The new Super League season kicks-off exactly one month today. Here are 10 signings tipped to light up 2019...
Lachlan Coote (St Helens): Sky Sports’ Jon Wells said last season that this ex-North Queensland Cowboys full-back may give St Helens better service than departing Ben Barba – the logic being that Coote will be seven or eight out of 10 each week. Either way, he has big boots to fill, but he previously caught the eye on these shores representing Scotland and at 28, is still in his prime.
Kevin Naiqama (St Helens): Elsewhere, Saints have a largely settled squad but Justin Holbrook has added some strike to his three-quarters, with the recruitment of Naiqama. Fans will be hoping he brings the blockbusting quality – and passion – he has exhibited representing Fiji. With Ryan Morgan moving to London Broncos, expect the 29-year-old to line up at centre.
Zak Hardaker (Wigan): He has not played for more than a year but when he last laced up the boots, he was shortlisted for the Steve Prescott Man of Steel – an award he has previously won. Still only 27, Hardaker is set to play full-back in Adrian Lam’s Wigan side. An imposing full-back with flashy skills and pace, Hardaker is widely regarded for his defensive attributes.
Sam Tomkins (Catalans): The man Hardaker has replaced at Wigan is hoping to help Catalans emulate their Challenge Cup achievements in Super League. There is no doubt Tomkins played a major role in helping Wigan to last season’s Grand Final – what he has lost in evasiveness and speed, he has compensated for with intelligence and single-minded determination – and the drier tracks in France should suit the 29-year-old’s game.
Blake Austin (Warrington): It is not the first time Warrington have pinned their hopes to a big-name signing, but many good judges expect the former Canberra halfback to make a big impression. The Wolves took advantage of the marquee player allowance to sign Austin as a replacement for Tyrone Roberts and, with Jason Clark also on board and Ben Currie fit-again, the question is: Will it be Warrington’s year?
Konrad Hurrell (Leeds): With 55 tries in 116 NRL appearances – for New Zealand Warriors and then Gold Coast – Hurrell is Rhinos’ highest-profile overseas signing since Danny Buderus in 2009. Expect him to add some power to Leeds’ backline and, with fit-again Kallum Watkins in the other centre role, many are tipping Leeds to be back among the trophy-contenders at the end of the season.
Trent Merrin (Leeds): Fans wait years for Leeds to make use of the marquee player allowance – and then sign two in one off-season! In addition to Hurrell, former Penrith forward Trent Merrin will be a ‘marquee’ player, meaning some of his lucrative contract will be exempt from their salary cap. Merrin, 29, has represented New South Wales and Australia – another high-quality recruit for the competition.
Tui Lolohea (Leeds): No apologies for selecting a third Leeds player – the Yorkshire giants have recruited heavily for 2019. And in Tui Lolohea, they have an elusive and skilful player with more than 70 NRL games under his belt... and who is still only 23. He has mainly been used at half-back but can also play at full-back, and could give the Rhinos an extra dimension this season.
Jackson Hastings (Salford): Okay, he had a short stint at the end of last season, helping Salford will all six matches he played to secure their Super League status. He re-signed with the Red Devils for 2019 - amid interest from Wigan and others – and many will be intrigued to see whether he can make the same impact playing against the bigger, better clubs, given the previous matches he played were in the Qualifiers.
Akuila Uate (Huddersfield):The Giants already have a winger who causes opposition defences problems, in England’s Jermaine McGillvary - and Simon Woolford has added another as he aims to break into the top-five play-offs positions. Uate has made 200 NRL appearances and been one of the competition’s most entertaining wingmen. He has represented both Fiji and Australia at Test level.