Comebacks and Comeups

With just over a month to the start of the 2017 Super Rugby season, I thought I would take a look at 10 players who will ensure that the latest installment of rugby’s toughest domestic competition will be lit AF. 

Breaking the players into two categories, namely the Comeups and the Comebacks. I will give you a decuple of names of names worth penning down for the upcoming months – be it to tell your mates “I told you so” or simply to steal in an early round of your fantasy rugby draft.

Last year, I identified the New Kids on the Block who would light up Super Rugby, so this year I decided to take it one step further and have a stab at picking some injured/forgotten players who will come to the fore this season.

Also note that I am a huge fanatic of Fantasy Rugby Draft, by far the most superior Fantasy Rugby game out there – hence all the references throughout. It is based on the NFL style Fantasy Football that is so popular in the USA and it allows you to exclusively own players on your squad through a Draft system. Check out their website for more: http://www.fantasyrugbydraft.com

Comeups

Rieko Ioane – Blues
Age: 19, Position: Wing/Centre, Super Rugby Caps: 5
Fantasy Prediction: First Round pick

Like a controversial Donald Trump tweet, this name should come as no surprise to you. I had him on the New Kids on the Block list in 2016 and I see no reason not to include him again. A member of the Blues squad last year, Rieko played five matches for the Aucklanders boasting 357 running metres with 11 clean breaks, 23 defenders beaten, two tries and one assist. He then dominated in the Mitre 10 Cup for Auckland, topping the try scorers list with 10, placing second with 22 line breaks, leading the run metres with 812 and pipping his brother Akira to the top of defenders beaten with 62. He was rewarded with two All Black caps on the end of year tour, scoring against Italy on debut. The scary thing is, Rieko only turn 20 in March. The world is his oyster.

rieko-copy

Jordie Barrett – Hurricanes
Age: 19, Position: Centre/Fullback, Super Rugby Caps: 0
Fantasy Prediction: Seventh Round pick

His father Kevin played for the Hurricanes in the early days of Super Rugby, his eldest brother Kane played for the Blues, his other brother Scott debuted for the All Blacks at the end of 2016 and then…oh ya, his other brother is some guy named Beauden?! Never heard of him. Pedigree and breeding are no issue with young Jordie, neither is skill or talent. Meet Beauden 2.0 – one of the stars of the 2016 World Rugby U20 Championships and a standout for the victorious Canterbury in the Mitre 10 Cup of the same year. This kid is the heat! One of the top point scorers in New Zealand domestic competition, he topped the offloading charts, showed a Kurt Cobain-like nose for the try line and busted tackles as easily as he made them. Physicality is an area Canes’ Forwards Coach John Plumtree said that Jordie’ would need to work in the offseason,something unlikely to be much of an issue for the son of a dairy farmer in the Taranaki. Game time could be limited in a star studded lineup for the defending champs, but rugby fans the world over are licking the lips at a 10 – 12 Barrett combo in the canary yellow of the Wellington based outfit.

Who dis?

Nu brother, Who dis?

Curwin Bosch – Sharks 
Age: 19, Position: Fullback/Flyhalf, Super Rugby Caps: 3
Fantasy Prediction: Ninth Round pick

A nominee for World Rugby Under-20 player of the year, the former Grey High School prodigy was unsurprisingly named as the Junior Springbok of the Year in 2016. Bosch played all of 52 minutes in his three Super Rugby appearances for the banana boys in 2016, managing to dot down a try against the Sunwolves in Round 17. At home in both the 10 or 15 jumper, Bosch can cut a defense with the ruthlessness and precision of a guillotine. He also has a cannon on his right leg which can launch missiles over the sticks from inside his own territory. His defensive qualities need some attention, but as a Fantasy pick that matters little. Pat Lambie and Garth April are likely to get the nod ahead of him at flyhalf, meaning he will likely compete with Rhyno Smith and French international stalwart Clement Poitrenaud at the back. He scored 106 points in the Currie Cup last year, placing second behind Tian Schoeman on the overall list. He could be worth a gamble early on in the Draft with Lambie’s concussion frailties, but I think he is worth a stab as a sleeper in the later rounds.

Shaun Stevenson – Chiefs
Age: 20, Position: Wing/Fullback, Super Rugby Caps: 6
Fantasy Prediction: Fifth Round pick

Nicknamed ‘Shooter‘ with a try scoring celebration the mimics Happy Gilmore’s arch-nemesis, Stevenson gave us a glimpse of his talents when he scored on debut against the Crusaders, shortly before leaving the field with a shoulder injury. He struggled to find a regular spot in the Chiefs side, before joining up with the Junior All Blacks where he was named on the five-man shortlist for World Rugby Junior Player of the Year. An MCL injury ended his Mitre 10 Cup campaign in the opening round, pulling down the curtain on a relatively frustrating 2016 season for the youngster. A silky runner, with a swift turn of speed and a love affair with five pointers, an injury free Shooter could be worth taking as a third Outside Back – in spite of having the likes of Damian MacKenzie, Tim Nanai-Williams, James Lowe and Toni Pulu to compete with in the Chiefs side.

