Castleford Tigers vs St Helens – Super League Semi-Final – Preview

It’s been six weeks since St Helens did a job on Castleford in the Super 8s and – not only did Justin Holbrook’s side do a job on Castleford – they became the first team in 13 months to topple the Tigers at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle.

And now, Saints find themselves in need of repeat performance if they are to make their 11th Super League Grand Final appearance and their first since 2014.

Standing in their way is a Castleford side who have dominated the Super League in 2017 racking up an unbelievable 50 points following the conclusion of the Super 8s. However, the Tigers, who have been on an upward trajectory since the arrival of Daryl Powell in 2013, are yet to grace the Old Trafford turf.

A victory for Castleford would see them become just the seventh side to reach a Super League Grand Final – Leeds Rhinos, St Helens, Wigan Warriors, Bradford Bulls, Warrington Wolves and Hull FC – all going before them.

Thursday night’s game is very much a case of the new kids on the block trying to overcome the established elite as the Tigers go in search of their maiden Grand Final appearance at the expense of the most experienced Grand Final team since its inception in 1998.

Squads

Castleford: Matt Cook, Greg Eden, Alex Foster, Luke Gale, Zak Hardaker, Andy Lynch, Nathan Massey, Mike McMeeken, Paul McShane, Grant Millington, Adam Milner, Greg Minikin, Junior Moors, Joel Monaghan, Ben Roberts, Jesse Sene-Lefao, Michael Shenton, Gadwin Springer, Jake Webster.

St Helens: Kyle Amor, Ben Barba, Luke Douglas, Theo Fages, Regan Grace, Morgan Knowles, Jonny Lomax. Tommy Makinson. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Ryan Morgan, Mark Percival, Dominique Peyroux, Danny Richardson, James Roby, Matty Smith, Zeb Ta’ai, Luke Thompson, Alex Walmsley, Jon Wilkin.

The big story surrounding squad news is that Luke Gale is included in Daryl Powell’s 19-man squad after having his appendix removed just a fortnight ago. Despite being listed in the squad Gale may not be feature on Thursday with Paul McShane possibly stepping into the halves or Tom Holmes maintaining his place.

Several Tigers are expected to return to the starting line-up after being rested in last weekend’s defeat to Hull FC. Greg Eden, Greg Minikin, Michael Shenton, Grant Millington and Adam Milner are all set to return however youngsters Tuoyo Egodo and Jake Trueman – who have made an impact over the past two weeks – drop from the squad.

Alex Walmsley is available for selection after he was put on report for a collision with Salford’s Jordan Walne is last Thursday’s 4-30 victory at the AJ Bell Stadium – a win which sealed their spot in the top four. Fellow forward Kyle Amor is also named in the squad after missing out against the Red Devils.

Analysis

Earlier in the Super 8s when St Helens overcame the Tigers it was a resilient, calculated and disciplined performance in a game which Castleford’s attacking opportunities were limited and Saints’ game management was excellent.

Matty Smith and Jon Wilkin were key players that night for the visitors and their experience guided Saints however with Smith out of favour with Justin Holbrook and Jon Wilkin out of favour with the Saints faithful it could be a different story as young duo Theo Fages and Danny Richardson look likely to pair up in the halves.

This youthful partnership could lack the ‘big game’ experience needed for a Super League Semi-Final. While not all of the Castleford players have featured in a big game scenario before you feel the confidence they have built this season is likely to override that inexperience.

A fast start will be pivotal in tonight’s game. As we’ve seen so many times this season Castleford can blow a side away inside ten minutes – look at their meeting with Saints in the Challenge cup earlier in the season. However, if Justin Holbrook’s men can find a ten-point advantage early on or even before half-time the Tigers nerves may come into play and we could see an upset.

Last Five Meetings

Castleford Tigers 12-36 St Helens – Mend-A-Hose Jungle – Super 8s – August 3rd 2017

Castleford Tigers 16-12 St Helens – Mend-A-Hose Jungle – Super League – June 4th 2017

Castleford Tigers 53-10 St Helens – Mend-A-Hose Jungle – Challenge Cup – May 13th 2017

St Helens 26-22 Castleford Tigers – Totally Wicked Stadium – Super League – April 17th 2017

St Helens 40-16 Castleford Tigers – Totally Wicked Stadium – Super League – September 8th 2016

Prediction: Castleford Tigers 26-8 St Helens.

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#1 – Latest in League – Unbeaten seasons, Widnes, Salford and Toulouse.

Despite a valiant effort in the second half Wigan Warriors unbeaten start to the 2017 Super League season came to an end at the hands of Lee Radford’s Hull FC.

Just a week earlier Castleford’s perfect start to the season also came to a halt after Gareth O’Brien’s drop-goal saw Salford come away with the victory at the AJ Bell Stadium.

Daryl Powell said after the defeat: “People mentioned us going unbeaten for the season – well that’s put an end to that.”

Powell’s comment alongside Wigan’s defeat this past weekend got me considering the idea of an unbeaten league campaign in the world of Rugby League.

I’d almost convinced myself that Wigan would have achieved such a feat during their glory years between 1987-1995 however after some digging around I found out they hadn’t. In fact, no side has ever gone unbeaten in the top tier of British Rugby League.

