Paul Aiton (Catalans Dragons)
The diminutive hooker’s move to the South of France could be vital in several ways. For starters, Aiton knows all about winning games in the North of England, something Catalans have struggled at doing for many years. The Papua New Guinea international has plenty of experience of winning games with Leeds, and also brings some of the Rhinos’ discipline and professional culture with him. His link up with half-back Richie Myler should produce some entertaining rugby, if nothing else.
He also offers a slightly different style to the man he is replacing, Ian Henderson, who was a more combative and confrontational dummy half. Aiton offers more ball-playing and creativity, as well as a fierce will to win which is the equal of any in Super League. An intelligent and articulate man off the field, Aiton also interacts well with the British media, which will help Catalans develop a more visible presence outside of France.
Possibly the transfer of the close season in many ways, the acquisition of the England back rower by the Rhinos may have surprised some observers, especially given the nature of the player’s departure from Huddersfield Giants.
There is no doubt, however, about the 29-year-old’s ability, and he will add experience to a Leeds pack which has lost Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai to the passage of time in the close season. Ferres can add experience, steel and a proven winning ability to what Leeds already have in abundance, and the new number 26 could be a key addition to a Rhinos squad which is ever greedy for more glory.
Although not the biggest name on this list by any means, Hull KR‘s signing of the Irish international perhaps marks the start of the ‘Jamie Peacock era’ at Rovers. The former Rhinos prop was appointed as director of rugby in the close season at the KC Lightstream Stadium, and he is clearly exerting a strong influence on recruitment already.
Mulhern, a tough running prop who has bags of potential is clearly highly rated by Peacock, both as a player and a person. With Rovers having lacked a real intimidating focus for their forward pack for a few seasons now, this could Mulhern’s chance to establish himself as a hero to the East Stand. With JP looking on, he is sure to screw the nut and work hard.
Although not returning until the spring time due to injury, the re-signing of the full-back by Wigan is interesting. Some might say that Tomkins represents a step backwards for the club, with the full-back not having made that great an impression in the NRL while at New Zealand Warriors for the last two years. There are also very talented youngsters waiting in the wings who can play full-back at the club.
But Tomkins is a superb talent who will undoubtedly feel that he has a point to prove to the cynics and doubters who have sneered at his return home. Whether or not Wigan are a better side than when he left is a moot point, but they are certainly tougher and more experienced then they were then. Could Tomkins be the missing piece which sees Shaun Wane’s team become champions again? We’ll see.
Frank Pritchard (Hull FC)
Hull FC seem to have been on the verge of a breakthrough for about a decade now, and have never managed to achieve it. The arrival of a genuine star like former Kiwi and Samoan international back rower Frank Pritchard may give them the lift they need to finally break into the top four.
Vastly experienced, with 27 caps for New Zealand and four for Samoa, as well as almost 250 NRL games, the 32-year-old forward still has plenty of miles left on the clock too. An NRL Grand Final winner with Canterbury Bulldogs, the Airlie Birds had to battle for his signature with three or four other Super League clubs, a testament to the man’s talents. He will add steel and a proven winning ability to the Hull pack, and will be a perfect complement for Gareth Ellis, should the latter stay fit.
Widnes have continued their quiet approach to development by adding experienced back rower Houston to the ranks during the close season. The addition of Houston, 30, adds another rung to the ladder towards consistent success which Denis Betts and the club hierarchy are building.
The back row forward has played 176 games in the NRL for the Knights and St George-Illawarra Dragons, and is renown for being an uncompromising tackler. An 80-minute forward, Houston can run effective lines off his team’s half-backs, and he will undoubtedly make the Vikings a tougher and more resilient propostion in Super League in 2016. Whether or not he, alongside fellow newcomer Corey Thompson, can spark the Chemics into the top eight remains to be seen, however.