Super League XV has seen the rise of two sleeping giants of the game, in Wigan and Warrington, who have both promised much over the last two or three seasons, but failed to deliver (bar Warrington’s Challenge Cup success in 2009).
In Warrington’s case, much of their success this season can be put down to some shrewd maneuvers in the transfer market at the end of last season. In came Ryan Atkins, Richie Myler and David Solomona, who have all made significant contributions to the Warrington cause this year, propelling them to repeated success in the cup, and third place in the league. Most notably though, they are now genuine Grand Final challengers.
Wigan’s success is more due to a change of coaching staff at the DW, with Australian Michael Maguire taking the lead role. In fact, in direct contrast to Warrington (and others), Wigan made no high profile signings before the current campaign, and recruited just one player. Paul Deacon was released by Bradford, and came to Wigan for a final swan-song before retirement. His recruitment went largely unnoticed; dwarfed by the big money moves of Matt Orford (to Bradford), Mark O’Meley (to Hull), Richie Myler (to Warrington), Shane Tronc (to Wakefield) and Greg Eastwood (to Leeds).
With the play-offs about to begin, transfer announcements for next season have been coming thick and fast, but who will make the best deals, and who will show themselves to be the most significant new arrivals?
Wigan have recruited three Australians for the 2011 season, all from the stricken Melbourne Storm club. Of the three, half back Brett Finch could be seen as the most significant. His eleven season career in the NRL includes three State of Origin appearances for New South Wales, and three Grand Final appearances, including victory in 2009.
St Helens have also looked to Australia for one of their three new signings, with Josh Perry joining from Manly. In addition, they have recruited two England internationals in Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook from Harlequins and Michael Shenton from Castleford. Perry and McCarthy-Scarsbrook look to be improvements on the outgoing Bryn Hargreaves (Bradford) and Maurie Fa’asavalu (Harlequins RU). But Shenton has big boots to fill, as he replaces Aussie centre Matt Gidley, who has been the latest in a long line of legendary centres at Saints, that also includes Jamie Lyon, Paul Newlove, Scott Gibbs and Mal Meninga. Time will tell whether or not he can live up his billing.
Warrington welcome in last year’s Man of Steel, Brett Hodgson from Huddersfield, although at 33 (by the time the new season starts), age is against him repeating his best form. Bradford and Salford too have largely looked to current Super League players to bolster their squads for next season. The former will be hoping that young winger Shaun Ainscough (Wigan) can start to live up to his promise, while veteran France international Oliver Elima (Catalan) looks certain to be a fine addition. Salford have bought a wealth of experience in the form of Iafeta Paleaaesina, Phil Bailey (both Wigan), Chris Nero (Bradford), Stephen Wild (Huddersfield) and Vinnie Anderson (Warrington), to name but a few. None are likely to set Super League alight, but perhaps experience is the last ingredient they need to mix into their current youthful side. Both Bradford and Salford should be vying for a play-off birth next time round.
Of the rest, the headline grabber is undoubtedly Willie Mason joining Hull KR from North Queensland Cowboys. The Aussie heavyweight has never been far from controversy throughout his eleven year career, and looks certain to make his mark on Super League in one way or another.