Dave Craven: Wigan are the worthy winners of an average Super League year

GIVEN the international season is quickly up and running, the Super League campaign already seems like a distant memory.

Wigan Warriors' Liam farrell holds aloft the Super League trophy (Picture: SWPix.com)

For plenty, that is not a bad thing in the slightest.

In all fairness, it has not been a vintage year for the premier competition. Far from it.

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Too often it has produced games that have lacked the intensity, quality and thrill factor so longed for.

There is no denying the effort and desire of all those on show and there have been some truly remarkable individual displays.

However, in total, you can understand why the Super League chief executive Robert Elstone is so keen to make changes that will essentially liven games up in 2019.

Undoubtedly, Wigan Warriors were worthy champions at the end of this year; any side that can power their way through the Super 8s with a 100 per cent win record for the first time has something special in their ranks and their Grand Final display was typically Wigan.

Fittingly, in his last game as head coach, it was a performance that mirrored all the characteristics that Shaun Wane’s sides have become renowned for; brutally efficient, relentlessly overpowering in defence and with a team ethic resembling the Royal Marines.

They were the best team on the night against Warrington Wolves who, once more, failed at the final hurdle.

Plenty of people described it as a “great” final; it was low-scoring, absorbing, defences were on top and it was certainly tense given the game was in the balance right up until the 77th minute.

However, any fixture that contains 25 errors can never be described in such a way.

The reason Wigan had to defend so much and so heroically was that, in the first period especially, they kept spilling.

Fortunately for them, Warrington’s skill levels on the night weren’t sufficient enough to capitalise on such profligacy.

Granted, those who remain adamant it was a brilliant Grand Final are fully entitled to their opinion.

But, if England again do not finally win the World Cup in 2021, do not ever wonder out loud about the reasons why.

Elsewhere, St Helens were clearly the side that shone for much of 2018, just as they had hinted they might do towards the back end of the previous year.

Ben Barba was simply imperious in the first part of the season, bringing that rare allure that demanded people simply go watch him.

Knowing all along that the beguiling Australian full-back would probably head home in 2019 made it all the more important that people did go to see him in the flesh; he was that good and that special.

Again, plenty of critics argued about his Man of Steel win given his form dipped considerably in the second half of the campaign as it slowly emerged he would be returning to the NRL.

But the players voted. They know. And, for me, it was quite simply a pleasure to witness him produce that effortless magic.

Indeed, as a writer, you soon started to run out of superlatives.

Super League needs more superstars like him which is why Leeds Rhinos’ recruitment of blockbusting Tonga centre Konrad Hurrell for next season should be royally welcomed.

The defending champions had an annus horribilis this time around but the fact that this was their second such offering in just three years is the ultimate reason why the garlanded Brian McDermott lost his job.

Kevin Sinfield knew he had a major overhaul on his hands when taking charge in July.

The appointment of Dave Furner as head coach, the capture of their first ‘marquee’ signing in Hurrell and the promise of more to come, illustrates he is firmly now making his own mark.

Gold Coast Titans centre Hurrell is just the sort of exciting, explosive player that not just Leeds but the whole competition needs to gain that “lift” that Elstone has referred to.

Considering Saints have brought Fiji captain Kevin Naiqama in from Wests Tigers, they should remain dynamic in attack while Warrington will surely get more value out of Canberra Raiders stand-off Blake Austin than their last ‘marquee’ capture, the desperately disappointing Tyrone Roberts.

Other clubs are still waiting to make their move in the transfer market but that is a hint of what is to come.

Meanwhile, Castleford Tigers showed glimpses of their 2017 flair, verve and elan and looked set to quietly sneak in and make up for the previous year’s Grand Final disappointment.

Yet they went and self-imploded in the semi-final this time around, leaving big question marks about their mentality when it comes to big games.

Personally, I still have confidence Daryl Powell will get them over the line in the not too distant future but they need to eradicate that problem quickly.

Huddersfield Giants have encouragingly started their recovery under Simon Woolford and should advance again but Hull FC and Hull KR will both be glad to see the back of this year for differing reasons.

Similarly, though, there is no reason why both won’t improve.

Wakefield Trinity, once more, punched above their weight with Chris Chester’s stock rising again and it was pleasing to see Tom Johnstone and Reece Lyne earning their rewards with England the other night.

As for the best game I witnessed, arguably the most enjoyable remains York City Knights giving Catalans Dragons the fright of their lives one sunny afternoon back in April.

Few would have thought then that the struggling French side would go on to actually win the Challenge Cup.

Of course, they did and quite brilliantly, so ‘chapeau’ to Steve McNamara. But it was also clear from the quality of York’s inventive, incisive play that they’d earn promotion out of League 1.

They did and with a playing style that was a breath of fresh air for all those who had grown tired of some of the top-flight’s more predictable gameplans. Likewise, Toulouse Olympique.

Super League can learn some lessons there and, for sure, it must do something to help improve next year’s fare.