As recently as a few weeks ago, there seemed to be only one clear winner for the 2018 Steve Prescott MBE Man of Steel award: Ben Barba.
However, as St Helens and Barba have stuttered in recent weeks, the foregone conclusion which was Barba winning the game’s most coveted individual honour is not as much of a guarantee as it once was. In fact, Barba’s dip in form, plus the emergence of several others, could make this the most open race for the award in years. With that in mind, here’s a look at six of the leading contenders.
John Bateman (Wigan)
With Wigan appearing to peak at just the right time once again, the form of Canberra-bound John Bateman has been as crucial as ever. When Wigan signed Bateman from Bradford several years ago, he was earmarked as the heir apparent for Sean O’Loughlin. In reality, O’Loughlin is the one who will be playing for the Warriors next year, not Bateman – but he has almost become as important as the Wigan skipper with a series of talismanic displays. He is very much a contender for the award.
James Roby (St Helens)
St Helens’ Mr Consistent; even though the league leaders’ have faltered somewhat in recent weeks, their captain remains as important and impressive as ever. The only former winner on this list, what odds on Roby landing the award again, 11 years after his first triumph, and becoming only the fourth man in history to win the Man of Steel on more than one occasion? It’s certainly a possibility.
Bill Tupou (Wakefield)
The wildcard, the outsider – call him what you want, but there’s no doubting that Wakefield centre Bill Tupou belongs among the Man of Steel contenders this season. The rampaging Aucklander has formed a devastating partnership with England winger in-waiting Tom Johnstone on Trinity’s left-edge, and his form is beginning to be noticed by more than Wakefield fans, that is for sure.
Luke Thompson (St Helens)
It’s been a true breakthrough year for recent England call-up Luke Thompson at St Helens. The loss of Alex Walmsley for the rest of this year may have left Saints fans fearing the worst, but Thompson has filled the gap left by Walmsley tremendously. He will surely be part of England’s squad for the New Zealand series later this year – and he is in the running for Man of Steel on form.
Stefan Ratchford (Warrington)
Though Warrington have already appeared in one major final this year and are clearly a better side for Steve Price’s arrival, it’s been difficult on occasions for some to pick out a standout performer. But fullback Stefan Ratchford has been the lynchpin of the revival under Price, proving a real handful in attack as well as developing into one of the best defensive fullbacks in the competition. If a Warrington player makes the shortlist, it should be Ratchford.
Ben Barba (St Helens)
Even though his form has faltered amidst talk of a return to the NRL in 2019, Ben Barba’s presence on the Man of Steel shortlist can still not be discounted. However, it’s clear that compared to a few weeks ago, his crowning is not as much a certainly as it was when the Saints – and Barba – were flying.