11 April 2021

Breaking Down the England Squad - by Mark

Shaun Wane has named a 35-man training squad as we move within 200 days until the start of the 2021 Rugby League World Cup. 

It includes 7 NRL based players and 28 Super League based players, and there are obviously some World Cup hopefuls who've missed out too. And there's bound to be some changes of Wane's thoughts as well as in injury status and form before the final 24-man squad is announced for the end-of-year tournament itself.

I'm going to go through the 35 players, and some of the omissions, saying who I would expect to see in the final 24 and why.

The current in-crowd

John Bateman 
Age: 27 Position: backrow England Caps: 16 Club: Wigan Warriors
Nailed on for the final 24, obvious starter at right second row, and likely captain under Wane. He was the best backrower in Super League in 2018 and in the NRL in 2019, plus Great Britain's stand-out in their otherwise woeful 2019 tour. He came back strong from injury in 2020 and is the SLP voter's favourite to be Man of Steel this year.

Tom Burgess
Age: 28 Position: prop England Caps: 25 Club: South Sydney Rabbitohs)
As a starting prop for a leading NRL contender, he has to be in the final 24. He's going well to start the year, averaging 126 metres per game. Very experienced internationally too with 25 games for England. If I'm picking the side, he's in the matchday 17 and he'll go past 30 caps if England go all the way to the World Cup Final. 

Daryl Clark
Age: 28 Position: hooker England Caps: 8 Club: Warrington Wolves
Rumoured to be wanted in the NRL. Twice in the Super League Dream Team. A strong defender and potent attacker, with exceptional speed. So he clearly has the quality. The real question is does Wane want an option who offers something different as his third hooker, as you have to think there's room for just three in the final 24. I would have him in for the explosiveness he offers, if the tactics of Hodgson and Roby aren't working out.

Mike Cooper
Age: 32 Position: prop England Caps: 8 Club: Warrington Wolves
Since he came back from the NRL he's been brilliant for Warrington and he would thoroughly deserve a World Cup spot that he missed out on in 2017. If he plays this year how he has played the last few, Cooper would be in my final 24. Depending on form and needs during the tournament he could then be on my bench.

Ben Currie
Age: 26 Position: backrow England Caps: 6 Club: Warrington Wolves
He was a real emerging star for England in the 2017 World Cup, although the last year or so hasn't been his peak form. Based on his quality, you'd have to say he has to be in the squad, but he would be behind Whitehead and Bateman in the conversation as a starter. Although, I think Shaun Wane might go with just one specialist back-up backrow forward in his 24. That would make it between Currie and Liam Farrell for the final 24 spot. On form, right now, Farrell would edge it. Things could change by October, it would be very hard to leave out an in form Ben Currie from the squad.
 
Niall Evalds
Age: 27 Position: fullback England Caps: 0 Club: Castleford Tigers
I've always liked Niall Evalds when he was at Salford and I can't see him being any different this year at Castleford. Great support runner and try scorer, with good speed and evasiveness, plus decent positional defender. But he wouldn't be in my England World Cup squad. He doesn't offer the same utility value as some of the other back up fullback options, and spoiler for later, Sam Tomkins would be my clear first choice right now for the number 1 shirt. Evalds is some distance behind Tomkins in the race for first choice, and probably most people's fourth or fifth choice, as good as he is.

Herbie Farnworth
Age: 21 Position: centre England Caps: 0 Club: Brisbane Broncos
He might not play for one of the top sides, but Farnworth has made himself an NRL regular, and any NRL regular is a great chance of being in the World Cup squad. He can and has played in all the three-quarter roles for the Broncos right across the backline. There's still some defensive naivety in his game but he's making himself noticed more and more with the ball, over 150 metres per game in the NRL this year with a couple of try assists too. I'm not sure I'd start him, but I'd have him in my 24.

Liam Farrell
Age: 30 Position: backrow England Caps: 10 Club: Wigan Warriors
If you're reading this, it's possible that you already know how much I love Liam Farrell. He is as consistent a performer as you'll find in Super League. Wayne Bennett seemed to think he couldn't be the same at international level. Shaun Wane knows everything he can get out of Farrell and will surely trust him to play at the next level up. It all depends on how many specialist backrowers Wane will want in his final 24, and the form and fitness of Farrell and Currie going in if he thinks three specialists is enough.

Luke Gale
Age: 32 Position: half back England Caps: 9 Club: Leeds Rhinos
He's one of only three halves that Shaun Wane has announced in his train-on squad. So on that basis, he has to be in with a really good shout of making the final 24, as you can't see Wane going into a World Cup with just two halves in his squad. For me, he's definitely raked third out of the three, behind Williams and Lomax. I'd probably choose Gareth Widdop and Jake Trueman ahead of him in the squad too. He wouldn't be the pivotal player to an England side now that he was to Castleford in 2017 and to Leeds now. He might just about have the best kicking game of the options for England, but all round he's not the best option for me. He wouldn't be in my final 24.

Oliver Gildart
Age: 24 Position: centre England Caps: 3 Club: Wigan Warriors
Gildart is supremely talented and we saw from his England debut that he can perform at the next level up. Injury playing for Great Britain in 2019 was a real shame as he looked one of GB's better performers at the point of injury. If he had played out that tour, possibly we would have been talking about him as nailed on in the left centre spot for England in this World Cup. As it is, he might not even make the squad. I expect one of Gildart or Percival to start, but the other will only then be in the squad if Wane wants a specialist centre as back-up. I'd have them both in, as both can cover the wings too in a pinch. Form will dictate which one starts if they're both fit for selection.

Josh Griffin
Age: 30 Position: centre England Caps: 0 Club: Hull FC
Griffin has had another strong start to the season for Hull FC. Although I think we've seen that before. The last strong finish to a season he had was at Salford running in to the Million Pound Game in 2016. He does give me the impression of a Shaun Wane player with his powerful uncompromising style, although Wane has often wanted a bit more flair from his outside backs with the middle being more about grunt. I think he'll just miss out, with the quality of left centre options being so high right now, and those ahead of him having international experience already.

Ash Handley
Age: 25 Position: winger England Caps: 0 Club: Leeds Rhinos
Assuming he comes back from his injury in the sort of form he's shown the past two seasons, it would be hard to leave him out of the final 24 even if he doesn't make the starting side. Over 40 tries since the start of 2019 and back-to-back Dream Team selections show the sort of form he's been in. I would take three out-and-out wingers in my final 24. It's between Handley and McGillvary who is my third winger, and it's whoever has the best form come the Autumn for me as I'm struggling to separate the two, although they both offer slightly different skills.
 
