THE voting form for the Super League DreamTeam arrived in my inbox this week.
Different year, same problem.
And journalists will spend the next few days asking each other, ‘Who did you have at....?’ before they send their form back.
The DreamTeam - the fictitious line-up of Super League’s best players in each position - is compiled annually by votes from the media.
But it’s become more and more difficult to fill in certain positions. Not because the players aren’t any good, but because the positions are ceasing to exist.
Take loose forward.
I’m not suggesting Sean O’Loughlin hasn’t deserved his regular place in the DreamTeam No.13 shirt – but who’s to challenge him?
Lockers may just be the last of a dying breed.
Joe Westerman at Hull FC has a bit of ‘old-style’ No.13 about him, but most of the other sides just run with an extra ‘middle’ – or prop, to you and me.
And Wigan do, too, when Lockers isn’t fit; Ryan Sutton, Larne Patrick and Dom Crosby have all played there this season, and Ben Flower has in the past.
Loose forwards are almost extinct.
And what about halfbacks. We’re asked to fill in a form naming a scrum-half and a stand-off, but is there any difference these days?
Matty Smith still remembers when he operated as a ‘first receiver’ (Leon Pryce as second) but now, it seems everyone splits the halfbacks – one controls the left, one the right. Whether the No.7 is first receiver or not depends on where the play is taking place.
There is no difference between the roles – one doesn’t have to be a ‘general’ any more, and one doesn’t have to be the more dashing of the two. They are mirror-opposites.
Which makes filling in the form a pain in the backside, given participants need to list three players in each position!
And with no guidance, there is the risk a deserving player may miss out.
For example, Leeds’ Adam Cuthbertson has had a terrific year and some of my colleagues may put down as a loose forward, and some as a prop (not to confuse the subject, but he’s been starting at hooker recently!).
Some may put Danny McGuire down as a stand-off – he wears the No.6, too – and yet he has played a lot of games at scrum-half.
What difference does it make?
Absolutely none to Leeds, because he does the same job if he’s listed at scrum-half as if he’s at stand-off.
But it makes filling in the DreamTeam form problematic. And if you see some surprise selections when the team is revealed, this may explain why.
And that’s before the usual dilemmas!
Of balancing quality of games with quantity (Todd Carney, Atelea Vea, Terry Campese all had their moments, but not enough due to injury), and the quality of the player with the form he’s shown this year – I rate Ryan Hall a better player than Jermaine McGillvary, but the spirit of the DreamTeam is who has had the bigger impact on the season (which is why Hull KR’s Albert Kelly is in there, too, though the competition for halfback places wasn’t as fierce).
Last year, one Yorkshire broadcaster would only consider players from Yorkshire teams. I’ve not been so parochial and petulant, and the absence of any St Helens players from my DreamTeam is based purely on form.
Alex Walmsley and James Roby were next in line in their positions.
It pained me to leave Wigan’s John Bateman out, but he has been operating at centre for more than two months, which swayed my vote towards his team-mate Liam Farrell, alongside the excellent Zeb Taia.
So for what it’s worth, here is my DreamTeam: Hardaker; Burgess, Watkins, Moon, McGillvary; Brough, Kelly; Hill, McIlorum, Cuthbertson, Taia, Farrell, O’Loughlin.
I PREFER this Super 8s system than the previous structure.
I like how it generated excitement before the ‘split’, how the play-offs only involve four teams, and how it engages interest in the Championship. I like how there is no ClubCall.
Sure, it’d be better if the identity of the top-four teams went down to the wire – but the RFL can’t be blamed for that. You can only engineer so much excitement; sport by its nature is unpredictable.
Still, given Warrington, Catalans and Hull FC have nothing to play for, I can’t help wonder if the RFL regret the “Every minute matters” slogan.