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Wigan won the Challenge Cup on nine consecutive occasions but never managed an unbeaten season. (Photo: Wigan Warriors)

 

However, it has been achieved in Australia – but not since 1959. South Sydney managed to win every game (12 from 12) in their 1925 campaign while Balmain, North Sydney, East Suburbs, and St George all achieved unbeaten seasons with the East Suburbs managing it in consecutive seasons.

Sydney Roosters and Melbourne Storm are the only sides who still have perfect records in this year’s NRL however with the quality of the competition, the effect of the State of Origin games, and the golden-point rule it is extremely unlikely a side will ever remain unbeaten for a whole season again.

Hull KR still have a perfect record in the Championship this season with seven wins from seven and if they were to manage an unbeaten season they would match the achievement of their cross-city rivals Hull FC who won the second division in 1978-79 without a loss.

However, KR will have to compete in the qualifiers at the end of the season which means facing four Super League sides reducing the chance of an unbeaten campaign dramatically. Also, going unbeaten in the Championship is no easy task ask the Leigh Centurions who suffered one regular season defeat in each of their last three seasons – Doncaster (2014), London (2015) & Batley (2016).

Toulouse Olympique came close to an unbeaten last year in the Championship One however a defeat to Rochdale Hornets in the play-offs ended their run and emphasised the difficulty of an unbeaten season.

Dewsbury Rams managed to go through the 2009 season in the third-tier without a loss and it looks like it could be in the Championship One where we see an unbeaten season in 2017 with newbies Toronto Wolfpack.

The Wolfpack have already overcome to of the stronger sides in Whitehaven and Keighley as well as knocking Championship side London Broncos out of the Challenge Cup. Toronto could very well go unbeaten this season and it seems more likely that the Canadians will achieve the feat rather than KR.

As mentioned, Salford were the side who ended Castleford’s early season winning streak and they followed that up with a clinical destruction of Widnes at the Select Security Stadium on Friday night.

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Salford destroyed Widnes this past weekend in the Super League. (Photo: Daily Star)

 

A one-sided affair was an indication of the difference in recruitment and club management between two sides who I view as very similar in Salford and Widnes. Both are stereotypically lower-mid Super League sides who competed in the middle-eights last year – with Salford surviving by the skin of their teeth thanks to Gareth O’Brien’s unforgettable drop-goal against Hull KR.

However, Salford have recruited well in pre-season and have put faith in head coach Ian Watson and it is already proving a good decision with the likes of Ben Murdoch-Masila, Lama Tasi, Junior Sa’u and coach Watson all signing new contracts this week.

As for Widnes, it seemed that they thought signing several players to long-term deals following their fantastic start last season would see them through however poor recruitment in pre-season has singled them out as possibly the weakest side in the Super League. Tom Olbison and Tom Armstrong were their only additions over the winter and Dennis Betts failed to replace half-back Kevin Brown which was proved detrimental to the start of their season.

I personally believe Salford have finally got it right with their recruitment and management off the field after years of trying but failing to climb the table but for Widnes it could be a long season with the threat of relegation possible.

I’d like to finish my first ‘Latest in League’ piece talking about Toulouse Olympique who I had the pleasure of watching for the first time this weekend as they defeated Featherstone Rovers at the Big Fellas Stadium.

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Toulouse celebrate their promotion last year. (Photo: Ladepeche.fr)

 

Toulouse returned to British Rugby League at the beginning of last season and earned promotion from League One after winning the league leaders shield before victories over York and Barrow in the play-offs.

Sylvain Houles’ forwards were extremely impressive with the likes of Sebastien Planas, Andrew Bentley, Clement Boyer, and Tyla Hepi causing the Rovers defence all sorts of issues and consistently getting their nose through the defensive line. Olympique’s offload game saw them blitz Featherstone in the early stages going 16-0 up in as many minutes.

In Mark Kheirallah they have an extremely talented full-back, clever halves with Stanislas Robin and Johnathan Ford and the powerhouse winger that is Kuni Minga.

Toulouse, I feel, can fight for promotion in the coming seasons and it will be extremely interesting to see a Super League with two French sides and how that could develop in the future.

Super League Team of the Week: Matchday 6

Castleford returned to winning ways this weekend as well as climbing back to the top of Super League following Wigan’s loss to Hull FC.

There were wins for Salford, Wakefield, Saints and Leeds while Widnes and Warrington’s winless streaks continued for another week.

But, who made my Super League Team of the Week?

Full-Back: Jamie Shaul (Hull FC)

Hull FC managed to pull of what could turn out to be a crucial victory in the chase for the League Leaders Shield as they overcame an injury-ridden Wigan side at the DW Stadium. FC had many standout performers but full-back Jamie Shaul was key.

Shaul was a constant threat in the final third having a hand in a couple of Hull’s tries as well as crossing for one himself. The full-backs try four minutes into the second half turned out to be the difference between the sides following a late Wigan fightback.

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Shaul calling the shots for FC. (Image: Sky Sports)

 

Winger: Greg Eden (Castleford Tigers)

Castleford bounced back from their first defeat of the season as they came from behind against Catalans Dragons. The Tigers style of play this season has led to their wingers featuring in many ‘Team of the Weeks’ and this week is no different with Greg Eden occupying a spot on the flank.

