Ahead of today’s top-four clash at the AJ Bell Stadium, Mike Andrews has picked a combined XIII between Salford Red Devils and Leeds Rhinos.
1. Gareth O’Brien – Salford Red Devils
Although Leeds’ Ashton Golding has been superb when he has featured this season, O’Brien has had the best season of his career. Last season’s Million Pound Game hero has a habit of coming up with big plays at vital times and that’s shown in the stats, with 7 tries, 12 assists and 9 clean-breaks.
2. Niall Evalds – Salford Red Devils
Frankly, the wingers of both teams haven’t been up there to the standard of the likes of Liam Marshall, Ben Jones-Bishop and Greg Eden. However, Evalds has been streets ahead of former England international Tom Briscoe and has scored a reasonable number of tries. He’s the club’s joint top scorer with 11 tries and his support game is solid too with 5 assists.
3. Junior Sa’u – Salford Red Devils
Sa’u has been unplayable at times, as his power and footwork has seen him profit on many occasion this season. He’s an important part of the Devils’ attack and it’s shown in the stats with 9 tries and 8 assists – often being the go-to man for Ian Watson in times of need.
4. Kallum Watkins – Leeds Rhinos
Watkins makes the team as the first Leeds player, which in my eyes is a surprise but that says so much about Salford’s quality this season. The side-stepping England centre has been in strong form this season and captained an under-strength Rhinos outfit to a great victory last time out against Saints, thus demonstrating another string to his already talented bow. His stats this season read 9 tries, 6 assists and 42 tackle-busts.
5. Ryan Hall – Leeds Rhinos
Like I’ve already said, the wingers haven’t been the same standard as some others in Super League. With that being said, Hall has an undoubted quality and he’s becoming as devastating in the centres as he is on the wing when given the slightest of advantages. He’s made 9 clean-breaks and scored 7 tries, but it’s his metres of 2186 that I find most impressive as he batters up the middle to help give his side a foothold in games. He has a great work rate and that’s something some wingers can’t boast.
6. Robert Lui – Salford Red Devils
Salford’s magic man; he makes them tick with his skill and can unlock any defence if you allow him the space to showcase his talents. He’s the Red Devils lead assist maker with 18 and he’s notched up 16 clean-breaks for good measure. My half-back pairing, although a fantasy, would be possess an enviable amount of natural talent.
7. Joel Moon – Leeds Rhinos
The focal point of the Rhinos’ attack; his switch from the centres to stand-off has been inspiring to say the least. The off-the-cuff style of Moon means that even his team-mates sometimes can’t guess what he’s about to do, case and point for his try in last week’s victory over Saints. The mazy runner has scored 14 tries and made 11 clean-breaks – both of which are leading stats for the Rhinos – underpinning his importance to the Brian McDermott this term.
8. Craig Kopczak – Salford Red Devils
For me, Kopczak has been by far Salford’s best prop forward this season. It has arguably been the best season of his career as he has developed under the leadership of Ian Watson. Kopczak has improved remarkably in all areas, but for me it’s his metres gained that impresses me most, as he now rarely takes a backward step. This is highlighted in full force by being fourth for his side in this statistic with a credible 1771 metres, an average gain of over 7 metres.
9. Matt Parcell –Leeds Rhinos
The number 9 who wears a magic hat. Parcell has been sensational for Leeds this season as he replaced the runaway James Segeyaro to become arguably the club’s best signing in some time. His all-round contribution has seen him, in my opinion, be the best hooker in the Super League. His electric pace and knowhow has helped him to 11 tries, 9 assists and 7 clean-breaks so far this term, as well as leading the competition in tackles with 741.
10. Adam Cuthbertson – Leeds Rhinos
‘Cuthbo’ has been back to his Steve Prescott Man of Steel 2015 nominee best. He’s one try away from breaking the record for tries scored by a Leeds prop in a season, set by Barrie McDermott. He’s Leeds’ lead metre maker with 2460 and he’s incredibly made 8 clean-breaks; truly a half-back in a prop’s body.
11. Ben Murdoch-Masila – Salford Red Devils
Murdoch-Masila is the Red Devils’ best chance at a Man of Steel nomination. He’s incredibly strong, quick and powerful – and Ian Watson and his team can be thankful that he signed a brand new deal recently. He’s made 10 clean-breaks, scored 11 tries and made 41 tackle-busts to justify his inclusion in this team.
12. Stevie Ward – Leeds Rhinos
The next Rhinos long-term captain, in my opinion. He’s a leader and fronts up extremely well when times get hard for his team. Ward is very vocal but lets his actions do the talking as he’s demonstrated recently with 4 tries in his last 5 games for Leeds. He’s a strong carrier of the ball and isn’t afraid to break his back for the cause if it means coming away with a victory.
13. Mark Flanagan – Salford Red Devils
Flanagan has been in great form this season and was rewarded with a new deal by the high-flying Red Devils. He’s uncompromising in his approach on the field and leaves opposition defences reeling with his powerful carries. The former Saints man has really come into his stride since joining Salford and that’s due to his commitment to prove people wrong.