SOME REFLECTIONS on the 2016 season.
Player of the year.
This writer’s vote – for the rugby league writers and broadcasters’ award – went to Gareth Ellis who has overcome some injury problems to recapture the sort of form he showed for Leeds Rhinos a decade ago.
Wakefield Trinity have an outstanding prospect in full-back Max Jowitt.
A young head on old shoulders, he reads the game well, has pace and can finish.
Third: Catalans Dragons should have done much better than sixth with the squad they assembled last winter.
They started well and looked capable of going all the way to the Grand Final, but picked up just two wins from their last 13 games to finish sixth.
Second: Huddersfield Giants slumped from fourth in Super League 2015 to bottom this time.
They started badly and never really recovered, leading to coach Paul Anderson’s departure midway through the campaign.
There were few signs of improvement under new boss Rick Stone, though they did stave off the threat of relegation by winning their final two games in the Qualifiers and showing what they are capable of if they put their minds to it.
First: After winning the treble last year Leeds Rhinos went from heroes to zeroes, losing 16 of their opening 19 games in all competitions before James Segeyaro’s arrival from Penrith Panthers sparked a revival which kept them in the top-flight.
Even so, it was Leeds’ worst season for 20 years and, without some key signings, it’s hard to see where an improvement will come from in 2017.
There haven’t been many, but Wigan Warriors’ fightback to win at Warrington Wolves – after they’d had Ben Flower sent-off – was a rare example of what Super League should be all about.
Most enjoyable game.
In April Wakefield Trinity took apart an – admittedly injury-hit – Wigan side, winning 62-0. It was an “I was there” sort of afternoon.
Coach of the year.
Third: Daryl Powell has transformed Castleford Tigers from easy-beats into Super League’s most entertaining team.
Fifth may seem like a disappointment, but considering their horrendous injury problems all year it was actually an excellent achievement and they were one of the few sides to approach the Super-8s in the right manner.
Runner-up: John Kear. Batley Bulldogs have one of the smallest budgets in the Kingstone Press Championship, but – on the back of some smart recruitment – they over-achieved to finish third and grab a fully-deserved place alongside the likes of Leeds Rhinos in the Qualifiers.
Winner: Chris Chester. The boss of a team who came seventh in Super League and did not win a game in the Super-8s may seem a strange choice, but Wakefield finished 11 points adrift last year and were bottom when former Hull KR boss Chester took over at Easter.
Their poor show in the eights took some of the gloss off, but even so, securing Super League survival with eight games in hand was a remarkable feat.
Tom Johnstone scored a stunning long-range touchdown for Wakefield against Huddersfield in March, taking the ball almost on his own line, cutting infield and shrugging off four defenders before outpacing a fifth. It was a scorcher.
Hull KR sacked Chris Chester just three games into the year, thus wasting an entire pre-season’s work. It didn’t do them much good.
Jamie Jones-Buchanan returned from a potentially career-ending injury to make 27 consecutive appearances for Rhinos. His days as a wide-running second-rower may be over, but he’s still full of energy and a non-stop workhorse in the middle of the field.
Most depressing story.
Workington took a squad of just 14 to their final game at Halifax, two more than York City Knights fielded against Toulouse last weekend.
The game, particularly at semi-professional level, has big issues to address.