Young guns set to shine in 2010
They’re young, they’re gifted and they’re back – back in action from this weekend.
With just three days to go before the new Engage Super League season kicks off in earnest, some of the finest young athletes this country has ever produced are honing their preparations for a year to remember.
Across all 14 clubs, 2010 will see increasing numbers of the new breed of Engage Super League young guns take centre stage in the world’s most exciting club rugby competition.
And for former dual-code international, BJ Mather, the new season is the start of what could be a golden era in the 115-year history of Rugby League.
Mather was just 20 when he made his Great Britain debut in 1994 but the former Wigan, Sale and England RU winger or centre believes the Class of 2010 are streets ahead in virtually every aspect of their game.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a time when the sport has had such an abundance of riches in terms of young talent coming through. The quality and quantity of this new generation of players is just mind-blowing,” said Mather, the RFL’s Head of Player Development.
“Players like Kyle Eastmond, Sam Tomkins, Richie Myler and Tom Briscoe have already made the breakthrough into the senior England team and they’re just 19 or 20.
“Behind them there’s a whole raft of players who are going to be knocking at the door when it comes to selecting the England squad for the Four Nations Down Under in the autumn.
“This is going to be an Engage Super League season to remember for so many reasons. I can’t wait for it to start.”
Mather believes 2010 will also see a Changing of the Guard within Engage Super League as the elite youngsters take the limelight from some of the competition’s stalwarts.
The likes of Leeds Rhinos centre Keith Senior and St Helens hooker Keiron Cunningham, who have played in Super League since the inaugural Super League season in 1996, are approaching the end of their illustrious careers and their clubs have already groomed successors.
“This is going to be a big year for James Roby and Scott Moore at Saints because it’s their last chance to benefit from Keiron’s experience,” said Mather.
“It’s the same at Leeds where Kallum Watkins’s development will continue as he learns from playing alongside Keith.
“There are also a lot of high quality Australian players in Engage Super League this year and they can have a big influence on the young English players.
“Someone like Steve Menzies at Bradford has been a consummate professional at the highest level in Australia and I’m sure that teenage Bulls like twins Tom and George Burgess will gain a lot from training and playing alongside Steve.”
Mather feels the youngsters who lit up Engage Super League in 2009 are just the tip of a very exciting iceberg and is promising fans that more are on their way in 2010.
“Most clubs have at least two or three teenagers in their Academy or the fringe of their first team squad who are ready to shine in Engage Super League,” he said.
“The clubs have spent significant sums in player development in the last few years and that investment is now reaping dividends.
“In every match from this weekend until October we’re going to see some wonderful young players in action and that can only make Engage Super League a competition nobody wants to miss.”
The first full round of Engage Super League 2010 kicks off on Friday night Huddersfield Giants face Bradford Bulls in front of the Sky HD cameras. Defending champions Leeds Rhinos also host Castleford Tigers at Headingley Carnegie Stadium in an eagerly-anticipated derby while Welsh clubs Crusaders RL head to Wigan Warriors.
On Saturday St Helens, the 2009 Engage Super League Grand Final runners-up, take on Hull FC at GPW Recruitment Stadium and three matches take place on Sunday: Hull KR v Salford City Reds, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats v Catalans Dragons and Warrington Wolves v Harlequins RL.