Super League delivered once again in 2019.
There were some outstanding teams but also some quality individuals on show week in week out and contributors to Rugby League World magazine have pooled their knowledge to determine who were the very best.
In thre final list, first published in issue 465 of Rugby League World and now reproduced below, St Helens are represented by a staggering eight players, four of which are in the top seven!
Salford and Warrington have three players each in the list while Wigan and Castleford both have two.
The rest are made up from clubs who finished outside the top five.
When you make a list like this, it’s always worth noting those that just missed out on selection.
The four names that were closest to making the list were Mark Percival, Josh Charnley, Ash Handley and Joe Philbin.
We also reveal our first ever top ten player countdown for the Women’s Super League – a competition which once again showed why this area of the game is growing so rapidly.
As well as our Women’s RL expert Lorraine Marsden giving her opinions on the season’s best performers, we also asked some leading figure in the Women’s game for their thoughts on who had stood out in 2019.
Unsurprisingly, Leeds and Castleford, who met in both the Challenge Cup Final and the Grand Final lead the way with four and three players respectively, with St Helens, Wigan and Bradford providing the remaining players.
Disagree with our selections? Have your say by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
20 Sam Tomkins
It was a bold move for Sam Tomkins to up and leave the DW Stadium and head for France but it’s a move that, on a personal level, has worked out for him.
He was crucial for Wigan in 2018 as they won the Super League and while Catalans Dragons haven’t been as successful in 2019, Tomkins has reminded us just how good a fullback he is.
He was a big fish at Wigan, but he is an even bigger fish at the Dragons and he seems to have embraced the extra responsibility and was easily the Dragons’ best player in 2019.
Tomkins played 26 times for Catalans this year, scoring nine tries as his side finished seventh in the table.
The Dragons will have James Maloney in the halves next year and his combination with Tomkins could be an electric one.
Tomkins’ unique running style can be spotted a mile off but that doesn’t mean he’s any easier to tackle.
He’s quick, he’s elusive and his game management is excellent. He certainly knows how to win games and Championships.
19 Kevin Naiqama
One of the newcomers to Super League on this list, Kevin Naiqama was brought in as an upgrade to Ryan Morgan who was sent out on loan to London Broncos and the Fijian centre lived up to his billing.
He was already well known in this country for his exploits as Fijian captain during the 2017 World Cup, but he exceeded expectations upon arrival in this country.
He was named in the Super League dream team and scored an excellent 20 tries in 31 appearances in all competitions.
Naiqama wasn’t only quality in attack but he showed real steel in defence and his leadership qualities shone through even though the captaincy of the side rightly remained with James Roby.
The centre once again captained his country during the Oceania Cup in autumn and he was key for Fiji as they shocked Samoa.
Naiqama grabbed himself a hat-trick in St Helens’ big win away at Hull KR in April.
18 Morgan Knowles
Morgan Knowles could be regarded as one of the unsung heroes in this St Helens side.
Even in the pack, fellow members Luke Thompson and Alex Walmsley are more highly regarded but Knowles’ contribution is just as great.
He is one of the candidates for Sean O’Loughlin’s long-term replacement in the English national side alongside Wigan’s Morgan Smithies.
The Cumbrian born forward was also able to get across the stripe in the Grand Final for a classic forward’s try against Salford Red Devils.
He crossed for five other tries throughout the year in his 19 appearances in all competitions.
Knowles is a real workhorse in the middle of the field and is another St Helens forward who just loves carting the ball in at full speed, smashing holes in the defensive line as he goes.
17 Stefan Ratchford
The former Salford star is one of the best fullbacks in the division on his day.
Along with Daryl Clark, Blake Austin and, in 2020, Gareth Widdop, Stefan Ratchford is part of probably the most formidable-looking spine in Super League.
He played at fullback in Warrington’s Challenge Cup Final victory but was unable to help the Wolves advance in the play-offs after they were beaten at home by Castleford Tigers in the first round.
Ratchford has an excellent all-round game and can probably fill all the roles in the backline.
His kicking game can be used from fullback while his organisational skills take the pressure nicely off his halfbacks.
