Magic Weekend's Magic Men
Watch all the Dacia Magic Weekend action on Sky Sports
By Tom Mordey
Last Updated: 19/05/18 1:14pm
This weekend, 12 Super League teams, two Championship outfits and their supporters descend on Newcastle.
What comes next is normally one of the best weekends on the Rugby League calendar. But who will light up St James' Park? We look at one star from each side who might put the magic in Dacia Magic Weekend.
Toronto v Toulouse, 12.45pm, Sat, Sky Sports Arena & Main Event
For the first time, a Championship game will open Magic Weekend. The top two go head-to-head - Toronto and Toulouse. Toronto top the table and their side is packed with well known Super League talent. One of their star names is prop forward Ashton Sims. The Fijian international knows all about Magic Weekend having spent three years with Warrington. No stranger to big games, Sims played in a Grand Final and a Challenge Cup final with the Wolves and brings a wealth of experience to a different Wolfpack altogether. A front rower with a big carry and a big hit in his armoury, Sims is part of a squad expected to push on for promotion into Super League. Expect him to enjoy the limelight of Magic Weekend again.
Super League fans will also be familiar with one of Toulouse's front rowers, the USA international Eddy Pettybourne. He enjoyed a decent World Cup and has now returned to European soil following a spell with Wigan in 2014. Pettybourne left the Warriors to return to the NRL with the Gold Coast Titans and he provides the French side with plenty of experience, given the 145 NRL games under his belt. As well as the Titans, Pettybourne played for South Sydney Rabbitohs and Wests Tigers in Australia and he enjoyed big game experience with Wigan too, featuring in the 2014 World Club Challenge. He's part of a pack that also contains New Zealand international Sam Rapira, although he's currently missing through injury. Will Pettybourne be able to set the platform against the Wolfpack come Saturday?
Widnes v St Helens, 3pm, Sat, Sky Sports Arena
It's been a difficult season for Widnes so far. Injuries have made life difficult for Denis Betts and his side sit in tenth position in Super League, only off bottom spot on points difference. It's a squad full of young Vikings players, brimming with youthful talent, but lacking in experience. One player Widnes will rely on is Rhys Hanbury. Now into his seventh campaign with the Vikings, Hanbury brings plenty of know-how in the fullback role. He's missed just two Super League games this season, scoring once and providing three try assists. Hanbury is a threat with his kick returns, topping Widnes' metre charts with 1287m from his 180 carries at 7.15m a drive. A Magic Weekend veteran; will Hanbury be able to match his esteemed opposite number on Saturday?
You can't talk about star players without mentioning this man. Ben Barba is waltzing his way to the Man of Steel award if he keeps us this form. He's scored the most Super League tries with 15 and has provided the second most Super League assists with 17. And there's the small matter of 78 tackle busts, 16 clean breaks and over 1000 metres at an average of 8.61m a drive. You can see from that why Barba's been so dazzling to watch. Perfectly capable of bursting through a gap and scoring from distance or slipping a teammate through a hole, Barba has lit up the competition in 2018. He's getting all the headlines and finally, they're all of a positive nature. Expect him to shine on a big stage like Magic Weekend.
Wigan v Warrington, 5.15pm, Sat, Sky Sports Arena & Main Event
The cat is finally out of the bag. Super League's worst kept secret was confirmed on Monday - Sam Tomkins will be a Catalans player in 2019. After two Super League titles and two Challenge Cups, the fullback will be eager to bow out with more silverware in Cherry and White. And his Wigan side are making a good fist of it. While St Helens have grabbed all the plaudits, the Warriors are currently just two points behind and with a game in-hand too. Tomkins has played a big part in that. He's looked recently more like the player Wigan decided to bring back to Super League from the New Zealand Warriors, rather than the one who's struggled so badly with injuries in recent times. Five tries and nine assists show his quality in attack and his ability to switch into the halves mid-game gives Shaun Wane another option in his game plan. Will he shine on his last Magic Weekend for Wigan?
Another player finding his true form again in 2018 is Warrington hooker Daryl Clark. He's putting a disappointing 2017 campaign behind him, just like the whole team. A brilliant run from Steve Price's side has seen them climb to within touching distance of the Super League leaders despite a dreadful start. Wigan will have to be sharp around the ruck; Clark has the most runs from dummy half (107) in the entire competition. And that's helped him make nearly 1500 metres at an average of 9.73m a drive. Not content with pushing teams on the back foot with his running ability, Clark is also Super League's leading tackler. He's put in 563 hits so far, 103 of those from marker. A player clearly comfortable in both attack and defence, watch out for Clark leading from the front for Warrington.
Castleford v Leeds, 7.30pm, Sat, Sky Sports Arena & Main Event
Daryl Powell's side have a few injury problems at the moment, including missing chief playmaker Luke Gale. But his patched-up side will be aiming to continue their excellent regular season record against the Rhinos. Paul McShane normally turns in big performances against his former club and he'll be looking to direct play from dummy half. McShane is actually the Tigers' top scorer this season with six and he's also provided four try assists. There's no surprise to see the hooker at the top of the tackle charts too; he's put in 508 hits so far, over 100 more than any other teammate. Wayne Bennett has plenty to choose from for England in terms of the hooking position, but he could certainly do with keeping a close eye on McShane during the rest of the season given his fine form.
