The 2019 Super League campaign may have finished less than a month ago, but I’m already looking ahead to what 2020 has in store.
I have identified six intriguing transfers, each with a point to prove at their new clubs next season.
Danny Richardson to Castleford Tigers
An interesting one. 2018 Dream Team halfback Danny Richardson suffered an almighty fall from grace in 2019, going from being tipped by many to be a certainty for England in the near future to struggling to get a game. Richardson is a talent. He can kick goals for fun, has good support play and is fairly dangerous with ball in hand with his guile and evasive skills. However, he is far from the finished article and ultimately wasn’t strong enough defensively to retain his place in the St Helens line-up. His decision-making under pressure also wasn’t the best, especially in the big games and perhaps the demanding role of the dominant halfback took its toll.
But without sounding too critical, I am looking forward to seeing how Richardson gets on at the Jungle. Replacing former Man of Steel Luke Gale, the 23-year-old certainly has some big boots to fill but I believe has the confidence in his own ability to not be phased by the challenge. Daryl Powell, a former halfback himself, is renowned for his excellent man-management and has overseen some terrific attacking setups that made Cas the most entertaining team in the competition, allowing his playmakers to really flourish. Richardson could be a fit for the Tigers. He has a few deficiencies as mentioned earlier but I think the positives of this transfer outweigh the negatives as far as Castleford are concerned.
A young hungry halfback with a point to prove and will improve with experience. I’m not convinced Jordan Rankin or Peter Mata’utia were the answers to Castleford’s problems in the halves and the departed Gale, having suffered numerous long-term injuries, is now on the wrong side of 30, so it really isn’t bad business.
Pauli Pauli to Salford Red Devils
Former Parramatta Eels and Newcastle Knights powerhouse Pauli Pauli is a real enigma of a player. Possibly the biggest man in English rugby league, weighing around 129 kilos, Pauli’s big strength as a player is charging onto short balls and drop offs near the opposition’s try-line; the former Samoa international can be an absolutely devastating attacking strike weapon.
However, in truth, he was a disappointment for Wakefield in 2019. He enjoyed a very good second half of 2018 but just didn’t kick on the following season. He didn’t quite have the same level of desire and hunger in 2019 and as a result just wasn’t as destructive with ball in hand as he was the previous season, not quite applying his explosive power as much as he could have done.
Ian Watson is a terrific coach and could well give him the motivation to maintain fitness and supply the attacking drills to get the best out of Pauli. But nevertheless, in order to improve his performances on a consistent basis, the 25-year-old needs to improve his work rate and tackling technique. Performances ultimately matter more than attributes and the juggernaut will hopefully apply his ferocious power to games on a weekly basis in 2020. He could quite easily either prove a flop or a match-winner for the Red Devils.
Ashton Golding to Huddersfield Giants
Another interesting one. During the Jamaican international’s time at his hometown club Leeds, Golding’s last-ditch defensive efforts and attacking work rate could never be questioned. He makes plenty of yards on kick returns and certainly isn’t one to go missing. However, after signing a long-term deal at Headingley, his place was taking by another young fullback in Jack Walker. But huge credit to the 23-year-old for the way he has responded and he was one of Featherstone’s best players last season in their run to the Million Pound Game.
This is very much a fresh start for Golding though and could well be his last chance to prove himself a Super League player. He has plenty to offer for the Giants with his versatility, never-say die attitude and tough defence. Darnell Mclntosh, a young fullback with guile and effortless athleticism was among Huddersfield’s biggest attacking threats last season and Golding, more of a defensive fullback, could be in for an intriguing battle to nail down the first-choice fullback spot at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Matt Parcell to Hull Kingston Rovers
Maybe a slightly controversial one as Parcell is generally quite highly-rated among Super League fans. The Australian hooker was among the Rhinos’ best players in their 2017 title-winning campaign, but in truth never really kicked on after that. He did however make a big impact at Craven Park when he arrived at the East Hull club on loan during the back end of last season, and it is little surprise he is widely regarded by the Rovers’ faithful as the club’s best off-season signing going into 2020.
Revealed as officially one of the competition’s fastest players, Parcell is a dangerous dummy-half runner who isn’t afraid of a scoot from the ruck. Speed and a rugby brain is a dangerous combination. Playing off slower play-the-balls in 2018 and 2019 clearly didn’t help the former Brisbane Bronco, but he was starting to lose his fear factor. A new club and one where he will be one of the best strike players could be the injection required for Parcell to get back to his best.
Josh Drinkwater to Catalans Dragons
Drinkwater is a halfback that divides opinion and understandably so. He is a dominant no.7 that takes charge of the kicking game and gives a team direction and structure. His close-range kicking game is very good on his day. On the other hand, he is not the type of player to take a game by the scruff of the neck and can be predictable with ball in hand.
After a successful spell at Catalans during the second half of 2018, being very instrumental in the change of fortunes in the South of France as the Dragons went from relegation candidates when he arrived to Challenge Cup winners, Rovers supporters had high hopes when he signed for their club. Despite having the odd good game, Drinkwater struggled playing behind an inferior pack to the one at the Dragons and never lived up to the hype at Craven Park.
It was confirmed recently the Australian will be making a return to Perpignan where he played by far the best rugby of his career. Similarly to Drinkwater, Catalans endured a disappointing 2019 and the pressure is on the 27-year-old to return to the form that helped the Dragons lift their first piece of major silverware in 2018. He will be benefitted hugely by halfback partner and fellow new signing James Maloney who guided New South Wales to State of Origin glory less than six months ago. Their partnership has the potential to be devastating and head coach Steve McNamara will be hoping the pair can hit it off straight away.
Luke Gale to Leeds Rhinos
Having played just 13 games over the course of 2018 and 2019, many Super League supporters are understandably sceptical about the signing of Luke Gale. Will he get close to the level he reached in 2017 when he won the prestigious Steve Prescott Man of Steel award? The transfer fee of Gale to Leeds from Castleford is believed to be in the region of £160,000. This is a major gamble no doubt as the 31-year-old hasn’t played since a horrific Achilles injury sustained during pre-season.
However, the off-season is ultimately all about recruiting in areas of weakness and it’s no secret Leeds desperately lacked an organising halfback with a kicking game last season. Due to being written off by many going into 2020, Gale is undoubtedly playing with a point to prove and this will probably be the last club he plays for in his Super League career. Leeds are also Gale’s hometown club so the motivation will surely be there.
Playing alongside the skilful and unpredictable Robert Lui, Leeds’ new halfback pairing looks very promising. Lui has the ball skills and guile to unlock any defence and Gale has the kicking game and organisation skills to get the team around the park. Whether it works out or not for Gale, he is certainly in for an intriguing personal 2020. It will be a big test of his character and resilience, coming back from two long-term injuries.