Rugby league seems to fight perennially for relevance in the wider sporting world, but this could be a year of genuine progress for the 13-a-side code.
There are 10 Super League games being shown free-to-air for the first time on Channel 4 this season, starting with Leeds Rhinos’ clash with Warrington Wolves at Headingley next Saturday (February 12, 12.30pm kick-off).
There is a triple-header at Leeds United’s Elland Road on Saturday, May 7, when the women’s Challenge Cup final and the two men’s Challenge Cup semi-finals will all be played.
Then comes the men’s Challenge Cup final at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday, May 28, a two-day Magic Weekend bonanza in Newcastle on July 9/10 and a Super League Grand Final on Saturday, September 24.
There is the small matter of a World Cup at the end of the season when over 61 games in the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments will also be shown live across the BBC.
If that is not enough to stir your blood, then what is?
@Saints1890's Kristian Woolf on James Roby:
“I’d very comfortably say that he is the best leader I’ve had the privilege of working with. The way he speaks and what he says and then what he follows up with his actions means that as a player, you can’t do anything but follow him." pic.twitter.com/Z2YhAUKWFi
More eyes will be on rugby league than ever before this year and, for those of us who like a bet, there is plenty to have a flutter on.
St Helens are an amazing team and could create history this season by winning a fourth successive Grand Final.
They have lost five players during the off-season and brought in five new ones, but it will not disrupt the winning culture that exists within the club.
There is simply too much energy and too much drive at Saints, from top to bottom, and odds of 9/4 with Betfred for them to be crowned champions again are too tempting to ignore.
Sure, the competition’s title sponsors offer a better price for Catalans Dragons at 6/1 and Leeds Rhinos at 8/1 but I am not convinced that anyone can stop Saints this year.
St Helens are a remarkably consistent outfit and the odds on them finishing top are also appealing.
They are 6/4 with BetVictor to win the League Leaders’ Shield and I can only see Catalans – who finished top for the first time last season – having the same kind of consistency as Kristian Woolf’s men.
The Dragons are 9/2 with BetVictor to finish top, so lumping on either of last season’s top two represents decent value.
Wigan Warriors and Warrington Wolves are always there or thereabouts but they are embarking on new eras with new coaches and a genuine title challenge may prove beyond them this year.
Leeds Rhinos are being tipped to re-emerge as a serious force this year following the close-season acquisition of Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer but will it be enough to overhaul Saints?
You would have your doubts.
Challenge Cup winners? Again, St Helens are favourites to win the trophy they claimed for the first time in 13 years when beating Castleford Tigers at a baking hot Wembley last season.
They are 3/1 with Betfred to win the Challenge Cup at Tottenham on May 28.
Catalans, who claimed the famous old trophy after beating Warrington at the national stadium in 2018, are 7/1 with Paddy Power to win it this year.
There is also plenty of value to be had in the relegation stakes and the Steve Prescott Man of Steel winner.
Super League has two French sides for the first time this season following the promotion of Toulouse Olympique and Sylvain Houles’ side are favourites for the drop.
Why? Because they have failed to significantly strengthen their squad and also seen key players such as Johnathon Ford depart.
The usual suspects will be in and around the lower reaches of the table – Salford and Wakefield – but it is hard to see past Toulouse for the bottom spot.
Odds of 4/7 with William Hill for Toulouse to get relegated are definitely worth taking a punt on.
For an outside bet as Man of Steel, consider St Helens and England prop Alex Walmsley at 33/1 with Sporting Index.