Zak Hardaker
Age: 29 Position: fullback/centre England Caps: 6 Club: Wigan Warriors
Hardaker's best position is fullback, but his best position for his club and his country with everyone fit is probably centre, just because of what Bevan French and Sam Tomkins offer. Assuming he finds himself eventually back a right centre for Wigan this year, and performs like he did there in last year's season run-in, I think Wane will have him as right centre come the opening World Cup game. If he stays at fullback for Wigan, he will surely be in the squad with how he's performing, but it will be as back-up for both spots.

Josh Hodgson
Age: 31 Position: hooker England Caps: 19 Club: Canberra Raiders
It does feel like we've never quite seen him at his best for England in the same way we see him perform at Canberra week-in-week-out during the NRL season. Because of those NRL performances, if injury free, he can't be left out. It's very likely too that he'll be playing with his clubmates Williams, Whitehead and Sutton, which would be a good thing for England. Especially the hooker and half link-up that will provide.

Tom Johnstone
Age: 25 Position: winger England Caps: 1 Club: Wakefield Trinity
This is a player everyone roots for, because we've seen in Super League the spectacular that he can deliver. He seems to be free from his knee injuries that have interrupted his career to date - without them you have to think he would have played more internationals. His recent back-to-back games ended by concussion is a worry, as neither looked like brutal contacts. But assuming that isn't a lingering problem come the autumn, he starts on the left wing for me. At the top level, you need a player who can score from nowhere, in more ways than one, and Johnstone has shown he can be spectacular from long-range from close-in tight spots. 

Toby King
Age: 24 Position: centre England Caps: 0 Club: Warrington Wolves
I'm a big fan of King and his progression over the last couple of seasons. So I think he really deserves the recognition of his call up to Wane's training squads. I just think he isn't as good as two or three other players that Wane can pick ahead of him. He does add the option that he seems to be equally as good in the left or right centre spot, not something that all the options could say. But it would probably be better for this World Cup if he was to show up for Ireland rather than England. Sorry Toby.

Morgan Knowles
Age: 24 Position: loose forward England Caps: 0 Club: St Helens
My only question with Knowles is do you start him or play him off the bench. I really think he's that good that I would get him in my match day squad. His form over the last two seasons in a very good St Helens side has been faultless. Although he doesn't have England or GB experience, injury being a factor in that, he has played in a World Cup for Wales, so I'm not worried about his lack of experience. 

Jonny Lomax
Age: 30 Position: half back England Caps: 9 Club: St Helens
I keep hoping and wishing that we get to see Lomax play as well internationally as he does for St Helens. He's started well in 2021, after being excellent in 2019 and 2020. He's now a robust player who can defend as well as attack brilliantly. I'm definitely willing to give him one last chance to show he can be a performer at the international level. I'm starting him at 6. I'd have him doing regular zoom calls with Hodgson, Williams and Tomkins to talk about how they will work together for England.

Jermaine McGillvary
Age: 32 Position: winger England Caps: 17 Club: Huddersfield Giants
I really don't want to write Jerry off. He was amazing in the 2017 World Cup. He's still a consistent metre maker for Huddersfield in Super League, he scores you plenty of points if you put him in your fantasy side. But I think he's just over the other side from his peak and he's not an unknown quantity internationally anymore. I have a lingering memory too of him bombing a few tough chances in the Great Britain series. Chances that he needs to be taking. Chances that I think Tommy Makinson takes. If Ash Handley doesn't return to fitness, he just makes it in as the back up specialist winger. I think he'll miss out.

Paul McShane
Age: 31 Position: hooker England Caps: 0 Club: Castleford Tigers
McShane's brilliance at Castleford under Daryl Powell is undeniable, and that's why he won Man of Steel in 2020 in a losing side. He's started 2021 in much the same form. However, he's got some serious competition for places and his game is arguable very similar to Josh Hodgson, who does it in the NRL and not just Super League. So then, it's whether Shaun Wane wants a like-for-like third hooker in the squad or wants the different option that Daryl Clark offers. I'd go with Clark, and McShane would be an unlucky omission from the final 24. 

Tommy Makinson
Age: 29 Position: winger England Caps: 4 Club: St Helens
If he's fit, he's starting. It's that simple. He's got a very strong and complete skillset now and a good international record in his small amount of top level experience, 4 tries from 4 caps. I don't ned to say anything else about him.
 
Dom Manfredi
Age: 27 Position: winger England Caps: 0 Club: Wigan Warriors
How can you not root for Dom Manfredi after the injury woes he's overcome. He was out of the game for 2 years through injury and came back to score twice in a Grand Final victory. But similarly, how can you trust that he will be able to get through a full World Cup campaign, given his return has been punctuated by a number of further injury spells. As good as he is, I can't see him proving his fitness consistently enough, sadly. So he misses out for me.

Harry Newman
Age: 21 Position: centre England Caps: 0 Club: Leeds Rhinos
The challenge for this fantastic young talent will be getting in to prime form when he returns from fitness later this year. Possibly time is against him in 2021, but time os on his side for the rest of his career, as he could have another three World Cup chances in him given his young age. I think he might narrowly miss out this time. But he does strike me as a player Shaun Wane would really like coaching, so don't rule him out completely.

Mark Percival
Age: 26 Position: centre England Caps: 6 Club: St Helens
I would put Percival in a similar category to Lomax, in that his quality and club performances unquestionably mean he should get the chance to play at the next level up. But I'm not convinced that he's ever taken that chance with both hands yet. Percival's problem is there's quality options in his position with Gildart and Farnworth being similar to him. If he can get injury free there's no doubt he'll be in good form come the season end, he can't not be in that St Helens side. I don't know if he is a Shaun Wane player, he doesn't seem to be a deep thinker about the game. I would struggle to leave someone so good out of the squad, but I'm not sure he starts in Wane's first choice side.
 
Joe Philbin
Age: 26 Position: loose forward/prop England Caps: Club: Warrington Wolves
His 2019 form earned him a Great Britain squad spot, and it was much deserved in my view, as he was a great impact player at that time. But we haven't seen consistency from him since. In my view, he isn't making the same impact at the moment, so his performances would need to improve to get him in my England squad, and I think it would be better for the World Cup if he was running out for Ireland instead. But, if you analyse the 35 Wane is working with, the final 24 would be a middle-forward short without him. Like Luke Gale, I wouldn't have him but you can't rule him out based on the make-up of this training squad.

Stefan Ratchford
Age: 32 Position: fullback England Caps: 6 Club: Warrington Wolves
I would say his only real chance of getting in is as a very versatile player that can back up in so many positions should injuries hit mid-tournament. But with Wane saying he'll be picking players in their best positions, and there being a number of arguably better players than Ratchford in all his position, and certainly in his primary position, he won't get picked for the final squad. I wouldn't have him in mine either. 

