My voting form for the Super League Dream Team dropped into my inbox this week.
A panel of journalists and broadcasters rank their three best players in each position - the points are added up, and the fictitious line-up is revealed.
This year’s voting form again posed two problems. Firstly, making a distinction between a ‘scrum-half’ and ‘stand-off’ is a stretch, when most (if not all) clubs split them left and right, just like wingers, centres or second-rowers.
And secondly, picking a loose-forward when most clubs use a prop in that middle role. That may partly by why Sean O’Loughlin has had a monopoly on the Dream Team No.13 shirt in recent seasons, though given he has played just 18 games this season, he may well miss out this time.
When picking a DreamTeam, it’s important to enter the spirit of it.
Three years ago, a colleague of mine earned the wrath of an Australia official when he picked Scotland’s Matty Russell in his World Cup Dream Team ahead of Billy Slater!
This is not about which player is the best, it’s about who has impressed.
Who has caught the eye, who has made an impact. Players from the bottom four clubs have been considered because organisers have asked it to be weighted towards rounds one to 23.
Incredibly, a Yorkshire reporter last year made no apologies for picking only players from the White Rose county – there are no club, or regional, loyalties here (the absence of any Saints players is down to form). So, for what it’s worth, here’s how I voted, and why...
Jamie Shaul has been terrific for Hull FC, and not even sentiment could propel Luke Dorn into the role. But they both miss out to Rhys Hanbury, who played a key role in helping Widnes into the top-tier of the Super 8s. Jonny Lomax (St Helens) has impressed. Sam Tomkins has suffered partly through injury, and partly for setting his own bar so high.
Not only is Castleford’s Denny Solomona is on the brink of matching Lesley Vainikolo’s record for Super League tries in a regular season. But many have been spectacular aerial efforts over the corner flag - he walks into one spot, with Wigan’s all-action, hard-running Dom Manfredi taking the other berth.
I’m a big fan of Justin Carney and Jermaine McGillvary, and Adam Swift has done well, but Widnes’ Corey Thompson gets my nod for the third spot.
Recently, there’s been a desperate lack of quality centres (highlighted by John Bateman switching to that role for England last year). Hull FC’s barnstorming Mahe Fonua walks into one role – what a capture he has been for the competition – with Wigan’s Anthony Gelling taking the other. Ryan Atkins takes my third spot,ahead of Jimmy Keinhorst (Leeds) and Junior Sa’u (Salford)... though I would have opted for St Helens’ Mark Percival but for injuries.
Others, surely, would make a case for Kurt Gidley, and I’d have no issue with that. He’s added guile to a free-scoring Warrington side, but I’ve still opted for Wigan’s George Williams.
He has flourished this season, adding life to an attack which has often misfired, and kicked well. Widnes captain Kevin Brown would have taken the third role, had it not been for a soft-spot I have for Salford’s Robert Lui, who brought the fun-factor to their performances earlier this year.
These three were easy to pick, but the order could easily be rearranged. Mark Sneyd is a Lance Todd Trophy winner and an impeccable kicker, even if his style is unorthodox. Luke Gale has helped fire a Tigers side which has again punched above their weight, and Chris Sandow has turned from wannabe pie-smasher to dazzler this year. The Wolves man has just taken my No.7 shirt.
I’m a soft-touch for a good nickname, and so this position could easily be filled by Dave ‘The Coaltrain’ Taylor, Frank ‘the Tank’ Pritchard and ‘the Wrecking Ball’ Frank-Paul Nuuausala! But I’ve gone with Chris Hill and Scott Taylor, who have helped their clubs into the top-two. For the third role, I’ve opted for Taulima Tautai, arguably the most improved player this year. He has an error in him, but he often finishes well in credit.
Many people thought a hooker should have won the Lance Todd Trophy at Wembley. I agreed... though I thought it was Daryl Clark, rather than Danny Houghton, who deserved the man of the match. Both have enjoyed good seasons, both get places here (though voting for this team is weighted on form until the end of July). I’m not getting carried away by Houghton’s tackle count – opponents run at him because he is dwarfed by the props standing next to him! – but his try-saver on Ben Currie was exceptional, while Clark has now found his feet at Warrington. James Roby takes my third spot, he hasn’t been noticed as much because he’s been so good in past campaigns. An honourable mention to James Segeyaro, who has made a huge impact at Leeds.
Easy. Ben Currie, John Bateman. Two outstanding forwards who I hope earn Eng land honours at the end of the season. Bateman has recovered from his enforced summer sabbatical, and while Currie’s impact has faded at spells, he turns up in the big games. Catalans’ Glenn Stewart takes the third role, just ahead of Hull FC’s workhorse Mark Minichiello, with an honourable mention to Salford’s Ben Murdoch-Masila.
Gareth Ellis is enjoying an Indian Summer in his career and given he has started the majority of games at loose forward (19), he gets my role. Sean O’Loughlin’s role in the side doesn’t change much but, being pedantic, of his 18 appearances this year, three have been at prop and five at stand-off. Warrington’s Joe Westerman and Saints’ Louie McCarthy-Scarsbroom have had their moments, but Jason Baitieri has been an unsung hero for Catalans.
My Super League Dream Team:
Fonua (Hull FC)
S.Taylor (Hull FC)
Ellis (Hull FC).