All posts by ZachHolland

Top 10 New Zealand internationals to play in British rugby league

Bradford Bulls legendary winger Lesley Vainikolo

After the news that Sonny Bill Williams is set to make his return to rugby league with newly promoted Toronto Wolfpack, we look at ten other New Zealand internationals who have made their mark in the UK’s premier competition.

These 10 Kiwi internationals are:

Dean Bell

One of rugby league’s biggest characters was an integral member of a Wigan side that utterly dominated the rugby league scene in the UK throughout the mid-1980s and early 1990s.

The Warriors unprecedented run of eight consecutive Challenge Cup victories and seven RFL Championships remains unmatched today.

It was Bell who proved to be one of the sides’ biggest threats offensively and defensively.

Former Wigan Warriors player Dean Bell

As tough in defence as he was electric with the ball in his hand, the former New Zealand international went on to make 253 appearances.

In that time, he went on to score 96 tries for the formidable Lancashire outfit, while also playing for both Carlisle and Leeds during hi time in England.


Frano Botica

Between 1990 and 1995, Botica made a reputation as one of the most prolific points scorers of that period or indeed any.

He was another member of the dominant Wigan side that ran rampant in the early to mid-1990s.

Former Wigan Warriors player Frano Botica

In only a short amount of time, the former stand-off became the quickest British-based player to go past 1000 points after achieving the feat in only his 93rd game.


Thomas Leuluai

An iron man of rugby league who can undoubtedly be considered as one of the finest players to play in Super League.

The 34-year-old turned out for London Broncos as well as Wigan in two separate stints.

Wigan Warriors utility Thomas Leuluai

Once between 2007 and 2012 and now from 2017 to the present day.

In both stints with the Cherry and Whites, Leuluai was a prime catalyst going forward as well as being as hard working on the defensive side of the ball.


Brent Webb

Somewhat of a fan favourite amongst the Leeds faithful between 2007 and 2012.

After making the move over from the New Zealand Warriors, Webb was able to translate his fine attacking play into the British game.

Former Leeds Rhinos utility back Brent Webb

He quickly became a pivotal member of a Rhinos side that was starting to become one of the league’s most standout teams.

In his six seasons with the Rhinos, he was a big factor in five Super League titles, made 162 appearances and scored 91 tries.


Lesley Vainikolo

The ‘Volcano’ was the ultimate try scoring machine during the early 2000s and showcased to be one of the notable faces and stars in Super League during the early part of the 21st century.

The powerhouse winger was part of a truly exciting Bradford Bulls team.

After impressing with Canberra, Vainikolo made the move over to the Super League in 2002.

Bradford Bulls legendary winger Lesley Vainikolo

In turn, he became one of the league’s most unstoppable forces.

By 2007, he notched 147 tries in 152 appearances and broke several try scoring records along the way.


Robbie Hunter Paul

When you think Bradford Bulls during the 1990s and early 2000s, then Robbie Paul may just be one of the first names that springs to mind.

There is certainly an argument to be made that Paul is one of the greatest players to ever put on a Bulls shirt as time and time again, he would put forth a big time performance.

After arriving in West Yorkshire in 1994, Paul went on to be one of Bradford’s biggest threats with his try scoring ability and creativity at the halfback position second to none.

Former Bradford Bulls player Robbie Hunter-Paul

By the end of his 12-year stint with Bradford, he had claimed four Super League titles, two Challenge Cups and two World Club Challenges.

This forever etched his name into rugby league folklore as he was selected as part of Bradford Bulls’ ‘team of the century’ in 2007.

The legendary halfback went on to also play for Huddersfield, Salford and Leigh before retiring in 2011.


Henry Paul

The older Paul brother is easily regarded as one of Super League’s greatest goal kickers who with both Wigan and Bradford quickly made an impact from the stand off position.

After arriving in England back in 1993, Paul turned out for Wakefield before making the move over to Wigan.

It was here that he quickly established himself as an elite talent before moving to Bradford with his dynamism offensively and accuracy with the boot becoming his most noteworthy traits.

Former Bradford Bulls player Henry Paul

Over the course of both his stints with Wigan and Bradford, he claimed three Super League titles, two RFL Championships and three Challenge Cups.

He broke goal kicking and points scoring records along the way.


Ali Lauiti’iti

As a big and powerful as he was slick with the ball in his hand.

The former forward was a huge asset to a talented Leeds side that won five Super League crowns between 2004 and 2011.

Former Leeds Rhinos forward Ali Lauiti’iti

His great ball handling and hard running proved to be a big factor in the Rhinos back row.


Shontayne Hape

The star centre’s inspiring partnership with Vainikolo is seen as one of game’s very best.

Between 2003 and 2007, they put plenty of opponents to the sword by showing a great deal of power, creativity and try scoring prowess.

Former Bradford Bulls centre Shontayne Hape

In his six seasons with the Bulls, he became an all-out fan favourite scoring 86 tries in over 130 appearances as well as being named at centre in the sides’ ‘Team of the Century’.


Francis Meli

Alongside the likes of Ade Gardner, Meli was a prolific try scorer for a St. Helens side that won the elusive ‘treble’ in 2006.

He also claimed three consecutive Challenge Cup victories between 2006 and 2008.

Former St Helens winger Francis Meli

The offensive powerhouse went on to score 156 tries in 241 appearances for the Saints.


 

10 Super League signings to watch out for in 2020

Over the course of the off season, there has been plenty of player movement throughout Super League.

