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.

 


 

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Super League Team of the Week: Matchday 5

Another enthralling weekend of Super League action saw Castleford and Wigan fail to win for the first times this season. However, Wigan’s draw keeps them top of the Super League table.

Hull FC and Leeds continued to chase the pacesetters while Warrington and Widnes remain winless.

But, who made my Team of the Week?

Full-Back: Morgan Escare (Wigan Warriors)

Morgan Escare arrived at the DW Stadium in the off-season with a lot of pressure on his shoulders being tasked with the role of filling in for an injured Sam Tomkins however he has adapted to life at Wigan extremely well.

The French full-back crossed in the first half to level the score for the Warriors before kicking two goals including a crucial late penalty goal which earned Wigan a point and meant Shaun Wane’s side are now alone at the top of the Super League table – one point clear of Castleford, Hull and Leeds.

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Morgan Escare kicks a late goal for Wigan. (Photo: Stephen White – CameraSport/Getty Images)

 

Winger: Jack Owens (St Helens)

Since signing from Widnes at the beginning of the 2016 season Jack Owens is yet to set the world alight at St Helens but this weekend his try earned them an important two points in the south of France.

While Theo Fages’ sublime offload made the try Owens was in support to earn Saints’ second victory of the season and inflict Catalans’ first home defeat in 2017.

Centre: Kallum Watkins (Leeds Rhinos)

Leeds made it back-to-back Super League wins with a controlled performance over an in-form Wakefield Trinity side with centre Kallum Watkins scoring twice for the Rhinos.

The Englishman climbed highest from a cross-field kick to open the scoring at Headingley before taking advantage of some neat play from Matt Parcell for his second of the game. England fans will be hoping he can return to the kind of form he displayed in 2015 particularly with the Rugby League World Cup at the end of the season.

Centre: Ben Crooks (Leigh Centurions)

Ben Crooks has been a victim of Castleford’s ever-growing success and has slowly been ousted from the Tigers side however he has shown the quality he possesses since signing a loan-deal with Leigh.

Crooks was solid in defence throughout Leigh’s first victory against Warrington in over twenty years and scored the Centurions second try of the game which really got them moving. The centre took advantage of the free-play rule before collecting his own kick and sliding over.

Winger: Mahe Fonua (Hull FC)

After a slow start against the Vikings it turned out to be a relatively comfortable victory for Hull FC at the KC Stadium and winger Mahe Fonua was on the scoresheet for Lee Radford’s side.

Fonua began the evening as provider taking Marc Sneyd’s cross-field kick well before offloading to Albert Kelly. The roles were reversed later when a neat pass from half-back Kelly found Fonua on the flank and the wideman finished well giving FC an eight-point lead going into the break.

Scrum-half: Albert Kelly (Hull FC)

Albert Kelly’s move across Hull from KR to FC turned some heads in the off-season but he is already proving to be a great addition for the 2016 Challenge Cup winners and was central to their victory over Super League strugglers Widnes this past Friday.

Kelly crossed for two tries in a game which Lee Radford’s side dominated. The half-back’s first came on the back of some good work from Fonua before Kelly again crossed in the second half powering his way over from close-range. Kelly was the most dangerous man on the field for FC scoring twice and earning an assist.

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Albert Kelly celebrates vs Widnes. (Photo: Hull Daily Mail)

 

Stand-Off: Gareth O’Brien (Salford Red Devils)

Salford Red Devils half-back is continuing to turn heads in the world of Rugby League ever since his drop-goal in the Million Pound Game and O’Brien again stepped up this weekend with a one-pointer to consign Castleford to their first defeat of the season.

O’Brien kept his cool late on kicking a penalty goal, after missing an earlier conversion, to draw the sides level before slotting over a drop-goal with just over two minutes left on the clock.

Prop: Gareth Hock (Leigh Centurions)

A remarkable 22-8 victory for Super League newbies Leigh over Warrington was fuelled by prop-forward Gareth Hock who rolled back the years with a terrific performance at the Leigh Sports Village.

The former Wigan and Salford forward was solid in defence and took the ball up well but it was actually his try-scoring which propelled Leigh to victory this weekend. Hock powered over to open the scoring inside the first ten minutes before crossing again in the second-half to help Leigh reach their highest ever Super League points tally.

Hooker: Matt Parcell (Leeds Rhinos)

The departure of James Segeyaro at the backend of the 2016 season left a void in the Leeds Rhinos camp however the arrival of Matt Parcell from NRL side Manly has proved to be a fantastic signing for Brian McDermott’s side.

Parcell was pivotal to everything the Rhinos did going forward in their comfortable win over Wakefield with McDermott saying post-match “My man of the match would be Matt Parcell – I thought he was outstanding.”

Prop: Adam Cuthbertson (Leeds Rhinos)

Leeds prop Adam Cuthbertson is renowned for his offloading prowess but this weekend he added try-scoring to his attacking game as he helped his side to victory against Leeds.

Cuthbertson forced his way under the sticks in the second half against the Wildcats all but sealing victory for the Rhinos.

