Following the countdown from 50-21 over the course of this week, Ben Long’s list edges towards the top 10 today in his quest to name the 50 best current Super League players.
20. Mark Percival (St Helens)
One of the pound-for-pound strongest players in the league, Mark Percival consistently performs to a high level and should have a lot more international caps to his name. The Saints centre is very agile and strong in the tackle, often proving very difficult to put down. He has a clever pass in his locker, can create moments of brilliance at crucial times and hits above his weight in defence. Percival is composed in important situations, safe at collecting high kicks and can read the game better than most.
19. Kevin Naiqama (St Helens)
Much like Percival, Fijian star Kevin Naiqama is a very difficult player to tackle due to his agility and deceptive power. The evasive centre is hard-hitting and very unselfish close to the line, often laying tries on a plate for his winger Regan Grace. Having performed at a high level in the NRL for a number of years, Naiqama has transferred that form to Super League and is one of the competition’s best centres.
18. Albert Kelly (Hull FC)
When Albert Kelly moved across Hull in 2017 many people doubted he would be a success, but the former Gold Coast playmaker has proved everyone wrong. He remains one of the Black & Whites key players and when his attitude is right, his all-action style can be very easy on the eye. At his best in attack, Kelly can be a devastating and has the power and pace to cause any Super League defence trouble, while also possessing the natural skill and vision that makes him an X-Factor player.
17. Israel Folau (Catalans Dragons)
The controversial but unquestionably talented Israel Folau has an outstanding NRL try-scoring record and should enjoy a successful season for the Catalans Dragons. He is very athletic, can break tackles out of nothing and is almost unstoppable when attacking high kicks. Folau has produced the goods in both codes and prior to his stint in union, he was widely regarded as the most exciting and naturally gifted youngster in the game. If he reaches a similar level to that he produced during his NRL career, the rangey centre will move up this shortlist rapidly.
16. Alex Walmsley (St Helens)
England prop Alex Walmsley is an explosive player and his devastating partnership with fellow prop Luke Thompson makes the Saints’ pack the most feared in Super League. The former Batley star takes huge chunks of energy out of the opposition with his mercilessly-powerful carries and is arguably the most destructive English forward around. Walmsley’s defence is aggressive but disciplined and his physical strength is just extraordinary, which helps him dominate almost every wrestle and collision he is involved in.
15. James Roby (St Helens)
Veteran hooker James Roby continues to be hugely influential for St Helens despite his aging years and is probably the most consistent Super League player of the last decade. The 34-year-old remains sharp and decisive around the ruck, while his relentless work rate in defence is priceless for the Red Vee. Roby’s distribution is quality and he still possesses that vital nippy acceleration out of dummy-half. The 31-time England international will go down as a Saints legend when he retires, and he is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
14. Tommy Makinson (St Helens)
Former Golden Boot winner Tommy Makinson is the best winger in Super League by a comfortable margin. He has all the qualities you would want for someone in his position and has proven to be international class over the last few years. Of the 28-year-old’s many strengths, his kick returns, athleticism and bravery are up there with the best in the world, while his defence is abnormally strong in contact. Makinson can also read attacking moves better than most, makes breaks out of nothing and is the best finisher in the competition.
13. Zak Hardaker (Wigan Warriors)
Blighted by off-field controversies in the past, Zak Hardaker has made a home for himself at Wigan and finally looks to have settled down. The former Man of Steel is a quality no.1 and makes a huge difference to his team in attack and defence. He is outstanding defensively and always knows when to chime into the attacking line, making him the complete full-back. Footwork, strength and persistence in the tackle help to make Hardaker one of the most naturally competitive players around, with his ‘bad boy’ days hopefully now behind him.
12. Jake Connor (Hull FC)
The naturally gifted Jake Connor is next up after showing patches of genius over the past few seasons. He is a mercurial talent who needs to find a dominant position and consistency but if those things come, there is a world class player in waiting. Connor’s ball-skills can be mesmerising, he is very good in the air and has plenty of kicking skills in his locker. His aggression and ruggedness also make him a throwback to bygone eras, although channelling those attributes in the right way remains a challenge. Connor is the type of player that can make something happen out of nothing and could become a player Australia soon fear at international level.
11. Gareth Widdop (Warrington Wolves)
Former St George Illawarra star Gareth Widdop was clearly still carrying an injury in his first few games for Warrington, however he started to find his feet in the final two rounds prior to the season suspension. He was one of the NRL’s best half-backs for a decade and has genuine quality, with his partnership with Blake Austin surely set to ignite later in the year. Widdop is an expert kicker, both in-play and at goal, while his creativity and ball-distribution is in a class of its own at times.
Tomorrow: Players 10-1