Ranking Super League’s best winger candidates after Paul Wellens’ Tommy Makinson claim

Ben Olawumi
Liam Marshall, Tommy Makinson, Ash Handley

Wigan Warriors' Liam Marshall (left), St Helens' Tommy Makinson (middle) & Leeds Rhinos' Ash Handley (right)

Paul Wellens believes Tommy Makinson is ‘one of, if not the best wingers in Super League’. But do the stats back that up?

Wellens delivered that verdict on Good Friday, after long-time pal, former team-mate and now the man he heads up as a coach – Makinson – scored the late try which put Saints in front in the derby against Wigan Warriors.

Konrad Hurrell would power his way over soon after to put the icing on the cake for Wellens’ side, who ran out 12-4 winners and became the first team to beat their bitter rivals since last July, ensuring it would be they who were top come Easter.

In fairness to Makinson, Wellens’ statement is quite obviously correct. He’s been there, done it and got the t-shirt with pretty much every accolade going.

The 32-year-old now needs just one more try to make it to the milestone of 200 in his club career, and just four more to make it 200 for Saints alone. For reference, he’s grabbed 196 in the Red V to date, with three to his name for Rochdale Hornets having scored a hat-trick for them in his one appearance back in 2013 against Gateshead Thunder as we then knew them!

But we had to do a bit of a statistical breakdown, if for nothing but our own entertainment, and compare Makinson to five other current Super League wingers who we consider amongst the best.

It just so happens that three of these are England internationals too, all vying against Tommy Mak for a spot in Shaun Wane’s starting 13, and another should be in contention too…

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Tommy Makinson

Tommy Makinson
Tommy Makinson runs out ahead of St Helens’ Good Friday clash against Wigan Warriors at the Totally Wicked Stadium

As he’s the man we’re measuring the other five against, we thought we’d better start with a look at his own stats.

For the sake of fairness, we’re going to use the three measurements we think are most important where wingers are concerned – tries, metres made and carries. As Wellens is talking about the here and now, we’ll use this season alone.

And as we’re still in the early stages of the campaign, with some clubs – and players too – having played more games than others, we’ll average it out over the number of Super League games they have played.

So, for instance, Makinson has played in five of Saints’ six Super League games to date in 2024. He withdrew in the warm-up at Leeds Rhinos a few weeks back, which is why he doesn’t have a full set of six.

The Saints stalwart, who is the club’s second-highest try-scorer in the Super League era behind only boss Wellens, has three to his name in Super League this year.

Having played five matches, that’s an average of 0.6 tries per game. He’s currently averaging just over 100 metres per game from 15 carries too.

Tries (Average per game): 3 (0.6)

Metres (Average per game): 536 (107.2)

Carries (Average per game): 75 (15)

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Matty Ashton (Warrington Wolves)

Matty Ashton Warrington Wolves Alamy
Matty Ashton applauds the Warrington Wolves fans after their win at Hull KR

Wire flier (no, not that one) Ashton was 12 years old when Makinson debuted for Saints back in February 2011. Fast forward 13 years, and as he approaches his 26th birthday, the Heywood native is one of the first names on Sam Burgess‘ teamsheet.

Having joined the Wolves from Swinton Lions in 2019, Ashton debuted the year after and has enjoyed a tremendous rise since then, scoring his first England tries in last autumn’s test series against Tonga when presented with an opportunity following an injury to Makinson.

This year for Warrington, the speedster is yet to miss a game in any competition, and has scored three tries in six Super League appearances, two of those coming against Castleford Tigers in Round 3. He’s also made more metres and carries than Makinson, but this is where the averages come in, as having played a game more he actually averages a lower return in all three areas.

Tries (Average per game): 3 (0.5)

Metres (Average per game): 594 (99)

Carries (Average per game): 84 (14)

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Ash Handley (Leeds Rhinos)

Ash Handley
Leeds Rhinos’ Ash Handley crosses for a try in Round 1 against Salford Red Devils

Rhinos academy product Handley is far from a new kid on the block, it’s actually 10 years in August since his Leeds debut! But the 28-year-old would admit himself that as far as starts to a season go, this is his best in a long time.

A two-time England international, the Leeds ace – who ended the year as Super League’s top try-scorer in 2020 – had to sit out of last autumn’s international test series against Tonga through injury, and has used that disappointment as fuel for his fire.