Eden’s first came from Castleford earning the ball back from a Catalan scrum and the winger chasing down a Ben Roberts kick. The former Brisbane winger sealed victory for Tigers as he broke through the Dragons defence with fifteen minutes remaining.

Centre: Kris Welham (Salford Red Devils)

Ian Watson’s Salford Red Devils were on fire on Friday night against a struggling Widnes side with nine different try-scorers helping them to a comfortable 10-46 victory at the Select Security Stadium.

Kris Welham was one of those scorers crossing in the first half as well as helping Greg Johnson go over on the same flank. Welham could prove to be a very strong addition to the Salford side.

Centre: Jake Connor (Hull FC)

A fantastic first half display from Lee Radford’s side saw them blow Wigan away with their attacking play too much for the Warriors. Centre Jake Connor had one of his better games in the black and white of FC.

Connor managed to score on the back of a magnificent ball from Sika Manu as well as causing problems for the Warriors defence alongside Mahe Fonua.

Winger: Adam Swift (St Helens)

Friday night’s Sky game saw Saints earn a comfortable victory over Warrington after a difficult opening thirty minutes. Winger Adam Swift went over twice for Kieran Cunningham’s side who are slowly beginning to climb the Super League table.

Mark Percival put Swift over in the closing stages of the first half and the third try in five minutes really dampened Warrington’s spirit going into the interval. The winger managed to grab his double midway through the second half and confirm victory for the Saints.

Scrum-Half: Jacob Miller (Wakefield Trinity)

Wakefield stuttered through the early stages of their game against Leigh on Thursday however once their forwards snatched control of the game half-back Jacob Miller was allowed to play and created numerous opportunities for Trinity.

Miller combined well with Sam Williams opening up the Centurions defence on the back of some quick play-the-balls. Miller was also the man to level the scores at 24-24 when he got on the end of Liam Finn’s low kick.

Stand-Off: Matty Smith (St Helens)

For weeks now we’ve heard Saints coach Kieran Cunningham point out the difference off-season signing Matty Smith would make when he returned to the side and Cunningham’s wasn’t wrong as Smith played a pivotal role in Saints 31-6 victory.

Smith controlled the game for large periods and added an organisation to St Helens that we had yet to witness this season. Cunningham will be hoping the England international’s impact carries on in the coming weeks.

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Matty Smith returned to action for St Helens. (Image: Getty Images)

 

Prop: Keegan Hirst (Wakefield Trinity)

Wakefield made some very astute signings in pre-season and one prospect was Keegan Hirst who arrived at the Beaumont Legal Stadium after two (?) solid seasons with Championship side Batley Bulldogs.

Hirst debuted this weekend and made an impact from the bench in Trinity’s victory over Leigh. Wakefield managed to claw themselves back into the game by winning the forward battle something which Hirst was central to.

Hooker: Matt Parcell (Leeds Rhinos)

For the second week running Matt Parcell sits in the role of hooker in my Super League Team of the Week after another great performance in Leeds’ 12-28 win over Huddersfield at the John Smith’s Stadium on Friday night.

Parcell has injected this Rhino’s side with something different in the final third and is proving to be one of the best Super League signings of 2017 already. Parcell was quickest to react to Carl Ablett’s low kick in the first half which extended Leeds’ lead.

Prop: Lama Tasi (Salford Red Devils)

Salford followed up their surprise victory over Castleford last weekend by signing a handful of players to new contracts with one of those being prop-forward Lama Tasi. The Kiwi displayed his commitment to the cause with an excellent performance in the Red Devils hammering of Widnes.

Ian Watson’s side, much like last weekend against the Tigers, completely dominated the ruck with forwards such as Tasi and Murdoch-Masila. Tasi powered his way over to open the scoring before eight other Red Devils would cross for tries of their own.

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Lama Tasi in action for the Red Devils. (Image: Sporting Life)

 

Second-Row: Junior Moors (Castleford Tigers)

Daryl Powell’s expansive brand of Rugby League draws a huge amount of attention to his backs however it’s Cas’ powerful pack that lay the groundwork and Junior Moors is a consistent performer for the Tigers.

Moors, who was a handful for the Dragons defence throughout Sunday afternoon’s game, also found himself on the scoresheet just five minutes into the second half as he strolled through the Catalans defence.

Second-Row: Carl Ablett (Leeds Rhinos)

Carl Ablett was sent to the bin in Leeds victory over Huddersfield for an altercation with Danny Brough. However, the experienced second-rower had already made the positive impact necessary for the Rhinos in the first half and that’s why he made my Team of the Week.

Ablett pounced on a loose ball to put Leeds ahead in the first half and he turned provider a few minutes later as his grubber kick was planted down by Matt Parcell.

Loose-Forward: Jon Wilkin (St Helens)

With Matty Smith sidelined we’ve seen Kieran Cunningham experiment with youngster Danny Richardson at half-back as well as moving Jon Wilkin into the halves. While Wilkin has produced solid performances, he was back to his best this weekend as he returned to the pack.