James Roby
Age: 35 Position: hooker England Caps: 31 Club: St Helens
The ageless wonder who performs with relentless consistency. I would still want him in my squad and it's a tough call to think of him as anything other than your starter too. I can't separate Roby and Hodgson really, so it's whether Wane gives a slight edge to the NRL intensity that Hodgson plays under. Roby can operate more as a runner too, so that might be why we'll see him coming from the bench come game time.

Dan Sarginson
Age: 27 Position: centre/fullback England Caps: 3 Club: Salford Red Devils
I know how much Sarginson has given of himself when playing in Wane's Wigan side in the past. In terms of heart and attitude, he's a player you want around. Whether he's consistently got the quality that you'll need to run through the final stages of a World Cup tournament is where I'm not sure. He is a very good player but not an elite player in my view. He wouldn't be in my World Cup 24.

Ryan Sutton
Age: 25 Position: prop/loose forward England Caps: 0 Club: Canberra Raiders
The way he's started 2021 should make him a nailed on part of the World Cup 24. Playing regularly and consistently for a title contender in the NRL means he has to be in the squad. Shaun Wane gave Sutton his senior debut at Wigan and coached him for five years, so he's knows his game very well. He would be in my match day 17, and it would be between him and Morgan Knowles for who starts at 13.

Luke Thompson
Age: 25 Position: prop England Caps: 4 Club: Canterbury Bulldogs
When he left Super League he was performing at his absolute peak, one of the best front rowers in all of the game. It feels like it hasn't fully gone to plan since his NRL move mid-2020. But he's still a high class performer playing week-in-week-out at the top level down under, albeit in a poor side. There's no way he isn't starting in the World Cup for England without injury or suspension getting in the way.

Sam Tomkins
Age: 32 Position: fullback England Caps: 25 Club: Catalans Dragons
Shaun Wane has said if the tournament started tomorrow, he would be fullback. On a Twitter poll we ran this week he was a clear favourite from the four options in the squad. And not without good reason. We've seen three Catalans games at time of writing, and Tomkins has been the best player in all three -leading the Man of Steel standings after two rounds and getting BBC player of the match in the Challenge Cup game. He's England's number 1 for me.

Alex Walmsley
Age: 31 Position: prop England Caps: 5 Club: St Helens
There's no debate that he's playing in the World Cup, assuming injury free. Walmsley is a real weapon for England and whilst the best normally play in the NRL, it might benefit us that he doesn't, as he'll provide something slightly different for the other top nations to face up against. I'm a little concerned about the really long minutes St Helens are seeming to play him this year so far, I don't want him burnt out come the World Cup. HE could be a huge part of bringing success for England.
 
Kallum Watkins
Age: 30 Position: centre England Caps: 26 Club: Salford Red Devils
The Kallum Watkins that played in the last World Cup was peak world class Kallum Watkins. It does feel like injury and club moves have meant we've not seen him get back to those levels from that Magic Weekend injury in 2018. Actually, I was surprised he had made the training squad, as I don't see anything in his form that suggests he's going to be the Watkins we saw four years ago again. Experience and past performance, plus being the only fully fit specialist right centre, are the only explanations I can come up with. I'm not expecting him to do enough this season for Salford to make my final 24, he's not the best right centre option in the squad currently in my view, but truly I hope he can be what he was in 2017 once again, as that makes England better,

Elliott Whitehead
Age: 31 Position: backrow England Caps: 20 Club: Canberra Raiders
A consistent performer and seasoned NRL veteran like Whitehead will make the final squad. He has been England's starting left backrow forward and it's hard to see an argument to change that. He will be England's starting left backrow forward.

George Williams
Age: 26 Position: half back England Caps: 10 Club: Canberra Raiders
Williams will be England's starting number 7. He was already a great Super League player with an almost complete skill set when playing under Wane for Wigan. He's since become even more rounded a player, a more confident talker and more composed tactician after a debut NRL season that couldn't have gone much better than it did. 

Outside looking in

Jake Connor and Jake Trueman were probably two of the more questioned omissions from Shaun Wane's 35 man training squad. Both have been in and around the international set up over recent years in Wayne Bennett's era and both have started the 2021 season strongly. Gareth Widdop also not getting a look in might be seen as a surprise
  • Connor is now playing what many think is the best spot for him, fullback, but also offers real backline versatility from a squad perspective, acknowledging that he's unlikely to be the starting number 1 with Tomkins in great form. However, it's possibly yet to be seen if he has the maturity and composure to deal with being that back up. If Wane wanted one of the two ultra-versatile backs in his final squad, I would take Connor over Ratchford as there's more x-factor. But he needs to grow up.
  • Trueman is so skilful and creative. He's still really young and probably not the finished player, defensively in particular. I would want him as my specialist back up half back in the squad over Luke Gale, just because I like him more than Gale, he entertains me more. But experience might tell for this World Cup. He'll have his time though, he's only 22.
  • Widdop's 2020 form was well off his best. But prior to that he has been a good NRL performer for years and a consistent performer for England. I do feel that his experience would be beneficial to the squad, giving him an edge on Trueman if Wane starts to look beyond Gale for his back up half back. All things considered, as long as he is better than last year, I'd have Widdop over both Trueman and Gale this time around, backing up Lomax and Williams. I would give the first choice guys every chance to develop a partnership though, I don't want all the swapping and changing we've so constantly seen in GB and England sides in the past 20 years.
An area where I think England aren't as string as the recent past is in the middle forwards, prop and loose forward. Gone are Sam Burgess, James Graham and Sean O'Loughlin, all world class performers. And whilst the current crop of Walmsley and Thompson were able to replace Morley and Peacock, I'm not convinced we've replaced the more recent three. Philbin doesn't convince me and Cooper convinces but doesn't excite me. So I think we're one good middle forward short for the World Cup. So I'll run through the contenders as I see them.
  • Chris Hill has been a stalwart for England in the last decade and is vastly experienced, but now on the outer. He performances in 2020 weren't quite where we've seen him be before. He probably is on the decline, but he's not a spent force. He'll want back in. 
  • Liam Watts had been consistently excellent for Hull and Castleford and should have played internationally but for competition for places. At 30, is he now on the back stretch of his career too, I wouldn't count him out. 
  • Mikolaj Oledzki qualifies for England and has been with the Knights before now. He's a really exciting young prospect that might fight his way into contention come seasons end. 
  • Brad Singleton has impressed since joining Wigan midway through 2020. He could be an option if his form continues, although I'd prefer if he was starting for Ireland than missing out on the match day squads as England's back up.
  • Scott Taylor is a player with some international experience and has started 2021 well at Hull, probably looks better than the last year or so in the early going. Whether Wane would pick him after his departure from Wigan during Wane's tenure I don't know. He'd have to be playing even better than he is to get in I think.
  • Lee Mossop is another with good experience who has played for England and played for Wane. He's been able to get fit and play something close to his best for Salford in the last two years. I'm not sure he'll be able to show enough this year to force his way in though. It's some time since he last played internationally, back in 2013.
  • Matty Lees will be in the conversation you would think. He was very good in 2019. A little bit injury hampered in 2020. If he stays fit, playing in that top of the table Saints side, he'll  find his way into contention for the back up spot that I feel is up for grabs in this squad.
  • Rob Mulhern is a chance to impress if he can play regular minutes at Warrington. He was trending towards an international career in 2018. It might be better for this World Cup though if he can play for his tier 2 nation, Ireland.
  • Rob Butler, also new at Wire for 2021, has had Knights recognition after his Super League season with London Broncos. Again, if he gets regular game time to impress, I'm not ruling him out.
  • Finally, Oliver Partington is the most Shaun Wane of options. Wane brought him through towards the end of his time with Wigan and Partington has become a regular first teamer since then. He would be my final outside chance of being the back up middle for England.
The other omissions to mention are the so called heritage players - Blake Austin and Jackson Hastings grand-parented in for Great Britain in 2019. Austin hasn't been at the high standards he set in 2019 since, although Hastings was outstanding for Wigan in 2020 as he had been for Salford in 2019. Based on the training squads he's announced since his appointment, I can't think Wane is a fan of using heritage players. Otherwise, Hastings would have been in the squads. 