Now, as pre-season gets underway towards the end of the calendar year, I take a look at 10 signings that make all the difference for their retrospective new clubs.


Sonny Bill Williams (Toronto Wolfpack)

Let’s start off with maybe the most obvious choice and one of the biggest acquisitions in the sports history.

It is amazing to think with the career that SBW has had that this will be his first ever season in Super League.

Newly signed Toronto Wolfpack veteran Sonny Bill Williams

Remarkably, we will finally see Williams in UK’s premier division with expansionist side Toronto Wolfpack.

Even at 34, the cross-code star remains the full package and one incredible athlete who if can remain healthy may just prove to be a devastating addition to Canadian side.


Luke Gale (Leeds Rhinos)

Since the departures of Kevin Sinfield and Danny McGuire, the Rhinos have been crying out for a play caller and someone to just inject some energy and creativity in the middle of the field.

New Leeds Rhinos half Luke Gale

In recent times, the Rhinos have looked to the likes of Richie Myler and Tui Lolohea to fill the void but have fallen short on consistency.

But the return of the 2017 Man of Steel into the Leeds fold may just rectify that with his ability to unlock the defence and his firm accuracy with the boot.


James Maloney (Catalans Dragons)

Alongside Sonny Bill, this is another huge coup for Super League as Maloney makes his bow across the pond with the Catalans Dragons.

A NRL title and State of Origin winner who will bring a wealth of experience and championship winning mentality to a side that looks to keep making big strides in the game.

Newly signed Catalans Dragons half James Maloney

The 2018 Challenge Cup winners may even become more of a handful as the season goes along with Maloney possibly teaming up with Josh Drinkwater in the halves.


Adam Swift (Hull FC)

For the last couple of seasons, Hull FC have seemingly lacked that little extra something out on the edge and now even more especially after the retirement of Fetuli Talanoa.

However, the return of Mahe Fonua along with bringing in Adam Swift from St. Helens may just give the Hull faithful a whiff of optimism.

New Hull FC utility back Adam Swift

The 26-year-old Swift brings a decent try scoring record to Humberside after scoring 86 tries in 130 appearances.

Alongside the likes of Jake Connor, Albert Kelly and Marc Sneyd, he can easily add to his try tally.


Alex Walker (Wakefield Trinity)

One of the country’s most promising youngsters who burst onto to rugby league scene with London Broncos who always looked set to make his presence felt in Super League at some point.

The 24-year-old was a big factor in London’s promotion to Super League.

New Wakefield Trinity acquisition Alex Walker

He now makes the move over to West Yorkshire and that of the Wakefield Trinity.

His positional awareness at the fullback spot will make him a welcome addition to Chris Chester’s side.


Josh Jones (Hull FC)

After one of his best seasons to date, Jones more than deserved his Great Britain call up.

After spending a good proportion of his career with Salford, the second rower now makes the move over to Hull FC.

New Hull FC addition, hulking forward Josh Jones

The Airlie Birds have seen the exits of veteran backrowers Sika Manu and Mark Minichello this post season.

The inclusion of Jones with his offloading and powerful running can partially fill the void left my two consistent performers.


Gareth Widdop (Warrington Wolves)

After spending the entirety of his professional career in the NRL, the Halifax born Widdop will be another premier talent that is set to make his debut in Super League in 2020.

The 29-year-old joins Warrington for the new season and will look to bring all the game management and offensive creativity that made him a success in the NRL.

Returning Englishman and new Warrington Wolves half Gareth Widdop

Over the last couple of seasons, it has been a case of so near yet so far for Warrington.

Could Widdop be the final piece of that puzzle alongside Blake Austin in a dream halfback combination?


Jackson Hastings (Wigan Warriors)

The 2019 Man of Steel winner was the beacon of consistency and creativity that Salford had needed for some time and in turn steered them to their first ever Super League Final.

The 23-year-old was the Red Devils key catalyst over the course of last season and led both his side and the league in try assists with 36.

2019 Man of Steel winner and new Wigan Warriors half Jackson Hastings

The versatile back now joins Wigan from the 2020 season,

If the GB international is able to find a connection alongside the likes of Oliver Gildart, Zak Hardaker and Bevan French, then the Warriors can easily continue to be the force they have been for so long.


George Burgess (Wigan Warriors)

An ageing Wigan front row consisting of Tony Clubb and Ben Flower had a new lease of life of last season.

Youngsters Oliver Partington and Liam Byrne burst onto the scene in the front row.

Newly signed Wigan Warriors prop George Burgess

Now, with the addition of George Burgess come the new season, Wigan’s forward pack certainly looks as bolstered as ever.

Even despite a poor discipline record in recent times, the 27-year-old’s sheer size, presence, intensity and big game experience in the NRL mean he could definitely be an impact player over the course of 2020.


Greg Minikin (Hull KR)

It is fair to say that Hull KR have not exactly been quiet in terms of recruitment, with plenty of noteworthy names taking their trade over to Humberside.

However, one name that could stand out over the course of the season may just be Greg Minikin.

New Hull KR signing Greg Minikin

The centre has played some of his best rugby while at Castleford, showcasing to be a prolific try scorer in the Tigers run to the Grand Final in 2017. 


 

10 Super League Players who could potentially make an impact in the NRL today

St Helens prop Luke Thompson

Throughout the many years of rugby league, we have seen plenty of players from the United Kingdom take their qualities across the world to the Southern hemisphere.

