In response to a feature published on this website yesterday, League Express and TotalRL senior reporter Aaron Bower picks his own Super League Dream Team based on this season alone…
Why? Like my esteemed colleague, it’s hard to leave Hardaker out of any team we are calling a ‘Dream Team’. More metres than any other player in Super League – and by a considerable margin, in fact – and he is getting a reputation that is seeing calls for him to be England’s No.1 when the Four Nations rolls around this Autumn. While I’m not entirely sure about that, he is without doubt the best full-back the competition has to offer. Our editor, Martyn Sadler, is a huge fan, and it’s not hard to see why.
Second choice: Jonny Lomax (St Helens). When the curtain falls on his career, Lomax will undoubtedly be referred to as a player that was incredibly unlucky to never crack international level. With Sam Tomkins and now Hardaker in front of him his England chances look tough, but over 1,500 metres in Super League this year, coupled with his exciting attacking play, see him in second. He signed a new contract with the Saints earlier this year, and will be a huge part of their plans for years to come.
Why? The try-scoring charts simply do not lie. 14 tries already in Super League have seen Makinson shoot rapidly up the pecking order when it comes to deliberating an England side for later this year. That is quite a transformation, but he is part of a back division at St Helens that let their footy do the talking. I called for him to be picked for England in a debate earlier this year – I would hope my comments about him continue to stand up on merit.
Second choice: Ryan Hall (Leeds Rhinos). Widely considered to be the best winger in the world by Leeds Rhinos fans, Hall doesn’t quite make the cut for my side so far in 2014. Although he is neatly sat on 11 tries so far in 2014, his feats do not quite stack up to those of the enigmatic Makinson’s this season.
Why? Many will say he’s the best centre England have on offer, but I’d go as far as saying he is one of the very best centres in the entire world of Rugby League. Watkins has it all; that unbelievable step that can bamboozle defences, as well as pure pace to leave foes trailing behind. Assists are often a good stat to look up when researching the best centres in the league; the fact he has 10 already suggests he is the cream of the crop.
Second choice: Michael Shenton (Castleford Tigers). Unlike Joe, I think there are a few few centres who have impressed this season. That’s mainly why Michael Shenton – who has been in great form so far in 2014 – doesn’t quite get in. He has nine tries and 10 assists, which actually sits him on a par with Kallum Watkins. He has probably emerged as England’s second best centre on form so far this year, but he is outdone by an overseas player in this particular Dream Team.
Why? I’ve seen Warrington a fair few times in 2014 having covered games for League Express, and Monaghan’s switch to centre of late is really paying dividends. He is a big, strong running guy, and is an absolute terror for Super League defences to get hold of. You almost feel like he is wasted playing on the wing at times, but he is forming an outstanding partnership with Gene Ormsby on that right side for the Wolves so far this campaign.
Second choice: Jermaine McGillvary (Huddersfield Giants). It’s quite tough to separate a few centres for this final berth, with Bradford’s Adrian Purtell a close contender for the slot having stood out for the Bulls in 2014. However, McGillvary gets the nod in this instance. He has eight tries already for the season, and has made an outstanding 1,144 metres heading into Magic Weekend. Those are impressive figures for a guy who is really tough to get down, and is a real focal point of Huddersfield’s attack.
Why? Whilst Michael Shenton came incredibly close to making the cut, there was no way Justin Carney could be left out of my Dream Team so far this season. The 10 tries are enough to fit him in to be honest, but there are plenty of other stats that back up his game. For all the talk of Zak Hardaker and his amazing form, Carney has broken as many tackles as the Leeds full-back in 2014 – some going for a winger. He’s over 1,500 metres to his name as well in just 13 games, leaving little doubt over his place in the side.
Second choice: Tom Briscoe (Leeds Rhinos). I was a huge fan of Briscoe at Hull FC, but he seems to have really stepped up his game to the next level at Leeds. He’s ousted Ben Jones-Bishop from the Leeds backs, and has proven his worth since his big move across Yorkshire with some great performances. The defensive side of his game is something that really stands out; a job he does as well as anyone in the league. He provides a solid frame for a Leeds side that is notoriously tough to break down.
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats
Why? When the final whistle blows on Super League 2014, you get the feeling Jarrod Sammut could be the guy who keeps Wakefield in Super League. He has the ability to win games on his own for the side, and is such a talisman for a Wildcats team who appear to be finding some form. Although playing at full-back as well as in the halves, his off-the-cuff play was simply too irresistible to keep out of this team.
Second choice: Kevin Brown (Widnes Vikings). One of the main reasons the Vikings are pushing at the right end of Super League is down to the influence of Kevin Brown. It’s no surprise, really – he has 10 tries to his name already this year, which is a great return for a man who is usually considered a creative pivot. He’s also made over 150 tackles, which dispells the myth that halves stay out of the action in defence. An all-round hero for the Vikings, he impresses each and every week.
Why? The enigmatic Australian gets the nod largely due to the influence he seems to have over St Helens in 2014. Since arriving from the NRL he has been nothing short of superb, and has steered the club to victory in a number of key games. When the Saints were flying at the beginning of the year, many pundits had Walsh down as Man of Steel after just a handful of games. That tells you all you need to know about his impact on the division – very few overseas players make such an impact early into their career in England.
