Super League: Who and what to look out for in 2018

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McGuire stars as Leeds make Grand Final history
Super League 2018
Starts: Thursday, 1 February
Coverage: Commentary of matches on BBC Radio 5 live, sports extra and local radio; highlights every week on the Super League Show; live text commentary on selected games

More tackles, more tries, more excitement. Super League is back for 2018 and with it a whole new set of characters hoping to establish their place in rugby league folklore.

The new season starts with two matches on Thursday, 1 February - champions Leeds Rhinos go to Warrington, who have a new coach in Steve Price, while Challenge Cup holders Hull FC host Huddersfield Giants.

BBC Sport will be providing live text and radio commentary of the opening night of the 2018 season, while BBC Radio 5 live will broadcasting a one-hour season preview at 21:00 GMT.

There was much to enjoy in 2017, from England's World Cup exploits to Castleford's emergence as a new top-table face and the ruthlessness of Leeds, who notched up a record eighth Grand Final success.

Here are six reasons why you should be excited about the upcoming rugby league season.

Ben Barba

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'Barba magic' sets up Saints try

The mercurial full back may have left Cronulla under a cloud, but he has the potential to spread some sunshine in the Super League. We saw glimpses of his stardust qualities at the end of last year.

Once his NRL-imposed 12-week ban for use of social drugs had been served, he produced a handful of eye-catching performances for new club St Helens. Fully fit and fully recharged, he's an early shout for Man of Steel.

Will it be the year of the Wire?

Ben Murdoch-Masila
2017 Dream Team back-rower Ben Murdoch-Masila has been recruited from Salford

Warrington Wolves - many folk's favourites to win a trophy or two in 2017 - slumped into ignominy and the Qualifiers after a dismal season.

But a new boss, one or two fresh new signings - including the blockbusting Ben Murdoch-Masila and former Newcastle and Gold Coast half-back Tyrone Roberts - makes them look the real deal again.

New head coach Steve Price will be expected to deliver.

Changes at the RFL

Nigel Wood
Nigel Wood departed as RFL chief executive this winter, and the appointment of his successor will be a key one for rugby league

The New Year saw the departure of the RFL's long-serving chief executive Nigel Wood and the winds of change are sweeping through Red Hall.

The Super League clubs are also making a play for more power, so these are interesting political times for the game. The game will be holding its breath that a new dynamic leader can emerge to help recapture some of the profile it seems to have lost in recent years.

Turn-around Tomkins?

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Gelling try helps Wigan beat St Helens

Wigan Warriors full-back Sam Tomkins is loved by many, loathed by the rest, but he once laid claim to being one of the game's most magical talents.

Injuries in the past couple of years have put him in the Super League and international shadows.

But after a full, injury-free pre-season he could re-emerge as a sensation this year. Wigan and England fans will be keeping their fingers crossed.

Toronto Wolfpack

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Toronto win first-ever Challenge Cup match

In 2017 they made the headlines with a historic debut season, winning promotion from League One. Now it gets serious.

The Championship will be a major test of their on-field pedigree. Leigh, Featherstone, London, Toulouse, Halifax and all the rest will relish their scalp.

Losing three of their star players - in big forwards Fuifui Moimoi, Dave Taylor and Ryan Bailey - after what appear to be off-field disciplinary problems, is not a great start to 2018.

But if they are serious about getting to Super League, and if the sport is serious about expansion into North America, it's time to deliver. It'll be fascinating to watch that story unfold.

A day out in Denver

England face up the Kiwi Haka in the 2016 Four Nations
Will England be standing before a Kiwi Haka in the USA?

When Australian promoter Jason Moore offered to back three one-off internationals between England and New Zealand over three years in Denver, Colorado, it looked unlikely to happen.

The NRL clubs, owners of most of the players who would be involved in the game, refused to agree to release those players for this year's proposed June match-up.

But it now looks likely that this year's fixture will now take place - a first fully-sanctioned rugby league international in the United States.

Watch this space, but it'll be another big step for the game into the North American market.

BBC Radio 5 live will broadcast an hour-long rugby league special on Thursday, 1 February from 21:00 GMT, with updates from Warrington v Leeds and Hull FC v Huddersfield.