The 2021 Super League season kicks off with a live double-header on Sky Sports at Leeds’ Emerald Headingley Stadium. St Helens take on Salford (kick-off 6pm) followed by Wigan versus Leigh (kick-off 8.15pm), with new Warrington signing Greg Inglis as guest pundit
By Sky Sports Rugby League
We take a look at what is being said as the 2021 Super League season kicks off with a double-header which sees reigning championship St Helens face Salford Red Devils and Wigan Warriors take on promoted Leigh Centurions in a derby clash…
The new Super League season once again kicks off with a rematch of the 2019 Grand Final when St Helens take on Salford, but it is a game which also sees two familiar faces going head to head.
Having taken charge of the Red Devils in the off-season following Ian Watson’s switch to Huddersfield Giants, Richard Marshall finds himself opposite the man he was working under last year in Kristian Woolf.
Saints head coach Woolf has backed his former assistant to prove a worthy successor to Watson and is intrigued by the prospect of coming up against Marshall’s Salford side first up.
“Getting to play against Rich, obviously with him going over to Salford, is an interesting one in Round 1,” Woolf said.
“He knows a lot about us and we know a little bit about him, but at the same time I’ve got no doubt he’s going to try a few new things and different things with this being his first opportunity as a head coach.
“I think he’ll do a great job with Salford and he’ll really help them and improve them. It’s going to be a great challenge and, at the same time, a little bit of fun coming up against him in Round 1.”
There are likely to be some new faces on display for the back-to-back champions as well, with Joel Thompson, Sione Mata’utia and Agnatius Paasi all named in their squad. However, Morgan Knowles is sidelined due to complications following off-season surgery on his thumb.
A new era for Salford
It is not just the coaching side where there have been changes for the Red Devils, with no fewer than nine new players joining during the off-season.
Of those new recruits, former St Helens centre Matty Costello, Morgan Escare, Elijah Taylor, Danny Addy, Dec Patton, Harvey Livett and Jack Wells have all been named in Marshall’s 23-man squad for Friday’s match.
Although only finishing ninth last year, Salford did reach the Challenge Cup final and experienced half-back Kevin Brown feels a renewed sense of excitement around the club heading into 2021.
“It’s been refreshing, and everything is completely different this year,” Brown said. “There are lots of different ideas and lots of new players to get used to too.
“Playing St Helens first is exciting. There’s probably no better time to play them than when we’ve just got one of their coaches.
“I’m sure Rich will know them as good as anyone. Saints have been the best team for three years now so it’s an exciting chance to see where we’re at.”
St Helens: Lachlan Coote, Tommy Makinson, Kevin Naiqama, Mark Percival, Regan Grace, Jonny Lomax, Theo Fages, Alex Walmsley, James Roby, Matty Lees, Joel Thompson, James Bentley, Sione Mata’utia, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Kyle Amor, Agnatius Paasi, Jack Welsby, Aaron Smith, Joe Batchelor, Lewis Dodd, Josh Simm.
Salford Red Devils: Morgan Escare, Ken Sio, Kallum Watkins, Krisnan Inu, Tui Lolohea, Kevin Brown, Lee Mossop, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Ryan Lannon, Pauli Pauli, Elijah Taylor, Danny Addy, Josh Johnson, Elliott Kear, Harvey Livett, Rhys Williams, Dan Sarginson, Matty Costello, Jack Ormondroyd, Jack Wells, Dec Patton.
A rivalry renewed
Leigh’s first game back in Super League after a four-season absence sees them handed a derby showdown against Wigan, albeit on neutral ground at behind-closed-doors Headingley.
It will not be the first time Wigan head coach Adrian Lam has experienced the ‘Battle of the Borough’, although it will be a somewhat different atmosphere to when he did as a player.
That came in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals in 2002 at a raucous, packed Hilton Park and while Wigan eventually triumphed 30-16, Lam has never forgotten that day.
“I heard all about it when I was here as a player and when we drew them in the Challenge Cup it was like a ‘here we go’ sort of mentality,” Lam said. “I think it’s like that on both sides.
R1 incoming… ⏰⏳#SLLEIWIG #NeverGonnaStop 🍒⚪️ #WWRL pic.twitter.com/wbmNkRiZyM
— Wigan Warriors 🍒⚪️ (@WiganWarriorsRL) March 25, 2021
“I remember being about to warm up and news came over the speaker the game was going to be delayed 20 minutes because there was fighting outside the ground.
“Then it started pelting down like a monsoon and when we finally got out on the ground the rain on top of the field was three or four inches deep.
“I remember Andrew Farrell standing up that day and after that performance I thought he was one of the best in the world – what he did single-handedly won us the game.”
Friday will see another Australian, Jai Field, get his first taste of this match for Wigan, but Jackson Hastings and Bevan French will not play following their delayed returns to the UK for pre-season.
Leigh’s secret weapon?
The Centurions have made several new signings for their return to the top flight and Lewis Tierney, Joe Mellor and Blake Wallace are all in line for their debuts against Wigan.
However, one of Leigh’s biggest off-season signings could be that of new assistant coach Kurt Haggerty, who was part of Toronto Wolfpack’s coaching staff last year.
The former Ireland international back row arrives with a wealth of experience from his time under former Super League-winning coach Brian McDermott and has already been giving the Centurions plenty of insight as they aim to avoid being in a relegation battle this year.
“He’s been very good and he’s very astute,” Leigh head coach John Duffy told Sky Sports. “He was a very good, under-rated player, but he wanted to go and coach and has coached under some very good coaches.
“Not least of all Brian, who has been the best coach in the Super League era, so he’s got a lot experience as a younger coach.
“He’s obviously previewed and reviewed all of the Super League teams, so he has been absolutely phenomenal up to now. He’s given us a lot of information.”
Wigan Warriors: Zak Hardaker, Jai Field, Thomas Leuluai, Brad Singleton, Sam Powell, Joe Bullock, Willie Isa, Liam Farrell, John Bateman, Oliver Partington, Morgan Smithies, Tony Clubb, Liam Byrne, Harry Smith, Ethan Havard, Jake Bibby, Mitch Clark, Joe Shorrocks, Sam Halsall, James McDonnell, Umyla Hanley.
Leigh Centurions: Ryan Brierley, Matty Russell, Iain Thornley, Lewis Tierney, Blake Wallace, Joe Mellor, Liam Hood, Mark Ioane, Ben Hellewell, Jordan Thompson, Matty Wildie, Alex Gerrard, Nathaniel Peteru, Matty Gee, Nathan Mason, Adam Sidlow, Tyrone McCarthy, Keanan Brand, Josh Eaves.