Not every player, regardless of talent or work ethic gets the credit they deserve. Here I am going to attempt to give some praise to some of Super League’s unsung heroes.
15. Zeb Ta’ia, St Helens
Despite being in his mid-thirties, former New Zealand international Zeb Ta’ia remains one of the most dangerous attacking second rowers in the competition. A durable, hard-hitting defender with the power to break the line with ball in hand and the skill to create a break, Ta’ia is undoubtedly one of the unsung heroes in the great St. Helens side.
14. Tom Davies, Wigan Warriors
The Wigan academy product’s season was cut short in desperately unfortunate circumstances, sustaining a broken leg in Wigan’s Good Friday defeat at home to local rivals St. Helens. It was a real shame for the 22-year-old who enjoyed a relatively low-key fantastic personal 2018, finishing the season as the second highest metre maker in the competition and scoring a solid thirteen tries including one in the grand final where Wigan ran out 12-4 winners over Warrington Wolves. Davies is a no-nonsense, hard-running winger that goes about his business relatively quietly. A player that consistently runs hard and straight, Davies probably isn’t as entertaining as wingers such as Regan Grace and Liam Marshall who are less direct and therefore less predictable but with his strong defence, clinical finishing, strong carries and outstanding work rate, he is arguably one of the most efficient and reliable wingers in the game.
13. George Lawler, Hull Kingston Rovers
In what was a very disappointing season for the Robins nearly ending in disaster, Hull-born George Lawler was a shining light. A hard-working, aggressive and durable player, Lawler operated in each position in the pack during 2019 and made an impressive total of 833 tackles, with an eye-catching tackle success rate of 93%. The tough and tenacious local lad boasts a high attacking work-rate as well as a high defensive work rate, averaging a very respectable 13 carries per game in 2019. If Lawler enjoys another strong season in 2020, he will hopefully start to get the plaudits he deserves. His stats from 2019 are particularly impressive when you take into account he suffered a career-threatening injury during the previous season.
12. Tinirau Arona, Wakefield Trinity
Wakefield suffered an injury crisis during 2019 and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back losing Arona to a season-ending ACL injury during the club’s nail-biting 25-24 victory over Huddersfield back in May. Arona is very strong and durable in defence, among Wakefield’s best leaders and possesses the ball handling skills good enough to start set plays as a first receiver. Due to hardly being a barnstorming forward that’s going to make the most yards every week, Arona has probably never been recognized as one of Wakefield’s best players by a lot of Super League fans. But he is the glue that holds Wakefield’s pack together.
11. Brayden Williame, Catalans Dragons
A classy, skilful player with devastating acceleration and crafty ball skills, Williame is one of Super League’s most underrated centres. The former Manly Sea Eagles three-quarter possesses both the pace and guile to get on the outside of his opposite number and rarely makes the wrong decision once it’s 2 on 1. The Fijian international is also more than willing to put in the hard yards for his team, regularly taking tough carries coming away from his own line and usually makes good progress with his deceptive strength and tenacity. During 2019 Williame scored 10 tries and made 7 assists in 25 appearances, whilst averaging over 100 metres per game.
10. Oliver Holmes, Castleford Tigers
Direct, aggressive and a player that consistently demonstrates a never-say die attitude, Oliver Holmes has been an unsung hero of the Castleford Tigers for a long time. Holmes has an impressive turn of pace for a big forward and has the strength and technique to break through tackles at the expense of good defenders. He earned an England call-up at the end of 2018 for his consistently efficient and ever-improving performances. A tough, no-nonsense forward that never gets the plaudits he deserves.
9. Matty Ashurst, Wakefield Trinity
The 3rd top tackler in Super League during 2018 and the 6th top tackler in Super League during 2017, Matty Ashurst is one of the competition’s fittest and most durable back row forwards. The former Salford Red Devils second rower is also capable of consistently running hard and very direct lines. Received some recognition with his dream team appearance at the end of the 2018 season but nevertheless very unfortunate to have never been given an England call-up.
8. Ukuma Ta’ia, Huddersfield Giants
Whenever my team takes on the ‘cowbell army’ Ukuma Ta’ia is always one of the players I fear the most! A ridiculously powerful impact forward, Ta’ia is a typical south sea islander, arguably one of the physically strongest players in the competition. Having now spent seven seasons at Huddersfield Ta’ia has consistently been one of the club’s better players and applied his power well in 2019, making an impressive 67 tackle busts and 745 tackles, boasting a tackle success rate of 95%. Even when he isn’t quite at his best, Ta’ia will always take plenty of energy out of the opposition and is capable of playing big minutes. I have always found the fact he tends to get a lack of plaudits quite surprising.
