With around eight weeks till the 2018 Super League season commences, journalists and bloggers alike are conjuring up lists of players likely to have a huge say on where the silverware ends up – so why should here be any different?!
This piece will, as I said, look at some of the players who already have Super League experience and will be looking to kick on and guide their respective teams to glory in the upcoming campaign.
The first man on the list is Leeds Rhinos’ dynamic hooker Matt Parcell. Initially signed in early 2017 as a replacement for the ‘homesick’ James Segeyaro who, after deciding he didn’t want to return to West Yorkshire after half a season with the Rhinos, left the Headingley team with a huge gap to fill in the number 9 shirt. Without much fanfare, Parcell was signed up off the back of 21 appearances during his time with Brisbane and Manly and nobody could have predicted how successful he would be in his maiden Super League season as he became one of the key parts of the Leeds team which recovered from a calamitous 2016 by winning their eight Grand Final. He bagged 17 tries for the club while also completing in excess of 1000 tackles for the team in blue and amber, two statistics which saw him earn a 2017 Dream Team shirt. With club legends Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow having departed the club now, it is vital that players like Parcell direct the team around the park and ensure standards of professionalism and skill don’t drop in their absence as the Rhinos aim to build on their superb record in the Super League era – and one can only suggest that Parcell will build on his own superb start in the Leeds shirt.
A player who we didn’t see the best of in 2017 is St Helens’ Ben Barba. Having arrived from rugby union team Toulon mid season, the Australian full back was banned from playing for the Saints due to an NRL imposed ban of twelve matches which was handed to him towards the end of the 2016 season when he represented Cronulla Sharks. However, when his debut arrived, Barba wasn’t as electric as many hoped he would be and, logically, that should be attributed to a lack of match practice so, as the season came to a close and the Lancastrians pushed for a Grand Final place, Barba’s undoubted ability came to the fore. His running threat, improvisation and creativity saw St Helens finding holes in opposition defences and they can count themselves unlucky to not have made it to the Grand Final after a superb run of form at the season reached it’s climax. Indeed, with a full pre season under his belt, Barba will no doubt be a serious threat from day one of the 2018 campaign and many experts’ opinions that he is a likely Man of Steel contender shouldn’t be too far from the mark. Personally, I feel that the Saints are the favourites to win the League Leaders’ Shield with Barba’s form and ability vital to that – either way, he will definitely be a treat to watch.
An electric and unstoppable force on Castleford’s left flank in 2017, full back-cum-winger Greg Eden finished just one try short of a club – and Super League – record as he bagged forty throughout the season and the question on many lips is whether the former Brisbane Bronco will be able to deliver the same prolific form once more. After setting the game of rugby league alight with a scintillating style of play, teams started to work out how to stop the Tigers with St Helens pushing them so very close in last season’s semi final and Leeds outplaying them in the Grand Final and it is vital that Daryl Powell evolves his team’s style in order to stay in the upper reaches of the competition. Indeed, there had been rumours this winter that Eden may have to drop to full back to replace Zak Hardaker following his drug related suspension but, following Powell’s confirmation that Samoan Ben Roberts is to slot in there, Eden can continue to focus on his superb understanding with both Michael Shenton and Luke Gale who provided so many assists for the winger in 2017 – something which must continue in 2018 if Castleford are to improve on the last campaign.
Coming off the back of a superb RLWC campaign which saw him earn the player of the tournament award, Huddersfield winger McGillvary will need to get back to the day to day job of scoring tries for his hometown club following England’s agonising defeat to Australia in the final. After scoring 127 tries in 183 appearances for the Giants there is no doubting his pedigree or ability but his team finished a lowly 8th last season after a very disappointing campaign – following winning the League Leaders’ Shield in 2013, the Giants have been rather disappointing. However, the man affectionately known as ‘Jerry’ now has to deliver in Super League in the same way that he has been seen playing Down Under and, at the age of 29, needs to fulfil the role of an experienced head in the squad and guide the team to succeed. The Huddersfield fans will be hoping for much better in 2018 and, for that to occur, McGillvary must transfer his sterling international form back to the northern hemisphere.
2017’s top metre maker, Alex Walmsley made his England debut in the RLWC where, after missing the first match, he featured in every other game and was part of a bruising pack of forwards who pushed Australia all the way in the final. After starting his career at Batley Bulldogs, St Helens fought off a clutch of Super League clubs to get Walmsley’s signature and he has since become one of their most effective players. Indeed, this winter has seen him linked with an NRL move such is his ability with ball in hand as well as defensively. However, he is set to stay at the Totally Wicked Stadium for another year at least and coach Justin Holbrook will be delighted at that. Staggeringly, following a highly impressive season Walmsley found himself without a place in the 2017 Dream Team but – if he keeps up the good form he showed last season – he will be very unlucky to not earn a shirt this season. Saints will go very well again in 2018 and the form of Walmsley will be a huge part of that as they aim to reach Old Trafford again.