We saw some cracking young players burst through in Super League in 2017. Oliver Gildart won the Young Player of the Year award, but he was pushed closed by St Helens pair Morgan Knowles and Regan Grace.
Liam Marshall shone for Wigan, finishing second in the try-scoring charts with 21, only behind Greg Eden. And Jack Walker started the Grand Final at full-back for Leeds, aged just 18. So who will follow in their footsteps in 2018? We’ve picked out six who might stand out:
James Bentley – St Helens
St Helens vs Castleford Tigers
February 2, 2018, 7:30pm
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He is not from the St Helens academy, but keep your eyes out for St Helens’ only signing from the off-season, James Bentley. The back rower has joined from Bradford Bulls on a three-year deal. And Bentley has already started filling his mantelpiece with personal trophies, winning the Young Player of the Year award in the Championship last season. He also won the Bulls’ Players’ Player of the Year and the club’s own Young Player of the Year award. That’s no surprise given Bentley’s record in 2017. He scored 18 tries in 27 appearances, mainly from the back row, but Bentley can also feature in the centres. Now he has to make the step up to Super League in a St Helens side aiming for silverware this campaign. Will he be sweeping up at the end of year award ceremony again in 2018?
Jake Trueman – Castleford
We have already seen glimpses of Jake Trueman. He made his Super League debut for Castleford last season in a tight win over St Helens. But his first start brought real fireworks. Trueman took the scrum-half slot for the day and crossed for a memorable treble as Castleford swept Wigan aside, winning 38-20. He also started a week later in a heavy defeat to Hull FC before the semi-finals kicked off. It was a year of progress for Trueman who only signed for the Tigers in January 2017, leaving Bradford behind. And Castleford were impressed enough to hand him a new three-year deal this off-season. In fact, Daryl Powell called Trueman the most promising half-back in the English game. Luke Gale has the No 7 slot firmly locked down, but the Tigers will look to ease Trueman into their first-team plans, especially now Tom Holmes has moved to Featherstone. A star in the making.
Josh Ganson – Wigan
The last time the name Ganson was yelled from the Super League terraces, not all of the shouts will have been complimentary. Former referee Steve Ganson officially hung up his whistle in 2013 after a long career calling the shots in the middle, but now his son Josh is ready to make waves of his own. As a player. He’s just 19, but Ganson has come through the Wigan academy and already has first-team experience. He played four Super League games last season, and one Challenge Cup match and showed an aptitude for getting over the try line, with three four pointers to his name already. Developments at Wigan in the off-season mean Ganson is likely to see more game time in 2018. The club have let Michael McIlorum join Catalans, leaving Thomas Leuluai with the No 9 shirt for the new year. Sam Powell is the other option at hooker, having filled the slot while McIlorum was injured in 2016. Any injury problems this time round and Ganson will get his chance to shine.
Danny Walker – Widnes
The next name on our list is another hooker – Widnes’ Danny Walker. The Vikings have some serious young talent on their books, including a fellow option at nine, Jordan Johnstone, but it’s Walker who has got them really excited at Widnes ahead of the new season. He’s an England Academy player, but Walker has already had a decent taste of Super League action. He made 12 appearances last season, all from the interchange bench. Walker appeared to be a good luck charm too, Widnes winning seven of those games, despite finishing bottom of the table in the regular campaign. He signed a new deal in the middle of last year to reflect his rising status. Despite being slight in size, Walker has shown the physical attributes to succeed in the dummy half slot. There’s still several options ahead of him in the pecking order at the Vikings, but expect Walker to be in the mix for a first-team chance before too long.
Mikolaj Oledzki – Leeds
It was Jack Walker who made all the headlines in 2017 from the famous Rhinos academy, but watch out for a young front rower this time round. Mikolaj Oledzki, 19, has a decent backstory. Born in Gdansk, he moved to England at a young age and originally settled in Northamptonshire, not an area well known for its Rugby League pedigree.
Warrington Wolves vs Leeds Rhinos
February 1, 2018, 7:30pm
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But a family move to Leeds saw Oledzki discover the sport and he starred for the Hunslet Warriors academy before joining Leeds. He made his debut for the club last season, playing twice in Super League and once in the Challenge Cup, but also spent the year honing his skills at Bradford, and briefly, Featherstone. Another England Academy player, the Rhinos are expecting big things from the front rower. Oledzki signed a five-year deal in 2016 and has some serious bulk on him for a 19-year-old. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him as a regular part of the 17 before the end of the season.
Luis Johnson – Warrington
We’ve spoken about Jake Trueman already, and there could have been a second Castleford player on this list. But that was until Warrington decided to intervene. Their big spending winter did not just stop with star name players; indeed another £45,000 was invested in back rower Luis Johnson too. The Tigers called the offer ‘incredible’ and it proved too good to turn down. Johnson is only 19 and is yet to make a senior appearance for Castleford, but he has signed a four-year deal at the Halliwell Jones Stadium and is expected to make an immediate impression. Johnson was named Player of the Series in England Academy’s recent wins over France, where he was coached by Lee Briers, Warrington’s assistant. Johnson has already drawn praise from Steve Price, the new Wire head coach, who picked out his strong defence and powerful attacking ability as attributes to look out for. With a fee like that exchanging hands for such a young player, it’s clear the Wolves have high hopes for Johnson.
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