For some, it does not always work out but for others it proves to be a masterstroke in terms of their development as a player.

Most recently, we saw Bateman take the league by storm in his debut NRL season so in response to this, I take a look at the 10 Super League players in today’s game who could make the jump down under.  


Luke Thompson (St. Helens)

Is there a better prop forward in Super League at the moment?

The 24-year-old has been a mainstay in the St. Helens front row over the last two seasons and is a player who possesses all he aggressiveness, tenacity and intensity that could see him thrive down under.

Since making his debut in 2013, the barnstorming prop has only gotten better and this year put forth his best season to date this year.

He will prove to be a key figurehead in a Saints side that claimed Super League glory and reached the Challenge Cup final. 


Jake Connor (Hull FC)

The Hull FC star’s slick ball handling and carrying skills have seen him thrive at the centre position for the Airlie Birds.

Over the course of history, outside backs who have made the journey over have struggled to cope with the physicality that comes with playing in the NRL.

Hull FC utility back Jake Connor

However, Connor’s undeniable talent could see become someone who can break the mould if given the opportunity. 


Tommy Makinson (St. Helens)

There probably has not been a better finisher in Super League over the last few seasons and the spectacular just seems to be a common occurrence for the 2018 Golden Boot winner.

His ability to score through the tightest of windows is second to none.

The 28-year-old finally got a taste of the international stage last year after his debut for England.

St Helens utility back Tommy Makinson

He showed the NRL exactly what he can do with a pair of superb performances against New Zealand.

The 2019 season also proved to be another great year as he finished as Super League’s leading try scorer.


Tom Johnstone (Wakefield)

It is fair to say that lady luck has not exactly been on the side of the Wakefield flyer who has endured two season ending injuries in the last three seasons.

However, Johnstone’s ceiling still remains high and at the age of 24, he still has plenty of quality years ahead of him if he can recover from this latest injury setback.

Wakefield utility back Tom Johnstone

A more than natural finisher, Johnstone has gone on to score 67 times in 78 appearances for the West Yorkshire club. 


Alex Walmsley (St. Helens)

The 28 year-old’s front row tandem with Thompson has been something to behold these last couple of seasons.

After a miraculous recovery from a broken neck last year, Walmsley has gone on to become a fearsome prop forward and undoubtedly in the top five at his position in the league.

St Helens prop Alex Walmsley

The Saints man has all the traits needed to make his presence felt in a tough and physical league and similar to that of the Burgess’, his size, strength and huge motor all can prove integral in getting his side on the front foot.


Daryl Clark (Warrington)

At the age of 21, Clark looked destined to be the elite talent he is now after winning the 2014 Man of Steel award with the Castleford Tigers.

Since joining Warrington in 2015, he has just continued to shine.

Warrington Wolves hooker Daryl Clark

The 26-year-old oozes quality and has showcased a fine amount of durability with nearly 250 appearances under his belt.

With his electric running out of the hooker spot and pinpoint passing, it could see him make a mark wherever he goes.


Oliver Gildart (Wigan)

Even at the age of 23, Gildart already has plenty of experience under his belt, featuring over 100 times for the Warriors.

In that time, he has racked up over 50 tries to his name since making his debut in 2015.

Wigan Warriors utility back Oliver Gildart

The star centre’s inclusion in last autumn’s England squad and now a revived GB side just goes to show how quickly he has made an impact in his professional career.

A free flowing and attacking player who can rack up the metres in the southern hemisphere and has already shown a winning mentality at such a young tender age with two Super League crowns. 


Liam Watts (Castleford)

We have already touched on how physical the NRL can be and a man who continues to show a fine amount of physicality and toughness in Super League has been Watts.

The Tigers prop was undoubtedly one of the Tigers best players this season after being shortlisted for the season’s Man of Steel award.

Castleford Tigers prop Liam Watts

Despite not having an international cap under his belt, Watts has been a measure of consistency over the last two yeara.

He has rejuvenated himself since moving to Castleford at the start of the year and his tough and gritty style of play give him every chance down under. 


Jonny Lomax (St. Helens)

The 29-year-old has all the versatility and creative flair to make an instant impact in Australia’s top tier with an ability to play anywhere in the backs from halfback to fullback.

Since making his debut back in 2009, Lomax has had a hard time with injuries but one thing that never seemed to escape him was the immense talent he possessed.

After suffering a serious knee injury in 2014, he missed a substantial amount of time sitting out most of the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

St Helens utility back Jonny Lomax

However, after a full recovery, Lomax made his comeback at the start of the 2016 Super League season and has not seemed to miss a step as over the last three years.

He has cemented himself well and truly as a catalyst for St. Helens and a man who can do it all on the offensive front.


Toby King (Warrington)

Now, to some, this may seem like a real longshot but at the age of 23, King has the potential to be a future impact player for Warrington and possibly one day in the NRL.

The centre made his debut in 2014 and featured sporadically up until the 2019 season where he was a fully fledged starter for the Wire.

Warrington Wolves centre Toby King

In a more central role, King is already showcasing himself to be a great attacking weapon with a great eye for the try line.

He has scored 28 tries and featured on 82 occasions for the primrose and blue.

Most recently, King was selected as part of the England Knights team that faced Jamaica, putting an excellent effort that included a try and a brace of try assists. 


