It’s the time of year when the rugby league world begins to reflect on the last 12 months. But every year at every club there’s always one player who isn’t given the credit they deserve. So, today, we’re revealing every club’s most underrated player of 2021.
Castleford: Jesse Sene-Lefao
Castleford’s backrow has been full of quality for many years. Oliver Holmes has been one of the finest second-rowers in Super League since Daryl Powell took over and was simply outstanding this year which has seen the performances of Jesse Sene-Lefao be ignored. He’s worked hard and provided the Tigers with a superb platform this year thanks to his size and mobility. Alongside the likes of Daniel Smith and George Griffin, he’s been an underrated part of one of Super League’s most underrated packs.
Catalans: Benjamin Jullien
Benjamin Jullien might not be the biggest, nor is he Catalans’ first choice in the backrow with players like Mike McMeeken and Matt Whitley in his way, but he is trustworthy. Virtually always fit this season, he’s filled the voids left by both McMeeken and Whitley when they’ve been injured. In their absence, he’s done more than a sound job on either side of the field. Of course, with the Dragons impressing so much with plenty of stars, it’s no surprise that his no nonsense performances haven’t been noticed.
Huddersfield: Oliver Russell
Next to exciting prospect Will Pryce, it’s easy to forget that Oliver Russell is young himself. The halfback has stood up for the Giants this season in the absence of Aidan Sezer and Lee Gaskell and has been an organiser showing wisdom beyond his years to guide Pryce and his team around the field.
Hull FC: Ligi Sao
Like Russell, Ligi Sao’s impressive season has gone under the radar because of another in the same position. Chris Satae has stolen the show at prop for Hull FC this term but Ligi Sao has also been outstanding in the front row even when the chips have been down. He works hard and with great size, he’s been a way for Hull to open up defences this term.
Hull KR: Rowan Milnes
Mikey Lewis, especially in recent weeks, has been exhilarating. But there was a time when he couldn’t find a way into the team because of Rowan Milnes and was shipped out on loan. If Lewis is electric, then Milnes is more calculated with a cultured kicking boot befitting a half 10 years his senior. But like Lewis, he’s also capable of moments of brilliance when called upon. It’s almost a shame both can’t play together. Mind you I don’t think Hull KR fans will be complaining about Jordan Abdull’s presence in the side.
Leeds: Tom Briscoe
In truth, Tom Briscoe has been one of Leeds’ most underrated players for years. When he plays on the wing, few players make more metres than the ex-Hull FC man. As strong as an ox, he gets Leeds on the front foot in exit sets making hard yards and producing quick play the balls but 2021 has been an impressive year from Briscoe for another reason: his versatility. He’s stepped up at centre this season and has done a brilliant job playing his best rugby of the year in the role combining well with Ash Handley but also with young Jack Broadbent. Earlier this season, the duo devastated defences week on week. With a pass befitting of a centre who’s played there for years and the strength, speed and finishing ability of a winger, he’s been quite the threat over on the left.
Salford: Rhys Williams
He never lets the Red Devils down. His try in last year’s cup final proved he can score some scintillating four-pointers and we’ve seen moments of brilliance from the Welsh wizard this season again but we’ve also seen a trusty winger consistently do a job for a side rocked by injuries and suspension battling at the bottom of the table. Players like him are always underappreciated.
St Helens: Matty Lees
When you start alongside Alex Walmsley or come off the bench with Agnatius Paasi, it’s easy to go under the radar but in truth Matty Lees has at times been St Helens’ best prop this season. Dynamic yet physical, he’s the perfect partner for Walmsley down the middle and after overcoming his early injury concerns, has been a real asset for the Champions.
Wakefield: Lee Kershaw
The Wakefield backline endured plenty of upheaval this season but Lee Kershaw and others stepped up to do the job for Trinity. Kershaw offers potency in attack scoring a lovely long range try this season which was befitting of one of Tom Johnstone’s spectacular efforts. But he’s also a grafter and a trustworthy defender. He was key for Wakefield this season.
Warrington: Blake Austin
When Gareth Widdop was injured earlier in the season, Blake Austin stepped up and commanded the Wolves well as they downed Wigan and other big teams. That was after he and Widdop had begun fashioning the best and most dangerous halfback pairing in the league as their kicking game devastated teams due to the variety the pair brought to the table. Austin’s running game superbly complimented Widdop’s more crafty approach and the pair were in blistering form. Then the Wolves poached George Williams and he’s shown his class as you’d expect him to, but Austin hasn’t shied away from doing a job in the pack for Steve Price since Williams’ arrival. He arguably deserved better and let no one down this season.
Wigan: Joe Shorrocks
When you consider Wigan’s star-studded squad going into this season, Joe Shorrocks didn’t exactly stick out but he’s been an outstanding asset for the Warriors this year. He’s covered at nine at times but has truly excelled as an interchange forward providing significant stints of hard work and graft to keep Wigan in the game at key moments.