Super League Kicks Off This Weekend: Players To Watch in 2011
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Top flight Rugby League kicks into gear this weekend as the Super League season starts with a bang in Cardiff, Wales. The yearly "Magic Weekend" is brought forward to the beginning of the campaign where all 14 teams play their opening fixtures over two days at the same stadium.
Wigan Warriors, who open their 2011 account against their sworn local rivals St. Helens, look to defend their title as champions. Here we browse through some of the key players to watch in this upcoming Super League season.
Pat Richards (Wigan Warriors)
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Richards finished at the top of the 2010 Super League charts in both tries and goals scored, deservedly scooping the prestigious "Man of Steel" along the way.
However, the reigning champions will be without their points machine for a good chunk of the season as Richards recovers from a ruptured Achilles tendon injury sustained in last year's Grand Final.
Luke Patten (Salford City Reds)
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Arguably the biggest name overseas to join Super League in 2011, Luke Patten opted out of joining one of the title contenders to sign for the lowly Salford City Reds. This was largely due to sounding out his old Canterbury Bulldogs teammate Daniel Holdsworth (also at Salford) and the club's plan to move into a new stadium facility next year.
'The General' played 282 first-grade NRL games (225 for Canterbury Bulldogs alone) in which he scored 100 tries. This is just one reason why most Aussie viewers are keen to see how the 31-year-old gets on in Greater Manchester.
Rangi Chase (Castleford Tigers)
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Chase was outstanding for Castleford last season, and with the club's prized possession Joe Westerman leaving for Hull F.C., there is a lot of pressure on his shoulders if the Tigers are to make the playoffs.
However, if Chase does indeed come up with the goods on a regular basis, Castleford have a chance.
Jarrod Sammut (Crusaders)
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Rugby league's answer to Jack Sparrow joined the Crusaders halfway through last term, helping them push on toward a playoff spot. Catching the eye of many Super League onlookers, rival clubs were seemingly enamoured too, and rumors persist that Sammut will be on his way out of North Wales.
With an impressive preseason under his belt, Sammut could be the difference between the Crusaders challenging for the lower end of the playoffs or the lower reaches of the ladder.
Danny Brough (Huddersfield Giants)
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Brough is undoubtedly one of the most talented players in Super League, and with Luke Robinson seemingly moving towards a hooking/dummy half role, he'll look towards owning the scrum-half position in his first full season for the Giants.
The club's talisman Brett Hodgson has left for Warrington, so it's up to somebody to step up and fill that gap. If Brough performs week-in week-out, Huddersfield could be this year's outside bet.
Michael Shenton (St. Helens)
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Shenton was one of the few highlights for England in last year's Four Nations competition. Leaving Castleford for St. Helens, a club that in recent years has been known for outstanding centres, is a big step but one that could be hugely beneficial for both parties if it comes off.
Brett Hodgson (Warrington Wolves)
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The slender phenom has been outstanding for Huddersfield Giants in recent years and joins the Warrington Wolves in the hope that he can push them towards a much vaunted Grand Final place.
It's certainly not beyond Hodgson to be the difference that pushes Warrington from strong contenders to titlists in one year.
Kallum Watkins (Leeds Rhinos)
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Watkins comes into 2011 off of a bad injury last term but is back to full fitness for the start of season.
Although Leeds have a relatively strong three-quarter line, Watkins is touted for big things, and it will certainly be interesting to see if he can fulfil his potential this year.
Jeff Lima (Wigan Warriors)
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Wigan Warriors released more than 10 players from their champion squad of 2010. However, the three players they brought in, all from Melbourne Storm, are quality recruits. Brett Finch and Ryan Hoffman bring representative experience to the DW Stadium, and both are still in their prime.
However, it's the rampaging Jeff Lima that is bound to catch the eye. Odds on to become a fan favourite, Lima is a slimmer, fitter but no less rambunctious replacement for the departed Iafeta Palea'aesina.
Willie Mason (Hull Kingston Rovers)
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Your average rugby league probably recognises Mason as the most well-known overseas recruit. A controversial figure on and off the pitch, Mason will light up Super League in one way or another.
The build up to Hull K.R's fixture with Wigan Warriors and a potential face-off with opposing prop Stuart Fielden (Mason floored Fielden in an infamous dust-up during an Australia vs. Great Britain test match some years ago) could be off the scale.
Sam Tomkins (Wigan Warriors)
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The elusive Sam Tomkins is the current beau of British Rugby League and has been a sensation for Wigan Warriors in recent years. However, he was roundly criticised by Australian pundits during the Four Nations after struggling to live up to the hype.
While arguments persist over whether Tomkins is best suited to the half-backs or at fullback and his ability to con referees into soft penalties is scrutinised, there is no doubt that at this level Tomkins is the most devastating of attacking players and a joy to watch.
Joel Monaghan (Warrington Wolves)
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Monaghan fled Australia after a photo of himself during a drunken, lewd act with a dog filtered its merry way through the bowels of the web. Though escaping to Britain won't necessarily avoid him taking flak from the terraces.
It has to be said, however, that Monaghan is a world class three-quarter. If he can overcome the unforgiving jeers from the crowds, he could easily scoop the Man of Steel title.