Phil Wilkinson selects his '˜Dream Team' for 2018
It's that time of year when rugby league journalists phone each other and say: 'What position has such-a-body played most games in?'
Yep, the voting forms have landed for the Super League Dream Team - the fictitious XIII picked by a panel of reporters and broadcasters.
I’m flattered to have been asked again.
It’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to, and I’ve tried hard to enter into the spirit of the concept - it’s about who has had the biggest impact on the season.
Once again, we are asked to pick three players in each position, ranked 1st to 3rd, and weight our selections on form before the Super-8s began.
Once again, we must differentiate between stand-offs and scrum-halves - even though the majority of sides split their halfbacks, left and right - and pick a loose-forward, a role indistinguishable from other middles at most clubs.
And, once again, I found some positions (full-back, hooker, wing) had a lot more quality candidates than others (centre, halfback).
So, for what it’s worth, here is how I voted for the Super League Dream Team 2018:
1. Ben Barba (St Helens)
2. Sam Tomkins (Wigan)
3. Stefan Ratchford (Warrington)
Yes, Barba’s form has nose-dived but until then he was sensational and made a huge impact on the early stage of the season. After a lot of thought, I still put him 1st, ahead of Tomkins who has been steadier, if less spectacular - keeping in-form Ratchford in third spot.
1. Tommy Makinson (St Helens)
2. Josh Charnley (Warrington)
3. Tom Johnstone (Wakefield)
Shaun Wane called the derby try which Wigan conceded just before half-time as “soft” - but I’d argue it was a quality play from the Saints man, typifying his strong campaign. Charnley has been impressive; Johnstone just edged Tom Davies into my third spot.
1. Bill Tupou (Wakefield)
2. Bryson Goodwin (Warrington)
3. Mark Percival (St Helens)
Tupou has impressed me every time I’ve seen him play, and was my stand-out first pick. Goodwin has given Super League good service in his first season, and Percival, in my view, has been ahead of Oliver Gildart and Hull KR’s Junior VaiVai to claim third spot.
1. Jake Connor (Hull FC)
2. Jonny Lomax (St Helens)
3. George Williams (Wigan)
This may be my most contentious pick but Connor has figured in 21 matches - some at centre, more at stand-off - and I felt he deserved recognition for being a stand-out in a struggling FC side, which earned him a deserved England call.
1. Josh Drinkwater (Catalans)
2. Danny Richardson (St Helens)
3. Jake Trueman (Castleford)
I was torn between the top-two, because the Saints half has sparkled and kept Matty Smith out of the side. But Drinkwater played a massive role in transforming Catalans’ fortunes since his arrival in April. Hull KR’s Chris Atkin just lost out to Trueman, Luke Gale’s understudy.
1. Luke Thompson (St Helens)
2. Remi Casty (Catalans)
3. Tony Clubb (Wigan)
Thompson, because he has enjoyed a great season. Casty, because he is so hard, he gets away with wrapping plumbing tape around his head! Some of the usual contenders (Chris Hill, Scott Taylor) have been less impressive; Tony Clubb has been an unsung hero for Wigan.
1. James Roby (St Helens)
2. Paul McShane (Castleford)
3. Micky McIlorum (Catalans)
There were some very strong contenders for the No.9 shirt, but I’m comfortable with this selection. McIlorum and McShane have both had stellar campaigns, but I can’t look beyond the Saints hooker - will he rival Barba for the Steve Prescott Man of Steel?
1. John Bateman (Wigan)
2. Kenny Edwards (Catalans)
3. Matty Ashurst (Wakefield)
Wigan’s first representative in one of my No.1 slots... at least I can’t be accused of club bias! Bateman walked into the spot after an outstanding campaign; the rest - with no Ben Currie - were harder to split, with Castleford’s Oliver Holmes and Wigan’s Liam Farrell just missing out.
1. Sean O’Loughlin (Wigan)
2. Greg Bird (Catalans)
3. Adam Milner (Castleford)
Garry Schofield polarises opinion, but many will agree with his comment this week that “if O’Loughlin played every week, he would be head and shoulders above everyone else as Man of Steel. Sensational.” Milner just shaded St Helens’ Jon Wilkin in my top three.