Super League XXII is barely two months finished whilst the World Cup ended just a week ago, yet fans are already purring at the thought of Super League once more returning in February. And, is there any reason why? Rugby League throws up surprises each year and, with every passing season, the entertainment and skill levels on show seem to somehow increase. Why can 2018, therefore, be a step above 2017?

More competitive

Last season witnessed Castleford Tigers take the league by storm, finishing top by a record ten points and earning the plaudits of neutrals and pundits alike. Although Leeds Rhinos turned it on when it mattered to record their eighth Grand Final victory, the year was one which, on the whole, belonged to the Tigers.

2018 however, is surely destined to be a wholly different affair. Though the Tigers have made signings that are an improvement on those whom they are replacing - Garry Lo for Joel Monaghan for example - the gaping hole left by tearaway Zak Hardaker could prove too large and disruptive for the Tigers to replicate their stunning 2017 form.

Warrington Wolves endured a pathetic season in 2017, finishing ninth and having to secure their top-flight status via the "Middle 8s Qualifiers". In a clearout that Shires Removal would have been proud of, the Wolves sacked head coach of nine seasons, Tony Smith, and replaced him with former St George Illawarra coach, Steve Price, whilst nine players have also been shown the door as the club look to rebuild. With a wealth of NRL experience signed on for next season including the likes of Tyrone Roberts and Bryson Goodwin, the Wolves simply cannot be as bad as they were in 2017.

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Although not performing half as badly as the Wolves, Wigan were still below par in 2017. Although a World Club Challenge title is nothing to be scoffed at, this was the only trophy that the Warriors won. And, with head coach Shaun Wane only guiding the Warriors to one Challenge Cup and two Grand Final victories since taking over at the end of 2011, the pressure will be on Wane to bring the club back to the top. If he can't do the job, I'm sure chairman Ian Lenagan will find someone who can.

St Helens, towards the back end of the 2017 season, improved drastically under new boss Justin Holbrook and almost made the Grand Final despite being below average for most of the year. With marquee signing Ben Barba enjoying a full pre-season and forward Alex Walmsley and stalwart James Roby in the form of their lives, many are tipping Saints to pick up where they left off in 2017 and to be amongst those challenging for a top spot too.

Back-to-back Challenge Cup winners Hull FC will also be pushing their standards higher in 2018.

After disappointing play-off results in recent years, the Airlie Birds will be looking to finally take the league by storm after performing so well in the cup. And, with half-back partners Albert Kelly and Marc Sneyd singing off the same hymn sheet and the likes of Liam Watts and Scott Taylor ready to once more overpower their opponents, the black-and-whites will be aiming to go one better than their third-placed finish in 2017. Though Gareth Ellis' retirement is a big blow, FC have a more than capable squad to ease this loss.

Yet again Leeds Rhinos are likely to be there or thereabouts in 2018 too; another Grand Final victory in 2017 was a perfect send-off for the retiring Rob Burrow and the Hull KR-bound Danny McGuire. With Richie Myler replacing the latter and Brad Dwyer likely to be Burrow's replacement, Leeds are not in too bad a place. Brian McDermott rode the storm of the early season woe - indeed a 66-10 hammering by local rivals Castleford proved the catalyst for the Rhinos' march to second place - and will once again take the side into 2018. Though unpopular amongst many Leeds' fans, McDermott has won four Super League titles, two Challenge Cups and a World Club Challenge and clearly has the support of CEO Gary Hetherington. With 2016 a minor blip in their recent stunning form, Leeds will prove to be a fearsome challenger as any in 2018.

The signs are also looking good for Wakefield Trinity. After a brilliant 2017 - where they finished fifth - the club have recruited excellently for 2018. The former Catalans' forward Justin Horo and the monstrous Pauli Pauli, will both don the Trinity jersey next season and could prove to be very shrewd acquisitions, and, with no one yet confirmed to be leaving, Trinity are finally in a state of stability in Super League after a few questionable seasons. Head coach Chris Chester and director of rugby John Kear have formed a formidable partnership to get Wakefield rolling on the pitch whilst chairman Michael Carter - a true "heart on his sleeve" kind of guy - appears to have turned the club's fortunes around off the field, though there is still the large elephant in the room regarding where Wakefield will play in the future. A settled roster and backroom staff and exciting signings could push Trinity even further to the top in 2018.