The veteran forward looked to have a weight off his shoulders with Smith at half-back and excelled in both defence and attack for Saints.

 


 

Warm-up games – 7/8 January

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Albert Kelly is likely to feature against his old club. (Photo: Hull FC)

 

The pick of this weekend’s warm-up games come at the KC Stadium as Hull FC host local rivals Hull KR in their first game since relegation to the Championship.

Albert Kelly, who recently signed for FC from KR, is in Lee Radford’s squad and the FC boss has revealed that Kelly will feature for at least thirty minutes on Sunday, per Hull Daily Mail.

KR could have numerous new signings on display such as Danny Addy, Jamie Ellis and Nick Scruton.Wakefield Trinity are the only other Super League side in action as they travel to the Tetley’s Stadium to face Dewsbury.

An all-Lancashire affair sees Swinton host Oldham as they both prepare for their second consecutive seasons in the Championship following survival last year. Featherstone Rovers, who featured in last seasons qualifiers, host Hunslet who struggled in League One in 2016.

Two National Conference sides feature in this weekend’s fixtures with Division One side Hunslet Warriors visiting League One Cup holders Keighley Cougars while Castleford Lock Lane host a Castleford Tigers Academy side.

Last seasons Championship runners-up London Broncos are looking to go one better this season and welcome the visit of the British Army in their opening warm-up fixture. The British Army will be using the game to prepare for their Challenge Cup tie with Egremont Rangers on 28th January.

This weekend’s fixtures in full:

Saturday 7th January

  • Castleford Lock Lane vs Castleford Tigers U19’s
  • London Broncos vs British Army

Sunday 8th January

  • Keighley Cougars vs Hunslet Warriors
  • Hull FC vs Hull KR
  • Dewsbury Rams vs Wakefield Trinity
  • Featherstone Rovers vs Hunslet RLFC
  • Swinton Lions vs Oldham RLFC

Super League-Premier League club comparison

After Widnes’ 12-18 victory last Thursday ended Wigan’s 21 month unbeaten Super League run at the DW Stadium comparisons between the Vikings and Leicester City have only continued to grow.

Even with Dennis Betts playing down similarities between his side and Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester the likeness does make you think if each Super League team where a Premier League side who would they be?

Castleford Tigers – Stoke City

Previously looked at as the ‘plucky underdog’ both Castleford and Stoke are trying to adjust to expectations following their recent success. In recent years Stoke have reached an FA Cup final and have played in Europe whilst Castleford earned a place in the Challenge Cup final in 2014 and competed in the ‘Super 8’s’.

However much like Stoke Castleford are bringing the best out of some very talented players. Luke Dorn, Ben Roberts, Luke Gale and Denny Solomona are all shining under Daryll Powell’s leadership and their continued success could see them bring in more high-profile names like the Potters have done in the Premier League.

Cas have been hit with a lot of injuries early on and they will have to show they have some squad depth and more than just a solid first seventeen something Stoke have struggled with at times.

Catalans Dragons – Everton

It seems everyone looks at Everton as if they have had a good season however inconsistency as seen them fall away from the European places and it always feels the same with the Catalans Dragons. Heading into the 2016 campaign many predicted the French side to do well this season but they’ve had a mixed start which has seen them struggle at home but win as many away games as they did all last season.

And while the Dragons home form will probably pick up it will only act as a cover for what will likely be another average season considering the names they’ve brought in. Names like Glenn Stewart, David Taylor and Willie Mason will take away from the results if they are poor.

Somehow I’m sure Catalans will lead us into believing they’ve had a hugely successful season when they finish just inside the top eight.

Huddersfield Giants – Crystal Palace

The Giants have been flying over the past few seasons but their significant slump in form at the beginning of this season is reminiscent of Palace’s fall down the Premier League table since the turn of the year. Paul Anderson’s side find themselves pinned to the bottom of the Super League table after only mustering one win from their first six games of the season.

Huddersfield have been plagued with injuries early on this season and really struggled when playmaker Danny Brough was out for two games. Brough’s absence in the Giants side leaves a noticeable gap in their attack something that Crystal Palace have had to come to terms with this season with striker Yannick Bolasie out for a large period of time.

It is still yet to be seen as to whether the Giants can turn their season around.

Hull FC – Manchester United

How many times over the past few pre-seasons have we heard “Hull FC are the team to watch this season”? Almost every time. Ever Since Fergie left Old Trafford we’ve heard the same about United “This will be the season they turn back to the United of old.” That has still yet to happen.

Hull FC have made many marquee acquisitions over the past few seasons with Hull bringing in Gareth Ellis, Leon Pryce and most recently Frank Pritchard but much like Angel Di Maria, Falcao and Memphis Depay none of them have made a huge impact. Much like United fans the Hull FC fans seem to be growing more and more frustrated with their failure to live up to expectations.

Already FC have shown inconsistency in the early weeks of the season it may just be another underwhelming season for Lee Radford’s men.

Hull KR – Newcastle United                          

Hull KR seem to be the side that season-by-season, week-by-week are slowly sliding into trouble just like the Toon have in the Premier League in recent times.