 

The notable rugby league retiring class of 2019

Retired South Sydney Rabbitohs utility back Greg Inglis

The Class of 2019

Another exciting and action packed domestic season is now in the books and with that it will unfortunately be the last we see of a select group of players all of whom have their own mark on the sport of rugby league.

So, in tribute, we take a look at some of the most notable players from both the NRL and Super League who called time on their retrospective career.

Greg Inglis

The Queensland legend was one of the game’s most formidable forces in the mid to late 2000s and established himself as one of the most versatile and big game talents.

With his sheer size and strength as well as his explosive and creative flair, he was a force to be reckoned with.

The former Melbourne and South Sydney figurehead’s displays at club, state and international will go down as one of the most noteworthy in NRL and rugby league history.


Cooper Cronk

Over the course of the NRL era, there are not many more accomplished than the dynamic halfback.

Over the course of his career, Cronk may not have been the biggest try scorer or goal kicker but he more than made up for it with his organisational ability, in game kicking, slick passing, rugby league IQ and savvy.

Retired Sydney Roosters halfback Cooper Cronk

For many, he is one of the best to ever play the game and when you look at his extensive CV, it is easy to see why.

Four NRL titles, two Dally M Player of the Year medals, five Dally M halfback of the years and one Golden Boot award.  


Paul Gallen

The former Cronulla Shark undoubtedly developed a reputation as one of the NRL’s best enforcers at the prop forward spot.

The 38-year-old spent his entire 19-year-career with the Sharks and holds the record for most seasons played in Australian rugby league history.

Retired Cronulla Sharks lock and captain Paul Gallen

After making his debut in 2001, Gallen went on to make 349 appearances while scoring 63 tries in the process.

An NRL crown had eluded Gallen for the most part of his career but that all changed in 2016 when Gallen broke the curse after leading his side to victory over Melbourne in the Grand Final.


Danny McGuire

The Super League legend’s career came to a close at the end of this season after a one year stint with Hull KR but even to the very end, the 8-time Super League winner looked as creative and dominant as ever.

Between 2004 and 2019, McGuire developed a reputation as a dynamic and prolific scrum half.

Retired Leeds Rhinos and Hull KR half Danny McGuire

An integral part of a Leeds Rhinos side that utterly dominated Super League throughout the 2000s and 2010s.

Altogether, McGuire stands as one of the league’s best ever and most memorable of faces.

By the end of the 2019 season, he finished with over 450 domestic appearances throughout his career as well scoring 276 tries in all competitions.

He still remains the only player to have scored 200 or more in Super League itself. 


Matt Scott

Similar to Gallen, Matt Scott secured his status as one of Australia’s top enforcers and was a one club player throughout his entire career.

In 16 seasons between 2004 and 2019, the bulldozing prop forward was a leader in North Queensland’s forward pack.

Retired North Queensland Cowboys prop Matt Scott

He won Dally M Prop of the Year and Captain of the Year in 2011 and 2015 retrospectively.

The former Maroons man had to wait until 2015 when he eventually claimed the big one, when his Cowboys side overcame Brisbane in a thrilling contest. 


Jamie Jones Buchanan

The Leeds man remained one of the last key figureheads of Leeds’ golden decade up until his retirement at the end of this season.

In the process, he left behind memories that will not be forgotten anytime soon by the Leeds faithful.

Retired Leeds forward Jamie Jones Buchanan

The 38-year-old spent an outstanding 20-years at the West Yorkshire club as a one club man and played a huge part in Leeds’ rise to dominance between 2004 and 2017.

In two decades of rugby league, Jones Buchanan became one of the sports most accomplished and hard working talents.


Robbie Farah

After more than 300 games and 70 tries, the 35-year-old decided to hang up his boots at the end of the 2019 season.

The former Australia and Lebanon international was a member of the 2005 Wests Tigers side that claimed NRL glory over North Queensland.

Retired Wests Tigers hooker and veteran Robbie Farah

Although it was to be his only NRL title, Farah has consistently shown his worth, proving to be an invaluable member of the Tigers and South Sydney.


Ben Westwood

The 38-year-old spent 18 seasons with Warrington Wolves, making 444 appearances and scoring 128 tries in the process for the Primrose and Blue.

He was a winning member of three Challenge Cup wins in 2009, 2010 and 2012.

Retired Warrington Wolves forward Ben Westwood

Although a Super League crown would elude him throughout his long and storied career, ‘Super Ben’ firmly established himself as a force in the back row for both club and country.

His hard work, sheer aggressiveness and intensity was on show on numerous occasions.


Mark Minichello

The younger Minichello brother was undoubtedly a largely consistent player in his 18 years in rugby league, playing in both the NRL and  the Super League.

The former Italian international spent 13 seasons in the NRL turning out for Sydney, South Sydney and Gold Coast with whom he spent the better part of his career with before making the move to Hull FC in 2015.

Retired Hull FC back-rower Mark Minchiello

There is no question that Minichello was one best forwards to put on the black and white jersey.

He was an astute performer in the Airlie Birds’ Challenge Cups wins in 2016 and 2017.

By the end of his career, he made 396 appearances and scored 70 tries whilst also featuring for Italy in two Rugby League World Cups.


Sika Manu 

The 32-year-old made the decision to step away from rugby league at the end of this season after an accomplished and successful career at both international and club level.

Between 2007 and 2012, he featured as part of a dominant Melbourne side that went on to claim the NRL title in 2012 before moving onto Penrith Panthers in 2013 and eventually seeing his career out with Hull FC.

