Clubs around the country have opened their doors to the media this week, with a distinct contrast of emotions on the eve of the 2023 Betfred Super League season.
While champions St Helens and Challenge Cup winners Wigan Warriors have gone big, showing off their impressive facilities in extended “open days”, other clubs faced a battle to focus on the new campaign, given a lingering external desire to dissect last season.
“All of these questions you are asking me are about last year,” a frustrated Daryl Powell told journalists at Warrington Wolves' midweek media day, before thoughtfully answering every single one.
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It was tough not to feel a bit for the Wolves head coach as he sheltered from a rainy January lunchtime in the bowels of the Town Hall. Keen to look ahead to a year that he hopes will vindicate both his leadership and the club’s direction, pretty much every question from the assembled media centred on a first season in charge in which he almost guided the Wolves to relegation.
“We are a united group who are ready to go,” Powell told The Sportsman.
“This is a new team, a different feel, a different vibe and we have a lot to prove.
“We had a lot of players out of contract last year which created its own problems. The expectation was probably a little heavy. It was a tough year all the way through. I understand people will keep asking me about last year but this is a fresh start and I have no excuses, I won’t look for any and we now have quality in every position to deliver a brand of rugby league to make our fans proud.”
Powell spoke repeatedly about mindset in summing up why this year will be different for his club. He admits that having half a squad who were on their way out last year was difficult to manage.
“To play rugby league you have got to be tough and be winners across the board. That is what we have retained and recruited. Mentality is absolutely huge and I see a really driven group. Some high-quality players have left the club but sometimes things need freshening up.
“You start with values, then bring those values to life and live them. That creates the environment which drives your attitude. All of those things I think we have got right.”
Powell has conducted himself professionally throughout an extremely difficult start to his Wolves tenure, in comical contrast to the scenes outside Warrington Town Hall as the first-team players posed for their official squad photo in front of the venue’s impressive Golden Gates. The only problem being that photographers had to stand in the middle of the main road to get the shot, and the road remained open to traffic. Fortunately each red traffic light gave enough of a window to get the job done.
Salford meanwhile, so impressive in their surprise run to the playoff semi-finals, promised an announcement on the club’s future and some “history-making player news” in a morning press conference this week, before apologetically cancelling late the night before due to “unforeseen circumstances” with no more to be said.
Head coach Paul Rowley has already done well to keep hold of key men Brodie Croft, Tim Lafai, and Ryan Brierley, the latter opting to sign a new deal with his beloved club despite opportunities for the full-back elsewhere.
Leigh Leopards meanwhile underlined that they have absolutely no concerns over star man Zak Hardaker by naming the former Leeds star as part of their leadership group. Head coach Adrian Lam admits the controversial Hardaker is “at a crossroads” in his career and has backed the 31-year old to rediscover his best form, calling the 2015 Man of Steel “the ultimate competitor” and as good as any he has seen around the club.
Speaking of Leeds, they take centre stage as the pre-season fixtures ramp up a notch this weekend, as the Rhinos play rivals Bradford on Our League.
Saints play Widnes on Friday to celebrate Mark Percival’s testimonial, with a host of clubs in action on Sunday. Castleford, Wigan, Salford and Wakefield all play - and Trinity’s clash with Featherstone Rovers looks the most appetising.
Having endured a spectacular failure in their bid for promotion under legendary coach Brian McDermott last year, the men from Post Office Road are geared for another crack at the big time under iconic scrum half Sean Long, in his first job as a head coach.
Whisper it quietly but the early signs look good, with Long’s men heading to Wakefield having nilled Hull KR last week.
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