Dave Craven: Why St Helens are pick of the bunch as contenders round into form

St Helens Ben Barba celebrates after scoring his third try of the game against Salford on Thursday (Picture: PA)
St Helens Ben Barba celebrates after scoring his third try of the game against Salford on Thursday (Picture: PA)
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FOR the majority of Super League clubs, this weekend’s round of fixtures marks the halfway point in their regular-season campaign.

I write ‘majority’ as, ahead of the action, six had played 11, five had stepped out a dozen times and poor old Castleford Tigers were still stuck on just 10.

There are all manner of reasons for such anomalies including a World Club Challenge, the most bizarre Spring weather in some time causing numerous postponements and also two clubs heading off on a tour of New South Wales.

Throw in the fact four Super League clubs were in Challenge Cup action last weekend and you get my point.

It has all meant the campaign has felt a little fractured so far and it certainly doesn’t feel like we should yet be writing half-term progress reports.

But here we are. So, what do we make of it all so far?

Richie Myler has settled in well at Leeds (Picture: SWpix.com)

Richie Myler has settled in well at Leeds (Picture: SWpix.com)

Few will argue that St Helens have not been the most impressive side up to press. The way Justin Holbrook’s side finished off last term, many felt they would be the ones to watch and they have been proven right.

In Ben Barba, the silky Australian full-back for whom scribes are fast running out of superlatives, they have Super League’s outstanding player.

He is clearly in pole position to claim Man of Steel although the 28-year-old did have a near miss this week.

Everyone in the sport was certainly glad to see that the neck injury he suffered against Salford on Thursday night wasn’t as serious as it first looked.

In Ben Barba, the silky Australian full-back for whom scribes are fast running out of superlatives, Saints have Super League’s outstanding player.

Dave Craven

Saints’ progress, though, is all the more splendid given they have been without England prop Alex Walmsley since the start of March when he did suffer a serious neck injury, breaking a bone that required surgery.

Of the chasing pack, Wigan Warriors are quietly going about their business with a new-found ruthlessness, Sam Tomkins even hinting at getting back to his best, while Warrington Wolves have quickly improved under new head coach Steve Price.

It would be no surprise if any two of those three made up the Grand Final come October.

But that is the beauty of the current competition; you could say the same about six or even seven clubs at the moment. So many have shown great flashes without the overall consistency but there is a feeling that there is plenty more to come from each and that is an encouraging factor for all the contenders.

Champions Leeds Rhinos, of course, are past-masters at this art so no one at Headingley will be concerned that they have lost four of their 11 games so far going into tomorrow’s fixture at Hull KR.

Brian McDermott’s side have been bereft of props for much of the campaign but Richie Myler has settled in well and you sense they will be poised perfectly for their annual assault come the end. Castleford have clearly struggled to readjust since the loss of England full-back Zak Hardaker and coach Daryl Powell is the first to admit he still does not yet know what his preferred stand-off and No1 combination is.

Yet, despite that issue in such an important area, they still picked up seven wins from their opening 10 matches.

They are yet to fully hit their straps and the recent recruitment of Liam Watts could be a masterstroke when it comes to the business end.

But let’s not forget his former club Hull FC. They, more than any, might think this could be the year they can finally strike gold.