Second-Row: Ben Murdoch-Masila (Salford Red Devils)

Last weekend Salford were left ruing missed chances in their narrow defeat at Wakefield and nobody would have felt as responsible as Ben Murdoch-Masila who failed to ground the ball correctly in the final minute costing his side the victory.

However, he made up for it this weekend as he twice crossed helping Salford become the first side to beat Castleford this season. Murdoch-Masila was too much for the Tigers to handle on their own line with the big man proving too strong for full-back Zak Hardaker.

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Ben Murdoch-Masila in action for Salford. (Photo: Sky Sports)

 

Second-Row: Anthony Mullally (Leeds Rhinos)

Anthony Mullally has been a fringe player at Headingley over the past few season spending time on dual-registration with Championship side Featherstone Rovers however an injury crisis at Headingley has given the 25-year-old an opportunity and he has taken it with both hands.

Mullally was on the scoresheet this past weekend for the Rhinos powering his way over on the back of a clever inside ball from hooker Parcell. Mullally will be hoping he can cement a permanent place in McDermott’s side.

Loose-Forward: Joel Tomkins (Wigan Warriors)

Joel Tomkins seems to get overlooked a lot recently with the exploits of brother Sam and Wigan’s strength in the forwards but this weekend he looked back at his best for the Warriors.

Tomkins as ever was strong in defence and a real threat going forward for Wigan and helped to inspire a Warriors pack ravaged by injuries.

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.

Leeds Rhinos 10-12 Warrington Wolves – Match Report

Leeds’ life as treble champions got off to a losing start as they fell 10-12 to Warrington at Headingley.

Many questioned how Leeds would cope without Kevin Sinfield and had they had him on the field they may well have come away with at least a point as Zak Hardaker pulled a late penalty wide of the posts to make it 12-12.

Chris Sandow was impressive for Warrington scoring the first try of the game as well as playing a crucial role in the second with an extremely accurate cross field kick. Ben Currie caught the ball and set up Kevin Penny in the corner.

Brad Singleton and Ryan Hall were on the scoresheet for Leeds. Hall finished off some fantastic off-the-cuff play after Joel Moon broke the Warrington tackle and stepped through the line. However Rob Burrow could have won the game for Leeds with eight minutes remaining but couldn’t get over the line, this before Hardaker’s missed penalty.

Kurt Gidley, Jack Hughes and Joe Westerman all debuted for Warrington with Gidley earning himself the man of the match and kicking two goals. Brett Ferres and Keith Galloway made their first competitive appearances for the home side.

New Warrington signing Gidley said: “This was probably one of the most resilient team performances I’ve ever been involved in.”

He added: “It’s a great one to kick off the season with away to Leeds last season’s treble winners.”

We were instantly reminded of the hard-hitting nature of the Super League from Tony Smith’s side. First Ashton Sims flew in with a big shot on Leeds full-back Hardaker as he returned the ball from a Sandow kick. This was followed Ben Westwood catching Hardaker with a possibly shoulder charge which went unnoticed by referee James Child.

The home side had the better of the early stages earning three back-to-back sets on Warrington’s line as Rhys Evans twice knocked on from interception attempts. However his efforts did prevent two certain Leeds tries. McGuire would force a goal line drop-out not long after with a clever kick which Matty Russell needed to palm out of play.

However McGuire’s evening was soon cut short as he left the field after just thirty minutes and wouldn’t return due to injury. This seemed to have an immediate affect and Warrington went on the ascendancy.

Brad Singleton would commit a high tackle on Sandow as he sprinted for the line which gifted Warrington a repeat set and the Wolves made the most of it. Sandow received the ball before throwing a dummy and using his pace to get through the gap in the Leeds defence and to the line.

Hardaker kicked the ball out on the full from the resulting kick-off and Warrington went into the break in the lead.

Leeds came out and managed to pull themselves level after just six minutes of the second half. Singleton powered his way over from ten yards out. Ten minutes later the Rhinos managed to put themselves ahead for through winger Hall. Joel Moon broke before finding Jordan Lilley with a brilliant pass he then found Hall who bundled his way over in the corner.

However Warrington soon replied themselves. Sandow let go an inch perfect kick across field which Ben Currie collected before throwing the ball wide the Penny who finished the try with ease. Gidley’s conversion put the Wolves two points ahead.

The Rhino’s had chances to earn something from the game in the dying minutes. Rob Burrow broke but failed to finish with Currie managing to bring the hooker down a few yards from the try-line.

Currie would then give a penalty away with four minutes remaining and Leeds chose to kick for goal. However Hardaker skewed his effort wide and failed to earn the home side a point in the opening game of the season.

Leeds: Hardaker, Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall; Sutcliffe, McGuire; Galloway, Burrow, Cuthbertson, Ferres, Ablett, Delaney.

Subs: Singleton, Garbutt, Keinhorst, Lilley.

Warrington: Russell, Lineham, Evans, Currie, Penny; Gidley, Sandow; Hill, Clark, Sims, Hughes, Westwood, Westerman.

Subs: Dwyer, King, Jullien, Cox.

