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Partying with Warrington... and Gary Barlow

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George Riley George Riley | 20:40 UK time, Thursday, 2 September 2010

Anyone who questions rugby league's ability to attract a global audience should have been in Warrington's team hotel on Saturday night.

Attacking the free bar with formidable relish following their dismantling of Leeds at Wembley, the Wolves boys were in terrific form.

After a thumping Challenge Cup defence in front of a sell-out crowd, Tony Smith's squad were world superstars for the night, and even one of Britain's most successful pop stars wanted in on the celebrations.

Rumours spread around the venue that Gary Barlow was on his way to add his congratulations.

Cue hysterical excitement amongst the Wolves Wags - and myself if I'm honest. I'll happily admit to a couple of Take That tracks among the guitar thrashings on my running playlist for the Great North Run.

Barlow duly arrived, fashionably late in the evening, and was soon waxing lyrical with victorious captain Adrian Morley alongside the gleaming Challenge Cup trophy.

Take That star Gary Barlow

Gary Barlow was the surprise turn at Warrington's celebrations. Photo: Getty Images

Presumably Moz was talking Gaz through the finer arts of the ball-and-all tackle, while Lance Todd winner (that's Man of the Match for you non-rugby league diehards) Lee Briers waited in the wings to explain the "40-20", and hammer home how it "Only Takes A Minute" to turn a game. It was one of the more surreal sights of my days involved in rugby league.

The man who wrote and performed 90s Take That classics "Back for Good" and "Relight My Fire" surrounded by a current breed of Warrington players whose message seems to be just that.

Warrington's emergence from the shadows of underachievement is pretty much complete. If they go on to clinch the Grand Final it certainly will be.

Having had the pleasure of celebrating with the Warrington players on Saturday, it was easy to see first-hand how hungry Smith's side is for success. That Wembley win has now whetted the Wolves appetite to do the double.

Wigan, St Helens and even Leeds (if the Rhinos can dust themselves down from their thumping humbling), will all have a huge say in that. And I expect those teams to dominate the Super League Dream Team when it is announced next week.

Journalists and fans alike have been selecting their own teams of the year, with a great deal of debate going on on Twitter this week. BBC Radio 5 live commentator Stuart Pyke has been getting stick for selecting a side devoid of Leeds players, while I've been giving myself a right headache settling on my final 13 for the prestigious prize.

At full-back I see it as a straight choice between St Helens' Paul Wellens and Warrington Cup winner Richie Mathers. I'm a massive fan of Mathers and don't think Leeds should ever have let him go. He has cemented himself at the Wolves this year and can count himself hard done by that he's being forced out by the arrival next season of current Man of Steel Brett Hodgson.

My choice though goes to Wellens, the veteran outstanding at both ends of the field this year, with the 30-year-old legs running in 15 tries in 20 Super League games, including four in a single game on two occasions.

My two wingers are Wigan's Pat Richards and Leeds' Ryan Hall. Warrington's 25-try winger and my (partial) namesake Chris Riley may well oust Hall for the official spot, but Hall's consistent performances and 23 touchdowns in an indifferent Rhinos season give him my vote.

With 27 tries and 132 goals Richards has been simply outstanding and is a leading contender for Man Of Steel.

My centre selections are Warrington's Matt King and Rhinos veteran Keith Senior, just edging out Ryan Atkins and the St Helens-bound Michael Shenton. It seems incredible to think that just 18 months ago Matt King was apologising for a one-fingered salute at his own club's fans after a 60-8 thrashing at Harlequins. His and Warrington's resounding rise to prominence since have gone hand in hand.

At the start of the season I wondered if Senior's 34-year-old body would last the year, but big Keith has missed just one Super League fixture, running in 10 tries for good measure, and has agreed to extend his career at Headingley.

In the halves I've gone for Sam Tomkins and Kyle Eastmond. Tommy Leuluai was tempting, while Briers reminded us of his brilliance at Wembley. But he hasn't played enough (just 17 Super League games), and Danny McGuire's sensational form has come too late in the season.

Wigan and England back Tomkins has excelled both in the halves and more recently at full-back and will run Richards close for Man of Steel. Eastmond has been a catalyst in St Helens late bid for a top two, and even though injury has restricted him to scarcely more involvement than Briers, he just shades it.

The front three picks itself with the evergreen Morley and former Man of Steel James Graham at prop. Graham has underlined his status as one of the world's leading front-rowers this season while Morley has every chance of adding the Man of Steel award to his Challenge Cup winner's medal.

Moz told me earlier this season that he's thrived, and cooled his trademark hothead since taking on the captaincy. I'd argue that his competitive fire is actually more fierce than ever, but the now experienced mind is keeping it in check.

James Roby is my choice at hooker, edging out last year's Lance Todd winner Michael Monaghan.

It is in the back-row that there has been most debate, and I have opted for Joel Tomkins, Ben Westwood and Sean O'Loughlin. Westwood has become almost the complete second rower this year, Tomkins has matured from club player into real international prospect for the Four Nations and the power and guile of O'Loughlin in helping Wigan to the Super League summit has just seen him edge out Kevin Sinfield this time, although I rate Sinfield as the better all-round player.

So my 2010 Super League Dream Team is: Wellens; Richards, King, Senior, Hall; Tomkins, Eastmond; Morley, Roby, Graham, Westwood, J Tomkins, O'Loughlin.

Coach of the Year: Tony Smith. The man is magic.

Agree or disagree with my selections? Please leave your comments below.