With seven tries in the first six Super League games of 2024, he’s the competition’s top scorer as things stand and that’s despite not scoring in the last two rounds. He’s also incredibly close to being the leader where metres and carries are concerned, narrowly trailing Warrington full-back Matt Dufty in both of those categories.

Tries (Average per game): 7 (1.17)

Metres (Average per game): 1071 (178.5)

Carries (Average per game): 121 (20.17)

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Tom Johnstone (Catalans Dragons)

Tom Johnstone
Tom Johnstone in action for Catalans Dragons against Castleford Tigers

28-year-old Johnstone played – and scored – for England for the first time in five years against Tonga in October. He did so on the back of a 2023 campaign which saw him end as the competition’s joint-top scorer alongside Wigan’s Abbas Miski, who he went up against in the Grand Final at Old Trafford.

The Dragons ace hasn’t exactly enjoyed a blistering start to the 2024 campaign, with talk continuing around his future, off-contract come the end of the year with former club Wakefield Trinity reportedly interested in re-signing the flier.

Nevertheless, having featured in all six games so far, he scored his first Super League try of 2024 in Round 5 against Castleford and followed it up with a brace in Catalans’ Rivals Round win at Warrington. We’re sure we’ll see the below numbers pick up in the next few weeks.

Tries (Average per game): 3 (0.5)

Metres (Average per game): 799 (133.17)

Carries (Average per game): 95 (15.84)

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Liam Marshall (Wigan Warriors)

Liam Marshall
Liam Marshall runs in to score a try for Wigan Warriors against Huddersfield Giants at the DW Stadium

Very much like Makinson, Wigan stalwart Marshall has been there and done it all with the t-shirts – and various winners’ medals – to prove it, at least at club level. Astoundingly, the 27-year-old still awaits his official England debut, with his only international appearance an unofficial one in a World Cup warm-up game against Fiji back in 2022.

Nevertheless, you aren’t in a Wigan shirt for as many years as he has been without being at the absolute top of your game. Marshall has popped up with so many memorable tries over the last few years, scoring the winners in both the Challenge Cup final and Grand Final in Matt Peet‘s tenure alone. He needs just three more for the milestone of 150 career tries.

This year, he’s only played four of the Warriors’ five Super League games, rested against London Broncos, but has six tries to his name with an average of 1.5 per game. That’s the highest average of anyone in the top flight currently, with Saints the only club he didn’t score against this year to date. Additionally, he’s averaged more metres and carries than most on this list so far…

Tries (Average per game): 6 (1.5)

Metres (Average per game): 538 (134.5)

Carries (Average per game): 63 (15.75)

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Adam Swift (Huddersfield Giants)

Adam Swift try v Hull FC
Huddersfield Giants ace Adam Swift scores a try in the Challenge Cup Sixth Round against former employers Hull FC

Given that it was a decade ago, it’s easy to forget that Swift is actually a Grand Final winner, crowned a Super League champion with hometown club Saints back in 2014, beating rivals Wigan at the Theatre of Dreams with then-team-mate Makinson on the scoresheet after Ben Flower had seen red early on.

Swift now has 125 Super League tries in 179 appearances, that including five for Huddersfield in his first six league games since an off-season move from Hull FC, where he scored for fun in what frankly was a poor side. Super League’s joint fourth-highest try-scorer so far in 2024. Bagsman.

The 31-year-old isn’t bad where metres and carries are concerned either! Someone that’s perhaps overlooked more often than not because he isn’t doing it week in, week out for one of the ‘top’ clubs in the competition.

Tries (Average per game): 5 (0.84)

Metres (Average per game): 802 (133.67)

Carries (Average per game): 102 (17)

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The outcome…

So, with all of the above considered, who is the best winger in Super League?

Liam Marshall, Tommy Makinson, Ash Handley
Wigan Warriors’ Liam Marshall (left), St Helens’ Tommy Makinson (middle) & Leeds Rhinos’ Ash Handley (right)

We’ll let you decide! Come on, we were never going to stick our necks on the line, not until it comes to Dream Team time nearer the end of the campaign anyway, when we promise we’ll deliver some predictions.

For now, we’ll just leave you to decide based upon the statistics we’ve provided. Makinson’s current numbers aren’t breaking any pots, but we can still appreciate just how good a player he is without a shadow of a doubt.

Marshall is your go-to man for tries, Handley – by some distance (get the pun!) – for metres and it’s the Leeds winger again where carries are concerned.

At least for the time being, anyway…

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