Barrie McDermott: Why I can’t wait for the 2021 Super League season to start

Leeds Rhinos great and Sky Sports pundit Barrie McDermott is counting down the days until Super League roars back into action on March 26, with all six opening-round matches live on Sky Sports…

I honestly can’t wait to get going for the 2021 season. Weekends just aren’t the same without a regular Super League fix, and to treat us to all six fixtures on television over one weekend is fantastic.

First up on Friday night, champions St Helens will want to begin their quest for three in a row in formidable fashion, with James Roby leading from the front in his 17th season.

The 2021 @Betfred #SuperLeague round 1 fixtures ?#BeReady

They are up against a Salford Red Devils side who were Grand Finalists just two years ago – and of course, upset the odds again last season to book their place at Wembley.

The most significant change for the Red Devils is new coach Richard Marshall who will have big shoes to fill after Salford lad Ian Watson left for Huddersfield Giants – what a start that is.

Next up, we’ll see Leigh Centurions back in the big time, but they face a huge task to stay among the Super League elite and they couldn’t have a much tougher baptism against next-door neighbours and bitter rivals Wigan Warriors either.

Adrian Lam’s team will be desperate to go one better than finishing runners-up in 2020, with a stronger squad than last year – including John Bateman’s return from the NRL, to fill the talismanic boots vacated by icon Sean O’Loughlin’s retirement.

On Sky Sports, we’ll be bringing you double-headers on Friday, Saturday and Sunday – and the weekend kicks off with a cracking West Yorkshire derby, as one-time Wakefield Trinity coach Richard Agar’s Challenge Cup winners Leeds take on Trinity from 3pm.

Luke Gale’s injury could mean a reshuffle for the Rhinos if he has not recovered in time to feature, but Wakey are purring with new recruit Mason Lino, who will be one to watch in 2021.

That’s followed by the galacticos of French side Catalans Dragons going head-to-head with Hull Kingston Rovers at 5.15pm.

A Dragons side who got within 80 minutes of the Grand Final last year, and have added New Zealand international Dean Whare and promoted Benjamin Garcia to captain, look just as impressive in 2021.

Tony Smith’s men, meanwhile, have to start well and the first month is vital for their chances of avoiding the scrap at the bottom of the table. Injuries played a part in their struggles last year, so they need to keep the horses healthy.

Two new coaches go head-to-head first up on Sunday – well, new in the sense that the aforementioned Ian Watson will be taking charge of Huddersfield, my dark horses of Super League XXVI, competitively for the first time.

They come up against another contender in Hull FC, as Brett Hodgson begins life as a Super League boss facing the club where he was crowned Man of Steel back in 2009.

The Black and Whites look to have the right balance this season, so this should be an outstanding game and will tell us a lot about the early prospects of both sides. That’s live from 12.30pm, and a breathless weekend could be rounded off by the return of a bona fide superstar.

For many people the arrival of the man known as ‘GI’ is mouth-watering. Super League fans will see the great Greg Inglis back on a rugby league pitch and first up for his new club Warrington, it’s a Castleford Tigers side who’ll still be smarting from their disappointing finish last year.

Tigers’ Jake Trueman, one of Super League’s sensational young talents, should have a huge test in the halves facing internationals Blake Austin and Gareth Widdop.

There are so many battles, so many talking points – and it all starts so soon!

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