So, the weekend where the whole Super League family head to the North East has arrived as St James’ Park prepares to host the twelfth annual Magic Weekend and, in readiness of the showpiece rugby league bonanza, Get ’em Onside has picked out one player to look out for in each match.
Don’t worry, it isn’t necessarily the usual suspects…
Toronto Wolfpack v Toulouse Olympique (Sat, 12:30)
One to watch: Liam Kay, Toronto
While the headlines have been drawn to the Canadians following the impressive acquisitions of the likes of Darcy Lussick, Gareth O’Brien and Matty Russell, Liam Kay has arguably been Toronto’s most impressive and most consistent recruit in the club’s very brief history. Becoming the club’s first signing and the first of their large ex-Leigh contingent in 2016, Kay has gone onto boast a record of better than a-try-a-game in his time with the Wolfpack. His form and finishing ability earned him a RLWC spot for Ireland last winter and, if the ball makes it’s way to the Canadian’s left edge, one would certainly expect Kay to cause some damage.
Widnes Vikings v St Helens (Sat, 15:00)
One to watch:
Ben Barba Luke Thompson, St Helens
Ok, we all know Ben Barba is top quality, so I’m not being as predictable as that.
His fellow Saint Luke Thompson, however, has had such a strong start to 2018 that he is being dubbed a future England international, quite possibly for next month’s Denver test against New Zealand. Such is his all-action aggressive style and ginger hair comparisons have been drawn with former St Helens prop James Graham – a ringing endorsement, it’s fair to say. In a match you would expect the league leaders to dominate, it is often through the middle that a team asserts its’ control over their opponents – something Thompson and his fellow packmen have done throughout the season. In the absence of Kyle Amor, Thompson will be the senior prop in St Helens’ line up and he will be keen to make an impact on the biggest stage yet in 2018.
Wigan Warriors v Warrington Wolves (Sat, 17:30)
One to watch: Harvey Livett, Warrington Wolves
In the first of two heavyweight clashes on day one, Wigan and Warrington will take to the field as the two 2016 Super League Grand Finalists face off and both teams come into the weekend in good form. The Warriors have won ten of their last eleven in all competitions but have lost already to Warrington this season (a 16-10 defeat in February). Wire have won ten in a row in all competitions and their last superb league match saw Harvey Livett, their young back rower, cross for a hat trick to beat Leeds Rhinos 33-22. Very soon after the match, coach Steve Price confirmed the club were going to offer the 21 year old a new deal to replace his current one which expires at the end of the campaign. A player also adept at playing in the centres, Livett also has a decent kick in his armoury which has offered another dimension to his team’s attack. The clash with Wigan promises to be one of the best and tightest matches of the weekend and Price will be hoping Livett can deliver another strong performance to help his team to victory.
Castleford Tigers v Leeds Rhinos (Sat, 7:30)
One to watch: Jack Walker, Leeds Rhinos
It is fair to say that Leeds’ coach Brian McDermott has a tricky job on his hands; managing two highly rated young full backs who both believe they should be the team’s premier number 1. Those two are of course Ashton Golding, last May handed a five year deal, and Jack Walker, three years younger at just 18 years old and the wonderkid who usurped Golding at full back towards the end of last season. Starting in the Grand Final against Saturday’s opponents perhaps indicated that McDermott believes Walker to be his best option at full back and, as many a highly regarded voice in rugby league have revealed to Get ’em Onside, his potential is frightening. Nothing has seemed to faze him yet in his professional career and the dynamic full-back will be hoping to star in his maiden Magic Weekend as the Rhinos aim to take advantage of the injury hit Tigers as they seek to hit back against their West Yorkshire rivals following their 25-24 defeat to Cas in March.
Salford Red Devils v Catalans Dragons (Sun, 13:00)
One to watch: Tony Gigot, Catalans Dragons
After a poor start to the season, perhaps due to the vast majority of their squad being absent due to RLWC involvement, Catalans seem to be improving. Perhaps the two Challenge Cup wins against, granted, Betfred League One teams has given them confidence but, either way, their victory over Hull FC raised eyebrows. They also avoided an expected drubbing at St Helens and, now, they face a struggling Salford team in Newcastle. One of the Dragons’ key players is Tony Gigot who, after a bit of back-and-forth with authorities over drugs issues, returned to the fold at the start of this season. Following the off-season signing of David Mead, French international Gigot slotted in at centre as opposed to his previous full-back berth and he has impressed for the club. Seeming to have gained more composure and discipline recently, his drop goal proved the difference in their victory against Hull FC and the Frenchmen will be hoping that they can capitalise on Salford’s low confidence – Gigot will be key if they are to win.
Wakefield Trinity v Huddersfield Giants (Sun, 15:15)
One to watch: Liam Finn, Wakefield Trinity
What has been apparent recently is that Wakefield need Liam Finn in their team. The vastly experienced half-back is key to the way that Trinity play and, in a recent defeat, his absence was noticeable. His kicking game and discipline marry up marvellously with fellow half back Jacob Miller’s off the cuff, improvised style of rugby league and they, therefore, should start together in the halves for the Belle Vue outfit as they face Huddersfield in a re-run of last weekend’s Challenge Cup clash. Huddersfield won that one and, while they are still waiting for new head coach Simon Woolford to arrive at the club, Chris Thorman will take charge as Super League heads to his hometown. Finn and Co. will be hoping to spoil his weekend.
Hull KR v Hull FC (Sun, 17:30)
One to watch: Jake Connor, Hull FC
If both teams had their full teams available for the derby, I would certainly be backing Hull FC to win this game at a canter. The Airlie Birds have, however, been decimated by injuries and suspension with plenty of first team stars set to miss Magic Weekend. Those players include Albert Kelly and Marc Sneyd – the team’s first choice half backs – as well as, after their match last Thursday against Featherstone, Carlos Tuimavave, the man who stepped into the halves alongside Jake Connor. The man everybody who isn’t an FC fan loves to hate will have huge responsibility on Sunday evening; the Airlie Birds have recruited Liam Harris from Doncaster and the youngster will probably make his Super League debut in the halves with Connor and the latter will need to show discipline and control to guide his team over the line it what looks, now, a tricky clash. If he manages to do so, Hull FC will win – Connor, while an irritant, is a player you would love on your team; a constant wind up merchant, he certainly has the talent to back it up. St James’ Park is the stage where he will need to show it to it’s fullest.