Carl Ablett: Why Zak deserves my vote for his second Man of Steel award

LIKE ALL Super League players, I've had a vote for Man of Steel.

Still improving: Zak Hardakers attacking game has improved steadily since switching from Leeds Rhinos to Castleford Tigers.

Here’s my three choices – you can’t vote for anyone from your own team – and also a suggestion for coach of the year and young player.

Third: Ben Murdoch-Masila (Salford Red Devils).

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I don’t get to see every game, but whenever I’ve played against him or seen him on highlights he has been outstanding and he has been a big part of Salford having a good season.

Regan Grace gets Carl Ablett's vote for young player of the year. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

He is in double figures of tries and that shows how influential he is for them. He is hard to handle when you’re playing against him and he is Salford’s go-to man.

He is big and strong, he has got an offload and he can play a bit. Those are the things you look for when you are prepping’ to play against a team.

You look at who is going to be a threat and he is definitely up there.

Over the last few weeks, Salford have struggled for form and Murdoch-Masila’s has probably been forgotten a bit, but he has had a very big year.

Regan Grace gets Carl Ablett's vote for young player of the year. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

Second: Paul McShane (Castleford Tigers).

Macca has progressed massively this year.

I played with him at Leeds and I knew then how good he was. He just needed an opportunity and some games and some confidence.

As a No 9, he has got pretty much everything – he can defend, he can kick, he scores tries close to the line, he is smart and he reads the game really well.

He does a bit of coaching for Hunslet Club Parkside and that comes out in his game, he is always thinking ahead.

Cas get a lot of plaudits all through the team and the left and right edges score a lot of tries, but a lot of the good stuff they do comes from his control at nine – the work he does in the middle and getting the ball to the right areas when they need it.

First: Zak Hardaker (Castleford):

Zak has been great this year. He has developed his game from when he was at Leeds and won Man of Steel a couple of years ago.

When he was with us, he was renowned for his defence. He has always been great with his kick returns and bringing the ball away from his own line, but his attacking game has really come to the fore this year.

Zak is not the biggest of blokes but, pound for pound, he is one of the strongest in the game.

He has got the ability to ride tackles and break tackles and he is a real strike player. He has created a lot of tries for Cas this year and scored some good ones as well – and he is still the best defensive full-back in Super League.

Coach of the year:

Coaches vote for this and I don’t think there’s any doubt about who will win, but a few names deserve a mention.

Salford have gone from the ‘million-pound game’ last year to being in the top-eight – and as high as second at times – this season and that’s credit to their coach, Ian Watson.

Also, Chris Chester has done a fantastic job at Wakefield.

He has turned them around since he took over last year when they were bottom of the table, and, at the start of round 30, they were still in with a chance of a top-four spot.

That’s a great achievement for a team who don’t spend the full cap. They are competitive every week and they play a good brand.

But coach of the year has to be Daryl Powell. Cas are 12 points clear at the top of the table and they’ve been the best team all season.

Young player of the year:

I think this should be somebody who wasn’t known before the season, but has had a big impact.

Jack Walker – of Leeds – should get a mention. He came in midway through the season and has been fantastic whenever he has played, but I have been really impressed with Regan Grace at St Helens.

He got his debut this year and has managed to stay in the team ahead of some good players.

He’s quite slight, but he has got pace and he’s very athletic – he can break tackles and score tries and I think he has a big future in Super League.