Castleford Tigers – Paul McShane
Paul has got the comfort of knowing where his future lies for the next five years. You’ll see the best of him now. Daryl Powell will know there are still mistakes in him and he sometimes goes for the champion play too often, which we saw in the semi-final against St Helens and in the Grand Final with Leeds. But it’s not a hard thing to fix up. Otherwise, he is a class player and has everything you need for a dummy-half. His service is good, as is his kicking. He puts the opposition in two or three minds, which is what you want from ball players. He’ll soon be knocking on the door for an international place, maybe when James Roby retires.
Catalans Dragons – Michael McIlorum
He will be their big player and his presence will make a much-needed difference to the Dragons. People are still surprised Wigan let him go, because he struck you as the first name on the team sheet. Being at the Catalans is a great challenge for him and they need a hard head like his because they haven’t been professional enough in the last few years. They’ve been sloppy and they play to only a fraction of their potential when they cross the Channel. They need someone like him to sort out their attitude, not just in games, but on a daily basis. Like Paul McShane at Castleford, he is a very good dummy-half, and even though they have Paul Aiton, you can never have too many good hookers.
Huddersfield Giants – Jordan Rankin
It’s a big season for Jordan. He appears settled at the Giants and it looks like he wants to play halfback. I don’t think he’s quick enough for a fullback, so I’m looking forward to seeing him play in the halves all season. Hopefully he will take on the main responsibility from Danny Brough, because that’s what the Giants need someone to do. They need more than Broughy’s kicking game, so it’s time for someone else to stand up and I think Jordan is the man to do that. If he can get the best out of the players around him, then they can make the top eight. Either way, he will be key.
Hull FC – Mark Minichiello
Everyone knows Gareth Ellis will be missed, so every forward needs to add an extra two per cent to their game to compensate. Minichiello sometimes goes missing for a portion of a game and he needs to sort that out, because he needs to be more consistent. He’s not in Gareth’s class, but he is capable of playing more minutes and getting his level up to an eight out of ten every week. If he does that, then they will go some way to compensating for the absence of Ellis.
Hull Kingston Rovers – Danny McGuire
You won’t be surprised at my choice here! Danny will be central to everything they do in Super League this year. He needs to be patient and not get frustrated at the lack of class around him, compared to what he’s been used to at Leeds. He won’t go 70 metres for a try anymore, but he proved in the Grand Final that he is still an absolutely top player. The dynamics of being at a lower club are totally different and everyone will have to make sure he gels with them and vice versa. If they get it right, they will go well in 2018.
Leeds Rhinos – Joel Moon
I’m not convinced that Richie Myler is the answer for Leeds, so Joel Moon will have a lot to do this year. They need an organiser and, while it’s not Moon’s natural game, the responsibility will fall on his shoulders. They’ll still play the boring stuff in their own half, apart from the odd offload from Adam Cuthbertson or Anthony Mullaly, but in the opposition half it will be Moon who will have to create. There are no problems with his individual play because he’s a very talented player.
Salford Red Devils – Robert Lui
They’ve lost Michael Dobson and Ben Murdoch-Masila, so Robert will have to find team-mates who can step up the mark and make the most of his talents, like McGuire at Hull KR, and that will determine whether he has a very frustrating season or a very good one. He’s shown he can communicate and organise and there’s no doubting his ability. This will be a tough year, but I’m confident he can emerge as their key player. I think they’re too good to come last, but a lot rests on him.
St Helens – Ben Barba
The fullback jersey is all his now after he showed his class at the end of last season. He’s used to his team-mates and coach now, and he knows how they want to play. He’s a genuine marquee player and has the ability to have everyone on the edge of their seats when he gets the ball. He’ll really thrive under Justin Holbrook with their new-found style of play. I think St Helens will have a great year and he will be central to most of the good stuff they do.
Wakefield Trinity – Tyler Randell
When I saw him make his debut last season, he reminded me of Benny Elias! I’ve kept a keen eye on his since, and he confuses the opposition out of dummy-half. He’s as quick as any hooker I’ve seen for a long time. Coach Chris Chester will let him play how he wants to play. If defences aren’t alert, he will have a field day. I’m very much looking forward to seeing this kid play every week because he impressed me no end last year. Wakefield have got a diamond here.
Warrington Wolves – Daryl Clark
It’s time for Daryl to get back to his Man of Steel form and I’m hoping Warrington’s new coach Steve Price can get him back to that. He likes to play the full 80 minutes because his fitness, ability and attitude have never been in question. He wants to play off the back of quick play-the-balls, playing what he sees. I’m hoping Price has seen videos of Clark playing for Castleford and that he lets him play like he did then. England have lots of good hookers, and Clark is capable of being right up there with them. He will thrive under a new coach.
Widnes Vikings – Matt Whitley
I like Matt, as he always impresses me when I watch Widnes. He needs to get an eight out of ten standard every week, but from what I’ve seen he’s enthusiastic and committed enough to do that. He’s a good, solid second rower, who defends superbly.
Wigan Warriors – Sam Tomkins
This is a huge year for Sam! The biggest of his career, in fact! He’s done nothing since he came back from the NRL, but moving back into the halves may be the thing that sparks him. If Wigan open up a bit and if Sam gets his combination right with George Williams, then things may go well for the Warriors this year. He needs to take the pressure off Williams, but he must also allow him to take over when he wants. I don’t doubt his natural ability, so I think he will be able to switch positions and benefit the team.