7. Michael Lawrence, Huddersfield Giants
Another Huddersfield forward. Lawrence is quite possibly one of Super League’s least mentioned and underappreciated players. The one club man is a converted loose forward, having begun his career in the threequarters. An absolute workhorse in the middle of the park for the Giants, Lawrence made a total of 865 tackles during 2019 and recorded a sensational tackle success rate of 96%. One of Super League’s most reliable forwards that always goes under the radar.
6. Kyle Wood, Wakefield Trinity
A brave and skilful little hooker, during 2019 Kyle Wood scored 8 tries, made 6 assists and completed 938 tackles (6th highest in super league). Due to being just 5ft7 and weighing around 82kg (one of Super League’s smallest players) Wood gets consistently targeted heavily during games but always stands his ground and is the last man to give up. In attack he is a livewire of a dummy half, agile, energetic and always asking questions of the defence. Wood is very good at exposing the markers during a quick play-the-ball with his speed off the mark. Rarely gets any plaudits but is always appreciated by Wakefield supporters for his consistently good performances. Described by David Fifita as the best player he had played with in his time at Wakefield.
5. Willie Isa, Wigan Warriors
One of the roughest, toughest and pound-for-pound strongest players in Super League, Willie Isa is a tenacious and aggressive second rower that looks a nightmare to play against. The south-sea islander is a player full of endeavour and consistently puts everything into every carry and tackle he makes regardless of the score-line. Dependable and durable, Isa has been ever present for Wigan this season, averaging 34 tackles per game. Due to not really being a typical ‘highlights’ player Isa rarely gets the plaudits he deserves but is nonetheless a very valuable member of the Wigan squad. During Wigan’s narrow win 15-14 win over Hull FC, Isa completely nullified Hull’s kicking general Marc Sneyd with his ferocious line speed.
4. Josh Jones, Salford Red Devils
Jones has matured and developed into one of the competition’s best back rowers and has in fact been arguably Super League’s top performing second rower this season. I have included Jones in this shortlist as the wrecking-ball big unit has actually been one of Salford’s best players since they signed him back in 2016 and was very good for St. Helens as a youngster back in 2015; he has however only started to receive the plaudits he deserves during the back end of this season. A powerhouse with good offloading skills and the fitness to play big minutes, Jones breaks tackles for fun, is almost unstoppable close to the line and has good footwork for a man of his size which makes his strength even more dangerous. If Jones has a successful debut season at Hull FC in 2020 he will hopefully finally receive the plaudits he deserves on a more consistent basis. He is certainly no one season wonder like a couple may think.
3. Adam Quinlan, Hull Kingston Rovers
When at his best Australian fullback Adam Quinlan is an absolute joy to watch. Sharp footwork, tricky evasive skills, accurate passing ability and a good support player, Quinlan is a terrific attacking fullback. His defence has improved a lot since his time at St Helens too. Fullback is one of the relatively few positions in Super League that consists of a genuinely very high standard which could explain why Quinlan doesn’t receive the attention his performances deserve. Arguably Hull KR’s best player, the Robins missed Quinlan badly during the first four and a half months of 2019 following the 26-year old’s ACL rupture.
2. Niall Evalds, Salford Red Devils
Similarly to his teammate Jones, Evalds has only begun to receive the plaudits his performances deserve during the back end of 2019. Having just turned 26, the speedster already has over 100 career tries to his name, proving he has been something of a secret weapon throughout his time at Salford, the club he has played for since 2013. Evalds is regarded by many as the most underrated player in Super League. A fullback that gives his team real stability with his consistent efficiency under the high ball, good positional play and strong one-on-one defence. The Halifax-born fullback has always had the pace to score long range tries but his playmaking ability is the aspect of his attacking game that has really improved during 2019, making an impressive 13 assists.
1. Morgan Knowles, St Helens
In terms of receiving individual praise, Knowles is possibly a victim of the fact he plays in such an outstanding team packed with superstars. Being a key component of the St Helens engine room, Knowles gets through a lot of the tough, gritty work in defence that can often go completely unnoticed. Whilst getting through a mountain of work, Knowles is devastatingly efficient, a strong and fit loose forward that frequently wins collisions and dominates players in the contact. But the ever-improving 22-year-old is much more than just a workhorse in defence, in attack he takes the ball right to the line and has both the pass accuracy and pass timing to play as a first receiver to begin set plays. If Knowles’ development and progression continues it is a matter of time before he receives international recognition.
Honourable mentions: Kruise Leeming, Reece Lyne, Alex Mellor, Carlos Tuimavave, Ash Handley, Jake Bibby.