After the World Club Challenge last week, we’re back to a full round of Super League games this week. And there are some mouthwatering games in prospect.
There’s a Yorkshire derby between Castleford and Hull FC on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Arena & Main Event.
Both sides have started the season with a win and a defeat, while FC go into the game on the back of a long journey back from Australia. Which way will it go? Here’s three key head to heads which may well decide it…
Castleford Tigers vs Hull FC
February 24, 2018, 3:10pm
Get Sky Sports Get a Sky Sports pass Greg Eden v Fetuli Talanoa
Greg Eden set the bar last season for the Super League finishers. He crossed the whitewash on 38 occasions in 2017, with an untimely injury the only thing, in all probability, preventing him from breaking Denny Solomona’s competition record.
This year hasn’t started with quite as much flourish. The Tigers were thumped by St Helens in Round 1, before Eden missed the win over Widnes through injury – and Cas boss Daryl Powell admitted Eden might have played full-back in that game.
Ben Roberts, intended to replace Zak Hardaker, really struggled against Saints, and Eden is a ready-made replacement, despite enduring a difficult night in last year’s Grand Final in the number one shirt.
Roberts impressed against Widnes, and Powell will want his deadly finisher out wide where he can cause maximum damage. He formed a formidable partnership with Michael Shenton last season and the Tigers need Eden firing on all cylinders if they’re to hit the heights of 2017.
If Eden led the way in 2017, Fetuli Talanoa has laid down an early marker in 2018.
He has scored four tries in Hull FC’s opening two Super League games, including a hat-trick in Round 1 against Huddersfield. A further try followed in defeat to Wigan in Australia.
Talanoa still has plenty to prove this year, having endured a difficult 2017 – he missed a big chunk of the season with injury and scored just six tries in the process. The 30-year-old is also out of contract at the end of this campaign.
On his day, as the Giants found out, Talanoa is a destructive winger. He carried for 1514 metres last year at an average gain of 7.39m a drive. He looked like the man for the big occasion, turning in powerful displays in both the Challenge Cup semi-final win over Leeds and the final win over Wigan.
He will want to put in more of those types of performances in 2018 and the Tigers will need to keep him well shackled on Saturday.
Luke Gale v Albert Kelly
The spotlight is firmly on Luke Gale in 2018. With a Man of Steel award locked away in his trophy cabinet and a World Cup final appearance to boot, the halfback has finally received recognition for his playmaking talents.
Gale was at the centre of everything good Castleford did in 2017. He organised, kicked, assisted and scored tries in a side that swept everyone aside until the Grand Final. And that’s without mentioning the nerves of steel he showed in that semi-final against St Helens.
His nerve was needed early doors this year in Round 2 against Widnes, kicking his first drop goal of the season in that one-point win. But the Tigers have scored just 19 points and three tries in their first two games, while Gale hasn’t assisted any of them.
Some sort of hangover from the disappointment of Old Trafford is probably to be expected, but the Tigers need to start firing on Saturday, with Gale at the heart of it.
One of the big positives from Hull FC’s defeat to St George-Illawarra Dragons was the performance of Albert Kelly.
He put in a dazzling display, scoring twice, including a fabulous second effort taking on the line in true Kelly fashion. The half back also scored the first four-pointer of FC’s season, crossing in the win over Huddersfield.
The Aussie is a dangerous runner with an eye for the whitewash, while also following up with nice support lines, shown by his first against the Dragons in collecting Jake Connor’s kick. Indeed, he was the Black and Whites’ top try scorer last season with 19.
Kelly makes impressive yardage with ball-in-hand, averaging 8.03m a drive throughout all of last season and starting this one averaging 8.63m a carry. That’s a threat to any side.
He doesn’t provide as many assists as his half back partner Marc Sneyd, who takes care of the majority of the organisational and kicking responsibilities, allowing Kelly to weave his magic. The only worry is – will that display against the Dragons have put the NRL clubs on red alert?
Grant Millington v Liam Watts
Daryl Powell left Grant Millington on the interchange bench for the opening game of the season, before restoring him to the starting thirteen against Widnes.
He played just 10 minutes against St Helens, with reports suggesting he was ill on the night. They need the prop forward at the top of his powers to succeed again in 2018.
Millington is a popular figure in Castleford and his performances in the last campaign earned him a Dream Team spot. A hard worker in attack and defence, Millington was third in the Tigers’ rankings for number of tackles in 2017 with 732 hits. He also carried for over 100 metres last week against Widnes.
Part of such an exciting pack in 2017, expect to see Millington and his fellow forwards wreaking havoc again very soon.
There’s already more pressure on Liam Watts in 2018 after his fellow frontrower Scott Taylor had to undergo emergency appendix surgery having played against Wigan with appendicitis.
Watts delivered against the Dragons, catching the eye with a try in the narrow defeat, despite suffering from an injury problem himself which caused him to miss the opening game of the season.
The two frontrowers work well in tandem, although it was Taylor who earned the World Cup call from Wayne Bennett. Watts played his 150th Hull FC game against Wigan in Australia, having joined from rivals KR in 2012. The prop carried for 2343 metres from his 324 carries last season, averaging 7.23m a hit up.
Watts is a barnstorming forward at his best, capable of punching holes in any Super League defence. His performance against the Dragons down under set the benchmark for the season. Now will he produce more displays like that?