My side for the World Cup

As things stand right now, if the World Cup was starting now and everyone was fit, here's the side I would pick:

  1. Sam Tomkins
  2. Tommy Makinson
  3. Zak Hardaker
  4. Oliver Gildart
  5. Tom Johnstone
  6. Jonny Lomax
  7. George Williams
  8. Alex Walmsley
  9. Josh Hodgson
  10. Luke Thompson
  11. John Bateman
  12. Elliott Whitehead
  13. Morgan Knowles
Bench: James Roby, Tom Burgess, Ryan Sutton, Liam Farrell

Back ups: Herbie Farnworth, Ash Handley, Mark Percival, Mike Cooper, Gareth Widdop, Daryl Clark, Ben Currie

Please do tell us who would make your side. Follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, or get in touch by email: superleaguepod@gmail.com

Thanks for reading!

Mark
SLP

6 April 2021

Episode 295 - He Got Lucky

Mark & Sarah are with you this week to recap a different Easter weekend, full of blowout scores across the world of Rugby League. We cover the great charity efforts of the RL Family in the news as well as discussing international developments both for the representative game and the North American game. We've loads of your fan reviews as we cover the Mose Masoe round in Super League. Plus, find out who else is giving themselves a new nickname, don't find out who Alice is, but do find out who Jordan Handkerchief is. 

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5 April 2021

Early Super League Observations - by Mark


In an effort to trim some fat from the weekly podcast shows, I’ll try and give my opinions in semi-regular blog posts as the season moves along this year. No promises on either the trimming or regularity however!

Super League is only two weeks in. We can’t draw any firm conclusions at this early stage but we can make some observations on what we’ve learned so far.

The standard is still the standard

St Helens are top. Wigan are in the top three. The two teams that fought out one of the most intense games of Super League we’ve ever seen in last year’s Grand Final are still the teams to beat.

St Helens have basically picked up where they left off, with the new forwards fitting in seamlessly and Jack Welsby still being the best second-best option in any of the back spots that a Super League team has. They’ve won both games comfortably, albeit it arguably not on full throttle in attack. Their defence is in top gear though. Both of their opponents have not only struggled for points but even struggled for metres. St Helens are the only team to keep their opponent under 1,000 metres in both opening games according to the official Super League website stats.

Wigan have had two games with what could politely be called scratchy first halves, but fairly dominant second halves. They have a cumulative 14-24 first half, and 40-0 second half, after two games. The impressive thing is they’ve won both games with very patched up backlines, missing their two biggest stars in game one and with two backrowers as centres in game two. These two points show Wigan are still as fit and as resilient as any team in the league.

Cas look like contenders

I didn’t expect much from Castleford this year. The early signs are they might prove me wrong. Jake Trueman and Paul McShane have started in top form, Niall Evalds has slipped in really well too. They showed a great attitude and adaptability in adapting to losing a half back early in game one against Warrington. There’s still some depth concern for me with the Tigers. They were down a couple of bench players from game one to game two, and I don’t think the bench gave much against Leeds. But the early signs are the team are definitely playing for Daryl Powell to go out on a high.

Hodgson has Hull humming

The other team starting really well is Hull FC. They only made two off-season signings – one Josh Reynolds on the pitch and the other Brett Hodgson off the pitch. The third big off-season move was Jake Connor to full back on a more long-term basis. All three look good at this stage. Hull are playing a more fluid and expansive attacking style, pivoting both Connor and Reynolds around Marc Sneyd. Plus, their defence has looked pretty solid. Scott Taylor coming off the bench seems to be really helping avoid any drop off in that area when the starters get tired.

Watson has work to do

Huddersfield haven’t hit the ground running under their new coach. There has been a bit of turnover in the squad, albeit mostly with adding better players rather than losing any starters. But, the combinations just aren’t working yet. With some benefit of early season doubt, the Giants are missing their best and most important player, with Aidan Sezer not playing yet. They also missed captain Michael Lawrence in game one, and star signing Ricky Leutele in game two. Maybe, in fact probably, they need everyone on deck to be the team I thought they could be this year.

Full back could be Wane’s biggest World Cup decision

October is a long way away. And injuries or form could impact the thinking hugely by then. But it looks like Shaun Wane could have a tough call to make on the full back spot for England. Sam Tomkins, Jake Connor and Niall Evalds have all started the season strongly. And Zak Hardaker has found himself back in his personal favoured position too, with two strong performances for Wigan.

Then outside of these main contenders, there’s also been a challenge at times of fitting Gareth Widdop and Jonny Lomax into the same international side. George Williams is surely nailed on for one of the half spots. That could mean Wane does what others have done before to get both Widdop and Lomax in, play one of them at full back. This seems unlikely though given the quality options playing there week-in, week-out.

I’d be going with Tomkins. To me, he has the most complete game of the options. Hardaker might be slightly better defensively and running the ball. Connor might have a slightly better long kicking and short passing game. Evalds might be a better support runner. But Tomkins has the most overall. He’s a better ball player than Hardaker. He’s more of a team player and experienced campaigner than Connor. He’s a better defender and organiser than Evalds. Add in that he’s worked with Wane before, in fact won a Man of Steel under Wane. And, if we’re all honest with ourselves, he’s been the best player on the pitch in both the games he’s played this year, and most of the games he played last year too.

