Ones to Watch: The import factor

Last week’s blog focused on the emergence of youth within the super league ranks. The shining lights of the Super League’s academies, who seem sure to have a big future in the game.  The discovery of these young starlets is obviously essential for the game, and a fantastic product of the licensing system, but fans want to see the big-time players as well. 

This close season a number of clubs have captured the imagination of their fans with their signings of some of the world’s leading Rugby League players. Added to the existing array of foreign talent, Super League can expect to see the likes of Greg Eastwood, Matt Orford, Craig Fitzgibbon and Glenn Hall, plying their trade in the competition in 2010.

These imports can only enhance the stature and quality of the competition. We all recognise and accept that the main goal of super League is to create a competitive, world-class breeding ground for English international talent, much in the mould of the NRL, and these top-quality players can help by drawing on all their experiences, talent and nous to further improve the competition in such a way.

The blog normally sees me pick five players on the theme but with the amount of quality brought into the competition this year it was difficult and decided to pick seven players this time around. So these are the seven foreign imports I believe will make the biggest and most eye-catching contribution to Super League as a whole, but also their respective clubs.  

Matt Orford – Bradford Bulls

The perceived star foreign import of 2010. The former Manly and Melbourne scrum-half arrives at Odsal with a glowing reputation. A highly skilled ball player, Orford possesses that touch of class to unlock any defence. The Australian’s kicking game is also without fault, and regularly turns the opposition around with astute, accurate kicking.

With the loss of Paul Deacon to Wigan, it seems likely Orford will take over the captaincy at the Grattan Stadium, a role he thrived in at Manly. The Australian captained the Sea Eagles to a NRL premiership in 2008 and a World Club Challenge over Leeds Rhinos in 2009.

If Bradford are to challenge the likes of Leeds and St Helens for honours again this year, Orford will most definitely be the central figure at Odsal.

Greg Eastwood – Leeds Rhinos

Kiwi international forward Greg Eastwood finally reaches Super League this year after spending last season on loan at the Canterbury Bulldogs due to visa problems.

A giant in all senses of the word, Eastwood is powerful, athletic, hits hard and is deceptively quick for such a big guy.  Leeds have been looking for a replacement for Gareth Ellis since his departure and they’ve finally got their man.

With Leeds looking strong in the forwards anyway, Eastwood adds yet more quality to the Rhinos pack.  Expect big things from this young Kiwi, who at 22 has his best years in front of him.

David Fa’alogo – Huddersfield Giants

Another Kiwi back-rower, David Fa’alogo looks an intelligent signing by Giants coach Nathan Brown.  Fa’alogo had his contract terminated in September for allegedly punching former South Sydney coach Jason Taylor, and Huddersfield moved quickly for their man.

Fa’alogo is a versatile second-rower, renowned for his high work-rate and solid defence and will add yet more steel and solidarity to the Huddersfield team who will be aiming to kick on from last years undoubted successes.  

Craig Fitzgibbon – Hull FC

A veteran of the NRL, Craig Fitzgibbon represented the Sydney Roosters 228 times is his ten seasons at the club.  He also has 11 New South Wales appearances and 19 Australian caps to his name, and is a stalwart of a back-row forward.

An all-round individual Fitzgibbon runs aggressive lines in attack, is rock-solid in defence and can kick a goal or too as well.  Fitzgibbon will be key to any successes that Hull FC are striving towards this season, and along with fellow ex-Rooster, Mark O’Meley, the Hull pack look more potent than ever with the inclusion of Fitzgibbon.

Matt Utai – Crusaders RL

Maybe a strange pick for some, but when looked at against the raw facts, Utai looks a shrewd signing by the Brian Noble and his backroom staff.  In last year’s Super League, the Crusaders only managed 357 points all season and lacked pace and power in the backs.  Utai comes straight from the NRL where he touched down 71 times in 124 games for the Canterbury Bulldogs.

A pacey and powerful winger, Utai has represented New Zealand and Samoa on the international stage and was named Daly M Rookie of the Year back in 2002.

Utai’s try-scoring ability will be vital if the Crusaders are to improve and progress in Super League XV.

Dallas Johnson – Catalans Dragons

Former Melbourne Storm loose-forward Dallas Johnson moves to the south of France as a replacement for NRL-bound Greg Bird.

Johnson has represented Queensland 12 times and the Kangaroos once.  He is known for his style as a modern day workhorse, regularly averaging over 40 tackles a game.  In the 2007 origin series, Johnson made an Origin record 62 tackles in the 77 minutes he was on the field, and tackle every New South Wales player except Jamie Lyon.

This commitment and enthusiasm Johnson exhibits in every one of his matches will be vital for the Dragons, if they are to build on last season’s stunning play-off display and maybe make it one step further.

Iosia Soliola – St Helens

Yet another New Zealand international, Iosia Soliola joins St Helens on the back of four seasons with the Sydney Roosters.  Primarily utilised in the centres, but also a handy back-rower, Soliola will be hoping to stamp his authority onto Super League.

The Kiwi is a ferocious tackler, and averaged more tackles per game than any other centre in the NRL last season with nearly 20 per game.  He also uses his considerable size in attack to power through defences with barn-storming runs.

At 23, Soliola is open to improvement and Saints will be confident that he has his best Rugby years in the famous red vee.

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