Ratchford will be hoping that he can team up with Widdop, Austin and Clark and drive his side towards their first-ever Super League title in 2020.
Their team, on paper, certainly looks good enough to challenge.
16 Jake Trueman
The amount of pressure on such a young pair of shoulders shows just what an incredible talent Jake Trueman is.
By the time the season starts next year, he will be on the verge of turning 21 but he is one of, if not the most important player in the Castleford team these days.
A season-long injury for fellow halfback Luke Gale meant all the creativity was set to come through Trueman in 2019. And while the Tigers weren’t at their potent best this year, they still managed to come fifth in the table, a respectable outcome for a team missing both Gale and their captain Michael Shenton, amongst others, for vast swathes of the season.
Trueman performed so well he was selected to tour with Great Britain by Wayne Bennett but failed to make an appearance.
He weighed in with eight tries in his 31 appearances for the Tigers.
Trueman will be partnered next season by fellow young English halfback Danny Richardson.
That partnership will be totally crucial for the Tigers next season.
If it works, they could be a force to be reckoned with.
15 Josh Jones
Josh Jones was one of the surprise packages in Salford’s run to the Grand Final in 2019.
We all knew he was a good player and would be crucial to Salford’s cause this year but not many would have forseen him being a member of the Super League Dream Team by the end of the year but that was exactly what he became.
His combination with Jackson Hastings on the left was potent. It often involved Jones charging back in at the defence on the angle, causing absolute mayhem in the defensive line.
Jones notched six tries in 33 appearances in all competitions for the club but will join Hull FC in 2020 after signing a contract with the Airlie Birds midway through the year.
14 George Williams
2019 was perhaps a quiet year for George Williams by his incredibly lofty standards.
That shows just what an exceptional player the standoff is. He’s still in the top 20 and that’s why he is travelling down under in 2020 to try his hand in the NRL with Canberra Raiders.
The Raiders’ Head of Recruitment Peter Mulholland doesn’t believe that Wigan used him correctly this season with too much of the traffic heading towards Thomas Leuluai on the right but he did say, and he’s right, when the ball did head left towards Williams, he did some great things with it.
He will need to learn to game manage a little better in the tough competition that is the NRL but there are few better runners of the ball in the game.
He’s quick, small and elusive and has an excellent short kicking game. He was crucial for Wigan last year as they won the Super League Grand Final and while 2019 only got going for the club in the second half of the year, he was still a key member of the squad.
Williams will be partnering Jack Wighton in the Australian capital next year which will see him work with another great runner of the ball with Josh Hodgson organising things from dummy half.
That should suit Williams right down to the ground and after all, they know how to turn English players into NRL superstars down there.
13 Alex Walmsley
After such a serious injury in 2018, it was great to see Alex Walmsley back playing a key role for St Helens in 2019.
The forward broke his back in the opening rounds last year but was able to recapture some of his best form for St Helens this year.
Both coming off the bench and playing in the starting team, Walmsley always has an incredible impact on the game with his large frame and hard running.
Even with St Helens’ vast array of talent, if you stop Alex Walmsley crashing through your defensive line time and time again, that’s half the battle won against the Saints.
Walmsley may have played second fiddle to Luke Thompson slightly in 2019 but that shouldn’t take anything away from Walmsley and his immense achievements in the game.
He was selected in the Great Britain side, coming off the bench for Wayne Bennett and is the best of a great bunch of players in the professional game that began in the student game.
Walmsley has been with St Helens for a good many years now after being snapped up from Championship outfit Batley Bulldogs.
12 Zak Hardaker
It’s quite some achievement for Zak Hardaker to work his way back into this list in such a short space of time.
Everyone knows the story by now. Hardaker was banned for the use of drugs at the very end of 2017, costing himself a place in Castleford’s Grand Final team.
Hardaker was sacked by the club but signed fairly quickly with Wigan Warriors to return when his 12-month ban was finished.
He re-entered the fray at the start of 2019 and after perhaps a quiet start, we saw the Zak Hardaker that made the Tigers such a force two years ago.
There weren’t perhaps the fireworks, both in a good and bad way, as there were before but he slowly went about his business and became a key cog for the Warriors as they got better and better throughout 2019.
