It’s not delayed just because I dread the reaction. And neither is it that I missed the actual vote. At least I don’t think I did, with the team to be announced on Monday week.
Regardless, after much pondering, here’s my Super League Dream Team selection for 2018 and who got my five, three and one vote in each position.
Even allowing for his dip in form over the last couple of months, Ben Barba gained so much credit during the first half of the campaign that he is still comfortably the best full-back in Super League. He will probably get Man of Steel, too. The Australian was simply unplayable at times earlier this season when it was a pleasure to watch him. It is a shame, yet always inevitable, Super League won’t see him again in 2019.
Hull KR’s Adam Quinlan and Warrington Stefan Ratchford were next in line for me.
In terms of wingers, Wakefield’s Tom Johnstone has been superb, not just with try-scoring where he is joint-top with Barba on 24 before but clean breaks as well with no one bettering his 42.
Josh Charnley only arrived back in rugby league when he joined Warrington Wolves in mid-March but, even in a shortened campaign, his impact has been so obvious that he also gets in just ahead of Saints’ England debutant Tommy Makinson.
In the centre, Bill Tupou has been a revelation for Wakefield, not only having a hand in so many of Johnstone’s tries but proving such an explosive carrier as well.
Saints’ Mark Percival is a model of consistency, faring so highly in all facets – 20 tries, 15 assists and a massive 177 tackle busts illustrating just why his side motored to top spot. Castleford Tigers’ Michael Shenton has quietly but effectively gone about his business yet again as well.
The half-back duo has to be Saints’ Jonny Lomax and Danny Richardson, such a wonderful creative pairing, but beneath them it’s much harder to decide.
In the end, as second-choice six, I went for Jacob Miller who has come of age and proved he can lead Trinity on his own, with Wigan’s George Williams getting a nod. For scrum-half, Josh Drinkwater’s signing in late April was a major reason behind Catalans Dragons turning their season around while I also gave one point to Jacob Trueman, the gifted young Castleford half who somehow is still only 19.
Up front, there can be few complaints with Saints’ Luke Thompson as the best prop while I also went for Chris Hill’s reliability and Wakefield’s David Fifita’s exciting explosive game but Castleford’s Liam Watts could just as easily have been included.
Super League is spoilt for choice at hooker but I go – and this arguably could be switched any way – Paul McShane, James Roby and Daryl Clark in 2018.
Wigan’s John Bateman has been far and away the best second-row and it would be no surprise if he polled high in the Man of Steel. Alongside him I voted for Saints’ Zeb Taia with my other vote going to Tigers’ Oli Holmes.
It is another Castleford player – Adam Milner – who caught my eye for the loose forward role.
He could be the long-term replacement for Sean O’Loughlin in the England ranks when the Wigan Warriors captain – my second pick – does finally hang up his boots, Huddersfield’s retiring Ryan Hinchcliffe also getting a vote for his role in their revival.
Craven’s Dream Team: Barba; Charnley, Percival, Tupou, Johnstone; Lomax, Richardson; Hill, McShane, Thompson, Bateman, Taia, Milner.