It’s the time of year when clubs start to announce their signings for next season, and with some big names soon to be out of contract, this year’s merry-go-round looks to be as packed as ever.
I have to admit that, as a fan, I find all the transfer talk gripping, as speculation turns to rumour, and rumour to reality (or otherwise).
As the overseas quota rules tighten, we might actually start to see some of the best antipodean talent reach our shores, as Super League clubs start to get picky. With quota places at a premium, surely only the best will do to fill them? With that in mind, the Melbourne Storm’s much publicised salary cap indiscretions could bring some of their star names to our lowly Lancashire and Yorkshire towns.
Already on Wigan and Hull KR’s wish list is stand off Brett Finch. And both teams might think they have the edge over the other, as Finch has worked closely with coaches Michael Maguire and Justin Morgan in the past. Finch is also said to be close friends with KR’s Clint Newton, but will that friendship be enough to dissuade him from the table-topping Warriors?
Other Storm players whose names could appear on the back of a Super League jersey next year, include second rower Ryan Hoffman, winger/centre Anthony Quinn and prop forwards Jeff Lima and Sika Manu. Unsurprisingly – given the Maguire connection – Wigan have been linked with all four.
Some of Super League’s finest are also on the move. Huddersfield’s reigning Man of Steel, Brett Hodgson has already announced his hop over the Pennines to rivals Warrington, with the knock-on affect being yet another move for Warrington’s current number one, Richie Mathers. Richie has yet to announce his destination, but with it already confirmed that he has shunned a switch to Rugby Union, it looks to be just a matter of time before an announcement is made. Wigan’s Iafeta Paleaaesina also looks likely to be moving on at the season’s end, with Bradford Bulls one possible destination. And Huddersfield’s Martin Aspinwall could be on his way out of the Galpharm, with Salford said to be interested.
Possibly two of the highest profile moves could be those of England internationals Michael Shenton and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook. At 23 and 24 years old, both players have a bright future ahead of them, having already made their mark on the game despite playing for two of Super League’s ‘lesser’ teams. Shenton is rumoured to be swapping Castleford for St Helens, while McCarthy-Scarsbrook finds himself in the middle of a bidding war between fierce rivals St Helens and Wigan.
But it isn’t just about bringing new players in – some teams have also moved to retain out of contract players; tying them down for another season or two. Darrell Goulding at Wigan, Jake Webster at Hull KR and Mike Cooper at Warrington have all signed new deals at their current clubs, whilst Leeds have retained seven first team stars, including veteran centre Keith Senior, winger Scott Donald and hooking duo Danny Buderus and Matt Diskin.
Assembling what looks like a strong squad is only half the story of course. Success is a recipe that is difficult to master, and certainly has many more ingredients than just a few good players. Bradford are a testament to that this season, as their fans are discovering. A team sprinkled with big names, that on paper appeared to be a potential front runner, has failed to live up to their promise, and currently sit perilously in the final play-off place, some 15 points off the pace. Whereas Wigan are perhaps proof that high profile recruitment isn’t always the answer. The team that finished sixth in the table last year, brought in only one player in the off-season, yet a new coaching set up has now helped propel them to the Super League summit.
This season is still far from over – in fact the main attractions of Challenge Cup and Grand Finals are still months away – yet the transfer merry-go-round is already bringing with it a sense of anticipation for next season. How will the teams line up next Februray? And who will get the recipe for success right?