Second choice: Marc Sneyd (Castleford Tigers). It was a real toss of a coin between Sneyd and Kevin Sinfield, but the Castleford loan star gets the nod largely due to the surprise factor. When he arrived on loan at the Tigers after being frozen out by Salford’s plans for world domination, nobody would have expected the impact Sneyd would have. He has commandeered Cas around the park superbly, and Iestyn Harris must have one eye on him for 2015.
Why? Whilst the likes of Shenton and Carney have grabbed the attention for Cas this year, their forward pack has played a huge role in their success. Millington has over 300 tackles and 1000 metres to his name, and has been quietly impressive for the Tigers in 2014. Only fellow prop Craig Huby has offloaded the ball more times than Millington, and he has been outstanding throughout this campaign.
Second choice: Craig Huby (Castleford Tigers). If mentioning Millington in a potential Dream Team, it would simply be unfair to leave one of his partners in crime out of the reckoning. Huby has done it tough over the last couple of years, spending a year out of the game with a quite horrendous knee injury. He has steadily returned to the top of the game, and has emerged as one of the top props in the competition in 2014.
Why? Clark has become one of the best hookers in the division this season, and has become a real fulcrum of the Castleford side with his brilliant performance. The statistics don’t lie; a healthy six tries provide some points from the pack, whilst he has 90 runs from dummy-half to give the side some real spark in attack. Over 1300 metres to his name as well make Clark arguably the standout hooker in Super League so far in 2014.
Second choice: Danny Houghton (Hull FC). It was a real tough decision to leave James Roby out, but the top tackler in Super League simply must get a mention. He has kept Hull FC moving forward during a really tricky season so far, and continues to be mentioned for England reckoning – and rightly so, in my opinion. With the Black and Whites doing it tough, Houghton is the real shining light in their season – as he so often has been in years gone by.
Why? You could throw any cliche you want towards Jamie Peacock, but the best is perhaps that age is indeed just a number. Into his late 30s now, Peacock has really benefited from retiring from international Rugby League a couple of years ago. He has pre-season campaigns under his belt now, and is seriously reaping the rewards. No prop has made more metres in the competition than Peacock (1,587), and he gains over 10 metres with each and every carry of the ball – an astonishing figure.
Second choice: Kyle Amor (St Helens). He’s out injured at this moment in time, but Kyle Amor has made a real impact on St Helens since moving across the Pennines from Wakefield. Never taking a backward step, Amor is certain to be considered for England selection at the end of the year should he overcome his injury setback, and the Saints will undoubtedly feel the loss of Amor over the coming months.
Why? A move away from hometown club Bradford Bulls seems to have given him a new lease of life, and his record with Catalan Dragons this season has been nothing short of magnificent. Like Amor though, he has been dealt a recent injury setback lately, but only the exciting Morgan Escare has more tries in Super League this season than Whitehead. He has proven himself to be a real leader in a pack stacked with experience.
Second choice: Carl Ablett (Leeds Rhinos). Ablett is often one of the unheralded heroes of Leeds’ championship-winning sides, but let’s give him a bit of welcome exposure here. A guy who will fill in all across the park should needs be, Ablett is continuing to impress with Leeds as they set the pace in 2014. He has a remarkable 1,133 metres to his name already, and really takes the pressure off the pack when times are tough.
Why? I spoke to Bateman in the early weeks of the season, and he explained that he wasn’t expecting to play every week due to his age. Well, even if he is tender in terms of age, he is more than making up for that with his remarkable performances. Like Whitehead, a move away from Bradford has given birth to his career good and proper, and it is hard to imagine an England train-on squad for the Four Nations without the highly skillful Bateman involved somewhere down the line.
Second choice: Sia Soliola (St Helens). The most striking stat when it comes to Soliola is is hard work; he has made well over 250 tackles already in Super League this season. He will be hugely missed when he heads back home to the NRL at the end of the season, and the Saints will have a big job on their hands to replace the giant back-rower.
Why? He’s moved from the front row into loose forward, but things are still as bright as ever for Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook. His no-nonsense approach is effectively like having a third prop on the field at times, which takes the pressure off the two guys playing at prop like you wouldn’t believe. He’s on the cusp of 200 tackles (199), meaning he more than does his share of work for the team. Again, he is another whose versatility will have him on the verge of England selection at the end of the season.
Second choice: Sean O’Loughlin (Wigan Warriors). The fact he has played just five games would probably be enough to leave most people out of a team like this – but not O’Loughlin. Wigan’s reliance on their skipper is remarkable – but that is because he is a world class international forward. If the Warriors can get him back fit for the remainder of the season, there is no telling just how far they can go in 2014.
My team of the season so far
1 Zak Hardaker
2 Thomas Makinson
3 Kallum Watkins
4 Joel Monaghan
5 Justin Carney
6 Jarrod Sammut
7 Luke Walsh
8 Grant Millington
9 Daryl Clark
10 Jamie Peacock
11 Elliott Whitehead
12 John Bateman
13 Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook