Top 5: Hookers

After looking at the best front-rowers in the competition earlier in the week, Get ’em Onside now looks at Super League’s premier hookers from 2018…

James Roby – St Helens
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What else is there to say about St Helens’ experienced hooker? Despite his advancing years, the incredibly consistent 33-year-old James Roby was re-introduced to the international fold for the 2017 World Cup and, in the following Super League campaign, the Saints’ inspirational captain led his side to the League Leaders’ Shield and was named in the competition’s Dream Team for the sixth time. The reliable pivot racked up a league-leading 226 runs from dummy half throughout the Super League campaign, runs which were often key to Saints gaining the upper hand in matches. The evergreen local will be hoping to help his team to silverware in 2019 but, either way, he will always be remembered as one of the best ever English hookers.

Daryl Clark – Warrington Wolves
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The second English hooker in this list, the arrival of Steve Price and Clark’s omission from the 2017 World Cup squad did the former Castleford man a world of good and 2018 saw him return to the sort of form which saw him named Man of Steel in 2014. A player often required to play eighty minutes under Price’s watch, Clark demonstrated his importance to Warrington this year as they reached – and lost – both showpiece finals. Nevertheless, the 25-year-old was at his consistent best as The Wire recovered from a campaign in The Qualifiers to finish fourth in Super League, ultimately falling short at Old Trafford. The two final defeats, however, didn’t distract from Clark’s impressive year and Wayne Bennett recalled the hooker to the England fold for the post-season series against New Zealand. Like Roby, Clark poses a very real threat from dummy-half and his darting runs out of the ruck posed defences a great many issues. Very adept at reacting fast to gaps in opponents’ defences, Clark boasted the best average gain per carry among those who were first-team regulars in Super League – head coach Price will be hoping that his number 9 can carry that form on into 2019.

Paul McShane – Castleford Tigers
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A victim of the quality of other English hookers, Paul McShane can perhaps count himself unlucky to not have been handed international honours in recent years. The former Leeds man was arguably Castleford’s best player in 2018 and demonstrated great leadership when senior players such as Luke Gale were absent. McShane is a serious threat with ball in hand and is a huge part of what makes Castleford both such an entertaining and effective team. The 29-year-old scored eight tries for Daryl Powell’s men in 2018 and was vital in the team’s run to the Super League play-off semi-finals – he will be keen to ensure that the Tigers, in 2019, can improve on the near-misses of the last two years.

Michael McIlorum – Catalans Dragons
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McIlorum is a true competitor and was exactly the sort of character Steve McNamara needed to recruit in order to improve both the culture and quality of what was, after 2017, a weak and battered Catalans Dragons team. A workhorse, the former Wigan hooker racked up in excess of 600 for the French club in 2018 and his quick-thinking tackle on Daryl Clark in the Challenge Cup final from marker showed just how much winning means to the Ireland international. After ensuring survival, the Dragons were able to enjoy lifting the Challenge Cup trophy and now the team are certainly looking up, with many tipping them to impress in Super League next year – and McIlorum will be key to any success they have.

Tommy Leuluai – Wigan Warriors
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Wigan’s hugely experienced and popular hooker Tommy Leuluai is another true warrior of the sport and his quality was perhaps part of the reasoning behind the Warriors allowing McIlorum to leave. The New Zealander – who also played in the halves through 2018 – has become part of the furniture at Wigan and is never shy of a tackle or confrontation. One of many leaders in the squad, Leuluai is a very proficient provider of chances for his team with his ability to construct attacks and pull of set moves being invaluable to the team. With key players Sam Tomkins and John Bateman as well as coach Shaun Wane having departed, the likes of Leuluai will be imperative to ensure that the team, under Adrian Lam’s interim stewardship, stay at the top of Super League.

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