Referee: J.Child.

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.

Match Report – Leeds Rhinos 18 vs 32 St Helens

A returning Jon Wilkin scored Saints’ final try and managed to guide his side to their first win in the Super 8’s stage of the Super League as they defeated Leeds 18-32 at Headingley.

Wilkin said: “The last months been really tough for the club and we’ve had some real bad results but it’s done us well.”

He added: “In tough times you learn more about yourselves and this bad spell has done us a lot of good.”

Coach Kieran Cunningham said: “Jon [Wilkin] really gives us that X-Factor as you’ve seen tonight.”

Leeds were brought back down to Earth after their record breaking triumph at Wembley last weekend. This is the second consecutive season that Saints have defeated Leeds following their Challenge Cup success.

Saints dominated the majority of the first half after scoring an early try through Tommy Makinson which was followed midway through the half by a try from Josh Jones. However Leeds did grab two tries of their own through Jimmy Keinhorst and a 39th minute effort from Mitch Achurch. A Luke Walsh penalty was the difference between the sides at the break.

Wilkin's try confirmed Saints' victory
Wilkin’s try confirmed Saints’ victory

Cunningham’s side started the second half just as brightly. Walsh added to his first half penalty when he stepped over the line, this was followed by an Adam Quinlan try. However Saints couldn’t bury Leeds just yet as Ryan Hall finished off a typical breakaway Rhinos try.

It was Wilkin who wrapped the game up for St Helens when he scored his 100th career try in the final minutes on his return to the first team. Saints managed to earn their first win since the league split which now gives them a four-point cushion in the final semi-final place.

Cunningham said: “We came with a lot of intent tonight and it wasn’t the perfect game for us but we forced errors from Leeds.”

He added: “It’s a daunting place to come especially after their win last week so its a real big win for us.” 

Man of the Match Walsh said: “We’ve had a real tough onth and we really needed that win tonight and it was a real good team performance.”

Leeds were without three members of their cup final winning team as Rob Burrow, Zak Hardaker and Kallum Watkins all missed the game through injury. The Rhinos do maintain their position at the top of the Super League however.

Saints wasted no time in taking control of the game as they put themselves ahead after just two minutes. An uncharacteristic knock-on from Danny McGuire allowed Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook scoop up the ball before slinging it out wide. Makinson ended up with possession and managed to squeeze between the touchline and defenders to score.

Veteran forward Jamie Peacock did pick up what looked like a nasty head injury in the early stages however he did return to the field. Leeds began to settle eventually scoring themselves just past the fifteen minute mark, Returning Centre Keinhorst managed to evade the challenge of Swift before getting to the line. Keinhorst did miss the Challenge Cup final last weekend after a twelve-game run in the side.

However Leeds’ early game nerves seemed to have resurfaced as Luke Garbutt and Adam Cuthbertson failed to communicate leading to the kick-off bouncing out for a goal line drop-out. Garbutt then followed this up with a high tackle seconds later.

Saints took advantage of being gifted three consecutive sets on the Rhinos line by regaining their lead. An untidy pass from James Roby managed to get recovered, picked up and thrown out wide. Centre Jones managed to force his way over despite the best efforts of young Leeds full-back Ashton Golding. Walsh would follow this up with a penalty goal giving Saints an eight point lead.

Leeds did manage to put themselves within one-try of Saints just before the interval though, A quick play-the-ball from Holding allowed Achurch to jump from Hooker and score. He did bundle over Holding in the process and only just managed to ground the ball but the video referee judged that there was no interference and there was sufficient pressure on the ball to give a try.

The visitors soon re-established their lead on the other side of the hooter through Walsh. The half-back opted out of the cross field kick and went himself stepping through the Leeds defenders to score and earn Saints their eight point lead again.

This was followed by a period off tough and rugged defence from both sides, Leeds trying to stay in the game whilst Saints attempted to prevent any Leeds pressure. Just before the hour mark Saints extended their lead and gave themselves a bit of buffer in terms of the scoreline, A sublime inside offload from Travis Burns was hit at pace by full-back Quinlan who raced to the line and crossed relatively unchallenged.

Even with Saints extended their lead Leeds continued to battle and it paid dividend when they crossed with ten minutes left. Kevin Sinfield collected a Tom Briscoe offload before breaking and giving the ball to Hall who went in under the sticks.

However Wilkin did eventually round the game up for Saints when he capitalized on a loose ball to score his 100th career try on his return to first team action.

Saints now travel to Castleford next week looking to confirm their semi-final place. Meanwhile Leeds face the tough test of travelling to Catalan.

Leeds: Golding, Briscoe, Keinhorst, Moon, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; Garbutt, Cuthbertson, Peacock, Ablett, Ward, Delaney.

Interchanges: Leuluai, Achurch, Singleton, Lilley.

Saints: Quinlan, Makinson, Percival, Jones, Swift; Burns, Walsh; Amor, Roby, Savelio, Wilkin, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Turner.

Interchanges: Walmsley, Flanagan, Richards, Greenwood.

Referee: James Child Video Referee:    Attendance: