New season coutdown: Covid, crowds, changes and challengers - what to expect from Super League 2021
The 2020 Super League season broke new ground in many ways due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and clubs are bracing themselves for more uncertainty this year.
We look to provide a few answers to some of the burning questions surrounding the new season.
Will Covid-19 continue to have an impact?
In sticking with win percentage to determine league positions, the Rugby Football League is clearly anticipating more upheaval. Four Super League clubs were reported to its multiple cases panel in the opening weeks of pre-season but there is genuine hope that, as the number of Covid cases decrease and the vaccine becomes more widely available, life and rugby league can get back to normal. Scrums will once more be absent in the early part of the season but the intention is to bring them back when conditions allow.
When will fans be allowed back into matches?
In the short term, nothing changes so matches will continue to be played behind closed doors. The first two rounds will take place in double-headers at single venues but from late April clubs will be able to host games at their own grounds.
Then, from May 17, as long as the lockdown continues to be eased, socially-distanced crowds of up to 4,000 will be allowed back into grounds and by late June it is hoped all restrictions will be lifted, certainly in time for the Magic Weekend, which has been pushed back from May to September.
Have the rules changed since 2020?
The “six-again” rule which was copied from the NRL last year is retained after it proved widely popular and the RFL has introduced six new laws designed to make the game more attractive. The eye-catching one is the addition of the 20-40 kick, which will sit alongside the 40-20 which clubs have become used to.
An incorrect play-the-ball will result in a hand-over rather than a penalty and a ball steal will now be allowed if defenders roll off the tackle before it is completed by one man.
When scrums return, the attacking team will be able to decide whether to pack down 10 or 20 metres in from touch or even the centre of the field and there will be a handover rather than a scrum when the ball goes into touch.
If players break early from a scrum, it will result in a full penalty and, if it is re-formed and another player breaks early, he will be sin-binned. The laws committee rejected the NRL’s idea of awarding two points for a drop goal kicked from 40 metres out.
Only four clubs have ever won the Grand Final, will it go to one of the usual suspects again?
Reigning champions St Helens and 2020 League leaders Wigan both look strong once more and are highly fancied to set up a repeat of their epic Grand Final from November. Saints are aiming to complete a hat-trick of title triumphs to match the feat of Leeds, who will be challenging once more.
Warrington, with Greg Inglis on board, will fancy their chances and Hull and Huddersfield could be dark horses under new management but it is hard to look beyond the big two. There will just as much interest at the other end of the table with relegation restored and fast-tracked Leigh will be desperately hoping they have not been set up to fail.
What other highlights can we look forward to?
After it became a casualty of the pandemic in 2020, the Magic Weekend will make an eagerly-anticipated return and the decision to push it back to September should get the crowds flocking into St James’ Park.
All representative rugby was also wiped out last year but Shaun Wane will finally get the chance to coach England in the mid-season game against the All Stars, which should whet the appetite for the end-of-year World Cup to be held in England.