Super League Players to Watch in 2023
Super League XXVIII kicks off next week, so we asked our Rugby data editors to pick out their five players to watch ahead of the 2023 season. Who did they select?
After winning promotion back to Super League, Leigh have returned to the top division with a bang. They began the off-season with a rebrand, moving away from their traditional Leigh Centurions to Leigh Leopards and announcing a raft of eye-catching signings, hoping to make their stay in Super League a permanent one.
One of their star signings has been Ricky Leutele from Huddersfield Giants. Leutele was rumoured to have suitors from across both Super League and NRL until Leigh secured his signature as a real statement signing underpinning the revolution that has begun at the Leigh Sports Village.
Throughout the 2022 season Leutele was crucial to the Giants making the Challenge Cup final – where he scored the opening try – and a third-place finish in the Super League regular season. Leutele was one of the top performers in a wide range of areas for the Giants, with the marauding centre notching 12 tries and 10 linebreaks – the second highest in both categories at Huddersfield. He is well known for being a powerful runner with the ball, which is highlighted by his 58 tackle breaks and 2,204 metres gained, respectively third and fourth in the rankings at Huddersfield.
Leigh are certainly a team that everyone will be watching with a keen interest as they make their return to Super League and a pre-season friendly win against last season’s Grand Finalists Leeds has only heightened expectations, with Leutele scoring a try in the 14-12 win. He will be key to ensuring that Leigh remain in the top division and establishing themselves in the upper echelons of Super League.
Catalans enjoyed a watershed year in 2021, securing a first League Leader’s Shield, then advancing into their maiden Grand Final where they narrowly lost out to St Helens.
Steve McNamara’s charges struggled to carry that blistering form throughout 2022, failing to build on a strong start, eventually stuttering into fourth place and only managing to win successive games once across the final 15 rounds before being dumped out by Leeds in week one of the playoffs.
The addition of Siosiua Taukieaho could be key to any potential upturn in fortunes, as the prop makes the move from Sydney Roosters, with whom he won back-to-back NRL titles in 2018 and 2019.
On a per 80 minutes basis amongst those to have played at least 800 minutes for the Roosters over the last five seasons, SST ranks ninth for tackles (44), third for metres gained (182) and first for offloads (1.5), reflecting tireless efforts on both sides of the ball. That final statistic will be of particular interest to the side who managed the fewest offloads of all Super League teams in 2022 with 183, an average of just 6.5 per game.
Catalans have endured a mixed bag of NRL imports so will hope Taukieaho settles in quickly and successfully translates his energy and leadership qualities over to the south of France, having been part of flagship Tonga wins over New Zealand, Australia, and Great Britain, captaining them in the latter two.
Adam Keighran will be following him from the Roosters to Perpignan, as well as former Tonga team-mate Manu Ma’u (Hull FC) and one of the league’s best finishers in Tom Johnstone (Wakefield) as Catalans continue to seek out that first Super League title.
Jake Clifford arrives at Hull FC having impressed many onlookers over the last five years in the NRL. Making his debut in the Australian competition at only 20 years of age, he arrives in the Super League with plenty of experience and approaching the period of his career where playmakers in the sport are arguably at the peak of their powers. An exciting prospect for Hull FC supporters.
Clifford scored 120 points for the Newcastle Knights (four tries, 52 goals) across the 2021 and 2022 NRL seasons, the most of any player in that time and 28 more than the next best (Kalyn Ponga – 92). He was trusted with the goalkicking duties, with his 52 successful attempts 30 more than the next closest teammate (Kalyn Ponga – 22). This assurance with the boot was further displayed in his kicking in general play – Clifford’s 8,820 kick metres in this span was nearly 5,000 metres more than the next best Knights player (Anthony Milford – 3,946). In addition, Clifford’s 14 kicks forcing a line drop out across those two seasons was also a team-high and was one of only two Knights players to reach double figures (Adam Clune – 13).
Clifford’s 130 attacking kicks between 2021 and 2022 were nearly 50 more than any other Knights player (Anthony Milford – 83) and his 15 kicks forcing an opposition error was almost double the tally of any teammate (Adam Clune – 8).
The Hull FC fanbase can look forward to watching an exciting playmaker who will steer the team around the park.
English veteran Jake Connor is back in the claret and gold of the Huddersfield Giants in the Super League for the first time since 2016, and the team will be hoping that he can rediscover his try scoring form of that year which saw him cross for 13 tries – his most in a single Super League season.
It’s been Connor’s evolution into a try creator that will be most mouth-watering to Giants fans this season, with the versatile Halifax man finishing the 2022 Super League campaign with a league-high 33 try assists. His 29 line break assists were also the third most of any player in the season behind only Tui Lolohea (34) and Jack Welsby (30). Last season was no anomaly, either; in fact, it was the second straight season that Connor had finished with 20-plus try assists after making 22 in the 2021 campaign which was second only to Josh Drinkwater (29).
He’ll be the perfect foil alongside attacking weapon Tuimoala Lolohea, who has list up the league these last few seasons. Lolohea (29 in 2022) is the only Huddersfield Giants player to have made more than 15 try assists in either of the last two Super League campaigns. The most exhilarating performances of the 2022 season belonged to Connor, though. He was at his rampaging best in round three of last season as he laid on six try assists and scored a try of his own for Hull FC against the Salford Red Devils – the joint-most direct try involvements (seven) of any player in a game for the campaign.
The Huddersfield Giants will be looking to progress at least one step further than their Elimination Final exit in the 2022 Super League campaign and the addition of a player of Jake Connor’s caliber is certain to pull them in the right direction.
Following a disappointing 2022 season, Warrington Wolves will be looking to bounce back and return to the challenging for silverware in 2023. Warrington have dipped into the transfer market recruiting Sam Kasiano, Gil Dudson, Josh Drinkwater, Paul Vaughan, Matty Russell and most notably all-action versatile forward Josh McGuire.
Various Super League clubs have been rumoured to have pursued McGuire’s signature in the past with Warrington finally securing his signature and bringing him to the Super League. McGuire has had a glittering career in the NRL, along with several representative honours including a 2017 World Cup win with Australia.
McGuire is known for his unrelenting efforts in both attack and defence and his experience will be vital in leading Warrington’s pack. During the 2022 NRL season – despite only being limited to 14 games for the St George Illawarra Dragons – he made 382 tackles averaging 27.3 tackles per game, ranking fifth in the Dragons team. In attack last season, McGuire averaged 99 metres per game from 13 runs and with increased game time in Super League we can only expect those numbers to grow.
The race for the play-offs looks to be hotly contested this year, a tough opening fixture against last season’s Grand Finalists Leeds will prove a great test of Warrington’s credentials for the upcoming season.
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