It still seems a split-second since the rugby league season finished. When I close my eyes I can still see Shaun Johnson dancing on to his left foot with his eyes wide and tongue hanging with excitement like a ravenous dog bounding towards an unattended roast dinner. And I’m sure Kevin Sinfield can too. That isn’t an exaggeration by the way. That try hurt more than anything I can remember either as a league fan or commentator. About two minutes after I had wrapped up commentary on 5 live and handed back to the studio I was physically sick in the gents at Wembley. It just wasn’t fair. But that’s why we love live sport, and rugby league. Its glorious unpredictability and extraordinary drama keeps us coming back for more. You could pay to see your favourite play thirty weeks of the year and know each time you would come home glowing, happy, fulfilled and content. You would never have those bitter weeks of feeling wronged, those weekends of hating referees, those mornings dreading going to work and getting it from rivals fans in the office. But what would be the fun in knowing what you were going to see? Bring the season on.
And it should be some season too. I expect St Helens to be stronger and Leeds to be stronger than last season. Marwan Koukash reckons Salford can hit the top four. I don’t, but I do love the Doctor’s passion and genuine excitement for his new hobby and I’d be amazed if they didn’t make the playoffs. I’ve already spent an afternoon watching Castleford train and like the look of how Daryl Powell and Danny Orr are drilling the Tigers to play. Luke Dorn may not be the captain on paper but having watched the former Bronco back on his old stamping ground I can see Dorn being a huge part of their season. The last domestic season ended for me with an honest chat to Shaun Wane after the Grand Final. The double-winning Warriors coach toasted his achievement with a pint as he addressed the media at Old Trafford in October and asked if any of us wanted to apologise for writing his team off so early. It had clearly worked as a big motivational tool to Wane’s Warriors that so few fancied them to reproduce their Wembley win in the Grand Final. I personally wrote Wigan off very early, in this very blog. Four teams could win it, I thought, and Wigan weren’t one of them. No need to apologise for that you understand – it was an opinion I had and stood by. I did say to Wane though that I got it badly wrong, and if he felt that I disrespected his players then I was happy to say sorry. I may whisper it quietly therefore that I fear Wigan will struggle Down Under...
After the success of the World Cup it was vital to secure a sponsor. That has been done, although it dragged on longer than Nigel Wood and his team would have wanted. There is a new structure in place to take the game forward that has attracted a lot of debate already. Some of the media were consulted in the decision making process and I personally was very cautious. All the maths, research and arguments behind it from the RFL make complete sense. Yet as a BBC journalist constantly trying to convince colleagues to dip their toes into our sport, my fear was that in making the competition more complicated to understand for newcomers, we risked being unable to reel them in, and that’s why I advised against it. I take Jamie Peacock’s point that he doesn’t understand how the NFL season works but still loves the Super Bowl. But my experience of having colleagues arrogantly chuckle when I explain the intricacies of the Super League playoffs and Club Call is what makes me a little nervous. I am more than happy to suck it and see however and I am confident it will yield a more competitive domestic game. I have always been a big believer in promotion and relegation and am delighted to see the return of that and the romance and drama that comes with it. Bradford boss Franny Cummins may think relegation is “rubbish” but for me there always has to be an achievable carrot for those clubs outside of the elite.
The BBC will next week announce details of their exciting new radio plans for Super League. It will see 5 live and 5 live Sports Extra broadcasting more live commentaries than ever before, with weekly podcasts and magazine shows, and I can’t wait to get stuck in.