Since KR came up to the Super League their side has slowly begun to involve less and less home-grown talent and revolved around imported players in a similar fashion to Newcastle’s French overhaul. Both clubs seem to be in serious denial of the trouble they’re in and if they continue the way they are going they could well be playing in a different league come next season.

Rafa Benitez and James Webster have been brought in to steady the ships in recent weeks but it could be too much of a task for both men.

Leeds Rhinos – Chelsea

Well, I think the comparison here is easy to see. Leeds Rhinos were last season’s treble winners hailed as one of the best sides to ever grace Super League and much like Premier League champions Chelsea they’ve suffered a rapid fall from grace.

The Rhinos have struggled to come to terms with the departures of Jamie Peacock, Kevin Sinfield and Kylie Leuluia as well as injuries to key players such as new captain Danny McGuire. This has led them to have an extremely stuttered start to the season much like Chelsea suffered under Jose Mourinho when players like Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard weren’t performing.

The arrival of Guus Hiddink has turned things around at Stamford Bridge and while it is highly unlikely that Brian McDermott will lose his role at Leeds he has a lot of work to do if the Rhinos are to retain their title.

Salford Red Devils – Liverpool

This comparison has very little to do with success and fan-base but more to do with absurd spending and transfer policies in recent times. When Dr Marwan Koukash came in and starting throwing his financial weight around most Red Devils fans thought it was the start of a new era and instead what they got was a bunch of players past their prime on a lot more money than they should be. As for Liverpool’s signing history just see – Andy Carroll, Dejan Lovren, Cristian Benteke.

Jurgen Klopp has already begun to make changes for the future at Anfield and this season Salford’s acquisitions also seem to be more targeted towards the future. Players like Robert Lui and Ben Murdoch-Masila are trying to make a name for themselves and could help Salford climb the Super League table.

Heading down a more youthful path may not work for the Red Devils immediately but it certainly gives them a better foundation than in previous seasons.

St Helens – Arsenal

Saints haven’t had a bad start to the campaign but as always it feels like they are missing something, nobody can put their finger on it, but there’s something not there. Another team who has been labelled with the same criticism is Arsenal who seemed to have bottled their best chance at winning the title in almost a decade.

Both sides have quality players but always seem to be hampered with injuries. Saints’ injury list over the last 4-5 seasons would most likely be longer than most Super League clubs combined, they almost have a squad of Abou Diaby’s. Kieran Cunningham is a St Helens legend much like Arsene Wenger at Arsenal but you feel with Cunningham doesn’t start to get it right he could follow in Wenger’s footsteps and the love from the fans could slowly fade away.

However I think it would be fair to say Saints stand a much better chance than Arsenal of winning some silverware at this stage.

Wakefield Wildcats – Sunderland

Wakefield were the first side to lose their coach this season when Brian Smith walked out and this has become something the Wildcats are all too familiar with James Webster also leaving last season.

One Premier League side who are accustomed to a managerial change or two are Sunderland who it seems every season bring a new man in and just about survive. Wakefield only just managed to win the Million Pound Game last season and in all honestly their squad hasn’t really improved much like Sunderland’s. Both sides have spent the last few seasons down the wrong end of the table and its only a matter of time before your luck runs out.

Both Chris Chester and Sam Allardyce are tasked with keeping their sides in the top flights of their respective sports but it could be a lot easier said than done.

Warrington Wolves – West Ham

Tony Smith’s side had a very difficult 2015 which saw them never really find any prolonged good form however this season they’ve come out flying winning all of their Super League games so far including an opening weekend win over treble winners Leeds Rhinos.

So why West Ham? Well West Ham did well last season but were also subject to some inconsistency. However this season they have improved under Slavan Bilic and they started the season in unbelievable form knocking off Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal all away from home. The Hammers flair players have stepped up when needed this season and this is something that Chris Sandow and Kurt Gidley have managed up to now for the Wolves.

West Ham look to be on the precipice of Champions League football for the first time in their history and a top four finish for Warrington would definitely be an improvement on last years campaign.

Widnes Vikings – Leicester

The fairy tale season that Leicester City have had thus far in the Premier League seems to have inspired Dennis Betts and the Widnes Vikings as they lead the Super League winning six of their seven games so far this season.

Kevin Brown has taken on the Riyad Mahrez role in this Widnes side providing the creativity and spark going forward which has resulted in numerous assists already. With Brown imitating the Mahrez role then winger and Super League top try-scorer Cory Thompson is Jamie Vardy. Thompson has already crossed for ten tries this season after going under the radar from all pundits and fans in pre-season.

Whether Widnes can maintain this form for the length that Leicester have is a different story however.

Wigan Warriors – Tottenham

Now I’m sure Wigan fans will question this comparison with “Tottenham, they’ve never won the Premier League?” Yes, I’ll accept that one main difference is the fact that Wigan have won the Super League on several occasions and Spurs are yet to win a Premier League but there is still a chance for them this season.

A solid campaign for Spurs has been centred on great defence and a fantastic home record which is identical to Wigan even if Widnes did end their unbeaten home Super League run last weekend. If you look at both sides they both possess a lot of talented English players with Wigan boasting Sam Tomkins, Michael McIlorum, Oliver Gildart, George Williams and many more. Spurs, likewise, like to use their home-grown talent in the form of Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Eric Dier and Danny Rose.

