JANUARY 16, 2019 - 2:57 PM- Darren Notely
here’s been an influx of Englishmen to the NRL in recent years and 2019 is no exception. Raiders fans can look forward to seeing John Bateman and Ryan Sutton running out for the Green Machine, while Roosters fans will get to see Ryan Hall in the NRL at long last.
Some Super League exports have been welcome additions such as Josh Hodgson and Elliot Whitehead, while other players you’ve probably forgotten about, like Jordan Turner and Greg Eden.
Sadly they can’t all be the next Sam Burgess or James Graham, but here are five current Super League stars who could shine in the NRL if they decide to head Down Under.
1. Luke Thompson
Still just 23 years-old and with over 100 appearances to his name, Thompson debuted for St Helens way back in 2013 and was part of the Grand Final winning team a year later.
He’s continued to improve year on year since then, and his outstanding 2018 season culminated in an England call-up for the test series with New Zealand and a place in the Super League Dream Team.
2. George Williams
Wigan’s five-eighth has been dazzling Super League defences since 2013, and he’s still only 24 years old.
A two-time Super League winner and a former Super League Young Player of the Year, Williams has spoken openly of his desire to try his luck in the NRL at some point and there’s sure to be a queue of clubs looking at him.
His kicking game still needs improvement but there aren’t many better halves than him at taking the line on when he’s on form.
3. Kallum Watkins
Remarkably this powerhouse centre is still only 27, having made his debut for Leeds Rhinos way back in 2008 as a 16-year-old.
Watkins has won everything there is to win at club level, and often more than once.
He’s picked up six Super League titles, two Challenge Cups, two League Leaders Shields and a World Club Challenge to go alongside his two Super League Dream Team appearances.
At international level he’s excelled too, having played 25 times for England, including at two World Cups.
No Englishman will ever forget his break in the 2017 World Cup Final when only a Josh Dugan ankle tap prevented him from putting Elliot Whitehead clear for an equalising try.
As with Ryan Hall, I’d like to have seen Watkins try his luck in the NRL earlier in his career, but he still has plenty of footy left in him.
At his best he reminds me of Greg Inglis, with his incredible upper body strength and ability to brush defenders off while running at pace.
4. Tom Johnstone
Tommy Makinson may be the reigning World Player of the Year but in my opinion Wakefield flyer Johnstone would be a much better long-term bet for any NRL clubs on the hunt for a winger.
The 23 year-old debuted in 2015 and the following year he was named Super League Young Player of the Year after scoring 20 tries in 25 games.
After a tough 2017 campaign in which he suffered a season-ending knee injury in round 12, he bounced back brilliantly in 2018, finishing 2nd in the try-scoring charts with 24 tries in 24 games.His excellent form earned him an England call-up for the post-season test against France and he scored a hat-trick in a 44-6 win.
Johnstone’s pace, power and finishing ability remind me of Ryan Hall and perhaps he’ll go on to be his long-term successor in the England side.
5. Oliver Gildart
This 22 year-old Wigan centre burst on to the scene in 2015 and hasn’t looked back since.
In just his 7th first grade game he was a Grand Final runner-up, but the following year he went one better, collecting his first Grand Final winners ring and scoring a try in the process.
In 2017 he crossed the tryline in the World Club Challenge win over Cronulla Sharks, and he added another try at Wembley later on in the year as Wigan narrowly lost to Hull FC in the Challenge Cup Final.
His performances throughout the season led to him being named Super League Young Player of the Year in 2017. 2018 was another outstanding year for Gildart as he picked up his 2nd Grand Final winners medal and scored a try on his England debut against New Zealand.
At such a young age, he’s got plenty of time on his side if he fancies a crack at the NRL and his ability to play in the centres or out wide would appeal to a lot of coaches.
With his electric pace he reminds me a bit of James Roberts when he’s in full flight.