Top 5: Full backs

Super League 2018 saw many players shine and, with clubs either having already returned to training ahead of 2019 or due to do so imminently, Get ’em Onside takes a look at five of the very best in each position from the last campaign.

First up, full backs…

Stefan Ratchford – Warrington Wolves
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A player who splits opinion, Warrington’s Stefan Ratchford shone throughout 2018 and won the prestigious Albert Goldthorpe Medal after starring in Steve Price’s first year in charge of the club. After appearing in both showpiece finals, the Wolves could count themselves unlucky to have not lifted a trophy in 2018 – it was there year after all, right? Nevertheless, 30-year-old Ratchford was one of the very best players in the Grand Final, winning the Harry Sunderland trophy in the process, and was a key part in Warrington’s turnaround which saw them return to the top of the table after a 2017 campaign in The Qualifiers.

Ben Barba – St Helens
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One of the best Australian imports ever into Super League, Ben Barba was the favourite to win the 2018 Man of Steel award from day one and, while his performances dropped slightly midway through the campaign from his usual incredible standards, finishing the campaign as both the top try scorer and assists provider saw the mercurial Aussie have a hand in over fifty tries for the League Leaders’ Shield winners. The 29-year-old was always likely to depart Saints at the end of 2018 – he only came over to Super League when hit with a drugs ban in the NRL as he sough to restore his reputation and image – but the privilege of watching Barba first hand was a treat enjoyed by thousands of fans in Super League.

Tony Gigot – Catalans Dragons
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One of the most underrated players in the competition, Catalans’ Tony Gigot was as consistent as any Dragons player throughout 2018 and was awarded the Lance Todd trophy in the process of winning the Challenge Cup final with the French club in August. The 27-year-old demonstrated versatility throughout the campaign, featuring in both the centres and halves as head coach Steve McNamara sought his best line up but, once Josh Drinkwater arrived and the recognised centres started delivering, the French international certainly showed his worth in his favoured full-back role. Nine Super League tries and seven man of the watch awards for the Dragons show that and, after experiencing the high of winning silverware and being part of a thoroughly impressive team in the second half of the campaign, Gigot will be a key part of Catalans’ efforts to improve on their seventh placed finish – after the Super 8s – in 2019.

Sam Tomkins – Wigan Warriors
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A player fans love to hate – unless, of course, you’re a Wigan fan – recently-returned England international Sam Tomkins is France-bound for 2019 and it will be interesting to see where he fits into the team given Gigot is a more-than-capable number one. 2018, however, saw 29-year-old Tomkins shine after an injury-hit 2017. Featuring heavily at both full-back and in the halves as Shaun Wane often introduced Morgan Escare from the bench, the hugely experienced academy graduate demonstrated his excellence in both attack and defence through 2018 and has left a pair of massive shoes for Zak Hardaker to fill. A beneficiary of Charlie Hodgson’s goalkicking assistance at Wigan, Tomkins became one of the Warriors’ most reliable sources of points through 2018 and is always one of the first names on any teamsheet.

Jack Walker – Leeds Rhinos
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One of few bright spots in Leeds’ disappointing 2018 campaign, the continued emergence of teenager Jack Walker will bring hope to the Rhinos’ faithful of a bright future after a turbulent three years. After becoming the youngest Grand Final winner in 2017, usurping Ashton Golding as Leeds full-back towards the end of that campaign, 19-year-old Walker was part of an often-changed Rhinos squad through 2018 as injuries hit. Nevertheless, the youngster shone more often than not and posed a regular running threat. That tough campaign will no doubt stand the former Oulton junior in good stead for 2019 and beyond when he and new Rhinos head coach Dave Furner will hope for a return to the upper reaches of Super League.

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