Tottenham may be pipped to the league title by Leicester but they have sustained a solid challenge all season and that is something Wigan would like to emulate.

Super League 2016 Preview – Part One

Castleford Tigers

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Cas Captain – Michael Shenton

Castleford have been the surprise team over the past two seasons and are still riding the wave of momentum that begun when Daryl Powell took over back in 2013. Classy Cas’ will be looking to build on a Wembley and Super Eight’s appearance in the past two seasons by finally breaking into the top four of Super League.

Last season they lost a few of their big name players and whilst this season they have lost powerhouse Justin Carney they have strengthened the squad overall. Experienced winger Joel Monaghan will give the side an extra dimension with his aerial threat out wide something Cas lacked last season.

The Tigers had a lot of success last season due to the creative half-back pairing of Luke Gale and Ben Roberts who had the opportunity to create chances on the back of constant hard work from forwards like Grant Millington and veteran Andy Lynch. If Powell can get his side to repeat this formula in 2016 Castleford could really be a force and challenge for the top four.

Key Player: Michael Shenton – Cas’ Captain will need to lead from the front again for the Tigers to improve on last season.

One to watch: Denny Solomona – Solomona burst onto the scene last year with 18 tries in 15 games, expect him to build on this in 2016.

New signings: Ben Crooks, Joel Monaghan, Greg Minikin, Ryan Hampshire, Jy Hitchcox.

Prediction: 5th

Catalans Dragons

The French side have had quite a large turnaround in 2016 with a lot of players leaving but also bringing in eight new faces. Catalans finished 7th last season and this was due, in most part, to their fantastic home form. However the Dragons away form is much the opposite with the French side constantly struggling on their travels. They only managed to win two away games all season last year – both against Wakefield. If their away form doesn’t improve then there’s no chance they will challenge higher up the table.

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Richie Myler – Dragons new half-back

 

Catalans have lost numerous vital players to an array of NRL clubs such as Scott Dureau, Ian Henderson, Elliot Whitehead and Zeb Taia. However they have brought in straight replacements for the majority of their losses. Richie Myler will fill the boots of Dureau and will likely do the job well after proving himself over time at Warrington. Glenn Stewart and big Dave Taylor will bring some power and NRL experience to their pack which could prove pivotal over the season.

The new half-back partnership of Carney and Myler will have to hit the ground running if they expect to challenge in the top half of the table. However with a lot of new recruits coming into the side it could take the Dragons a while to gel and therefore delay any ambitions they have of making the top four.

Key Player: Todd Carney – Will be instrumental to everything Catalan do going forward if he can remain fit and find his best form.

One to watch: Glenn Stewart – New arrival from South Sydney expect the forward to add to Catalans already ferocious pack.

New Signings: Pat Richards, Richie Myler, Krisnan Inu, David Taylor, Pail Aiton, Justin Horo, Jodie Broughton, Glenn Stewart.

Prediction: 8th

Huddersfield Giants

The last few seasons Huddersfield have been the ‘nearly’ men of the Super League

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Top try-scorer – Jermaine McGillvary

missing out on the Grand Final and League Leaders Shield narrowly on both occasions. However the Giants have tasted success back in 2013 when they finished top of the regular season but again fell at the play-off hurdle.

 

The Giants have lost key player Brett Ferres as well as other notable players such as Jodie Broughton, Shaun Lunt and Craig Kopczak. Even though none of these players are huge losses the Huddersfield squad has thinned out due to their departures and they haven’t really been replaced. However, on a positive, Huddersfield have kept hold of star men Danny Brough and Jermaine McGillvary which means they will have a lot of power in the final third. McGillvary will be looking to retain his title as the Super League’s top try-scorer.

If the Giants are to shake the title of being the ‘nearly’ team in the league they will need to be more consistent at the back end of the season particularly in the super eights and play-off stage. However with a diluted squad this season it may be difficult for the Giants to hit the form needed come September time.

Key Player: Danny Brough – The organiser for the Giants, Huddersfield will struggle if they lose Brough at any point.

One to watch: Jermaine McGillvary – Last season’s top try-scorer and his tries will be pivotal in the Giants challenge for top four.

New Signings: Ryan Hinchcliffe, Sam Rapira, Daniel Smith, Larne Patrick.

Prediction: 6th

Hull FC

Lee Radford and co have made some serious waves in pre-season with their signings and

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FC new man – Frank Pritchard

a heavy victory over Hull KR. However it always seems that hype is built around the black and whites before the season only for them to disappoint pretty quickly. After finishing in 8th place last season Hull will be hoping this is the year that their investment pays off and they finally begin to get back to the heights of the mid 2000’s.

 

FC’s biggest signing is Frank Pritchard from the Bulldogs. The prop has tonnes of experience and will be a huge force against any other pack in the league. With the likes of Pritchard, Ellis and fellow new signing Sika Manu Hull will find themselves in better positions in attack as well as managing to toughen up in defence, something that has been a major issue over the past few campaigns.

