chance of survival in Super League.

I think everybody expected the Centurions to raise their game in Round 1 against Wigan and they did so and probably should have won the game. But, if you look at a lot of games this season, you will see Leigh have been in games up to half-time, then in the second half they fall to pieces.

In my opinion, Leigh is an absolute hotbed of Rugby League talent, and I would start to focus all my attention on implementing a system which allows those prospects to come through.

This wouldn't be something that could happen overnight, but I think it would do the Centurions a whole lot of good to have a scholarship system. This would help them get promoted and survive in Super League, as opposed to simply coming up and signing players who had just recently been relegated from Super League in the previous season.

Terry's Tip: 12th

Actual Finish: 12th

Salford Red Devils

I think this job was a poisoned chalice for whoever took it, given how well Ian Watson and Greg Brown did at the Red Devils. The season has been a disappointment for all at Salford, and the decision to part ways with Richard Marshall underlines that it fell way below the club and fans' expectations.

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For 2022, I do think Brodie Croft is an excellent signing, and the work Ian Blease has been doing behind the scenes for the academy is a great sign for the Red Devils, though the early concern for me seems to be up front - I think they need to look at bringing more forwards in.

My early tip for the coaching job would be Paul Rowley, he knows the club well and knows Blease. I think it would be a great fit for the club, though I appreciate there are some other good choices available who have been put in as favourites such as Andrew Henderson, Lee Briers, Danny Ward and Brian McDermott - as well as some overseas interest in the job.

Terry's Tip: 11th

Actual Finish: 11th

St Helens

It has to be said, Kristian Woolf had an incredibly hard task taking over from Justin Holbrook - but one Challenge Cup win and one Super League Grand Final win later, we shouldn't have been worried about a thing.

Woolf has allowed the likes of Jack Welsby and Lewis Dodd to not only come through, but has stuck with them whenever they have made errors, and now they don't look out of place when up against some of the best in Super League.

Saints are notorious for winning big games and only having the right bodies in - if you don't buy into that mentality then you won't make it at St Helens. Woolf, like his predecessor, has managed to carry through that winning culture.

I wouldn't be surprised if St Helens managed to get three-in-a-row - along with Catalans they are the team to beat and are the current champions. But it's just 80 minutes and anything can happen in these one-off games.

Terry's Tip: 1st

Actual Finish: 2nd

Wakefield Trinity

I've seen Wakefield quite a lot this season, and I've liked what I have seen! The only thing that has been disappointing is in some games they have thrown the towel in and not given 100 per cent effort. Fans will always accept a loss if you're giving your all, but when you aren't it isn't a good look.

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Since Willie Poaching has come in, it has shown that the players can do it, they can perform and get results in Super League. I was disappointed to see Chris Chester get sacked, and I'm a firm believer that the coach doesn't turn bad overnight, I think the players should have some accountability for his sacking.

That being said, it was great to see Willie Poaching given the opportunity by Michael Carter at Wakefield, and he has done an incredible job as interim - he fully deserves the job on a full-time basis.

The turnaround in form has been incredible from Trinity, and I see no reason they couldn't reach the playoffs next season. Hull KR have managed it this season despite finishing 11th in 2020.

They would need the rub of the green in certain matches, as most clubs who finish in that position get, but I don't see any reason why they couldn't kick on under Poaching and achieve a high finish for Wakefield, especially given they now have their wonderful academy to fall back on - which Mark Applegarth has got some fantastic results for this season.

Terry's Tip: 9th

Actual Finish: 10th

Warrington Wolves

Whenever you look at Warrington you expect them to be up there with the best sides, given how the club is, how it has done in recent years and how much money they have available.

They have assembled an outstanding squad and the signing of George Williams, despite interest from former club Wigan, was a real statement. Previously, you could accuse the Wolves of not producing their own talent, but Pete Riding and Paul Anderson have done a great job in producing players that have now played in the first team.

They have a great chance in the playoffs having the home tie, although with Tony Smith coming back to his old club, there may be a few nerves in the air.

I expect Warrington to be one of the favourites next season, they already have an incredible squad and have strengthened well with the additions of Peter Mata'utia and Oliver Holmes, as well as bringing in Daryl Powell as coach. I expect them to be up there again in 2022.

Terry's Tip: 4th

Actual Finish: 3rd

Wigan Warriors

It's been a disappointing season for the Warriors, but I want to start by giving Adrian Lam some credit. He has stuck with the young players throughout the season, and that will do the players a world of good in their careers. They will learn things that ordinarily they wouldn't have had the opportunity to pick up.

It's strange to think that, had Bevan French got to the ball before Jack Welsby on that November night in Hull, things may have been a bit different this time around.

The Warriors had a 100 per cent record after seven games, and on the Coaching Manual with Sky Sports' Brian Carney, Lam admitted his side hadn't played well all season but still got results. Wigan then went on to lose five in a row, and have been inconsistent ever since.

The playoffs will be difficult in my opinion for the Warriors. They face a Leeds side who I think will be the surprise package of the playoffs. But Wigan have just won their last two - including a victory over league leaders Catalans at home.

I think having a fresh start in 2022 will do the club a world of good - it will be good to see Jai Field and French feature a bit more and to have the additions of Abbas Miski, Patrick Mago and Kaide Ellis. Wigan will need consistency next season and in all honesty will probably need to change their brand of rugby too.

Terry's Tip: 7th

Actual Finish: 4th

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