With the rugby league – and sporting – world at a near standstill, we thought it would be a good time to reflect on which players have kicked off 2020 with a bang.
So what better way to do that than a predicted Dream Team? We’ve put together who we think has impressed the most so far this season and who could, if they continue their form, end up in the Dream Team come the end of the year.
Fullback – Bevan French
This is quite an easy one, as French’s performances so far have already prompted some to tip him as a Man of Steel contender. The explosive 24-year-old has been a revelation since joining the Warriors and has now cemented his place at fullback, with Zak Hardaker shifting into the centres. He reads the game well and has built a strong connection with Jackson Hastings and Thomas Leuluai, while his agility and individual brilliance is mesmerising at times.
Notable mention: Sam Tomkins
Wingers – Derrell Olpherts and Tom Johnstone
There are several wingers who have started strong in 2020 but Olpherts and Johnstone have arguably impressed the most. Olpherts was struggling to get into Salford’s starting line up last season but is a changed man under Daryl Powell. His kick returns consistently get the Tigers on the front foot, while his finishing ability has improved tenfold. Johnstone, meanwhile, seems to have picked up exactly where he left off in March of last year. Knee injuries have stunted the England international’s progress but there’s no doubting that, on his day, he’s one of Super League’s most exciting wide men. With five tries so far this season the 24-year-old seems to be getting back to his best.
Notable mention: Ben Crooks, Ken Sio
Centres – Harry Newman and Josh Griffin
The Leeds production line has seemingly produced yet another star in centre Harry Newman. A call-up to the extended England squad earlier this year was a deserved reward for the youngster after a stellar start to the season. He plays with plenty of aggression and isn’t afraid to get under the skin of opponents, while still possessing the delicate skills of a top centre. Griffin is in a similar vein of form after years of being one of the competition’s most underrated players. He is a superb carrier of the ball, currently leading the stats charts for metres with 999, and is a constant threat on the Black and Whites’ left edge.
Notable mention: Jake Wardle, Ricky Leutele
Stand-off – Jonny Lomax
St Helens may be struggling to recapture the form that won them last year’s Grand Final at the moment but Lomax has managed to stay consistent through this rough period. Ever a threat with the ball, the 29-year-old has the second most try assists in the league with seven and is always asking questions of opposition defences. In recent years he’s grown into one of Saints’ most important leaders and will be vital if the club are to overcome the blip they are currently going through.
Notable mention: James Maloney
Scrum-half – Jackson Hastings
From the player with the second most try assists to the leader, Hastings has answered all the questions asked of him since his move to the DW Stadium. Such was his maverick ability at Salford, many questioned whether or not he’d be able to continue that Man of Steel winning form when moving to a bigger club with larger expectations but on current evidence, he’s having no problem at all. His natural skill is shining through more than ever while his combination with fullback French is becoming more exciting every game. With Hastings in the halves, Wigan’s chances of making it back to Old Trafford have certainly increased.
Notable mention: Aidan Sezer
Props – Luke Thompson and Mike Cooper
Thompson is almost a given to be in the Dream Team if he continues to perform the way he is. As prop forwards go, there aren’t many who run as hard and as fast as him, while his tireless work in defence makes him the complete package. The Canterbury Bulldogs are certainly getting one heck of a player next year. Cooper’s form has been rewarded by a return to the extended England squad after a four-year absence. Similar to Saints, Warrington have blown hot and cold so far in 2020 but Cooper’s impact has been a constant. His post-contact metres are among the best in the competition, while he has set a solid platform for the likes of Gareth Widdop and Blake Austin when they’ve been firing.
Notable mention: Sebastine Ikahihifo, Kelepi Tanginoa
Hookers – Brad Dwyer
Dwyer’s form is the one silver lining to come from the injury of fellow Leeds hooker Kruise Leeming. The 26-year-old has been one of several standout performers from the Rhinos this season after being given the starting berth at hooker, with his speed out of dummy half seeing the Rhinos constantly on the front foot. His off-field enthusiasm and personality reflect not only his own performance on the pitch but that of the whole team and Dwyer’s influence will be key if the Rhinos are to reach the heights they’re aiming for.
Notable mention: Paul McShane
Second Rowers – Cheyse Blair and Liam Farrell
This is an odd choice, as Blair is a centre by trade, however his size and strength has seen him utilised in the back row by Daryl Powell and it’s certainly had the desired effect. His mix of pace and power as an edge forward has seen him crash over for four tries and assist one, whilst also making 116 tackles in defence. He’s even keeping the likes of Jesse Sene-Lefao and Mike McMeeken out of the starting line-up. With Sean O’Loughlin playing just three games so far in 2020, Farrell has stepped up as a leader in the Wigan side. He sits fourth in both the tackles and metres made stats charts, racking up 261 and 826 respectively, and sets a great example to the Warriors’ youthful forward pack.
Notable mention: Pauli Pauli, Joe Wardle
Loose Forward – Cameron Smith
He’s had plenty of doubters in the past couple of years but in 2020 Cameron Smith is showing fans exactly why he’s been billed as one of Super League’s top talents. An England youth international, the 21-year-old is beginning to come into his own and find his feet as a Super League regular, stepping almost directly into the shoes of former captain Trent Merrin. His style is very similar to that of the Australian too. He has a stocky frame that he isn’t afraid to use in contact but has excellent handling skills and great late footwork, as well as an eye for an offload. You get the feeling this season will be a defining year for him as a player.
Notable mention: Morgan Smithies