Hardaker was brought in as a replacement for Sam Tomkins who was beginning a new challenge with Catalans Dragons and he filled that gap with aplomb.
In his 32 appearances, he chipped in with a respectable 12 tries.
It remains to be seen how Wigan will use Hardaker in 2020.
Centre is definitely an option and the former Leeds star was used there by Great Britain coach Wayne Bennett and when he travelled to the NRL to play with Penrith Panthers, he also filled in at centre there.
Wherever he plays, he’ll be vital once again for Wigan.
11 James Roby
Because St Helens have been so good in recent years, James Roby perhaps hasn’t stood out as much as he had in previous years but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s still one of the best Super League players and hookers in the world.
There isn’t anyone in the competition that’s as good as Roby at picking his moment to strike from dummy half when he sees a late retreater or defenders on the floor.
He won’t use blistering speed like Daryl Clark but his cunning and use of the ball is second to none. He knows exactly what he’s doing and normally, defenders can’t deal with it.
Most of the time, Roby doesn’t directly benefit with a try for his good work but another player such as Lachlan Coote or Jonny Lomax might finish the try off.
But if you let your guard down, be careful he doesn’t sneak over for a try from dummy half.
Roby made 23 appearances for the Saints in 2019 with Head Coach Justin Holbrook knowing when it was the right time to give his veteran hooker a rest allowing Aaron Smith to establish himself as second in line to Roby in St Helens’ hooking options.
Roby was the captain for the Saints as they won both the League Leaders’ Shield and Super League Grand Final in 2019.
Roby has just turned 34 so his career might be coming to an end but his ability with ball in hand is still as good as it has ever been.
That’s not even mentioning the man’s work rate, he regularly tops St Helens’ tackling charts playing big minutes in the middle of the field for Saints.
10 Daryl Clark
Daryl Clark has long been regarded as one of the best Super League players.
Ever since winning Man of Steel with Castleford Tigers in 2014, Clark has been up there with the best in the League.
But 2019 was perhaps the first year in which he achieved his potential with Warrington Wolves.
That’s not to say he was playing poorly in the years between but 2019 was the one where he came of age.
He also put his Wembley hoodoo behind him.
He had lost Challenge Cup finals with both the Tigers and the Wolves in the past but was instrumental in helping Warrington lift the famous trophy once again in 2019.
Clark was named man of the match and was, therefore, awarded with the Lance Todd Trophy.
More individual honours were to come the hooker’s way in 2019 as he was once again named in the Super League Dream Team for the first time since 2014.
He was also selected in both England’s World Cup 9s squad and the Great Britain touring squad although he found his minutes limited for the Lions with Canberra Raiders’ Josh Hodgson assuming the hooking role.
Clark, like many in this list, is an imperious runner of the ball. His vision out of dummy half is sensational and his dancing feet make him incredibly difficult to tackle.
9 Niall Evalds
Niall Evalds is perhaps the most improved player in Super League.
Before this season, he was admired as a player who could play both on the wing and at fullback but in 2019, he really made the fullback role his own for Salford Red Devils on their way to their first Super League Grand Final.
He showcased his incredible speed and elusiveness in scoring 27 tries in all competitions in 35 appearances for the Red Devils.
He played a crucial role for Salford as they defied the odds in 2019.
His tackle on Jordan Rankin in Salford’s Super League semi-final against Castleford Tigers will go down as one of the best tackles in recent history as he turned the Tigers fullback on his back and threw him into touch in the in-goal area.
Evalds went from a decent Super League player to a top 10 star in the space of 12 months.
The Halifax-born star is one of the players staying with the Red Devils in 2020 with many moving on to pastures new. So, there will be even more pressure on Evalds to lead his side from the back as they attempt to build on what was a special year for the club.
8 Konrad Hurrell
Konrad Hurrell’s signing from Gold Coast Titans didn’t just have Leeds Rhinos fans excited for 2019 but most of Super League was looking forward to seeing the barnstorming centre bulldoze his way through the competition.
And so it proved, Hurrell was able to showcase his immense strength and skill on numerous occasions throughout the season despite Leeds’ disappointing season overall.
