XIII: Team of the season so far

Image 23Around half way through the campaign, Get ’em Onside looks at who would be in the Super League Dream Team if the season ended today…

FB: Ben Barba

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Are you really surprised? Obvious, I know, but what hasn’t yet been said about the sensational Australian full back? Justin Holbrook has the best number one in the competition playing in his team and, barring injury, Barba is a shoe-in for Man of Steel. Super League’s top try scorer, his running threat has punished teams across the competition and it is no surprise that he is being linked with a move back home. His ability to do the spectacular is written about but he is also adept at producing moments of sublime simplcity – look at his try against Widnes at Magic Weekend. In total, he has been involved in 35 tries this season, producing 19 assists to go along with 16 tries and his value to the team – and competition – shouldn’t be overlooked.

W: Josh Charnley

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While he wasn’t back in rugby league until March, that hasn’t stopped Charnley hitting the ground running with Warrington. Twelve tries in nine appearances in all competitions is a remarkable return from the former Wigan winger and, after eighteen months in rugby union with Sale, Steve Price is understandably delighted to have the 26 year old in a Wire shirt. A serious running threat and a natural finisher on the right flank, the Wolves now have potency on both flanks and will fancy their chances of silverware in 2018.

C: Mark Percival

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How he wasn’t more involved in the RLWC for England is staggering. A real threat with the ball in hand, Percival is just two tries short of teammate Barba’s record thus far in 2018 and is viewed as one of Justin Holbrook’s star men. The Widnes born centre has impressed throughout the season thus far and has done his chances of England inclusion no harm at all. While he may well have featured at centre instead of John Bateman – the man who played there in the RLWC – Kallum Watkins injury might open a berth which Percival can claim.

C: Oliver Gildart

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An impressive performer since he made his breakthrough, Wigan Warriors’ Oliver Gildart has recently penned a new three year deal with the club which could prove to be some of the best business they will do this year. Nine tries so far this season, Super League’s 2017 Young Player of the Year’s exhilarating pace has aided his team with three assists as well. His support play has also seen him feature in many more scores to help the Warriors’ climb to second in the table. Staggeringly not included in the Elite Performance Squad for England, Gildart has had to settle for a spot in the Knights setup but, if he keeps up his impressive form and consistency, international honours won’t be far away for the 21 year old.

W: Fetuli Talanoa

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The departure of Mahe Fonua concerned Hull FC fans; ‘who would be the wing threat?’ That worry will only have been confounded by the stop-start opening to Bureta Faraimo’s career with the Airlie Birds but, before injury, Fetuli Talanoa was in exhilarating form. His size and strength helped FC no end, both defensively and offensively, with twelve tries – many of them big moments in matches – helping his team remain in competition for the top four. His ability to leap for high kicks is imperious. Once he, and many of his teammates, return from injury, Hull FC will be ready to mount an assault on their path to the Grand Final and Talanoa’s return may well be timely.

HB: Danny Richardson

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It would have to be a good player to keep Matty Smith almost exclusively to bench duties – at best – this far into a season but hot prospect Danny Richardson has done just that. Some impressive performances last season has led to coach Justin Holbrook making the Widnes born youngster one of his key players in 2018 and, at the time of writing, he hasn’t disappointed. Three tries, eight assists and a league-best seventy-three kicks, the 21 year old is looking more and more like a future England international in waiting. Always playing with a smile on his face, Richardson has been compared more than once to the former St Helens half, the entertaining Sean Long. If Saints’ number 18 can keep up his impressive form over the next few years, he may well surpass the man who is one of his current coaches.

HB: Jake Connor

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You either love him or you loathe him; Jake Connor is the ‘Mr Marmite’ of rugby league. However, despite his ability to get under his opponents’ and fans’ skin, there is no doubt that the former Huddersfield Giant is one of the most talented players in the competition. Arguably a victim of his own versatility, Connor hasn’t been able to nail down one sole position yet in his Airlie Birds career and has featured at full back, at centre and in the halves such is his understanding of the game and his sheer talent. Now, however, due to the Black and Whites’ crippling injuries in their backs, Connor is getting a regular run in the halves as Lee Radford’s playmaker in chief. Six tries and six assists so far, the 23 year old is never far from the action and has often plays a key role in big games; two tries in their recent victory against Leeds Rhinos at home as well as being one of the best players on the park in last weekend’s victory over Hull KR. Radford himself has described Connor as “a horrible man” – although he is believed to have a very different persona off the field – and that alone may be what stops him being involved in next months England test in Denver against the Kiwis, a team his coach believes he would be able to “get under the skin” of. Either way, he has been one of the most impressive and consistent players in England this year with only his discipline letting him down at times, having been sin-binned twice in recent weeks. Now, however, he is thriving on the responsibility he has been given to guide Hull FC through their injury crisis.

