Written by Zack Wilson
Photo by Catalan Dragons
As the year comes to an end, Zack Wilson takes a personal look back at six players that he found were a pleasure to watch in 2018.
1. CHRIS ATKIN
A former England Students international, Chris Atkin in 2018 showed Hull Kingston Rovers fans just why Tim Sheens had taken a punt on signing him from Swinton the season before. Acting as a youthful foil to Danny McGuire at the beginning of the campaign, by its end Atkin had become the Robins’ principle playmaker in a season where injuries took their toll on the team’s other pivots. Playing at hooker, halfback or fullback, Atkin’s versatility, intelligence and speed of thought make him a dangerous player for opposition defences, whatever position he is deployed in.
2. JAKE CONNOR
The Hull FC utility back revelled in being the opposition player who fans love to hate. But his niggle, attitude and arrogance are just part of the complete package with Connor, who showed his talents on the international stage in 2018 too. Able to play almost anywhere in the back line, Connor has turned out at stand-off and centre for England. Hull FC could be relying on him in 2019 to provide the creativity in the halves that they lacked in the second half of 2018.
3. ROBBIE MULHERN
The former Normanton Knights amateur really took his game to another level working under Tim Sheens at Hull KR in 2018. Aggressive and powerful, the England Knights front rower also has a surprising turn of speed that suggests he could also flourish playing wider in the back row. A superb all-round forward, it will be interesting to see Mulhern progress again in an improved Rovers squad in 2019.
4. LUKE THOMPSON
The St Helens forward was selected at loose forward for England in the series against New Zealand, standing in at 13 for Sean O’Loughlin. Although a different type of player to the Wigan veteran, Thompson showed that he can be an aggressive, fast and very tough middle unit forward at international level. Combative and clearly mentally strong, he really took the battle to the Kiwis. But one senses that there is a lot more to come from the young forward, and he will develop into much more than just another bash ‘em up forward in the years to come.
5. JOHN BATEMAN
John Bateman is off to the NRL, and he is sure to take his game to another level Down Under. Bateman’s combative qualities are rightly celebrated, particularly given his relatively small size for a modern day rugby league forward. But he possesses rugby smarts too, and is much more than just another boneheaded Wigan hardman. He even filled in at hooker in the Denver Test Match against New Zealand at the end of the game. It will be interesting to see how he goes at Canberra Raiders in 2019.
6. TONY GIGOT
Tony Gigot emerged as one of the stars of resurgent French rugby league, as he inspired the Catalans Dragons to victory in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley. In the process, he became the first Frenchman to win the Lance Todd Trophy, awarded to the man of the match in the final. A passionate player, whose Latin temperament is clear to see in the way he approaches both attack and defence, Gigot could well become the poster boy of French rugby league, especially if he makes his mark again when the Dragons play Wigan in Barcelona in 2019.