Do look out for our next podcast episode, out tonight (late Monday UK time), where we’ll recap the Mose Masoe Round and look ahead to the Super League clubs entering the Cup, plus discuss all the latest news, all helped with your fan views.

As always, thanks for reading and feel free to share your views with us. Follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, or get in touch by email: superleaguepod@gmail.com

Mark
SLP

29 March 2021

Episode 294 - Same Old Minty Fresh Rovers

 

Alan & Mark are here to cover this week in Leeds as the big game action all comes from Headingley with the return of Super League. We've got some stats and lots of fan match reviews on the games and the lockdown hair dos. Plus what we make of Ken Davy interim appointment, Nigel Woods taking the job we're sure he was already doing and lottery funding for league in the news. There's Cup action, NRL Brit Watch and predictions for the Mose Masoe Round 2 of Super League. And, an exciting new nickname for one of the SLP family...

Episode Sponsor

This episode is sponsored by Rob's Toy Shop.
Find a wide range of toys, gifts, rugby league birthday cards and more at Rob’s Toy Shop on eBay. Visit stores.ebay.co.uk/robstoyshop and on any orders over £5 you can earn 5% cashback, and also 1% of your order value will go into the SLP coffers, by putting 'SLPDiscount' at checkout.

Episode running order:

News, from 08:15
Super League Match Reviews, from 37:00
Other Results, from 109:00
Predictions, from 131:15
Quiz & recommendations, from 137:30

How to Listen

Listen to the show on Apple Podcasts here: SLP on Apple Podcasts
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You can also find us on YouTube, or search for us on whatever podcast app you use.

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Save the links so when the forms are open you can get your views in for us.

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22 March 2021

Episode 293 - Lamport Lane & The Abattoir Five

Mark and Tim, plus a very special guest appearance, bring you our first weekly round up of 2021. We'll look back over the off-season news and law changes, plus we want to know which Rugby League players could be Breaking at the 2024 Olympics. We recap Round 1 of the Challenge Cup, missing the traditional community clubs but featuring lots of special tries. We throw in a bit of NRL Brit Watch and un peu de discussion sur le rugby à treize. Then we get our crystal balls out to make our wild guesses for round 1 of Super League.

Episode Sponsor

This episode is sponsored by Rob's Toy Shop.
Find a wide range of toys, gifts, rugby league birthday cards and more at Rob’s Toy Shop on eBay. Visit stores.ebay.co.uk/robstoyshop and on any orders over £5 you can earn 5% cashback, and also 1% of your order value will go into the SLP coffers, by putting 'SLPDiscount' at checkout.

Episode running order:

News, from 12:45
Results, from 97:45
Predictions, from 111:45
Quiz & recommendations, from 124:15

How to Listen

Listen to the show on Apple Podcasts here: SLP on Apple Podcasts
If you're not an Apple user, get the show here: SLP on Spreaker
You can also find us on YouTube, or search for us on whatever podcast app you use.

Get Involved
Send us YOUR view on the week's news HERE.
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Save the links so when the forms are open you can get your views in for us.

Follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, or get in touch by email: superleaguepod@gmail.com

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18 March 2021

Episode 292 - 2021 Season Preview & Predictions

We're back with another year of Rugby League fan chat. Alan, David, Mark, Sarah & Tim all gather together to go through your fan predictions for what will happen in Rugby League in 2021. Just how patriotic do we feel for the World Cup? Who's bringing the awful pun game? Who feels like a jilted lover? And what does David think of fruit with beer? You might need to wait for the very end for that last one!

Episode Sponsor

This episode is sponsored by Rob's Toy Shop.
Find a wide range of toys, gifts, rugby league birthday cards and more at Rob’s Toy Shop on eBay. Visit stores.ebay.co.uk/robstoyshop and on any orders over £5 you can earn 5% cashback, and also 1% of your order value will go into the SLP coffers, by putting 'SLPDiscount' at checkout.

Episode running order:

Prediction Results, from 06:00
Team-by-Team Predictions, from 64:00
Say What!? Predictions, from 129:00

How to Listen

Listen to the show on Apple Podcasts here: SLP on Apple Podcasts
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You can also find us on YouTube, or search for us on whatever podcatcher app you use.

Get Involved
Send us YOUR view on the week's news HERE.
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Follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, or get in touch by email: superleaguepod@gmail.com

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11 March 2021

2021 Super League Team-by-Team Preview


The 2021 Super League season is only two weeks away and I'm excited. So I've taken a look at how all the sides are shaping up for the new season.

This isn't a predictions piece, you'll need to wait another week for our first proper podcast episode of the year for that. Although you might get a sense of who I think will go well and who might struggle. (our predictions form is open until 9pm on Tuesday 16 MArch, so get on it now if you haven't already! Click HERE)

This is my overview of the ins and outs, the key men for their sides, the young players I'll be keeping an eye out for, and any strengths and weaknesses I see in each squad. You might agree with some of it. You will disagree with plenty of it. Don't let it knock your own optimism for your team's season though, this is prime optimism time after all! Enjoy.

__________________________________________________________________________________


Gains:

Niall Evalds, Lewis Bienek, Suaia Matagi, Jordan Turner

Losses:

Jordan Rankin, Matt Cook, Mike McMeeken, Junior Moors, Callum Turner, Bailey Hodgson

Last Season:

8th in Super League

6th Round of the Challenge Cup

My take:

Castleford have done some good business. Niall Evalds could be one of the signings of the season, he's a proven talent and could be the piece that Castleford have been missing since that fateful drugs test in 2017. But I think they're maybe missing a little more now than just that piece. And this aging squad needs a good start as well as some injury luck, which with Sosaia Feki already out for most if not all of the year, they've started over par one the first hole. It would be easy to say Paul McShane is their key man - but he was great enough to be Man of Steel in 2020 and Cas only finished 8th and fell out of the cup at the first opportunity. Watts and Millington are their key men for me, they need to be injury free and capable of the sort of minutes they were in 2019 and before. Also, Cas don't really have adequate cover for Jake Trueman, a genuine all around threat, it is to be hoped for the Tigers and for the fans of Super League that his niggling injuries of 2020 are behind him. As I've said, they're an aging squad - only Leigh and Salford come in to the season with a higher average age. That doesn't mean there isn't a young star in the making to talk about. Barrie McDermott recently compared Jacques O'Neill to Terry Newton, and I think that's a fair comparison of his potential. If prime Newton is the ceiling for this boy's talent then we've got a feisty future international on our hands. I think O'Neill's passing game needs to develop before it's Newton-like, but his attitude and effort are right there. Of the other young Tigers - I've resisted the urge to call them Tiger cubs - only Lewis Peachey has seen much first team action so far, but in Brad Martin and Lewis Bienek they do have some forwards with size and potential, who may need to make their mark in the second half of the season, when the games come thick and fast and they older established guys will need some managing.

