A NEW structure, new rules and new marquee signings.

2019 is here and the 24th Super League is looking like it could be one of the best yet.

Warrington Wolves chief executive Karl Fitzpatrick is about to start his third season in the top job at The Halliwell Jones Stadium.

And he says he has never been more excited at the start of a campaign – and not just because all the signs look good for The Wire on the pitch after narrowly missing silverware in 2018.

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He believes the game is heading in the right direction with the end of the Super 8s delivering certainty with fixtures for fans through to September and rule changes aimed at speeding up the game.

“The big one for me is the rule changes,” he said.

“They will not only improve the product but make it more entertaining.

“The shot clock and 30 second rule for drop outs in particular will stop the dead periods we had in games.

“Players were slowing the game down, from all clubs, and the atmosphere in the ground would really drop.

“I was speaking to Mike Cooper who is used to the shot clock in the NRL and he was saying how hard it is to defend your line again with just a 30 second break.

“So that will make a big difference.

“And the cut in interchanges will stop the big men getting long rests. It should give more opportunities for teams to create line breaks and score.

“And with the golden point coming in, it will create even more tensions towards the end of close games.

“There are lots of things to be excited about.”

Warrington Guardian:

Wire chief executive Karl Fitzpatrick. Picture by Mike Boden

For Wolves, the signs are already positive that fans are buying into the changes.

Memberships are seven per cent up, hospitality at home games is selling out and the new shirts are proving popular in the club store.

Fitzpatrick believes the end of the Super 8s has helped supporters. Now fixtures are set to the middle of September, right up until the start of the play-off series before October’s Grand Final.

He added: “It is fantastic we have that certainty with fixtures because that has been a real issue for fans. The system also rewards teams a lot more for finishing higher up the league.

“Finishing first gives you two bites of the cherry to get to the Grand Final.

“In previous years, just making the top four gave all teams an equal chance – except for a home semi-final.

“So through the year, it feels like there will be more on games to get to that top position.”

From a Warrington perspective, having two marquee signings is already making waves.

Aussie star Blake Austin is ready to make his debut on Saturday while Wolves have landed Gareth Widdop, the England half back, for 2020.

Saturday’s opponents Leeds have Konrad Hurrell and Trent Merrin while the likes of Kevin Naiqama have joined Saints and Sam Tomkins lines up for Catalan.

And the big name stars are being tipped to provide more glamour to the competition.

“We have brought in six quality signings for this year,” he said.

“Blake Austin has been much talked about and we saw a glimpse of what he could do against Widnes (in Ryan Atkins’ testimonial earlier thus month).

“He was one of our quickest over 10 metres in training and is a big man for a half back.

“He is just one of our quality signings.

“I will stick my neck on the line and say us and Saints have the two best squads in the league this year.

“Having said that, you can never discount Wigan. They haven’t recruited much but they have so much young talent.

“Leeds have recruited and they needed too, Catalans have made shrewd signings, Cas haven’t brought many people in but showed their strength against Leeds in a pre-season game and Hull are always strong.

“So there is plenty to look forward to.

“But I still believe Warrington and Saints have the best squads.

“It is going to be an exciting year to come.”