Super League explodes back into action this week and it promises to be the most exciting yet, with a number of sides staking valid claims that they will be contesting the Grand Final come October.
Leeds Rhinos surprised everyone last time out, defeating the runaway league leaders Castleford Tigers in the Old Trafford showpiece to claim their eighth title.
SBC has been speaking to Betfred spokesman Peter Spencer, who has explained the growing appeal of Rugby League betting: “We’ve had more money on Rugby League than we’ve ever had after our sponsorship started, and you couldn’t have got a better season than last year.
“Every single week there was some kind of talking point, or drama, or controversy, and with Castleford, everyone thought they would take the Grand Final, until, you know what happened.”
Following last season’s disappointment, it is Castleford who find themselves as favourites with the bookies, with Spencer explaining exactly why and giving a brief insight into the reasons behind the disappointment of last season: “Castleford are 4/1 favourites because of their exploits last season, we think that they would’ve won the Grand Final but for the upset in the camp surrounding Zak Hardaker disrupting their planning.
“That has been generally accepted now by the players, who I spoke to on Thursday (January 25), that’s the general consensus.
“It affected all the players with him being such a key player, but that’s not taking it away from Leeds who obviously did brilliantly in that final and their big guns performed extremely well.
“So there is a lot of money on Castleford thinking, not that they were cheated out of winning it or anything like that, but the fact is that they were the outstanding team with the brand of rugby they played.”
Away from The Jungle and Spencer went on to detail who to watch out for in the chasing pack: “The key to the season, we think, is whether the big guns, St Helens and Wigan (both 9/2), can put the upstarts Castleford back in their place.
“With Leeds handily placed at 6/1 along with Warrington, who are the team everyone has got their eye on because of how bad they were last year.
“And Hull also nicely placed at 5/1, fourth favourites, because they have this giant pack, and did well in the Challenge Cup which they won two years running, but haven’t really got the consistency, yet, to win the Grand Final.”
Before discussing who could possibly be the one to watch this season, and glancing south towards the sides largely expected to be scraping at the foot of the table: “People seem to think that Hull KR will do better than expected, they’re 150/1, and there’s a fair amount of money on that.
“They have got some decent players, and they are the dark horses.
“Widnes it is generally accepted, who have drifted out to 250/1, will be bottom.
“It is generally accepted that they’re going to be the side who will struggle most, and Salford too under the new fans ownership.
“They made such a fantastic start [last season], and were fourth at one point, and now they are 100/1 for the Grand Final because it has all changed on the pitch and behind the scenes.
“They will probably end up being weaker because they haven’t got that financial backing that they had previously, although there might be more unity than previously.”
In terms of this season’s individual honours it is St Helens fullback Ben Barba installed as the 8/1 favourite to be named Man of Steel, with fellow Saint Alex Walmsley, who has question marks hanging over his head regarding a move to Australia, at 18/1
Luke Gale is 10/1 to hold onto his title for another season, while George Williams is handily placed at 14/1 should Wigan Warriors season go to plan, and Rhinos’ Matt Parcell 16/1.
Top try scorer odds sees Castleford’s Greg Eden the 7/1 favourite, Joe Burgess of Wigan is just behind on 8/1, trailed by Huddersfield Giants Jermaine McGillvary and Garry Lo, also of the Tigers, at 12/1.
Anticipating the possibility of an exciting season of Rugby League, Fred Done concluded: “If this season is anything like as good as last, we’re in for a thumping good time.
“These Rugby League people, on and off the pitch, mean business, and that’s why I had no hesitation in extending our sponsorship from Super League to include the Championship and League 1.”