With two-thirds of the season gone, we’re heading to that time of the year when Super League players start to think about their vote on the competition’s biggest star.
Players like Danny Brough, Danny Houghton and Stefan Ratchford will all be put forward by fans of their respective clubs. They’ve all been consistently strong throughout the year.
But a quick glance at the stats suggests there are three, maybe four contenders – and the good news from a World Cup point of view is that they all play for England.
Sam Tomkins leads the try-scoring charts, has made nearly 25 per cent more tackle busts than any other player in Super League (81 compared to Kieran Dixon’s 65), and is only four clean breaks behind leader Josh Charnley (21 versus 25).
Charnley is one of the other candidates, backing up his clean breaks by trailing only Ryan Hall for metres made in 2013.
And a third Wigan star, Liam Farrell, also looks to be in the mix. Farrell’s progress this year has been startling and he has still only missed eight tackles all season.
The only man that looks capable of stopping a Wigan player taking the Man of Steel title is Rangi Chase, who has more try assists, carries and offloads than anyone else in the competition – three facts that underline his importance to Castleford and show why Steve McNamara has stuck with him.
Where would your vote go? For me, it’s a no-brainer.
Step forward Sam Tomkins. Again.
Speaking of Tomkins, credit must go to him after last week’s Exiles match. Not for producing his latest glittering performance, not for his stunning season so far, and not for the megabucks deals he will no doubt sign in the future.
Instead Tomkins deserves praise for being one of the few players who seems to have a natural understanding of how to sell rugby league.
Tomkins’ comments about the Exiles last week provided the only bit of headline-grabbing pre-match interest.
He said: “They’ll want to prove they’re the players that make the competition, the overseas players that come over and sign massive contracts and take money off young English lads who are trying to make a living.
“We want to prove why we English players are the best in the league.”
Tomkins has come to instinctively understand that rugby league is in the entertainment business. It’s about selling tickets. His verbal jab before kick off was pure box office, even if the Exiles fixtures are still treated with comparative disregard by most league fans.
As a sport that struggles to attract mainstream attention, we should be bolder with our approach – and Tomkins has shown the way.
Congratulations to Ben Jones-Bishop on his return to action on Monday night six months after being diagnosed with a blood clot on his lung.
He’s yet another rugby league star showing incredible toughness in the face of enormous adversity. Are any of these blokes normal?
We’d love to hear your thoughts. Drop them in the comments box below.
You can follow Neil Barraclough on Twitter @neilbarraclough