Retired Hull FC back-rower Sika Manu

The former New Zealand and Tongan international was another member of Hull’s back to back Challenge Cup wins.

He seemingly formed a formidable forward pack alongside the likes of Minichello, Liam Watts and Scott Taylor.

The success would not stop at club level either, as Manu was a member of the Kiwis 2008 Rugby League World Cup winning squad as well. 


John Sutton

Another one club man as the 34-year-old played all his 16 seasons in rugby league with South Sydney.

Throughout his career, he featured in a variety of different positions playing in the back row as well as on the backline for the Bunnies, showing a fine level of adaptability.

Retired South Sydney Rabbitohs back-rower John Sutton

He ended his career as the most capped player in Rabbitohs history with 337 appearances and scored 61 tries.

He captained his side to NRL glory in 2014 with a dominating win over Canterbury in the Grand Final. 


Carl Ablett

A name that may not be too familiar with NRL fans, however Ablett was a part of Leeds rise to prominence throughout the mid 2000s and into the 2010s.

Between 2007 and 2017, the 33-year-old was a part of seven Super League winning teams for the Rhinos alongside two Challenge Cup victories.

Retired Leeds Rhinos player Carl Ablett

In his 16 seasons for the Rhinos, he made over 300 appearances while scoring 77 tries. 


Michael Gordon

A journeyman of NRL rugby as between 2006 and 2019, Gordon took his trade to the likes of Penrith, Cronulla, Parramatta, Sydney before ending his career with Gold Coast at the end of this season.

The goal kicking fullback may not have been able to break into the NSW or Australia team but his consistency off the tee and in attack was second to none.

NRL journeyman and now retired utility back Michael Gordon

So much so, that he sits as the 13th highest points scorer in Australian first grade history with 1,730. 


 

Great Britain players to watch out for during 2019 Tour

St Helens powerhouse prop Luke Thompson

Luke Thompson

A player who just seems to be getting better and better with each game that passes.

It was undoubtedly a year to remember for Thompson who over the last two to three seasons has developed into one of the best prop forwards in Super League if not the best.

The Saints front rower has formed a powerhouse tandem alongside teammate Alex Walmsley and an epic year saw him become the first prop to claim the Harry Sunderland Trophy for his 72 minute workhorse display in the Super League Grand Final since Andy Platt in 1992. 

The 24-year-old is now set to wear the GB jersey for the first time this coming Saturday after earning four caps already for England.

He will look to replicate his domestic form onto the international stage with his extensive work rate and hard running tendencies that can make him an integral force in a GB forward pack that is already missing Sam Burgess.

As the Kiwis will have the likes Jared Waerea Hargeaves within their front row, Thompson’s presence becomes all the more vital and his matching up with JWH will certainly be a major battle to take note of throughout the series.


John Bateman

Well what more can you say about this man? The 25-year-old certainly made his presence felt over the course of his first year in the NRL.

He solidified his status as one of the best back rowers in the game with his outstanding offensive and defensive influence for Canberra.

Alongside the likes of Josh Hodgson and Elliot Whitehead, the second rower was a pivotal factor in the Raiders run to the NRL Grand Final.

Canberra Raiders back-rower John Bateman

He consistently racked up the tackles and metres while proving to be an unstoppable force on numerous occasions in the green machine’s much improved pack. 

After playing the 2017 Rugby World Cup for England in an experimental centre role, it looks as if Bateman will now be back in his more suited position of the back row for Great Britain.

If the same ferociousness, explosiveness and work rate is still there after his impressive first stint in the NRL, then he has all the tools to lead Britain’s commanding force in a back row that contains Elliott Whitehead and international debutantes Josh Jones, Jack Hughes and Joe Philbin.


 Oliver Gildart

The 22-year-old’s star just continues to rise and he is another player who has cemented himself as one of the best at the centre position in Super League.

The Wigan man has been a catalyst in attack making the most metres by a Warriors players with 3,375 over the course of 2019 season and a figure that also sees him placed within the  top five in the league. 

Wigan Warriors centre Oliver Gildart

There seems to be plenty of faith in Gildart who is one of only two recognised centres in the GB squad so expect to see plenty more of the Wigan flyer as the tour goes on. 

If his GB debut is anything like his England debut, then we could be in for a treat.

The likes of Tonga and New Zealand cannot afford to give the Wigan ace any space to work with as he consistently looks to get forward and can be dangerous on the break.


Jonny Lomax

It is fair to say there has not been a more consistent player in Super League over the last two seasons.

The 2019 Albert Goldthorpe Medal winner’s versatility and ability to find gaps make him one of the biggest threats in the GB squad.

Although he will come off the bench in the game against Tonga on Saturday, the 29-year-old remains a key player to watch out for over the course of the tour with his ability to do it all the offensive front whether it be to create or score.

St Helens utility Jonny Lomax

Throughout a highly dominant season for the Red Vee, Lomax put together 16 tries and 21 assists in a Super League title winning effort.

He is now fighting amongst a position that already holds plenty of depth in the GB side with Jake Trueman and Jackson Hastings all viable options at stand off.

However, with his ability to play in a variety of different positions amongst the backline, expect the Saints star to see plenty of time out on the field and be a key man when looking to open up the defence.


Zak Hardaker

The last time we saw Hardaker among the international stage, it did not exactly end in the best of circumstances after personal reasons led to him being withdrawn from England’s 2013 Rugby League World Cup squad.