Hurrell’s ability has never been questioned with ball in hand, even during his time in the NRL with both the Titans and New Zealand Warriors but like Warrington’s Blake Austin, his defensive decision-making probably meant his opportunities were limited when you consider his attacking talent.
But that, in some ways, is what Super League is all about: attacking, flair and scoring plenty of tries and Hurrell showed he has the perfect skill set to do just that.
Hurrell was named in the Super League dream team on his debut season with the club and kept his place within the Tongan side that shocked the world with their defeat of Australia in the autumn internationals.
In his 25 appearances in all competitions for the Rhinos, Hurrell managed to score 14 tries but it isn’t just his try scoring that makes him an incredible player.
His destructive ability with ball in hand is perhaps not matched in the game by anyone, let alone a centre.
He’s a firm fans favourite at Headingley and they’ll be looking forward to seeing him rip up the League once again in 2020 as the Rhinos hope to charge up the table in a fashion befitting of their centre’s running style.
7 Tommy Makinson
Tommy Makinson once again rubber-stamped himself as the best winger in Super League in 2019.
After winning the Golden Boot for his performances in the Test series in 2018, Makinson featured heavily for the Saints in 2019, ending the season as the top try scorer in Super League with 23 tries.
Not only that, but Makinson also finished the campaign as the top metre maker in the competition with almost 4,000 metres and was selected for the second season in a row, and third overall, in the Super League Dream Team.
Only an injury picked up St Helens’ Grand Final win over Salford prevented the flier travelling with the Great Britain squad and how did they miss him!
When Makinson takes the ball in, early in the set, and floats across the line, alarm bells ring in both the defensive line and on the terraces.
His sheer speed and elusiveness make him probably the most dangerous runner in the northern hemisphere and he really has an eye for the acrobatic finish as well.
He seems to have been around forever but Makinson still has plenty of years left in him at the tender age of 28.
6 Lachlan Coote
When Ben Barba left St Helens at the end of 2018 to return home to Australia, it was hard to believe that St Helens would recruit someone in his league to replace him, but they managed it.
Lachlan Coote was at the end of his career with North Queensland Cowboys when he signed with the Saints for 2019.
He’d already helped the Townsville-based side to a Premiership win in 2015 but was beginning to be left out of the squad in favour of other options.
Saints and Justin Holbrook pounced, and they’ll be glad they did.
Coote is a very different player to Barba. He doesn’t possess the same electric pace or the elusiveness but what he does have is an excellent long kicking game and an ability to control a game from fullback.
That helped St Helens enormously in 2019. It allowed Jonny Lomax to thrive once again and he weighed in with his fair share of tries as well.
Coote played 27 times in all competitions in 2019, bagging himself 16 tries in the process.
He was also included in the Super League Dream Team in his opening season in the competition.
The Scottish international was selected in the Great Britain squad and featured at fullback for Wayne Bennett’s side against Tonga.
5 Blake Austin
Blake Austin is another newcomer to Super League in this list.
Austin signed for Warrington from Canberra Raiders with the Raiders’ Head of Recruitment Peter Mulholland believing his defensive frailties were one of the reasons why they let him head for the northern hemisphere.
But as he proved this year, his attacking play is as good as anyone.
Austin scored an incredible 19 tries in his 30 games for the club this season and was in the running for both Man of Steel and Albert Goldthorpe Medal until his untimely injury midway through the year.
Austin possesses a potent running game from halfback which he showcased for years in the NRL with the Raiders and has brought with him to the Wolves.
But his talents don’t end there. Austin was selected in Wayne Bennett’s Great Britain squad and featured twice on the wing for the Lions in an unfamiliar position and performed admirably given the situation.
Warrington fans are well within their rights to be very excited at the prospect of having both Austin and Gareth Widdop as their halfback combination in 2020.
4 Liam Watts
When Castleford Tigers signed Liam Watts from Hull FC midway through 2018, it was very much seen as a risky move.
Watts’ time with the Airlie Birds came to an end amidst disciplinary problems on the field but since his move back to his hometown club, Watts’ slate has remained clean.
Not only that, but Watts has been in the form of his career, earning himself international selection for England in the World Cup 9s but surprisingly, the prop was left out of the Great Britain touring squad.
