From Anfield to Zak, an A-Z of the new Super League season

Clubs will head to Anfield for Magic Weekend
Clubs will head to Anfield for Magic Weekend
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With the new Super League season upon us here's the Reporter's A to Z guide to what to expect in 2019...

A - Anfield: The Magic Weekend will have a new home in 2019 – Liverpool’s Anfield ground. The venue proved a popular destination for two internationals in recent years (2016 and 2018) but will it be as successful as Newcastle’s St James’ Park for Super League’s annual ‘on the road’ weekend?

B - Barcelona: One of the biggest game of the regular season will be in Spain, where Catalans will host Wigan in the iconic Camp Nou. A crowd of more than 25,004 would set a new Super League record.

C - Coote: St Helens recruit Lachlan Coote has big boots to fill – Steve Prescott Man of Steel winner Ben Barba was a sensation at Saints, even if his form dropped off during the Super-8s - but Coote is keen to make his own name in Super League, as Justin Holbrook’s side look to overcome the disappointment of losing two semi-finals last year.

D - Double-header: After the furore over Catalans’ Challenge Cup cash row, some common-sense from the RFL: the semi-finals will return to Bolton for a double-header, which will also feature the women’s final that day, and the Wembley final will be preceded by an 1895 Cup curtain-raiser, which should boost the crowd size.

E - Extra-time: Any drawn Super League games will automatically go to Golden Point - two five-minute periods for the teams to win the game, after which the draw will stand.

F - Flamboyant: The Saints buzz word which will hopefully be in evidence again in their attacking style in 2019... even if it takes a few weeks for combinations to gel and pitches to firm up, for it to come to fruition.

G - Great Britain tour: Details are, shamefully, not yet known but the prospect of a Lions tour Down Under is definitely in the back of many minds – like looking forward to a dream wedding, but with an eye on the luxury honeymoon which follows.

H - Headingley: The new North and South stands at Leeds’ home ground have received encouraging reports and while the stadium will have a limited, 14,500-capacity in the early rounds, it should be fully open by the time Saints head there in June.

I - Interchanges: Teams will now be limited to eight substitutions – down from 10 – from four players. The cut is expected to open the games up for smaller, faster players, once bigger forwards begin to tire.

J - Justin Holbrook: Brought the League Leaders Shield back to the Totally Wicked stadium but tasted two semi-final defeats - can the likeable Aussie lead the club back to a major final in 2019?

K - Kick-off times: There are more Sunday games this season (yeah!) but still some Thursday night slots (boo!) for Sky Sports; there is some uniform to Thursday and Friday games – which all kick-of at 7.45pm.

L - London Broncos: They are back! Whether the Broncos remain in Super League is less certain, given their scant recruitment, but many fans will look forward to the return of their annual trip to the capital – and to a new ground, at Ealing.

M - Marquee stars: Barba and Warrington’s Tyrone Roberts have left – and Sam Tomkins has departed Wigan – but George Williams is now a marquee player in Super League this year. Wolves have recruited highly-rated Blake Austin and Leeds have brought in two marquee players, Konrad Hurrell and Trent Merrin, from the NRL. Austin, by the way, is the bookies’ favourite to win the Steve Prescott Man of Steel, which has been given a facelift and will be judged be a panel of legends chaired by Ellery Hanley.

N - New structure: Gone are the Super-8s and the Million Pound Game, in favour of a 12-team league – padded with ‘loop’ games to create 29 rounds – before the top-five head into the play-offs and the bottom club is relegated. Clubs pushed for this change – let’s see if it arrests the overall decline in crowd sizes.

O - Openers: St Helens-Wigan on Thursday night, a Hull derby on Friday night and Warrington-Leeds on Saturday.. .talk about starting the season with a bang! January 31 marks the earliest beginning to a ‘summer’ season – but there should he fireworks.

P - Profile: Super League chief executive Robert Elstone has achieved his first goal, which was to change the competition structure, and with his own team in place now wants to raise the profile of Super League with better marketing. His end-goal is no secret... a lucrative next TV deal.

Q - Queen’s grandson: Prince Harry is the patron of the RFL and has met with the England rugby league players. But will he make an appearance at a major final in 2019?

R - Returning stars: There are a clutch of quality players coming back from major injuries, including Alex Walmsley (St Helens), Kallum Watkins (Leeds) and Ben Currie (Warrington). All the best to them.

S - Shot clock: One of the other changes this year is a shot-clock, which rushes players to form scrums, take conversions and drop-outs. Will it speed up matches?

T - Tomkins: All three will be playing this year but this is the first time since 2005 at least one of the brothers hasn’t been at Wigan. Sam has moved to Catalans, Logan is still at Salford and Joel has been made Hull KR captain.

U - Uate: Of the signings to arrive from the NRL, Akuila Uate seems to have gone under the radar – but the blockbusting winger has the ability to make his mark on Super League with Huddersfield.

V - Video referee: Video referees have faced criticism, as much for their decisions as the length of time taken to reach them – and eyes will be on them to see if they make snappier calls this time around.

W - World Club Challenge: Sydney Roosters arrive at the DW Stadium on February 17 to take on Wigan Warriors - will former saints coach Daniel Anderson be plotting their downfall after reports linking him with the Roosters?

X - X-rated: Super League was bruised by a few off-field indiscretions last year and the NRL has had it much worse in the off-season. Here’s hoping the players can make headlines for all the right reasons.

Y - Young guns: Every year, a clutch of youngsters announce themselves on the big stage – who will be the breakthrough stars of 2019? Keep tabs on St Helens’ Jack Welsby. Wigan’s Liam Byrne and Leeds’ Muizz Mustapha.

Z - Zak Hardaker: And not just because he was the only ‘z’! After his 2018 was wiped out by a doping ban, Saints' fans will no doubt give him a warm reception when he will lines up for Wigan!