Last season Hull FC really struggled in the creative department and Leon Pryce and Marc Sneyd will definitely need to step up and offer them something different in the final third of the pitch. With a stronger pack around them this season it is likely they will control games more often allowing them to be more expansive in attack.

Key Player: Gareth Ellis – The black and white’s captain who, if he remains fit, will be vital to improving their defence this season.

One to watch: Frank Pritchard – FC’s big recruit from the NRL Frank ‘the Tank’ will dominate in the forward line.

New Signings: Frank Pritchard, Scott Taylor, Carlos Tuimavave, Mark Fonua, Sika Manu, Danny Washbrook, Lee Smith.

Prediction: 7th

Hull KR

Hull KR narrowly missed out on the super eights last season to their cross-city rivals Hull

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KR’s Albert Kelly

FC however they didn’t lose a game in the middle eights stage. Coach Chris Chester will be looking to build on this and make the super eights stage this time around. The Robin’s were decent in spells last season but really fell when Terry Campese and Albert Kelly suffered injuries and which meant they lacked any organisation or creativity.

 

KR have struggled to recruit this winter with Shaun Lunt and Kevin Larroyer being their only notable signings. Lunt could bring another dimension when they are going forward however the Robins were strong in attack last season it was their defence that was the problem. With no serious incomings in the forwards it is likely KR will struggle again this season in defence.

The Robin’s are likely to struggle this season and it will be extremely difficult for them to push for a spot in the top eight. If Chester’s side do have serious hopes of finishing above the likes of Catalans, Salford and FC they will need to continue their decent home form as well as picking up more victories away from Craven Park.

Key Player: Terry Campese – KR missed Campese when he was injured last season his ball skills will be key to KR’s top eight challenge.

One to watch: Josh Mantellato – The Robins winger who is lethal in an aerial challenge and is guaranteed tries.

New Signings: Thomas Minns, Iain Thornley, Shaun Lunt, Kevin Larroyer, Chris Clarkson, James Greenwood, Ryan Shaw, Rob Mulhern, Will Oaks.

Prediction: 10th

Leeds Rhinos

Last season Leeds dominated domestic Rugby League winning the Challenge Cup, League Leaders Shield and the Grand Final in an historic treble. This feat was a perfect send-off for departing trio Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai. However it remains to

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Rhino’s recruit – Brett Ferres

be seen whether Brian McDermott’s men can repeat their heroics of last season having lost all this experience.

 

Brett Ferres is Leeds’ main signing ahead of the 2016 season after leaving Huddersfield in controversial circumstances. However, with the off field situation aside Ferres is a top quality player and runs the best attacking lines around. On the back of McGuire and Liam Sutcliffe he will cause mayhem for any defence. Sutcliffe will have a lot of pressure on his shoulders this season and will be expected to step up and come into his own this year, something he can definitely manage.

Even with the big losses Leeds have suffered at the end of last season their is still no doubting their is a lot of quality in the side and they still have tonnes of experience with the likes of Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow, Jamie-Jones Buchanan and Carl Ablett. If these players can help develop and nurture the younger talent in the Rhino’s ranks there is no reason they can’t go on to win trophies again in 2016.

Key Player: Danny McGuire – McGuire has huge shoes to fill as Leeds captain following Kevin Sinfield’s departure.

One to watch: Brett FerresFerres’ attacking lines will bring Leeds a lot of joy and he will help to ease the loss of Kylie Leuluai and Jamie Peacock.

New Signings: Anthony Mullaly, Keith Galloway, Jordan Baldwinson, Beau Falloon, Brett Ferres.

Prediction: 3rd

Super League Dream Team 2015

The Super League Dream Team for 2015 has been named today. The side includes four players from the Leeds Rhinos who have won the League leaders shield and Challenge Cup so far this season.

Wigan, Saints, Huddersfield and Castleford all have two players in the team. Whilst French side Catalan have one player in the thirteen.

Here is the side –

The Dream Team
                      The Dream Team

Full-back –  Zak Hardaker (Leeds Rhinos) – Hardaker is one of the three nominees up for the Man of Steel award so his position at full-back in the dream team was a no-brainer. Often marred by some off field controversies there is no doubting that Hardaker’s talent is fully deserved of a place in the side. He always seems to be involved in everything good Leeds do in attack with 10 tries and 6 try assists to his name including an absolute wonderful solo effort against Warrington. The young Englishman is also third in metres gained this season which highlights his brilliant kick-return game.

WingerJermaine McGillvary (Huddersfield Giants) – The Huddersfield winger currently sits atop the Super League try-scoring charts with an impressive 27 tries in 30 appearances this season. In fact, McGillvary has scored in all but 3 of his last 15 games including and is currently on a streak of scoring in 7 consecutive matches. This formidable run includes braces against Wigan, Catalan and Castleford as well as 4 against Warrington. McGillvary is also one of the most powerful wingers in the league as proven by his dangerous kick-returns which have amounted to him making 33 clean breaks this season.

Centre – Michael Shenton (Castleford Tigers) – Shenton makes the team for a second consecutive season as he continues to play the role of captain fantastic at Castleford. Guided by Daryll Powell he has again led his Castleford comrades to another surprising season as they finished just outside the semi-final places. Shenton has crossed the line on 14 occasion this campaign however his contribution is much more than that. He has provided 11 try assists which explains as to why Denny Solomona has the try-scoring record he does with Shenton as his centre.