__________________________________________________________________________________


Gains:

Gil Dudson, Mike McMeeken, Dean Whare

Losses:

Antoni Maria, Sam Moa, Mickael Simon, David Mead, Remi Casty, Lucas Albert, Lewis Tierney, Isreal Folau

Last Season:

4th in Super League

Quarter final of Challenge Cup

My take:

The first choice 13 is high calibre. even with the likely departure of Isreal Folau. Dean Whare is a very good replacement for him. Gil Dudson is a proven player as a replacement for Remi Casty. And Mike McMeeken will go well in this side I'm fairly confident. The rest of the line-up is the side that went well last year, when there were able to get their games on. Key to how they will go must be star man Sam Tomkins. He was back close to his very best at times in 2020. And Tom Davies really was one of the best wingers in the league, he might not be as elusive as some or as spectacular as others, but his try-rate last year was the best in the league. It does feel like les Dracs lack depth though this year, other than the back row where they are loaded. I don't really see any three-quarters depth in the squad - noting it's gutting for Artur Romano that he's out for the year already. A significant part of their depth is from unrealised talent - I like the looks of Paul Seguier, Mickael Goudemand and Lambert Belmas, but none of them have consistently nailed down a match day squad spot yet. They need to start producing consistently, I hope they can as it makes France a better World Cup prospect. There is also quite a bit of untested youth filling out the squad list. Coretin Le Cam is the tallest man in Super League, hopefully his play can elevate to the top level along with the other first team squad newcomers, as sides will need to use their full squads again this year with multiple two-game-weeks. It will be interesting if the Dragons go looking for midseason reinforcements and where these can come from. I think they'll need to find a gem of a winger from somewhere, and maybe a half back too, should the injuries hit.

__________________________________________________________________________________

Gains:

Jack Ashworth, James Cunningham, Joe Greenwood, Ricky Leutele, Jack Cogger, Josh Jones, Luke Yates, Olly Ashall-Bott

Losses:

Paul Clough, Dom Young, Adam Walne, Reiss Butterworth, Jordan Turner, Suaia Matagi, Akuila Uate, Tom Holmes

Last Season:

7th in Super League

5th Round of Challenge Cup

My take:

There's been a big change at the Giants over the offseason. But it’s the sort of change that is bringing hope rather than fear. Let's start with the biggest change, Ian Watson. We know already he's a top coach. He seems to have a clarity of message that gets anyone under his charge playing the right way, seeing the right things, making the right choices. Greg Brown coming in with Watson could be huge too, he just seems to have a way of getting players injury free and on the pitch more than not. There's been quite a bit of change in playing personnel too - 8 out, 8 in. But, looking across the changes, they've got stronger not weaker, and have good depth in most positions. Ricky Leutele was a shining light through the dark clouds that followed Toronto's ill-fated Super League spell. He's an upgrade. They've gone form having a good back row, to a stellar back row. Adam O'Brien has real like-for-like cover with James Cunningham coming in. They also have a little more depth in the front row than first appears, depending on what sort of role a couple of the younger players can play. One thing that shouldn't change too much is the spine, depending on how they choose to use Jack Cogger. Aidan Sezer is the clear driving force for this team, if he embraces Watson's game plan like the other overseas halves then he'll be a Man of Steel contender again. The squad has some youth too, most of it with a bit of top level experience already. Jake Wardle and Darnell McIntosh need to take that next step now from being highly skilled talents to consistent performers at both ends of the pitch. They have the ability, next is to show that consistently through games and from game to game.

__________________________________________________________________________________

Gains:

Josh Reynolds

Losses:

Ratu Naulogo, Albert Kelly, Liam Harris, Gareth Ellis, Lewis Bienek, Josh Jones 

Last Season:

6th in Super League

Quarter final in Challenge Cup

My take:

Can Brett Hodgson have the same sort of impact in his first year coaching uin Super League as his first year playing in Super League, where he led his side to a cup final appearance and won Man of Steel? Hull will be hoping that he can do it largely with a side that was brought in for the previous head coach, as there's not been much transfer activity in west Hull. Josh Reynolds has come in to replace Albert Kelly. I'm not sure if Josh Reynolds is the man to push a team over that last false summit to reach the peak. But, he's combative and crafty, and may bring a fight to the side that sometimes they've seemed to lack. Half back is a key area where the side lacks depth. If anything happens to the starters, with Jamie Shaul out and Jake Connor featuring at full back, young Ben McNamara is the only back-up they have. You have to think he'll get more chance to show his talents this year. Connor is the key man though, and full back is the right spot for him, as I've said before. He can be the real strike weapon for Hull now that he will have freedom to find the most threatening positions in attack. If he can keep his concentration and discipline defensively he could be a dark horse for Man of Steel, and he has a great example of an all around full back to learn from. Jack Brown is a young player who has been elevated within the squad this year. He made a big impact on debut back in 2019 but under half the games in 2020. He'll be looking to have more game time in 2021 and could he be the player to fill gap left by the re-retired Gareth Ellis. 

__________________________________________________________________________________

Gains:

Albert Vete, Ryan Hall, Korbin Sims, Brad Takairangi, Luis Johnson, Muizz Mustapha

Losses:

Mitch Garbutt, Jamie Ellis, Ryan Brierley, Matty Gee, Nathaniel Peteru, Dan Murray, Will Oakes, Harvey Livett, Robbie Mulhern, Weller Hauraki, Nick Rawsthorne

Last Season:

11th in Super League

Quarter finals of Challenge Cup

My take:

The Robins have a lot of loose forwards and a lot of centres in this side. Just like last year, I'm not sure they have any Super League half backs. Fitting a coherent 13 together seems like a task for Tony Smith, although we've seen him set up his Hull KR teams to do things differently to the better resourced teams in the past couple of years, so maybe he has something up his sleeve. There's no doubt that they have some quality and try scoring potential, if Ben Crooks can pick up where he started 2020 and Ryan Hall can pick up where he left off in 2015. The key player is Adam Quinlan, he offers a real threat when fit - or if fit, going off recent track record. If Matt Parcell can find his old form and new signings Albert Vete and Korbin Sims can offer what Rob Mulhern and Mitch Garbutt did back in 2019 then Hull KR might not be nailed on for the bottom four. But it feels like a lot of ifs with this side, a side that has big strides to make if they want to be competing for playoffs and silverware. This is a more youthful Hull KR than before Smith arrived. The likes of Mikey Lewis, Matty Storton, Rowan Milnes, Will Tate and Will Dagger have all had chances to impress already under Smith. Will Tate looks a talent to me. Muizz Mustapha's cannonball go forward has made him stand out whenever I saw him play for Leeds Academy, it will be interesting to see how much of a part he plays in Smith's plans as a loanee, is he just cover or will he get the chance to make an impact. The squad size should cope with the rigours of a long season, it will need to be seen if Smith can get a consistent quality from them.