Whilst both finished in the top eight in 2017, Huddersfield and Salford will be wanting to go one better in 2018. With Giants' fullback star Jake Mamo hopefully fit for February, and with head coach RIck Stone finally getting the players ticking midway through 2017 to escape the "Middle 8s" as Huddersfield failed to do so in 2016, things are looking up for the West Yorkshire side. And, the Giants could well prove to be an entirely different proposition in 2018 with a settled side littered with stars.

Salford, meanwhile, have witnessed something of a turnover in players. With eight leaving - including half-backs Michael Dobson and Todd Carney and powerhouse Ben Murdoch-Masila - and with Marwan Koukash announcing his handover to a club trust, Salford will have to go some to replicate their 2017 form and finish fourth in the regular season (though they eventually finished seventh in the "Super 8s"). But, they are coached by former Welsh international Ian Watson whom has instilled a tight and genuine bond between the players, whilst new signings like Fijian international Ben Nakubuwai and Australian half-back Jack Littlejohn have bags of potential. Salford are likely to be just as competitive next season, though it remains to be seen how much of a loss Murdoch-Masila and Dobson will be.

Although Steve McNamara only just ensured Catalans Dragons' Super League survival in the Million-Pound Game in 2017, the French club surely cannot be as poor in 2018. The Dragons should be a top four side; with a brilliant stadium and facilities to match and money in abundance, controversial chairman Bernard Guasch will not tolerate a replica of 2017. He is right not to; with players in their ranks such as Luke Walsh and Jason Baitieri, Catalans should improve and be nowhere near the bottom in 2018.

Can Widnes be more competitive than 2017 where they finished bottom of the table? Perhaps, especially if half-back Joe Mellor is fit and firing on all cylinders, but they are unlikely to finish in the top eight. As are newly-promoted Hull KR, but, having taken the Championship by storm in 2017, they could provide a shock or two.

Exciting signings

If a more competitive league does not scream excitement, than a host of new signings surely does. Castleford have gone for power in the shape of Joe Wardle, James Green and Mitch Clark whilst PNG icon Garry Lo has the ability to get supporters and pundits on their feet. Catalans have followed in the Tigers' footsteps with the likes of Samisoni Langi, Benjamin Jullien and Antoni Maria - all devastating players when at the top of their game.

There will also be a host of NRL stars join Super League. Leeds Rhinos' Nathaniel Peteru, Wakefield's Pauli Pauli, Wigan's Gabriel Hamlin and Warrington's Sitaleki Akauola are huge forwards who can change a game in an instant, whilst half-backs Tyrone Roberts (Warrington) and Jack Littlejohn (Salford) have the potential to take Super League by the scruff of the neck.

Danny McGuire still has a lot to offer in Super League and will be the man whom Hull KR will rely on to stay in the top flight. Hull FC's Bureta Faraimo looks yet another monster on the Airlie Birds' wing, following in Mahe Fonua's footsteps, whilst Micky Paea - no stranger to Super League - makes FC's pack an even scarier prospect to face than it was in 2017.

Widnes have defied their lowly finish in 2017 by making some quality purchases ahead of 2018. PNG forward Kato Ottio demonstrated how much of an impact he can have on the field in the World Cup and the Vikings will be looking for some more of this magic in Super League, whilst, Krisnan Inu, though disappointing for Catalans in the past few years, can bring a lot to Widnes in terms of skill and experience and could prove to be one of the Vikings' most destructive players.

Salford's Ben Nakubuwai joins from Gold Coast Titans tipped to have a bright future. And. Red Devils' fans got a glimpse of the Fijian in the recent World Cup; a powerful, no-nonsense forward is what Salford have been missing in recent years, well, not any more. Levy Nzoungou - formerly of St Helens and Toulouse - also has a presence about him and alongside Nakubuwai could really excite the Salford crowd.

A buzz

There seems to be a buzz surrounding Rugby League at the moment. From the excitement of the World Cup, fans are gearing themselves up for the beginning of February in anticipation of yet another season following their beloved side. Whether, as a fan, you were disappointed or overjoyed by your team's performance in 2017, look ahead to 2018; what could possibly be in store for your team in the new season? This is the time of year when fans from every team are riddled with optimism at their team's prospects for the upcoming season. Yet, this upcoming season will be different from the rest; it is genuinely hard to predict where teams will finish in the league in 2018. And, this is what will make 2018 the most exciting season yet.