My voting form for the Super League DreamTeam landed in my inbox on Monday.
The line-up is picked annually by a panel of journalists and broadcasters.
The form invites us to rank three players in each position, awarding five, three and one points; they are then tallied up and the team is revealed on the eve of the play-offs semis.
It has its flaws – not least the need to pick a scrum-half and a stand-off, when the roles are indistinguishable in most sides.
And I can’t help wonder what will happen to the loose forward role once Sean O’Loughlin follows Gareth Ellis into retirement.
But thankfully, most of the headaches came from choosing the players.
I’ve tried to enter into the spirit of it, and selected players who’ve had the better seasons, rather than go for the better players. There are no places for Jermaine McGillvary, Sam Tomkins or Chris Hill, for example, but I’d still have them in my England squad!
So, without further delay, here is how I voted...
An easy and obvious choice. The man with one of the best names in Super League has again been one of the competition’s best, and most consistent, peformers.
My second choice was Wakefield’s Scott Grix – a big factor in their improvement – and my third choice was tough.
Because those who have played the bulk of the season haven’t caught my eye, and those who have caught my eye haven’t played many games!
Voting has to be “weighted towards performances in rounds one to 23” – an important point – and with that in mind, as Tomkins only played in four of those matches, I opted for Huddersfield’s Jake Mamo, who scored 12 tries in his nine matches.
Greg Eden and Joe Burgess
Eden may be the first to admit his strike rate is down to his team-mates – and that may be true – but it’s hard to overlook the 36 tries he has plundered. Joe Burgess’ hat-trick in the World Club Challenge served an early notice of what he may do this season, and he has certainly delivered. The last spot went to Hull FC’s man-mountain Mahe Fonua, though I was tempted to include Regan Grace on his breakthrough campaign with St Helens.
Mark Percival and Oliver Gildart
This position has had a lack of quality in recent years, but not now - and how pleasing to see two young English centres emerge as real stars of our game.
The absence of Kallum Watkins from my list reflects the rising stock of these two players, rather than any dip on his part.
Percival seems to have won a few games for Saints single-handedly this year, and Gildart proved in the derby what a class act he is, in between his injury lay-offs.
Watkins, Huddersfield’s Leroy Cudjoe, Catalans’ Krisnan Inu and Cas golden-oldie Jake Webster were beaten to my third spot by Wakefield’s Reece Lyne, who has impressed me every time I’ve seen him.
George Williams is an incredible talent but his form dropped in the second-half of the season (thankfully it has picked up again) which made me lean for livewire Kelly – he has added some flash to a regimented FC. Williams was my second choice, and Joel Moon - who has done a great job since switching from centre to the halfback roles – just got my third spot, ahead of Castleford’s Ben Roberts and Salford’s Robert Lui – two of my favourite players to watch in Super League.
The architect of Castleford’s league-topping exploits, and a wonderful kicker – I imagine the Man of Steel will be a two-horse race between him and Zak Hardaker.
Liam Finn has played a big part in Wakefield’s successful campaign, and in my view, deserves second-spot ahead of Hull FC’s Marc Sneyd. St Helens’ French ace Theo Fages was also considered.
Sebastine Ikahihifo and Grant Millington
Kiwi Sebastine Ikahihifo has been hard to contain – a dominant force for Huddersfield, and their sole representative in my team. Castleford’s Grant Millington and Hull FC’s Scott Taylor complete my list, in that order, though there was little between them, and I was annoyed I couldn’t find a place for Leeds’ ball-handling front-rower Adam Cuthbertson. FC’s Liam Watts and Wakefield’s David Fifita have also had their moments.
Those who watch Leeds more regularly may disagree – I don’t know – but every time I’ve seen them play, he’s been impressive. A stand-out in a well-balanced side which has done well to climb to second in the table, just 12 months after flirting with relegation. It’s a measure of how highly I rate Parcell’s form this year that I’ve put him ahead of Paul McShane, another big component for ‘classy Cas’; Saints’ James Roby edged reigning Man of Steel Danny Houghton, of Hull FC, for the third spot.
Mike McMeeken and Ben Murdoch-Masila
‘You know the world is a crazy place’, went the saying, ‘when the best rapper is white and the best golfer is black’. And to add to that, the best English rugby league second-rower is from Basingstoke! McMeeken has kicked on since switching London for Castleford, and deservedly made his England debut in the win against Samoa in May. Murdoch-Masila is my sole Salford player in the side, and while their campaign has tailed off, he was outstanding earlier this year. Wigan’s Liam Farrell has been less eye-catching but extremely consistent, and played a big part in a brilliant left-edge at Wigan.
With the roles of ‘prop’ and ‘loose forward’ often coming under the same header of a ‘middle’ for many sides, the Wigan captain has been an easy pick in recent years.
This time, it is thoroughly deserved. He’s played 25 games for Wigan – not to mention captained England to a Test win in Sydney – and, despite closing in on his 35th birthday, his form and influence on his team are showing no signs of fading.
Hull FC’s retiring skipper Gareth Ellis is second in my list – surely he’s good enough for another year? – and the third spot was tough to choose. My instinct was to go with Leeds’ Cuthbertson, because he plays more like a traditional loose forward. But he has only played in the role four times this year (their No.13, Stevie Ward, has yet to start at loose forward) and so Salford’s Mark Flanagan completed my voting form. Salford’s nose-dive in form has coincided with his absence through injury.
Memo to the guy in control of Souths’ social media account:
Next time you’re announcing the departure of a coach - as you did on Tuesday, when Michael Maguire left despite having two years on his contract remaining - best not to end the post with:
Good luck to my friend and former colleague Greg Farrimond, who is running the Great North Run this weekend.
It’s no small feat - not for a man whose running style is somewhere between Bigfoot and Phoebe from Friends. Greg’s doing the half-marathon in memory of his uncle, the late, great Mike Gregory, who died 10 years ago. He’s raising money for the Motor Neurone Disease Association - any sponsors are welcomed, via the justgiving website and searching for ‘Greg Farrimond’. Rip and tear, Greg.
Referees are again a talking point, and not just among fans - club bosses and coaches are venting their frustration publicly.
I tend to side with Brian Carney’s view; if anyone thinks the standard of officiating is one of the game’s top-five problems, they’re deluded.
Interestingly, earlier this week I was handed a matchday programme from Oldham v Wigan, October 15, 1946. Yep - more than 70 years old. And there, on page two, under a headline ‘think it over’, is a plea for fans to ease off criticising the officials!
Ben Barba’s controversial try against Wigan reopened the debate about video referees.
Even many from the Saints camp thought it wasn’t a try - it certainly appeared less of a strip than when the ball was reefed from Tony Clubb’s grasp at Wembley, when he wasn’t awarded a try.
They were two very similar incidents, with one noticable difference; one was ‘sent up’ as a try, the other not.
The decision of the on-field referee carries a lot of weight, as the video official must find enough evidence to overturn it.
There’s an easy solution to this - give the on-field ref a third choice.
So he can signal a T with his forearms, and say, ‘try’. Or he could cross his arms across his chest, and say, ‘no try’. Or he could shrug his shoulders, and say, ‘not a clue’.