__________________________________________________________________________________
Gains:

Zane Tetevano, King Vuniyayawa, Kyle Eastmond

Losses:

Adam Cuthbertson, Rhys Evans, Muizz Mustapha, Ava Seumanafagai, Stevie Ward

Last Season:

5th in Super League

Challenge Cup Winner

My take:

Leeds have named a big squad with a lot of youth on the back end, that they will likely need during this campaign. Injuries are a problem to start the year for Leeds. Robert Lui starts on the treatment table, Ash Handley is still on the recovery trail from his horror leg break and Jack Walker is out long-term. And, Luke Gale is starting the season under a bit of an injury doubt, and that is something Leeds could really do without, as they will go as far as he can take them. He feels like as important a player as any player for any side when you watched him play for Leeds in 2020, giving them all their direction. I can't see 2021 being too different. The signing of Kyle Eastmond provides a real wildcard excitement to this side that they hope will complement Gale's direction. We'll see exactly how Eastmond will get used by Leeds, where and how he'll play and what of his League instincts have been dulled by a decade in the other code. But it's a story that will be interesting to follow. New signing Zane Tetevano will be another interesting signing to follow, he's expected to make a big impact on the field and whilst we can never condone what he did to get himself in trouble off the field back in 2014, all appearances are he is a rehabilitated figure following the crimes of his past. I see him as the replacement for Cuthbertson in this squad, we'll see if he can have the same impact. I'm not sure if we can still talk about Mikolaj Oledzki as a young player as he's coming up to 100 senior career appearances, but at 22 he's going to need to become a leader of this pack, in a front row that does lack some depth, with even younger Tom Holroyd looking like an important part of the prop depth for 2021. Corey Hall and Liam Tindall are exciting young outside backs that got a chance in 2020 and I think will be ones to watch if they get more of a go this year, they're players I'm excited to see develop behind some top first choice outside backs in the squad.

__________________________________________________________________________________


Gains:

Blake Wallace, Jamie Ellis, Matty Gee, Ryan Brierley, Nathaniel Peteru, Adam Sidlow, Joe Mellor, Matty Russell, Ben Flower, Craig Mullen, Lewis Tierney, James Bell, Tyrone McCarthy, Brendan Elliot

Losses:

Ben Reynolds, Sam Brooks, Martyn Ridyard, Liam Forsyth, Callum Field, Ryan Ince, Danny Addy, Gregg McNally

Last Season:

Championship

5th Round of Challenge Cup

My take:

Leigh have the oldest and smallest squad heading to the season start line. And they've had the most turnover compared to 2020. A 2020 where they barely played a game. I can't help but feel rookie Super League head coach John Duffy has his work cut out for him. If the size of the squad wasn't worry enough, the make-up of it is largely a mix of the Toronto side that were bottom last year before lockdown and the Hull KR side that were bottom last year after lockdown. In fairness, they have clearly upgraded their Championship squad to be one with seasoned Super League players. Ryan Brierley's latest return to Leigh could see him be the key man. Brendan Elliot's arrival from Manly, a real boost to the squad ahead of the season, should free Brierley up to play in his preferred half back spot rather than at the back. Brierley, Joe Mellor and Blake Wallace at least have a shared history of being at the Wolfpack together in the past. And Duffy has created a bit of a Scotland connection too with his signings, bringing in four Scotland World Cup hopefuls to add to the two Scots retained from last year. Duffy himself is a former Scotland international player and coach who'll be keen I'm sure to help the Bravehearts in this World Cup year. One area of the squad they aren't thin, which is unlike a few of the sides, is prop forward, where they have some experience and depth. They don't have much depth elsewhere though unfortunately, and strike on the wings is an area of concern - 3 tries from 10 Super League games in 2020 for their two first choice wingers, who happen to be their only genuine wingers in the squad. I have to think that Derek Beaumont will have to dig into his pockets and find some singings during the season to bolster the outside backs if this side are going to consistently put up enough points to pick up the amount of wins that can keep them safe in Super League.

__________________________________________________________________________________

Gains:

Morgan Escare, Joe Burgess, Sam Luckley, Matty Costello, Harvey Livett, Jack Wells, Danny Addy, Elijah Taylor, Darcy Lussick

Losses:

Mark Flanagan, Luis Roberts, Kris Welham, Joey Lussick, Connor Jones, Niall Evalds, Gil Dudson, Luke Yates, Tyrone McCarthy, Ed Chamberlain

Last Season:

9th in Super League

Runner-up in Challenge Cup

My take:

There has been a lot of change at Salford and I'm not confident that they've got better with that change. Major finalists in back to back years, but 9th in 2020 gives a more balanced reflection of their overall standing than the narrow cup final defeat. The obvious things to say is Richard Marshall has a tough act to follow as head coach. But I do think he's ready for this chance. He's done his time at the Championship level and he's had a successful stint as a Super League assistant under some strong coaches, so he's ready for a top job like this. Morgan Escare can be exhilarating on his day, but Niall Evalds is one of Salford's best players of the Super League era, so that's a slight downgrade, and I'd think about running with Dan Sarginson as my Salford full back. Joe Burgess would have been an upgrade for the squad, but injury will see him miss most or all of the year very sadly. Elijah Taylor and Darcy Lussick should be solid replacements for Mark Flanagan and Gil Dudson. But I'm not convinced they've replaced Luke Yates, who gave them so much effort and energy in defence last year, and I'm convinced that they haven't replaced Joey Lussick, who was arguably the most consistent Salford player over the last two seasons. In fact, their only depth at hooker behind Andy Ackers looks to be untested youngster Connor Aspey. Don't be surprised if utility signing Danny Addy spells Ackers quite a bit this year. My Salford key man is Lee Mossop. A real leader at Salford over the past few seasons and with quite a bit of change around him in the pack, his presence could be key to the team cohesion. Tui Lolohea and Kev Brown will create chances. Krisnan Inu, Kallum Watkins, Ken Sio and Rhys Williams should have enough strike to finish plenty of them. And if those outside backs aren't doing it, Matty Costello is a talented youngster I'm excited to see get a chance. I hope he can maintain the development path he was on when coming through at St Helens. I'm not sure Salford will have a successful campaign, but I'm fairly sure they will be one of the best sides to watch as a neutral this year.

