For all the new foreign imports and quality signings made by the Super League sides this year, the licensing system was never put in place for an influx of antipodean talent.
We all obviously love to see the likes of Matt Gidley, Brent Webb, Greg Bird amongst others, and this year is no exception with NRL stars like Greg Eastwood and Matt Orford joining the ranks of foreign imports. But the licensing system was put in place to create stability and nurture the younger talent of the game.
It is therefore no coincidence that last year’s Super League became home to some of the most exciting young players of recent years. Sam Tomkins, Kyle Eastmond & Richie Myler are perhaps the most notable of the bunch; three extremely talented half-backs with pace, vision, creativity and a wealth of skill. The success of the licensing system extended with all three gaining England caps; all impressing fans and media alike along the way.
So who are the ‘next big things’ ready to make an impact in Super League XV? I’ve chosen 5 talented youngsters who I think are ready to make a big impression in the Super League this year when called upon.
Paul McShane – Leeds Rhinos
Paul McShane may be not so well known to those who aren’t followers of Leeds, but most Rhinos fans realise that after Danny Buderus’ contract expires at the end of the season, Brian McClennan will be in no rush to search for a new rake. McShane has starred for the academy in recent seasons and is highly rated by the Leeds supremo. He only managed three first team appearances last year but starred when deputising for the injured Buderus and Matt Diskin in a 14-10 win over Warrington at the Halliwell Jones Stadium. McShane is quick and intelligent around the ruck, a strong tackler and also possesses a range of kicking skills. Big things are expected of the former England Academy international, and McShane may get a few more opportunities this time around.
Richie Myler – Warrington Wolves
An obvious choice, but this is a big year for young Richie Myler. After starring in his debut Super League season at Salford, and now a big money acquisition for the Warrington Wolves, Myler has the chance to prove to everyone just how good he is, and go some way to justifying his sizable transfer fee. Warrington have a much more mobile and dominant forward pack than Salford, and should lay a solid platform for Myler to weave his magic alongside Lee Briers. With the likes of fellow new-boy Ryan Atkins and flyer Chris Hicks in the backs, the pressure will be on Myler to orchestrate a potent backline at the Halliwell Jones Stadium this year, and build on the Challenge Cup win with some more silverware this term.
Ben Jones-Bishop – Harlequins RL
Leeds loanee Ben Jones-Bishop will spend the year at the Twickenham Stoop, and the full-back looks set for a bright future. A product of the Leeds academy, Jones-Bishop chose to embark on the long road south to work under former Leeds assistant Brian McDermott. Quins fought off stiff competition from other Super League teams to capture Jones-Bishop, who is highly regarded within Rugby League circles. The challenge for Jones-Bishop will be to ultimately force his way into the Quins team and prove to his parent club that he is the heir apparent to Brent Webb. Jones-Bishop has made a handful of appearances for Leeds over the last couple of years and has impressed with his pace, reading of the game and ability under the high ball. When Jones-Bishop gets his chance this year, expect him to take it with both hands.
Jonny Lomax – St Helens
The Saints academy is fabled for producing some starlets of Super League like James Graham, James Roby and Paul Wellens. After making five appearances last season, Jonny Lomax will be hoping to force his way into the Saints line-up again in Super League XV. Originally a stand-off, Lomax was used on the wing and at full-back last season, and many of the Saints faithful feel he may be the heir apparent to stalwart Paul Wellens. Pacey, good under the high ball and with the creative tendencies of a stand-off, Lomax possesses all the qualities to become a mainstay of the Saints line-up for a few years to come. Whether he cements his place this year is questionable, but if called upon Lomax will certainly not let anyone down.
Gary Wheeler – St Helens
Another straight off the St Helens production line is centre/winger Gary Wheeler. Wheeler impressed when called upon last year and reads the game excellently. Expect Mick Potter to have no hesitation in throwing Wheeler straight into the side if any member of the Saints back-line is injured or underperforming. Like Jonny Lomax, Wheeler’s favoured position is at stand-off but his versatility means he can cover a number of positions. A quick pair of hands, good kicking game and an excellent rugby brain means Wheeler will almost certainly be in and around the Saints first-team for years to come.
With these players and other youngsters such as Kallum Watkins, Richard Owen and Jordan Turner also playing in the competition, the future of the competition looks very bright indeed.