Watts has regularly made more than 200 metres for the Tigers in 2019 and was their most important player throughout the season.
The forward made 30 appearances, scoring four tries with only Peter Mata’utia featuring more.
Watts has incredible stamina for a forward, playing huge minutes in every game. He’s a destructive runner with an excellent eye for a pass as well.
His next target is to break into the full international side and if he carries on the kind of form he showed in 2019, it’ll be hard for the England coach to resist picking such a destructive and hard-working forward.
3 Luke Thompson
Luke Thompson has to be one of the best props in the world at the moment.
His performance in St Helens’ victory in the Grand Final was absolutely superb and fully deserving of the Harry Sunderland Trophy for man of the match.
Thompson has developed an incredible knack of timing his run to perfection, so he hits his dummy half’s pass at the optimum moment and speed. He then proceeds to hurl himself into the defensive line at an insane rate of knots, often leaving defenders sprawling on the floor in awe of his power.
It takes some effort to outshine Alex Walmsley in the St Helens forward pack, but he certainly did that. But in fact, he’s a very different forward to his colleague.
Thompson is the kind of forward that can play the entire game, as he proved in the Grand Final when he only left the field with three minutes to go due to cramp.
But he is also one of those really direct forwards. Some search for gaps and weaknesses but Thompson simply hurls himself into contact and it works a treat for him and his team. Thompson played 29 games for St Helens in 2019 in all competitions, scoring eight tries in the process, a pretty good return for a front-row forward.
Thompson deservedly earned himself a spot in the Super League Dream Team for the second year in a row and travelled to the Southern Hemisphere as a key part of Great Britain’s touring party.
2 Jonny Lomax
Second on the list is another halfback and one who has made an incredible transition from fullback into the halves in recent years.
When Ben Barba arrived towards the end of 2017, Lomax’ days at the back were numbered but that didn’t faze him. Now with Lachlan Coote as fullback, Lomax has not only settled into the side in the halves but is one of the most dangerous in the world.
Coote’s quality kicking game has enabled Lomax to showcase his fearsome running game throughout 2019.
He was included in Wayne Bennett’s Great Britain squad and was perhaps unlucky to be moved back to fullback instead of fulfilling his role in the halves.
Lomax made 30 appearances for his club in 2019, scoring an incredible 19 tries, 17 of which were in Super League.
The standoff may not be top of this list but League Express awarded him the Albert Goldthorpe Medal as his consistent performances lasted throughout the year pulling him away to a clear lead in the points table that has now been introduced into the Man of Steel voting to align it with the Dally M awards.
Both St Helens’ and Lomax’ challenges for next year are improving on 2019. It wasn’t a perfect year, they lost in the Challenge Cup final.
It will be interesting to see new Head Coach Kristian Woolf’s influence on the side and Lomax’s game.
For Lomax to shine, he can’t be relied upon to organise. That’s why Coote’s introduction into the team has been so crucial to Lomax’s success.
There probably isn’t a more dangerous runner of the ball out of the halves in the whole division and that is why he features so high in this list.
1 Jackson Hastings
When Jackson Hastings came to the UK at the end of 2018, it was seen as a chance for him to revive his career and has he achieved that.
He came to Super League under a cloud amid rumours of a fall out with Daly Cherry-Evans at Manly Sea Eagles. But he leaves Salford Red Devils as the man that led them to their first-ever Super League Grand Final against all odds.
They may have been unsuccessful in the final against St Helens, but they certainly gave a good account of themselves.
Hastings was absolutely pivotal for Ian Watson’s side throughout the season and deservedly earned himself the Man of Steel award ahead of fellow Australian halfback Blake Austin.
His success at club level earned him a call up to Wayne Bennett’s Great Britain and for 2020, he will be in the cherry and white of Wigan if rumours of a change of heart are dismissed.
One thing remains to be seen regarding Hastings. Can he reproduce the kind of form he did for the Red Devils now he is part of a bigger club at the Warriors?
At Salford, he was king but now he is joining a club where almost every player will believe they are too.
He certainly has the talent. His running game is strong and he organises well.
Jackson Hastings is deservedly the best player in Super League according to Rugby League World.
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