After the first round of Super League fixtures, MerseySportLive takes a look at our top five St Helens and Warrington Wolves players to look out for this season.
- Jack Welsby – St Helens
Jack Welsby, one of the Super League’s great young talents, will be on the radar of every team in Australia’s NRL by the end of the season.
Experienced Catalans and England full back Sam Tomkins described Welsby as ‘the best centre, winger and half back.’
He told LoveRugbyLeague.com: “Jack has been outstanding. He doesn’t just fill positions he impacts the game in them, he makes Saints a better team.”
Since making his St Helens debut as a 17-year-old, the Blackbrook-born full-back has had several memorable moments.
Welsby was integral to Saints’ last minute Grand Final win over arch-rivals Wigan in 2020, latching onto a Bevan French mistake in the 80th minute to score the winning try.
Welsby’s stand-out season was in 2021. His highest scoring season, 14 tries in 26 appearances, helped Saints win the League Leaders’ Shield and the Grand Final for the third year in a row. His achievements brought him the accolades of club Player and Players’ Player of the Year plus a Super League dream team nomination.
The St Helen’s native won a fourth Super League title in 2022. He also helped England reach a Rugby League World Cup semi-final where they lost narrowly, by a single point, to Samoa.
Most recently, on 18th February 2023, he scored a try as Saints won the World Club Challenge with an impressive 13-12 golden point victory over Australia’s Penrith Panthers.
2. George Williams – Warrington Wolves
George Williams returned to Super League halfway through the 2021 season with Warrington Wolves, after a short spell in Australia with the Canberra Raiders.
Struggling with fitness, the former Wigan man made very little impact, scoring three tries in eight appearances for the Wire.
Williams, despite Warrington Wolves not firing on all cylinders for large parts of the season, had a more impressive 2022. He was the bright spark with eight tries and 21 assists in numerous standout performances.
His achievements won him joint Player of the Year at the club.
Former Leeds Rhinos legend Jamie Peacock explained the importance of Williams to any potential success for the Wolves in 2023.
He told SeriousAboutRugbyLeague.com: “I believe he’s the best British player that we have, when he’s 10/10 there’s not a player near him.
“George Williams needs to step up. I would love to see him play for Warrington in the form he plays for England.”
He has started the 2023 season strongly, helping Warrington to a 42-10 victory over last season’s Grand Final finalists Leeds Rhinos. After a stellar World Cup, it is now time for him to demonstrate his worth at Warrington.
- Matty Ashton – Warrington Wolves
At the relatively young age of 24, Matty Ashton was given a starting shirt for The Wire in 2022 and grasped his opportunity with both hands.
He became Warrington’s leading scorer, going over the whitewash 13 times. He was rewarded with a plethora of accolades including joint Player of the Season plus the Ken Kelly Player of the Year award, Players’ Player of the Year, and Young Player of the Year.
In 2022, Ashton stood out in an under-performing Warrington squad that finished in the lower reaches of the table, in 11th place.
Warrington teammate Josh Thewlis praised Ashton both for his performances and how he has become a role model for the youngster.
He told The Warrington Guardian: “Me and Ashy are constantly feeding back to each other. We are good mates, and we praise each other but we also give it to each other straight if things aren’t right.
“I definitely look to how he’s done things in terms of becoming a first-team regular.”
Ashton and Thewlis will be looking to form a formidable partnership on either wing for Warrington this season to help push the team forward. Ashton himself, whilst developing his scoring prowess, will be hoping he can push Wolves into the top half of the table and a possible play-off place.
- Jonathan Bennison – St Helens
In September 2022, at just 19, Jonathan Bennison had one of those ‘dream come true’ moments when he became a Grand Final winner in his first full season with his boyhood club, St Helens.
Fans got a taste of what was to come in 2021 when Bennison, on debut, scored a try in a game they subsequently lost 26-14 to Salford.
During the 2022 season, with Saints hit by a major injury crisis, Bennison stepped up to the plate, playing on the wing against Leeds Rhinos in only his second start for the club.
A try saving tackle and an assist at rivals Wigan Warriors did nothing to dampen his reputation. However, Bennison then missed a month and a half of the season with a fractured cheekbone.
Showing great resilience, a return to the side saw him firmly in plans for the rest of 2022. The dream was finally realised when, picking up a try in the Super League Grand Final, Saints added their fourth title in four years.
- Matty Nicholson – Warrington Wolves
Teenager Matty Nicholson made the controversial move from Wigan Warriors to Warrington Wolves midway through the 2022 season due to a lack of game time. He made an instant impact at his new club, scoring on his debut at the Magic Weekend.
Wigan had been keen on holding on to their young starlet and boss Matty Peet was left scratching his head when Nicholson made the decision to move. Peet had coached Nicholson from the age of 14.
However, Nicholson is adamant that it was the right decision as he endeavours to push on in his career.
He told LoveRugbyLeague.com: “I made friends for life at Wigan, and it was a good thing learning there.
“They have one of the best academies and have developed me into who I am today. But I needed to kick on and play regular first team games and I felt this was the place to get that.”
Warrington Wolves have demonstrated their confidence in Nicholson by handing him the number 12 starting shirt for the 2023 season.
He will be hoping to make a big impact. But a dislocated shoulder, sustained in the first game of the season against Leeds Rhinos, means a nervous wait for the young second-row forward.