IT’S TIME to don the old tin hat, switch off Twitter notifications and reveal this writer’s choices for the First Utility Super League Dream Team.
Every September members of the rugby league media are asked to vote for the competition’s form 13, with three points going to every first-choice pick, two to the second choice and one for third. The players with the most points in each position will be included in the Dream Team when it is announced on Monday, September 25.
Most weight goes to performances in the weekly rounds, but the Super-8s can also be taken into consideration and players should have played a “significant majority” of the season in the position for which they are being considered.
It has been a particularly difficult selection this year. The standard of the competition hasn’t been high and most teams have gone through at least one crippling injury crisis. In Castleford Tigers’ case that has lasted all year and cost them a place in the semi-finals, but they will certainly have at least one – and probably two – Dream Team selections.
Winger Denny Solomona is a dead cert. The top try scorer in the competition, with 35, he is on course for a new record of most touchdowns in a Super League season.
Luke Gale should also retain the place he won last year after another outstanding campaign. He was an unused member of the England squad last year, but surely must make his Test debut in this autumn’s Four Nations.
The YEP’s pick for full-back is Jamie Shaul, who has been a key figure in Hull’s bid for honours.
He has developed as a defender and is a thrilling attacking player. Second-choice was St Helens’ Jonny Lomax and Warrington Wolves’ Stefan Ratchford got one point.
The second wing choice is Widnes Vikings’ Corey Thompson, who is also second on Super League’s try scoring chart, with 24 and has made his name with some spectacular finishing. Jodie Broughton (Catalans Dragons) gets the third vote.
Mahe Fonua has had an outstanding year for Hull and he gets three points in the centres, with two going to Wigan Warriors’ Anthony Gelling and one to Ryan Atkins (Warrington).
There’s some competition in the halves, but George Williams has produced some match-winning performances for Wigan and just shades the choice ahead of Jordan Turner (St Helens) and Kurt Gidley (Warrington). Second and third votes for scrum-half go to Marc Sneyd (Hull) and Chris Sandow (Warrington).
Hull’s powerful pack have been at the heart of their success this season. Scott Taylor has come of age in 2016 and gets three points at prop, with two going to Warrington’s Chris Hill and Alex Walmsley (St Helens) getting one.
First-choice hooker is another Hull man, Danny Houghton. He deserves his place on merit, but it could also be a consolation prize after he missed out on the Lance Todd Trophy. Daryl Clark, of Warrington, is second-choice and the final vote goes to James Roby (St Helens). In the second-row the choices are Ben Currie (Warrington) and John Bateman (Wigan), with Warrington’s Jack Hughes getting one point.
Loose-forward doesn’t really exist as a specialist role any more, with coaches tending to use it to field an extra prop, but Gareth Ellis has been starting in the No 13 slot for Hull and has rolled back the years with a series of displays combining toughness and skill.
He gets the three points, two go to Warrington’s former Hull and Castleford man Joe Westerman and Jon Wilkin (St Helens) gets one.
So this writer’s 2016 Dream Team is: Full-back Jamie Shaul (Hull), wingers Denny Solomona (Castleford Tigers) and Corey Thompson (Widnes Vikings), centres Mahe Fonua (Hull) and Anthony Gelling (Wigan Warriors), stand-off George Williams (Wigan), scrum-half Luke Gale (Castleford), props Scott Taylor (Hull) and Chris Hill (Warrington Wolves), hooker Danny Houghton (Hull), second-rows Ben Currie (Warrington Wolves) and John Bateman (Wigan), loose-forward Gareth Ellis (Hull).