It’s still fairly early on in the Super League season but spectators have already been treated to some amazing team displays. Warrington sit on top but are joint on points with a side that seems to get better and better each week, Catalans Dragons. However, it is the personal performances that we would like to take a look at to see who is already putting down an early marker to be named the Steve Prescott Man of Steel.
Widnes have enjoyed their best ever start to a Super League season and have proven that it doesn’t take a large amount of money to put together a committed team worthy of challenging for honours. No one at the organisation took their eyes off the long-term goal for the club and have seen that tactic pay off this year with the team currently sitting in fifth; just four points off the top despite going on a four-match losing run in the league.
One of the standout performers for the Cheshire-based side has been fullback Rhys Hanbury. Hanbury, who joined the club in 2012, has been extremely influential this season making over 1300 metres, scoring seven tries and assisting four. The Australian has also taken over the goal kicking duties, after the injury and subsequent departure of Danny Tickle, kicking over 70% of his attempts.
The Vikings are definitely on course for a finish in the Super 8s and if they can avoid injuries to key players like Joe Mellor, Kevin Brown, Corey Thompson and Rhys Hanbury then they could definitely compete for a top four spot.
After the announcement that Wayne Bennett would be taking over from Steve McNamara as England head coach, discussion was rife that changes would be made to the team and after many years of being overlooked (even when making the final squad), people have thrown Luke Gale’s name back into the hat; and if this season is anything to go by, Bennett would do well to listen.
Luke Gale has always been a standout performer in every team he has played for. After just two years at Doncaster, the Leeds Academy graduate had won the National League Two Player of the Year award and become the club’s record points scorer in a season. Since then, the scrum-half has played for Harlequins, Bradford and his current club, Castleford.
This season, Gale has been a key playmaker for the Tigers setting up 14 tries and scoring one himself. Talking of making plays, the halfback has also made 163 tackles and kicked over 80% of his 48 attempted goal kicks. After the season-ending injury to captain Michael Shenton at the start of the season, the Tigers needed someone to take up the mantle and Luke Gale has done exactly that.
Another side that had a great start to the season was Hull FC and once again the player leading the charge was Danny ‘tackle everything that moves’ Houghton. Last season, Houghton only managed to score one try and assist 10. However, in just 11 games this year the hooker has already scored four tries and assisted eight.
Houghton is one of the toughest players to pull on a Hull jersey and that is reflected in his unbelievable tackling record. Since 2010 his position on the Top Tackler leaderboard reads: 211121. This year is no different, Houghton has made 478 tackles and currently sits on top of the top tackler list once again just ahead of the extremely imposing Sam Powell of the Wigan Warriors in second.
To borrow a phrase from American Football, ‘Defence wins Championships’ and if Houghton can inspire the rest of his team to hold out their opposition then the Airlie Birds could fly their way to Old Trafford in October.
In the past, it’s been reported that Richie Myler ‘isn’t the right type of scrum-half’ and when it was announced that he was to leave Warrington in 2015, Tony Smith said ‘Richie is a different type of player… what we need right now is an organiser.’ Well this season, that ‘different type of player’ has helped to turn Catalans Dragons into a real contender and is currently experiencing the form of his life.
Myler, when joining Warrington, was the game’s most expensive teenager and got to learn from one of the best organisers in the British game, Lee Briers. The move to to the Dragons seemed to go a little under the radar, with many not seeing what else Myler had left to offer. However, he has certainly settled in the South of France and hasn’t looked back helping his side to second in the league, joint on points with, you guessed it.. Warrington.
Myler, who also played for Widnes and Salford, has grown into his role over time and this year has five tries and seven assists as well as an impressive 163 tackles.
Warrington have had an amazing start to the season and the team that states that every year is the year of the wolf, even have the most cynical of doubters believing that it could actually be ‘their year’.
On paper, Warrington’s team is clearly one of, if not THE best in the league and a lot of their best players have been signed from other clubs. However, it is one of their academy graduates that is leading the way, Ben Currie (alongside a very influential Aussie import who we will mention next).
Currie on average is making over eight and a half metres per carry and has 1055 in total so far this year. The second-rower has also got himself on the scoresheet 10 times and has assisted six. He has been just as influential in defence notching up 282 tackles. Wolves fans will be delighted to know that Currie signed a contract last year that keeps him at the club until 2019 and Tony Smith believes that the youngster will lead out the team as captain in the future.
The best thing about Currie’s performances so far this year? He’s only 21, he could be dominating lists like this for years.
Of course no list talking about potential Man of Steel contenders would be complete without mentioning Chris Sandow. When Sandow first came to Warrington he was thrown in at the deep end against the eventual treble winners, Leeds Rhinos, and could do nothing to stop his side going down 49-10. He slowly grew into his role and has hit the ground running this season, only being slowed by an unfortunate hamstring tear against the Wigan Warriors in Round nine.
Sandow’s vision is second to none and his kicking game has been exceptional at times this season. Not only that but he has created so many moments of magic that won’t be forgotten any time soon. The kicks to the corner against Leeds and Wigan that many thought weren’t an option, but resulted in Kevin Penny scoring in the corner both times, and the long-range drop goal under pressure as the hooter sounded to take his side to a 31-30 victory over Salford are some that stand out.
So far this year Sandow has played eight games and around a 25 minute spell against Wigan before he got injured and has scored eight tries, and assisted 15. His injury is going to see him miss a few ore rounds of Super League but if he can return and rediscover his fine early season form then Sandow will be more than worthy of being named the Steve Prescott Man of Steel.
Follow Daniel Roberts on Twitter @DannyRoberts74