However, even though many will remain sceptical because of his past, it seems to be a quest for redemption Hardaker who starred for Wigan this season.

Wigan Warriors utility back Zak Hardaker

It was his goal kicking and strong ball carrying that were huge factor throughout.

The 2015 Man of Steel winner will start at centre instead of fullback on Saturday and although it may not be his most favoured position, Hardaker still has the adaptability to fit right and unleash his attacking traits down the flank.


Josh Hodgson

If you were to look at players who made the biggest difference in Canberra’s journey to the NRL Grand Final this year, then you could probably look no further than Hodgson at the hooker position.

Now, yes, Bateman was a hugely influential player in the back row but when it comes to keeping the offence ticking and making plays on the defensive side of the ball, there were fewer better than the 29-year-old.

Canberra Raiders hooker Josh Hodgson

The England and soon to be GB international plays with all the confidence and creativity of a halfback, leading the way in try assists for Ricky Stuart’s men while establishing himself defensively with the most tackles by a Raiders player and the most one on one ball strips in the entire league.


 

Top 10 standout players of 2019 Super League season

Warrington Wolves utility Blake Austin

As the 2019 Super League reaches its crescendo, we take a look into the top 10 players who have their presence felt over the course of the year.

Blake Austin (Warrington Wolves)

It may not have been ending that Wolves fans would have wanted to their season but the 28-year-old still has proven to be one of the buys of the year.

Fitting in perfectly at the stand off position for Warrington, Austin made his presence felt.

Over the course of the season, we have seen time and time again where the former Canberra man has been able to completely change the entire dynamic of a game.

He tore opposition defences to shreds with his expert game management and playmaking ability.

The elusive halfback had an incredible 18 tries and 11 try assists to his name before the start of the play offs and is one of four candidates for the 2019 Man of Steel.


Jackson Hastings (Salford Red Devils)

Another buy of the year candidate, as Hastings has undoubtedly been the main reason why Salford have been able to secure a playoff spot this year.

The 23-year-old signed a one year deal with the Red Devils before the start of the year and has been the x factor that Ian Watson’s men have so desperately needed.

Salford Devils halfback Jackson Hastings

The former Sydney and Manly halfback has been a truly effective attacking threat for Salford leading the way in try assists and run metres for the entire season.


Liam Watts (Castleford Tigers)

There has been no question that Watts has been a true enforcer for Castleford all season and so much so that he is on the shortlist for the 2019 Man of Steel.

Castleford Tigers prop Liam Watts

The 29-year-old has shown how difficult he is to stop with the ball in his hand and had the most offloads in the regular season with 62 as well as being a constant factor in defence with over 900 tackles to his name. 


Danny Houghton (Hull FC)

The 30-year-old has been the definition of a work horse for Hull FC for some time now.

His toughness at the dummy half position has consistently shown by leading the league in tackles three times out of the last four seasons.

It has been surprising to some that Houghton has not been given his chance at international level.

Hull FC Hooker Danny Houghton

Though at a position that already has strength in depth with Daryl Clark, James Roby and Josh Hodgson all ahead in the pecking order, we just may never see it.

Ultimately, this is a shame for a player who has performed at such a high level for so many years now. 


Tommy Makinson (St Helens)

The 2018 Golden Boot winner has followed on from his England heroics in last year’s test series against New Zealand with another great year on the St. Helens wing.

The 27-year-old possesses a freaky try scoring ability that has seen his name on the scoresheet on several occasions.

St Helens Tommy Makinson

He led the league in tries by the start of the playoffs with 23.

The England international continues to be a force for the Saints out on the edge and that can only mean good things with the upcoming GB tour of Australia just around the corner.


Lachlan Coote (St Helens)

The departure of Ben Barba left a relatively large hole at the Saints fullback spot.

The acquisition of Coote, however, has been somewhat of a masterstroke from Justin Holbrook.

The Scottish international has probably been one of the league leader’s best players throughout the season.

St Helens custodian Lachlan Coote

He recorded 14 tries and 21 try assists to his name, proving to be one of many valuable assets in the Saints backline that features Regan Grace, Ken Naiqama and Mark Percival among others.

The 29-year-old took over goal kicking duties at the start of the year and he has gone from strength to strength, kicking the second most goals in the regular season with 95.

The Red Vee are still one of the firm favourites to take home Super League glory this year.

If Coote continues to pull the strings and be the force we have seen, you would be a brave man to bet against them.


Ash Handley (Leeds Rhinos)

Well, the 2017 Super League champions did not have the best of times this year and even found themselves in a nervy relegation battle with four other teams for the most part, believe it or not.

Leeds Rhinos young gun Ash Handley

However, one of the brighter aspects of their seasons has to be the breakout year for Ash Handley following the departure of Ryan Hall to the NRL.

The 23-year-old has looked sharp and dangerous all year for Leeds and is joint second in tries with 22.


Daryl Clark (Warrington Wolves)

In a position that has held a lot of depth for England and now Great Britain once again, Clark has undoubtedly been one of the prime dummy halves.

This is not just in Super League but in the entire sport of rugby league.

Warrington Wolves hooker Daryl Clark

Although Canberra’s Josh Hodgson may still holds the keys to a potential starting role with GB, Clark is certainly waiting in the wings more than ready to take his chance.

The 2014 Man of Steel earned his place in the 2019 Super League Dream Team with 7 tries and 19 try assists.