A final word this week for Salford stalwart Malcolm Alker, who has been denied a final appearance for the club against Wakefield on Sunday. Having spent his entire career and played over 300 games for the club, the club's captain was desperate for a final fling but has admitted defeat to a neck injury. Alker is a fabulous character and loyal servant and will no doubt continue to be so as he goes into coaching.


  • Comment number 1.

    Which other stars were at the party George, other than Gary Barlow?

  • Comment number 2.

    Big shame that Mal won't get to give us one last run out in the shirt that he's worn with pride & distinction for so long. Here's hoping that Salford give him the honour of a proper send off either on the pitch or in the club afterwards.

    And George, not even a mention of the magical Dan Holdsworth for your dream team? Shame on you.

  • Comment number 3.

    I can't agree with any statement that compares Mathers to Wellens, or even considers him hard done by to be ousted by Hodgson. The guy showed promise once upon a time, but is nowhere near the top of the list.

    However, my biggest gripe is with Tony Smith's selection as coach. Surely the feats of Michael McGuire at Wigan deserve the recognition? He's taken last year's team (with the exception of Deacon) and completely turned them around from where they were under Noble. Smith is a good coach no doubt, but this year is just continuing what he managed to achieve with them last year. For me it has to be McGuire.

  • Comment number 4.

    Maguire will get the award I'm sure, ofcourse he deserves recognition he's created an unbelievable side. Smithy's challenge was to prove last year's Cup success was not a flash in the pan, and they could end up sweeping the board by winning both this year

  • Comment number 5.

    re Barlow - he turned up as he knows Mr Moran the Wire owner so full credit to him. Barlow texted Moran before the game to pass on a good luck message to the Wolves. I also understand that Take That will be personally invited by the RFL to attend the Grand Final.

  • Comment number 6.

    That looks like a pretty strong team all round, although I would question the comparison between Wellens and Mathers. Mathers hasn't done too badly, but to be considered 2nd best you really have to be a really good player. Mathers is still very error prone, and doesn't seem to have much creativity.
    There was always the option of Sam Tomkins being the dream team fullback (he may not have played there most of the season, but since the switch he's been the most in form player in SL). That would open a spot for another halfback, which if it was a choice between Leuluai and Briers would have to be the latter.

    The back row picks itself. Westwood and Joel Tomkins have been the two best second row forwards in the league, and both have to be included in the England squad for the 4 Nations.

    As for the O'Loughlin and Sinfield debate, Lockers has a massively greater defence, more power running with the ball, he's a slightly better passer and more creative (or he certainly has been this season). Of course Sinfield has a terrific kicking game and has always been fantastic offloading the ball, but Sinfield vs O'Loughlin as the better all-round player; there's really only one choice, and that's O'Loughlin!

  • Comment number 7.

    Although I'm perhaps a tad biased being an FC fan, I can't help thinking that Danny Houghton deserves the hooker role, he's overtaken one of the games great's in Shaun Berrigan in case no-one has noticed.

    And what about Willie Manu?? Check the stats, he's one of the top tackle busters/yards gained/minutes played....not even a mention! I guess it would be a different story if he played for Wire/Saints or Leeds.

    Although I'm not surprised too be honest, for a long time we rarely get a mention amongst rugby league journalists, perhaps we are too unfashionable. Tom Briscoe's emergence is an exception, but the media have no choice but to recognise his progress.

    I'm in my twenties but I will be amazed if an FC player wins Man of Steel in my life time. Never going to happen!

    Hopefully a repeat result of the 2005 Challenge Cup Final against Leeds tomorrow will put us on the map.

  • Comment number 8.

    Decent selection George but have to pick Riley ahead of Hall. Not sure about scrum half either.... Mcguires form came too late yet eastmond gets the nod having barely played in recent months? With that logic Amos Roberts should have had a shout for his breathtaking form earlier this year.

    Smith is an excellent club coach but he already had the foundations and has an endless pot of Morans money to keep topping up.

    As the earlier poster put it. Maguire's only added Deacon and made Wigan the most consistent side in the competition.

    If Wigan do taste GF glory this year (and it's a huge if) then it could well mean Wigan and Warrington taking over from Saints and Leeds as top dogs. Especially given Wigans strengthening for 2011

  • Comment number 9.

    No mention of Rnagi Chase? Top try assist in whole of super league and since teh departure of Brent Sherwin to Catalans has singled handedly carried Castleford around the pitch.

  • Comment number 10.

    The fact that you have even considered Michael Shenton as a possible centre position in the dream team is a complete joke. At a good cas side he has only scored/assited 12 twelve tries this season which is a centre's gage of success. At lowly Harlequins Tony Clubb has scored/assisted 14 tries while also racking up twice as many metres. Whilst i'm by no means stating Clubb should be in there, Shenton is not even close.

  • Comment number 11.

    my team would be
    1. sam tomkins - i still think he will end up in the halves but fullback is a great position to learn his art (thats where lockyer started out for brisbane)
    2. chris riley - one of the form wingers in the comp
    3. matt king - great season
    4. george carmont - whoever plays outside of him always scores lots of trys and has great defence
    5. pat richards
    6. lee briers
    7. michael dobson
    8. james graham
    9. kieron cunningham - still the best 9 in superleague
    10. adriam morley
    11. ben westwood - best 2nd row in superleague this season
    12. joel tomkins - pushed westwood close not quite as consistant as westwood but has everything you want in a 2nd row
    13. sean o'lochlin


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