Phil Spink takes a look at the televised Super League games on Thursday and Friday and picks out his best bets…
“Beginning the new season on the back of eleven straight defeats, an away game against their fiercest rivals was probably the last thing Hull FC coach Lee Radford wanted to see when the 2019 fixture list was released…”
Back Zak as top sides size each other up on opening night
St Helens vs. Wigan Warriors
Thursday January 31, 19:45 BST
Live on Sky Sports Arena
It wouldn't be a new Super League season without some controversy before a ball has been kicked, and right on cue came the news on Wednesday that reigning Champions Wigan Warriors will start with a two-point deduction for breaching the salary cap in 2017. Expect the fallout from that to rumble on, but in the meantime look forward to a fantastic derby as they, under new coach Adrian Lam, make the trip to St Helens.
Justin Holbrooks' St Helens couldn't make it count when it mattered in 2018 and gone is Man of Steel Ben Barba. That is all in the past though and now it will be fantastic to see forward Alex Walmsley, the top metre maker in 2015 and 2017, return after a serious neck injury, while debuts look likely for their three NRL recruits, Lachlan Coote, Joseph Paulo and Kevin Naiqama. The last name, Fiji captain Naiqama, could be the most influential. Expect him to do some real damage alongside the Golden Boot-winner Tommy Makinson.
Not only do Wigan Warriors begin with a points-deficit, but they also have to cope without Grand Final-hero Dom Manfredi, Joe Burgess, and new signing Jarrod Sammut, all the while patching up the gaps left by the departures of John Bateman, Ryan Sutton and Sam Tomkins. All eyes will be on Zak Hardaker, and it wouldn't be the biggest surprise to see the controversial fullback make an immediate impact on the back of his try-scoring return in a pre-season friendly against Salford.
It could be a cagey affair with two of the sport's top sides likely to be weighing each other up, and a small bet on Hardaker to make the headlines with a try for the visitors is the recommendation.
Understrength Airlie Birds to have wings clipped
Hull Kingston Rovers vs. Hull FC
Friday February 1, 19:45 BST
Live on Sky Sports Arena
Beginning the new season on the back of eleven straight defeats, an away game against their fiercest rivals was probably the last thing Hull FC coach Lee Radford wanted to see when the 2019 fixture list was released, but that is the reality facing the 2016 and 2017 Challenge Cup winners, and their campaign looks set to get off to the worst possible start.
The Black and Whites may welcome back Marc Sneyd, but kick off without the services of his fellow playmakers Jake Connor (suspended) and Albert Kelly, and, among others, Fetuli Talanoa, their second-highest tryscorer in 2018.
Hull KR left it too late to avoid the Qualifiers last term after a summer rally, but their winning mentality continued, and they ended the campaign with nine victories from their last twelve games. They look to have recruited well. Among their likely debutants is Josh Drinkwater, who was massive for the Catalans Dragons in his short time with them, and he could form a huge partnership in the halves with Danny McGuire, who will be taking in his final season after 19 years in Super League. Drinkwater scored on his debut for the Dragons against the Airlie Birds in April and it's worth backing him to repeat the feat for his new club.
Home advantage looks massive for the Robins and all the early money this week has been for them, with a scratch handicap on the Sportsbook as a result. Back Tim Sheens' side to get off to the perfect start.