The shortlist for the 2021 Steve Prescott MBE Man of Steel award has been announced and Saints Jonny Lomax is included.
There are five players in the running for the coveted prize of being named the best Betfred Super League player for 2021: Jordan Abdull (Hull KR), Jake Connor (Hull FC), Jonny Lomax (St Helens), Sam Tomkins (Catalans Dragons) and Gareth Widdop (Warrington Wolves).
The award, which will be presented as part of the Betfred Super League Awards on Sky Sports (4 October, 8pm) sees an all-English shortlist for the first time since 2014, a fact that potentially bodes well for next year’s Rugby League World Cup.
The shortlist is drawn from the points awarded each round by the Man of Steel panel over the course of the regular season.
As with 2020, due to disruption caused by Covid-19 the overall leaderboard has been ranked on a points per game basis. This takes into account any games that a player could’ve played in for their team (unless a fixture is not played due to COVID-19, or a player misses a fixture to represent England or the Combined Nations).
Here is a run-down of the five contenders:
Jonny Lomax (St Helens)
A first Man of Steel shortlist nomination feels long overdue for Saints’ “Mr Reliable”. But it is that consistent level of top performance that has cemented Lomax’s place as one of the best players in the competition.
Lomax’s ever-dependability has seen Saints win back-to-back Super League titles and given them a real chance of making it three-in-a-row this season.
It’s often said that stats don’t always tell the full story and Lomax’s influence on the team can easily be overlooked when a team is performing as well as St Helens have this season.
However, his ability to control the game from the middle and create opportunities with ball-in-hand compliment his team’s attacking ethos perfectly and his 14 assists in 17 appearances are proof of that.
Jordan Abdull (Hull KR)
Abdull’s form this season has been a huge part of the Robins reaching the Play-Offs for the first time since 2013, in a season where many had tipped them to be fighting it out at the opposite end of the table.
A late season injury coincided with Hull KR’s form taking a dip at a pivotal time, but his return against Castleford Tigers in Round 24 helped the Robins to a crucial win which ultimately secured them a Play-Off berth.
A total of 13 assists and 4 tries in 13 appearances for Abdull this season shows why he was pushing towards the top of the Man of Steel leaderboard throughout the season.
Jake Connor (Hull FC)
Like him or loathe him, no one can argue that Connor has not been in formidable form for Brett Hodgson’s Hull FC side this season.
Finding his spot as first choice full-back in the absence of Jamie Shaul, Connor’s influence across the team has been evident all year. His ability to take on the line, find space and create attacks is exceptional.
Second only in the try assist charts to Josh Drinkwater, Connor has been involved in an impressive 28 out of Hull FC’s 67 tries this year, delivering 22 assists and crossing the whitewash six times himself.
Sam Tomkins (Catalans Dragons)
The Dragons have made plenty of headlines in 2021, including lifting the League Leaders’ shield for the first time and it is their spine, led by the mercurial Sam Tomkins which has pushed them on to being eighty minutes from a first Grand Final.
Tomkins, the 2012 Man of Steel winner, has settled into life in the South of France and the playing group Steve McNamara has assemble around him is helping to bring out the best in Tomkins this season. Leading the Man of Steel rankings when the votes went dark after Round 18, Tomkins’ influence on the Dragons performances cannot be under-estimated. Be it line-breaking kick returns, attacking the defensive line with devastating effect or try saving tackles Tomkins has been immense for the Dragons in 2021.
With 19 appearances this season, Tomkins has been directly involved in 30 of the Dragons tries, racking up 10 tries and an impressive 20 assists. Not to mention an impressive 66 tackles busts.
Gareth Widdop (Warrington Wolves)
After an injury and Covid disrupted first season in Super League for Widdop, he would have come into 2021 with big expectations of helping Wolves reach the Grand Final and to date, he has not let the team down.
His leadership in the middle of park along with a quick-thinking rugby brain saw Widdop claim early season plaudits. An impressive personal tally of 10 tries and 13 assists shows the creative impact he brings.
His blossoming half-back partnership with George Williams is showing signs of being a great combination for Warrington.