Centre – Kallum Watkins (Leeds Rhinos) – There is absolutely no doubt that Kallum Watkins is one of, if not the, most exciting player in Super League right now. The Centres mix of pace, power and pure athleticism make him an absolute nightmare for defences particularly when he’s coming off service from the likes of McGuire, Sinfield, Hardaker and Burrow. Watkins has scored 15 tries this season. Early on a few claimed that they were coming against the somewhat ‘lesser’ sides in the league however since then he has gone on to score against the likes of Saints, Warrington and Wigan. Even after missing a handful of games through injury his inclusion in the side was inevitable.

Winger – Joe Burgess (Wigan Warriors) – The second winger role goes to Wigan youngster Joe Burgess who makes the dream team for the first time just before he makes his move over to Australia. Burgess is close to McGillvary with his 23 tries this season which included back-to-back hat-tricks against Wakefield and Hull KR in the Summer. An indication as to how well Burgess and fellow Wigan winger Dom Manfredi have performed is they have kept former dream team player Josh Charnley out for the majority of the campaign.

Scrum-half – Danny Brough (Huddersfield Giants) – Scotsman Danny Brough makes it into the dream team for the 2nd time after another impressive season with the Giants. Brough is vital to everything Huddersfield bring to the table in terms of their attack. Their impressive back-line with the likes of McGillvary, Murphy and Cudjoe thrives off having a player with the ability and vision which Brough does. This is why Brough has 31 try assists to his name this season, more than any other player and the reason he takes the scrum-half role in this side.

Scrum-Half - Danny Brough
Scrum-Half – Danny Brough

Stand-off – Luke Gale (Castleford Tigers) – The second Castleford player to make the side is stand-off and key playmaker Luke Gale. Gale has really stepped up for the Tigers this season making them a force to be reckoned with in attack which has led many to throw his name into the England mix-up. With 11 tries and 27 try assist from the stand-off role it is clear to see why Cas have been such a potent threat this season with Gale at the centre of it all. There is no doubting Gale will be delighted with his position in the dream team but surely the England call-up would cap his season off well.

Prop – Alex Walmsley (St Helens) – Alex Walmsley has been a powerhouse for the Saints this season and has helped force them into the semi-final places. Walmsley’s size and physical presence has allowed the Saints to bully teams in the forwards with Walmsley making the most metres out of any player this season with 4092. Not only does Walmsley hold the title for the most metres but his work ethic in getting Saints out of trouble is apparent by him having taken more carries than any other player this season. There is no wonder that Walmsley is one of the three in the running to be named man of steel.

Hooker – James Roby (St Helens) – Roby gets his name on dream team sheet for a 4th time but surprisingly its his first appearance since 2012 however his tendency to struggle with injuries has been a factor in this. Roby is thriving once again under the tutelage of the legendary Kieran Cunningham at Langtree Park. He has once again got himself over the 1000 mark in terms of tackles in defence whilst again topping the table for the most runs from dummy half. It is these well timed jinking runs that catch sides out of position to which his Saints teammates take advantage.

Prop – Jamie Peacock (Leeds Rhinos) – Leeds veteran Jamie Peacock makes the Super League dream team for an unbelievable 11th time at the age of 36. Every year the critics doubt whether Peacock will be able to meet his own high standards for another season…but yet again he’s managed it. He has been a pivotal forward in Leeds’ double, possibly triple, winning campaign thus far. He has seen off tough competition from the likes of Castleford’s Grant Millington and Andy Lynch, Huddersfield’s Craig Huby and Warrington duo Chris Hill and Ashton Sims to earn his place in the side again.

Second Row – Zeb Taia (Catalans Dragons) – The only Catalan man to make it into the thirteen is Kiwi Zeb Taia who has had another wonderful season in the South of France. Taia has managed to score 12 tries from the second-rower which is a huge contribution the the Catalan side. His stern defensive efforts have also been a major reason as to why Catalan have been such a force at home. His second-row partner Elliot Whitehead has also had a solid season down in France but may have been narrowly edged out by Taia.

Second Row – Liam Farrell (Wigan Warriors) – Farrell is the only forward for Wigan to make it into the dream team this season.  Farrell has grabbed 12 tries this season which is an indication of the threat he can provide with his immaculate line running from the second-row position. He has also been a key figure in the Warriors tough defence which is now the best in the Super League. This position, similarly to the other second-row position, could have been a toss-up between two players at the same club as John Bateman has also had a terrific season.

Loose-Forward - Adam Cuthbertson
Loose-Forward – Adam Cuthbertson

Loose Forward – Adam Cuthbertson (Leeds Rhinos) – The final nominee for the man of steel award is Adam Cuthbertson and he takes the Loose Forward role in the dream team. Cuthbertson has had an amazing season being instrumental in all Leeds’ success in his debut season. The majority of fans have been urging him to pledge allegiance to England so that Steve McNamara can call him up for the upcoming test against the Kiwis. Cuthbertson has been a major threat for all the sides with his offload game having offloaded the ball double the amount of times than any over player in the league.