Serious About Rugby League writer Ben Long picks his Super League Team of the Month for February.
1. Bevan French – Wigan Warriors
Right now Bevan French is the top box-office player in the competition. He has outrageous dummies, tricky feet and plenty of pace. If he stays fit, his highlights reel will be something special. He has made an excellent start to the season and has earned his place in the Team of the Month with four tries and three assists during his first five appearances of the campaign. He is right up there in Super League for clean breaks, tackle busts and tries. A devastating runner.
2. Ben Crooks – Hull Kingston Rovers
Despite his team enduring a difficult start to the season, former Castleford and Hull FC Centre Ben Crooks has taken his transition from centre to wing like a duck to water. He is currently the competition’s top try-scorer with seven to his name already. In truth, Crooks was one of Hull KR’s better players last season and has carried that momentum into this year. As well as his clinical finishing, the 26-year-old has also averaged over 100m per game during the first month of the season.
3. Harry Newman – Leeds Rhinos
Newman was my tip for Young Player of the Year for 2020 and he has made a good start to the season, earning a call-up to the senior England squad. An agile and deceptively hard-running young centre, Newman has two tries and two assists to his name during his opening four appearances of the season. He is also third in Super League for tackle busts (30) and the skilful three-quarter will be looking to develop further as the season progresses.
4. Josh Griffin – Hull FC
The form centre in the league right now. Griffin’s performances have been brilliant and the stats produced are outstanding. He is joint top of the league for tackle busts and clean breaks and top on his own for metres made. Griffin has also recorded two tries and two assists. He is developing his game significantly at Hull and is fully deserving of his recent England call-up.
5. Derrell Olpherts – Castleford Tigers
After losing his place at Salford during the second half of 2019, many eyebrows were raised when Daryl Powell brought Olpherts to the Tigers. But the hard-running Winger has enjoyed a productive first month of the new season, scoring four tries and averaging over 100 metres per match.
6. Jonny Lomax – St Helens
Lomax is regarded by many as the competition’s top player right now. Coming off the back of an outstanding 2019, he scored two tries and made six assists during the opening month of the 2020 campaign. An accurate and crafty playmaker, the 29-year-old is developing into a devastating attacking player. He has guile, physicality beyond his size and takes the ball right to the line before delivering what is consistently the right pass.
7. Jackson Hastings – Wigan Warriors
A lot of Jackson Hastings’ ability is almost uncoachable. He is exceptionally good at finding space with ball in hand, has the vision and awareness to pick the right pass and is naturally good at breaking tackles and beating players. It’s also fair to say the 2019 Man of Steel has taken no time settling into his new club whatsoever, recording seven assists. Halfbacks aren’t signed for their defence, but Hastings’ tackle stats are eye-catchingly impressive with 91 and just two misses from February.
8. Luke Thompson – St Helens
Business as usual for NRL-bound prop Luke Thompson. He has power, pace, direct-running, aggression and a huge engine. Since the start of 2018, Thompson has been a consistent performer and he just seems to get better every week now – currently averaging 119 metres per game. The best forward in the competition by a distance at present, with his partner-in-crime Alex Walmsley arguably second.
9. Paul McShane – Castleford Tigers
Currently top of the Man of Steel leaderboard, McShane has made a strong start to the season. While he doesn’t perhaps get the headlines of other Super League players, the 30-year-old has plenty of guile and craft around the ruck, providing accurate distribution. His work-rate in defence is tremendous, making 35 tackles per game, as well as impressively averaging just over 10 metres per carry.
10. Alex Walmsley – St Helens
Walmsley’s performance in the World Club Challenge defeat to Sydney Roosters was outstanding and he was sorely missed during the defeat to the Warrington Wolves earlier in February. The much-deserved adulation received by Luke Thompson has actually led to Walmsley being somewhat under-spoken about within the game. He has been consistently tremendous since returning from a severe neck injury, which highlights his mental toughness and attitude as well as his power and ability. Walmsley currently averages 125 metres per game this season and boasts an average gain of just over nine metres per carry.
11. Matty Ashurst – Wakefield Trinity
Recovering from a career-threatening back injury that ruined his 2019 campaign, Ashurst has been impressive to say the least on return. Renowned for his work-rate and strong tackling technique, he averaged 40 tackles per game in February. In addition to this, he has added a new dimension to his game due to his increased size and power and is now looking like a more destructive forward, breaking more tackles when carrying the ball. Don’t be surprised to see Trinity use Ashurst as a crash-over option close to the line going forward.
12. Liam Farrell – Wigan Warriors
A mobile and aggressive second-rower capable of running great lines, Farrell is very effective in attack and defence due to his durability and strong skill set. Capable of dominating players in contact and coming up with line breaks and accurate offloads in attack, he has scored two tries and made two assists and is currently fifth for tackles made. Farrell is also sixth in Super League for metres made as he continues to be one of the competition’s most consistent players.
13. Morgan Smithies – Wigan Warriors
Ferociously physical, fearless and hard-working, Smithies is currently third in Super League for tackles made with 196, having missed just two. If his attacking game develops, he could become a genuine international prospect in the not too distant future.
14. Sam Tomkins – Catalans Dragons
Tomkins has made a very impressive start to the season. His performances in the Dragons’ victories over Castleford and Hull FC were both truly outstanding. The former Man of Steel winner has four tries and three assists to his name from the month of February. The influential and competitive fullback can read the game superbly in attack and defence, while chiming into the attacking line seamlessly. Tomkins possesses tremendous anticipation, ball skills and evasive running and is set to have a big season in Perpignan.
15. Joe Westerman – Wakefield Trinity
This signing was a gamble from Wakefield, but Westerman appears to have found a new lease of life at the West Yorkshire club. His combination of powerful carries and distribution in attacking set-plays has given the team a new dimension and he has been strong in defence, making 124 tackles and missing just three. It will be a challenge for the influential Westerman to consistently apply his attributes over the course of the season, but he has been Wakefield’s best player in the opening month.
16. Suaia Matagi – Huddersfield Giants
Former New Zealand International forward Suaia Matagi has enjoyed an impressive start to the season. In a Giants side that have won three from four matches, Matagi averages 98 metres per game, has an average gain of just under nine metres per carry and an impressive tackle success rate of 91%. The no-nonsense forward has shown flashes of power and destructive running during his time at the Giants and this could be the year he really kicks on.
17. Aidan Sezer – Huddersfield Giants
The Giants’ high-profile off-season signing Aidan Sezer has been instrumental to their strong start to the new season. The former Canberra Raiders playmaker has delivered a number of standout displays, provided five assists during his first four appearances of the campaign. He is capable of unlocking well-organised defensive structures and has given Huddersfield some much-needed game-management and direction. Sezer is more than living up to the expectation and is one of the early favourites for the Man of Steel award.