One man enjoying the 2018 season is Ryan Hall. He's been in good form for the Rhinos who's results have been hit and miss in recent weeks. Hall is Leeds' joint second top try scorer this season; he's scored seven times so far this campaign. But his running game is as strong as it's ever been. Hall has nearly 2000 metres to his name and is the highest metre-maker in the entire Super League competition. Those runs have come at an average of 9.44m per drive. There's also 14 cleans breaks, six better than any other Leeds player and 48 tackle busts, again the best in the Rhinos side. Hall missed the Challenge Cup win over Widnes, but he's back in the squad this weekend and will be aiming to make a big impression against Castleford.
Salford v Catalans, 1pm, Sun, Sky Sports Arena
Testing times for Salford. They've lost their last three games, including a humiliating Challenge Cup defeat to Championship side Leigh last week. Ian Watson's side have also shipped 112 points in that streak, while scoring just 20. With Robert Lui missing recently, the attack has looked blunt. Other players need to step up. One of Salford's biggest weapons is the centre Junior Sa'u. He's got three tries so far in 2018, also providing four try assists. A powerful runner, Sa'u has made the most metres for the Red Devils, notching up 1270m so far from his 173 carries, an average of 7.34m a drive. That includes 34 tackle busts. Sa'u has played every game so far this season, all 14 Super League matches and the Challenge Cup game too. Will he be able to punch any holes in the Catalans defence this weekend?
Bottom of the Super League table, Catalans need to find some inspiration from somewhere. The club have been making headlines this week with the signing of Sam Tomkins, but they already have a fullback on their books who's currently in good form. David Mead joined from the Brisbane Broncos in the off-season and has made an impression in the South of France. He's the top try scorer for the Dragons in 2018, crossing six times in his 12 games so far. And his attacking stats are good all round - 1178 metres from his 133 carries at an average gain of 8.86m a drive, the second best in the Catalans side. It's Mead's first Magic Weekend experience - will he be able to put down a marker in the number one shirt for the Dragons?
Wakefield v Huddersfield, 3.15pm, Sun, Sky Sports Arena & Main Event
One of Super League's flying stars, it's been an up and down 2018 for Tom Johnstone. He marked his return from a knee reconstruction with an opening weekend hat-trick against Hull KR before Wayne Bennett named him in England's elite performance squad. But things dipped after that. And Johnstone was left out by Chris Chester following a defeat to Leeds after a few poor defensive performances. But the winger was reinstated against Castleford and then sent a message to the coach against Hull KR last time out in the league, crossing for another hat-trick against the Robins. That's now eight tries in nine Super League games. Johnstone is electric to watch, a brilliant finisher, capable of both long-range efforts and finishes in tight spots. Can he now prove to Chester his defence is up to scratch too?
A difficult 2018 so far for Huddersfield and a difficult 2018 for England's World Cup star performer Jermaine McGillvary. He's played just five Super League games having suffered an injury back in March in a defeat to Wigan. But the winger returned in the Challenge Cup win over Wakefield. McGillvary is so important for the Giants, he's got two tries in those five matches and that total is just two off Huddersfield's top scorer, Oliver Roberts. One of the competition's most powerful wingers, his 581 metres have come at an average of 7.96m. And McGillvary has topped the Giants' try-scoring charts in the last four seasons. He'll be looking to make up for lost time in what's left of 2018.
Hull KR v Hull FC, 5.30pm, Sun, Sky Sports Arena & Main Event
Big injury problems for Hull KR this weekend. They are missing a number of key players as they face their rivals in Newcastle, but top try scorer and goal kicker Ryan Shaw is part of the squad. He set the Championship alight last season with his finishing abilities and has carried on finding the try line in Super League. He has crossed six times so far this campaign, two more than any other Robins player, and Shaw has the responsibility of adding the extras too, having kicked 41 goals from 46 attempts. It has been a struggle so far on their return to the elite for KR, only above Catalans on points difference, but Shaw has played 13 of the 14 games so far, making him an important part of the squad. Will he provide the winning moment on Sunday?
It's not just Hull KR struggling with injuries, Hull FC's squad have been ravaged too. They're now without Marc Sneyd, the influential playmaker, but they have a man in the halves who's been at the top of his game in 2018. Jake Connor is certainly a versatile player, perfectly capable of playing at halfback, in the centres or interchanging from the substitute's bench. He started at standoff in the win over Castleford in the last Super League game, partnering Sneyd with Albert Kelly injured. But now Sneyd has suffered a knee injury, leaving Connor to run the show against the rivals. He's got five tries and four try assists, while his 18 offloads are the best in the FC side. So dangerous with ball-in-hand, KR will have to work hard to shut down Connor come matchday.