PR: Luke Thompson

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The competition’s leading forward metre maker and second only overall to Ryan Hall, St Helens’ Luke Thompson has well and truly thrown his hat into the ring for international honours will his impressive performances thus far in 2018. Already included in the England Knights squad – who are set to tour Papua New Guinea at the end of the season – there are rumblings that he could feature in next month’s test in Denver against New Zealand. Comparisons have been drawn to the experienced former Saint James Graham and that isn’t just for the hue of hair that they share. Thompson, 23, has the no-nonsense, hard running approach to rugby league that St George Illawarra’s Graham boasts and it is clear why Justin Holbrook has made the local boy such a key part of his team this season.

HK: Daryl Clark

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The 2014 Man of Steel – won while with his hometown club Castleford – was part of a Warrington team that struggled in 2017 but Daryl Clark is back to his best this season. One of the best dummy half runners in Super League, the 25 year old has also made the most tackles in the competition with 591, 50 more than his closest rival. The workhorse is incredibly astute when on the pitch at snouting out gaps and opportunities and that attribute helped him play a key role in the Wolves’ impressive recent win at Headingley over Leeds. Sure to be involved in the Denver test – partially due to Josh Hodgson’s injury – Clark will be keen to continue his impressive form through the season as Warrington stake a very serious claim for silverware this year. Still in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup with Wigan their next opponents in that competition, Wire are currently looking one of the more impressive teams in Super League and a return to the Super 8s is almost guaranteed. If Clark can keep up his impressive showings, he will be able to guide his team into the Play Offs and, possibly, a return to the Grand Final.

PR: Liam Watts

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A player with a reputation for being ill-disciplined, the manner in which Liam Watts has settled into life with Castleford suggests that may well be misplaced. Thus far in his Tigers career, the local boy has had no indiscretions of note and has delivered a bit of mongrel to a Cas pack which Grant Millington recently admitted to Get ’em Onside possibly lacked a bit of aggression. Watts has brought that fight and punch to the Wheldon Road club and has helped the club return to good performances with their Magic Weekend victory over Leeds suggesting that they may be returning to their sensational play of 2017. Following his early season move from Hull FC, he has also brought trophy winning experience to the Castleford ranks after winning the past two Challenge Cup trophies with the Airlie Birds. All in all, it’s fair to say that Watts has been an impressive signing for the Tigers and he is proving the doubters wrong surrounding his indiscipline through performing strongly on a consistent basis for Castleford.

SR: Zeb Taia

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An impressive an consistent performer, Get ’em Onside regards St Helens’ Zeb Taia as one of the more underrated players in Super League. The former Catalans Dragon is as effective in defence as he is in offence and his ball carrying skills provide threats for his opponents time and time again. With 6 tries and 3 assists to go alongside 424 tackles (third best in the Saints ranks) he is an invaluable part of Holbrook’s team. With a high number of carries (233) and a respectable average gain, he is a man who gets through a lot of work and his partnership with Dominique Peyroux in the second row is a strong one which should continue to reap rewards for the ‘Red Vee’.

SR: Alex Foster

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The story of Alex Foster is a remarkable one; the man who is now a first choice for Castleford Tigers very nearly left the sport for good. Early in 2017 he was without a club; after signing a deal with Bradford, he was set to move north only for the club to go into liquidation. Spells with Leeds’ academy, Featherstone and London Broncos preceded that. But, without a team or income, he nearly walked away from the sport. Daryl Powell and Castleford gave him a trial with a view to earning a two year deal at the club last February and, in June 2017, that deal was penned. Scoring in last season’s Grand Final for the Tigers, last year was incredible for Foster.

Now, having been given the number 17 shirt in 2018 to replace last year’s 34, he is one of Powell’s most consistent performers and a very real try scoring threat while also being a more than capable defender. He seems to reserve impressive performances for the matches against his academy team – Leeds – and has scored five tries in six appearances against them for the Tigers. A man who gets through work aplenty, Foster is now a key player for Powell and is having an impressive season thus far for Cas.

LF: John Bateman

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It’s unsurprising that NRL clubs are interested in John Bateman; a remarkable player who has made over 150 professional appearances in the UK at just 24 years of age. Reports have emerged this week suggesting that Canberra Raiders have agreed a deal with the twelve time England international and, despite Wigan’s desire to maintain the player’s signature on a marquee contract, it seems inevitable that Bateman will get the chance to follow his NRL dream. While strictly not a loose-forward, Get ’em Onside simply felt it vital to get Bateman into this XIII – a man with a never-say-die attitude and a ferocious competitor, the former Bradford Bull would walk into any Super League team. Boasting the highest number of carries in the Wigan ranks while also having a respectable tackle count, the man is a bonafide workhorse for his team. He does, however, also boast impressive attacking skills as showcased by his finish for his Magic Weekend try against Warrington Wolves. Currently enjoying an impressive 2018 campaign, he, as one of Wigan’s key players, must keep up his performances to aid his team’s quest for silverware.

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