__________________________________________________________________________________


Gains:

Joel Thompson, Agnatius Paasi, Sione Mata'utia, Dan Norman

Losses:

Zeb Taia, James Graham, Callam Hazzard, Joseph Paulo, Dom Peyroux, Jack Ashworth, Matty Costello

Last Season:

Super League Winner (2nd in regular season)

Quarter final of Challenge Cup

My take:

Back to back Grand Final winners St Helens still have a stellar first team squad, with Zeb Taia and James Graham their only notable losses from that best match day 17, with their replacements being drawn in from the NRL with the vastly experienced Joel Thompson and the occasionally explosive Agnatius Paasi, so Saints will hope there's not much drop off. Matty Lees is a player who probably has to take the next step as well to help fill the legacy left by Graham, and obviously Luke Thompson who departed earlier in 2020. A full injury free season for him, with him growing in maturity, he will become a key figure in the side. Lachlan Coote is the key man though for St Helens. That showed with their stumbling start to 2020 when he was the only key piece really missing. Their spine is strong and has great continuity and cohesion, which means the players tend to take Man of Steel points off each other, but I'd have Coote as St Helens' leading contender for that award. Outside the first choice, St Helens' depth almost all comes from youth. Jack Welsby headlines that group after his Grand Final heroics and ability to cover in all the back positions as he's developing his game. Lewis Dodd, Josh Simm and Jake Wingfield also all impressed in limited first team showings in 2020. They will be needed in another crammed in Super League season, and the lack of experience in their squad depth is probably the only concern worth having over St Helens in 2021 as they go for a three-peat.

__________________________________________________________________________________


Gains:

Mason Lino

Losses:

Danny Brough, Danny Kirmond, Ryan Atkins, Craig Kopczak, Tony Gigot, Romain Navarette, Ben Jones-Bishop, Titus Gwaze

Last Season:

10th in Super League

6th Round of Challenge Cup

My take:

Despite losing eight players and only bringing in one, Wakefield actually have one of the largest squads named at the 2021 starting line. Quite a bit of that is relatively unproven youth, but we've seen flashes from players like Jack Croft, Connor Bailey and Harry Bowes to make us think there is some talent in this Wakefield youth. James Batchelor is a player who it feels like has been around for ages and he's coming up to 50 Super League games now but he's still young at 22. With Danny Kirmond moved on, this should be a season for Batchelor to progress and cement himself as a regular performer at this level. Wakefield have some depth this year, I'm unsure how much real quality they have outside of the centres and of course Tom Johnstone. We know Jacob Miller and Ryan Hampshire are erratic talents, they can do great stuff but they don't make great sides around them. I really don't know enough about Mason Lino to say if he is the player to bring control and consistency to the half back partnership. In six seasons he's only played 34 times in the NRL, so it doesn't scream missing piece of the puzzle. Although, he's a Samoa international and I certainly won't be writing him off before we see him. 

__________________________________________________________________________________

Gains:

Greg Inglis, Rob Butler, Rob Mulhern

Losses:

Ben Murdoch-Masila, Anthony Gelling, Luis Johnson, Dec Patton, Leilani Latu

Last Season:

3rd in Super League

Semi final of Challenge Cup

My take:

The Warrington squad has a very strong top 20 or so players. The rest is padded out by youth, talented youth, albeit not truly proven at this level. Barring a serious injury run in any one position though, they have quality cover if not serious depth. A couple of signings that really impress me are Rob Butler and Rob Mulhern, because what they bring is an element of succession planning for 33 year old Chris Hill and 32 year old Mike Cooper, but they also bring an ability to contribute now as well. Although they don't really have a traditional ball handling loose forward, they have a really strong group of middle forwards at Wire this year. They maybe don't have one key man, although I fancy Daryl Clark as a man of steel contender, but the real key for Wire to have trophy success this year is if Blake Austin and Gareth Widdop can get an understanding to their combination, because they struggled to do that all last year and it meant their attack wasn't as fearsome as their local rivals that finished above them. And the headline signing is of course Greg Inglis. It is fair and reasonable ot question if his body can take the rigours of a full Super League season. You suspect he will have games where he is rested, and his best for Wire won't match his best for Australia or Queensland from years gone by. In Rugby League terms though he is still a huge signing, albeit one that barely causes a flicker amongst the wider world of sports fans. He can surely bring something to this side with what he has seen and achieved through his career. Super League is the better for having him and it will surely be just a one season thing. I don't know that he can be the difference to make this Warrington's year, but it would be a remarkable swansong for him. The last thing to touch on with Wire is the strange certain uncertainty over the head coach position. Everyone knows that it will be Steve Price's last year. But will that bring added pressure, added uncertainty, added distraction - should there be a bad run of results, will the board think to act sooner, will the players fight for it the same way, whether or not the narrative is nonsense, it will be a constant one whenever Wire lose a couple of games back-to-back.

__________________________________________________________________________________

Gains:

John Bateman, Jai Field

Losses:

Sean O'Loughlin, Ben Flower, Joe Burgess, Joe Greenwood, Jack Wells, Jake Shorrocks, Chris Hankinson, George Burgess

Last Season:

1st in Super League, Grand Final runner-up

Semi final of Challenge Cup

My take:

Wigan don't have the same sort of experienced champion depth in 2021, what with losing some real winning experience form their squad. The loss of 2020 Sean O'Loughlin may not be felt as acutely as if it had been Lockers of a few years earlier, but it's still a hole to fill, in leadership, experience and quality. John Batemen though is quite some replacement, even if not in the exact same playing role. Here's a player that genuinely is one of the best players in the world game. So it's huge for Wigan to have brought him back. He is the key man because he makes himself the key man in every game he plays, through his will, determination and competitiveness. Something thing Wigan have in abundance this year is options in the spine, with the retention of Bevan French and Jackson Hastings, the deferred retirement of Tommy Leuluai and the signing of Jai Field, who to be fair we don't know for sure how he'll go, plus the very talented young Harry Smith. Now, getting the mix right and creating consistent link ups whilst keeping everyone satisfied is a big challenge for Adrian Lam, so we will have to see if he gets it right. That said, he got it right in 2020 with the big call of putting French at fullback probably being a large part of the reason he earned coach of the year. Wigan have a group of relatively game hardened and very talented young forwards, with 2019 breakout Morgan Smithies and 2020 breakout Ethan Havard leading that group. Wigan probably would like another experienced prop in the mix, but I don't worry too much about their pack depth. This is despite Wigan being another top club that fills out their squad depth with youth - they have the youngest named squad for 2021. Looking at concerns, wing and centre jump out as the area Wigan lack proven depth, after years of trying to fit four top wingers into two wing spots. Yes Jake Bibby offers good cover, but he'll need to start things off with Liam Marshall still on the way back from serious injury. After that, there isn't really any cover, so Sam Halsall and Umyla Hanley will need to become Super League players rather than just Super League prospects this year.

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Mark

SLP