Jonny Lomax (St Helens)

There is no doubt that Austin has done absolute wonders for Warrington throughout the course of this season.

The one thing that has probably let him down has to be an injection of consistency from time to time.

However, the same cannot be said for Lomax, who has undoubtedly been the Saints most consistent performer all season.

St Helens Jonny Lomax

So much so that he has been awarded the Albert Goldthorpe Medal for 2019. S

imilar to Austin, Lomax has been one to make things happen for St. Helens offensively.

He showed his ability to score and create opportunities with 16 tries and 21 try assists coming into the playoffs.


George Williams (Wigan Warriors)

The dynamic scrum half may be off to Canberra and the NRL come the end of the season but the 24-year-old has remained as focus as ever and been a true catalyst for Wigan.

Departing Wigan Warriors halfback George Williams

On the back of Williams’ form, Wigan has once again found themselves in the hunt for the Super League crown.

The 2019 Man of Steel nominee may be on his way down under but the is certainly making sure he goes out with a bang.


Notable mentions:

Zak Hardaker (Wigan)

Josh Jones (Salford)

Ken Naiqama (St. Helens)

Konrad Hurrell (Leeds)

The top 10 Australian rugby league grand finals of the last 30 years.

Canberra Raiders legend Mal Meninga

As we get closer and closer to the NRL’s premier event, we take a look at what could be seen as ten of the greatest Grand Finals in Australian rugby league history in the last 30 years.

Canberra Raiders vs Balmain Tigers,1989, 19-14 Raiders.

We start off with undoubtedly one of greatest Grand Finals outside the NRL era.

A game that saw Canberra overcome a 10 point deficit in the second half.

The final itself featured some of the biggest names in the business with Mal Meninga, Laurie Daley and Glenn Lazarus featuring for Canberra.

Then Wayne Pearce, Steve Roach, Ben Elias and Paul Sironen forming one of the most formidable forward packs of the 1980s for Balmain.

A back and forth game saw the Tigers almost wrap up the game on two occasions in the second half but Mal Meninga’s ankle tap tackle and an error from Balmain captain Wayne Pearce kept the score at 12-8.

Balmain Tigers legend Wayne Pearce

A big turning point in the game proved to be the Tigers’ decision to replace Roach with Kevin Hardwick as the former did not take to kindly to it.

So, with that the complexity of the whole game completely changed.

With 90 seconds left, John Ferguson stepped up to the plate with a last ditch try under the posts after a Chris O’Sullivan bomb and a Daley palm back to the Raiders winger.

The Canberra momentum became too much to handle for the Tigers in extra time as a miraculous try from Steve Jackson secured their first ever major premiership. 


Newcastle Knights vs Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles,1997, 22-16 Knights

A bit of a controversial pick as this Final was one of two in 1997 due to the Super League War that made its presence felt on the league throughout the year.

However, that being said, the 1997 ARL Grand Final between Newcastle and Manly-Warringah was the most notable out of the two.

Newcastle Knights legend and NRL Immortal Andrew Johns

The match itself was headlined by the intense rivalry between the Knight’s Paul Harragon and the Sea Eagles’ Mark Carroll.

Within the first minutes of the game, Carroll reacted to a late shot from Harragon on Geoff Toovey.

After trailing 16-8 at half time, the Knights stepped up their game with Andrew Johns showing his magical qualities to stage a remarkable comeback.

Manly Sea Eagles legend Cliff Lyons

A brace of tries from Robbie O’Davies and a last second try from Darren Albert were enough to break the hearts of Sea Eagles fans everywhere and inject euphoria into the hearts of Novocastrians around.


Melbourne Storm vs St. George Illawarra Dragons,1999, 20-18 Storm

In recent history, it has been a very rare occurrence where the Storm have come into any Grand Final and been considered an outsider.

However, in the lead up to 1999 edition, they were just that.

St George Illawarra Dragons legend Nathan Blacklock

For half of the game, it seemed like the Dragons were having it all their own way as they went into half time leading 14-0 but succumbed to a great deal of pressure from Glenn Lazarus and Melbourne.

The Victorian based side were able to conjure a sense of momentum to bring themselves within four points before forcing St. George to a goal line dropout with three minutes to go.

The game clinching moment came after a spout of madness from the Dragons.

In the process of anticipating a Melbourne try, Jamie Ainscough caught Craig Smith with a high shot in a tackle over the try line and in the process knocked the winger unconscious.

Former Melbourne Storm prop Robbie Kearns

A video review, a penalty try and a kick in front of the posts later and the Storm clinched their first premiership and became the quickest expansion team to secure premiership honours. 


Wests Tigers vs North Queensland Cowboys, 2005 34-16 Tigers

A 34-16 scoreline in favour of the Tigers may not hold much in terms of being dubbed one of the best Grand Finals, but it will be a game in which we were able to witness the making and true magic of Benji Marshall.

Wests Tigers club legend Benji Marshall holding the premiership trophy

The game was all square nearing half time but in undoubtedly the best moment of the game, Marshall would showcase a profound level of skill.

A genius flick pass to set up Pat Richards for the go ahead try had everyone with their jaws gaping.

Former North Queensland Cowboys fullback Matt ‘Mango’ Bowen

In the end, it would be more than enough as a trio of tries in the second half saw Tim Sheens’ men claim the win in spectacular fashion.


