Inside RL: Super League’s cream of the crop is rising to the top

Daryl Clark
Daryl Clark
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HALF-TIME in this weekend’s round of First Utility Super League matches will mark the midway point of the season.

Deeds which will secure the individual honours this year have yet to be performed, but some strong candidates are beginning to emerge, though who wins the prizes and who deserves to are often two entirely different things.

Leeds Rhinos have been the dominant force in Super League for the past decade. During that time they have won just two major individual awards, with Tony Smith being named coach of the year in 2005 (when he shouldn’t have been) and the young player honour going to Zak Hardaker in 2012.

Rhinos won six Grand Finals in the 10 seasons before this one. During that time the Man of Steel honour has gone to St Helens (one title) four times, Wigan (two titles) three times, Huddersfield (no titles) twice and Castleford (no titles) once.

Young player has been won by Hull (no titles) three times, Saints twice, Wigan twice and Leeds, Bradford (one title) and Castleford once each.

And coach of the year: Saints twice, Catalan Dragons (no titles) twice, Giants twice and Wakefield Trinity Wildcats (no titles), Leeds, Wigan and Bradford once each.

That either proves you don’t have to be part of a top team to be the best at your job, or the people choosing the winners are getting it wrong.

Anyway, based entirely on form, who could be picking up the awards at the Man of Steel dinner, in Manchester the Monday before October’s Grand Final? Young player of the year: Rhinos’ Liam Sutcliffe is staking a strong claim, as is London Broncos’ exciting centre Mason Caton-Brown But at the moment, 20-year-old Castleford Tigers hooker Daryl Clark must be in pole position. Gifted with a rugby brain, good hands and feet and blistering pace, he has a massive future at the top level.

Coach of the year: If he can keep London Broncos in Super League, Joe Grima will deserve it. But that won’t happen.

Brian McDermott will be a contender should Leeds maintain their early form and Denis Betts (Widnes), Shaun Wane (Wigan) and Nathan Brown (St Helens) could also have a claim, but Daryl Powell already looks nailed on.

He has transformed Castleford Tigers over the past year and they now look like a good side who are getting better.

Steve Prescott Man of Steel: The problem with this award is nobody knows exactly what it means: is it for the player of the year, or someone whose performances exemplify the name? Castleford’s Weller Hauraki, Andy Lynch and Grant Millington have all been star performers this season, along with Luke Wash and Tommy Makinson at St Helens and Leeds’ Zak Hardaker. But surely the award should be for more than just a series of good performances, though obviously that’s a major factor.

It should be about grit, determination, effort and mental toughness, as much as natural ability. Either way, assuming he maintains his current form or something like it, if Jamie Peacock doesn’t win the award for the second time, there’s something badly wrong.

Dream Team: Full-back Zak Hardaker (Leeds Rhinos), wingers Ryan Hall (Rhinos) and Tommy Makinson (St Helens), centres Kallum Watkins (Rhinos) and Michael Shenton (Castleford Tigers), stand-off Marc Sneyd (Tigers), scrum-half Luke Walsh (St Helens), props Andy Lynch (Tigers) and Jamie Peacock (Rhinos), hooker Daryl Clark (Tigers) second-rows Weller Hauraki (Tigers), John Bateman (Wigan Warriors), loose-forward Grant Millington (Tigers).

MAGIC NOT EVENT IT COULD BE

THE MAGIC Weekend was a success, attracting a record crowd, but doubts raised in this column last week remain.

Saturday was outstanding: beautiful weather, a big crowd, fantastic atmosphere and four very competitive games. Sunday, less so. The gate was down on 12 months ago and none of the three games held much interest, with two of them being totally one-sided. Magic is an event, but crowds should be higher and there’s a major problem with the fixtures. It clearly wasn’t fair for third-placed Castleford to play third-bottom Wakefield and Huddersfield, who are fifth, to take on Bradford, in 13th place. Day two would have been much more interesting had Cas taken on Giants and Wakefield played Bradford, but that’s in hindsight.

There could be a lot resting on Magic next year, especially if it becomes round 23 – the one before the competition splits for the revamped play-offs. The RFL are obsessed with derbies, but last Sunday only highlighted the need for the 2014 Magic fixtures to be based on the table at the time.

To add interest and make for more competitive games, next year the pre-Magic round should be played on the Friday night and the fixtures announced after that, with number one on the table playing two, three versus four and so on

Wakefield try scorer Mason Caton-Brown. PIC: Bruce Rollinson

Wakefield Trinity 16 St Helens 41: Well-beaten Wakefield fail to secure top-four finish