North Queensland Cowboys vs Brisbane Broncos, 2015 17-16 Cowboys

There is no question that there is a great deal of debate about what could be considered the greatest Grand Final of all time but the 2015 final certainly has a strong case for itself.

A game that was full of twists and turns saw Johnathan Thurston finally claim the big one with the Cowboys after a thrilling golden point win over Brisbane.

North Queensland Cowboys legend Johnathan Thurston

The closing minutes saw a try from Kyle Feldt from Michael Morgan’s great run and this looked to be enough to secure the win in normal time.

However, Thurston’s difficult sideline conversion would hit the woodwork and take the game to extras at 16-16.

 Thurston’s missed conversion would not be the biggest moment of the game as during the resulting restart from JT, Broncos halfback Ben Hunt entered his name into NRL Grand Final folklore in the worst kind of way.

Former Brisbane Broncos hooker Ben Hunt

A dropped catch, placing the Cowboys in great field position.

A drop goal from Thurston not long later and an NRL crown was his and North Queensland’s after 10 long years.


Newcastle Knights vs Parramatta Eels,, 2001 30-24 Knights

Now, this game may not have been as memorable as the 1997 version featuring the Knights but it was still a game that was seemingly one for the neutral fans out there.

Former Newcastle Knights player Billy Peden

The Eels came into this game as the league leaders but were on the wrong end of 24-0 scoreline as a brace of tries from Bill Peden and efforts from both Steve Simpson and Ben Kennedy put the Knights up big by half time.

But in the second half, things definitely got interesting as for a short time, Parramatta looked to produce one of the most thrilling comebacks to sport had seen.

Former Parramatta Eels centre Jamie Lyon

After 64 minutes, Newcastle led 28-6 but in a wild 15 minutes the Eels duo of Brett Hodgson and Jamie Lyon scored a pair of tries to set up a grandstand finish.

However, it was not to be, as the Novacastrians secured their first title since 1997.


Cronulla Sharks vs Melbourne Storm, 2016 14-12 Sharks

A fairy-tale ending for the Sharks as for the first time in their 50 year history, they were able to secure NRL honours with a gutsy and gritty display.

After winning 17 consecutive games during the season, Cronulla produced an astounding effort defensively to reign in Melbourne.

Cronulla Sharks legend Paul Gallen

The Sharks led 8-0 at half time and for a while in the second half, the Storm looked like they were going to romp home to another major premiership when they came back to lead 12-8.

However, the hearts of Cronulla players were not to be denied as a barnstorming try from Andrew Fifita under the posts put them up 14-12.

Melbourne Storm prop Jesse Bromwich

In the most nervy of endings, Melbourne found themselves 10 metres away from a last second win but the Cronulla defence stood resolute, sparking huge celebrations.


Penrith Panthers vs Sydney Roosters, 2003 18-6 Penrith

A tough and well organised display from table toppers Penrith was the focal point in this game and will be remembered for a try saving tackle that will live long in the memory. 

The Roosters were the reigning champions but struggled to get any foothold throughout the game.

Former Sydney Roosters fullback Anthony Minichiello

In a game dominated by some great defence, the first points were scored by the half hour mark as Luke Priddis sent through Luke Rooney to put Penrith up 6-0.

The Tricolours fought back not long into the second half with a try from Shane Hegarty to make it 6-6.

They then looked to go ahead as Todd Byrne made a break down the line before Scott Sattler pulled off a miraculous covering tackle to stop an almost certain try for Sydney.

The now famous 2005 grand final Scott Sattler tackle

It was a moment that seemingly rejuvenated Penrith as an epic display from Luke Priddis accumulated with a try and another try assist to Rooney to hand the Panthers an 18-6 win.


Penrith Panthers vs Canberra Raiders, 1991 19-12 Penrith

The Canberra/Penrith rivalry was renewed once again as both teams met in the 1991 NSWRL Grand Final.

This came after facing each in the 1990 edition of the Australian rugby league’s showpiece event.

Canberra Raiders legend Laurie Daley

The Raiders may have claimed their second consecutive title that year but the Panthers were able to exact some revenge this time around with a well structured and tense 19-12 win.

The green machine led 12-6 with Penrith struggling for scoring opportunities until the game flipped on its head.

Former Penrith Panthers player Greg Alexander

A Brad Izzard try and Greg Alexander conversion levelled the game before a Alexander drop goal and Royce Simmons gifted the Panthers their first ever premiership.


Sydney Roosters vs Manly Sea Eagles, 2013 26-18 Roosters

There is no question by the time the final whistle blew on this game that it certainly entered the history books as one of the great Grand Finals of the NRL era.

The Roosters and Sea Eagles stand as two of the most formidable sides of the 2000s but the 2013 Grand Final would be the first time the two teams met in Australia’s premier showcase since 1972.

Former Manly Sea Eagles centre Steve Matai

A closely fought first half  saw the Chooks go in with a slight upper hand as they led 8-6 but from then, the shackles would be unleashed by both sides.

The Sea Eagles stepped up a gear with a penalty try and and a Steve Matai try to lead 18-8 with only 30 minutes to go.

Former Sydney Roosters centre Michael Jennings

However, there was more to come from the Roosters, as tries from Aidan Guerra and Shaun Kenny-Dowall put them ahead.

Michael Jennings then showed pure instinct and finishing ability to collect a kick from James Maloney to collect another try and secure another Tricolours title. 


What do you think of our list? Did we miss any out? Let us know your thoughts.