Seabelo Senatla – Stormers 
Age: 23, Position: Wing, Super Rugby Caps: 6
Fantasy Prediction: Third Round pick

A Blitzbok in every sense of the word, the Sevens star is trading up for the 15-man game and will be available from the outset for the Stormers. An Olympic bronze medalist and reigning World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year, Senatla can be expected to light it up in Super Rugby as he makes a bid to earn a spot in the Green and Gold. The Stormers notoriously play a fairly bland style of rugby, however rugby fans will hope that they look to spread it like peanut butter jelly with Senatla, Leolin Zas (when he returns from injury) and Cheslin Kolbe out wide. I would have Senatla in my top two Outside Back picks, he may be out of practice in the 15-man code, but his knack of crossing the chalk and his ability to dust off defenders make him a more than exciting prospect. The real question is, just how fast is this guy? Perhaps this clip will help…

Comebacks

Tim Nanai-Williams – Chiefs
Age: 27, Position: Centre/Wing/Fullback, Super Rugby Caps: 77
Fantasy Prediction: Second Round pick

Sonny Bill’s cuzzy has been MIA for some time now. Since the 2015 Rugby World Cup, he has been like hen’s teeth – not even my greatest Ted Bundy-esque online media stalking could track down what his playing movements where in 2016. Nanai-Williams is one of the most gifted footballers in Super Rugby, more slippery than Chris Latham and some swift footwork make him a defenders nightmare. He has vision that can see through walls, hands so precise and so accurate that he could be a heart surgeon. With Charlie Ngatai and Anton Lienert-Brown likely to take up the midfield starting berth’s, Nanai-Williams could find himself deployed out wide for many parts of the season. None the matter, for we are all richer for having this prodigious talent back on the park. Want to know why I would pick him so early on? Just watch the video below, especially from 02:20…and yes, that Highlanders number 15 he is giving a KFC Rounder to – It’s Ben Smith.

Handre Pollard – Bulls
Age: 22, Flyhalf, Super Rugby Caps: 25
Fantasy Prediction: First Round pick

The boy wonder from Paarl turns 23 in March, already he has been capped 20 times for the Boks, played in three Junior World Cups, played in one senior World Cup and played 25 Super Rugby matches – all of this after not playing any rugby in 2016 as a result of a knee injury. The Bulls missed Pollard more than Fergie’s child misses their blanket and the Loftus faithful will be salivating at the thought of his return. An abrasive first five-eighth who likes to take it to the line, Pollard has that uncanny characteristic that Bulls flyhalves tend to have – that of a dead-eye dick boot. With Elton Jantjes and Pat Lambie staking claims for the Bok 10 jersey, Pollard will aim to regain the faith of the South African rugby public after a disappointing 2016 in which his lowlight was undoubtedly that Vodacom advert he did that played out before kick-off and at half time of every Super Rugby game.

Quade Cooper – Reds
Age: 28, Flyhalf, Super Rugby Caps: 105
Fantasy Prediction: Fourth Round pick

After a disappointing 2016 season which saw the Reds go through a rebuilding phase, Quade Cooper could be the tonic needed to ignite the likes of Samu Kerevi. Anyone who says they are not excited to see Quade tearing it up in Super Rugby, is as about as honest as a politician or used-car salesman. He possesses dazzling feet, cheeky one hand passes and creative sparks that could light up your TV screen like the 4th of July. Somewhat flippant and cavalier in his approach before, I feel 2017 will be a big one for Quade. Several images and videos have emerged of his holiday training with Sonny Bill – he seems focused like a locust. Ready to kill, ready to thrill, Quade will kick off his 2017 with his third professional boxing bout on 03 February at the Adelaide Oval on the undercard for the Anthony Mundine-Danny Green rematch. He will fall outside the top flyhalves bracket in FRD, thus falling behind a few first choice Outside Backs and Midfielders – I foresee him going a little later in the Draft to a manager who has prioritised the previous two positions as a result of missing out on the top flyhalves.

Nehe Milner-Skudder – Hurricanes
Age: 26, Fullback/Wing, Super Rugby Caps: 17
Fantasy Prediction: Third Round pick

Man crush alert! Nehe Milner-Skudder is to me what Barack Obama is to Joe Biden. There was a void in my soul for most of last year, writing this and reflecting, I can finally see why. It’s because Nehe Milner-Skudder was ruled out for the rest of the year after suffering a shoulder injury in Round 3 against the Blues. Eight All Black caps in 2015, five tries including one in the World Cup final against Australia and a World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year award – Nehe will be eager to get back into it. He may slip down the pecking order of the Draft as a result of his absence from the game, with many still seeing if he will have those second year blues after a sparkling debut season in 2015. Playing for the defending champs, Milner-Skudder’s Shakira-like hip swerve and lightening takeoff will have defensive lines more confused than a six-year-old who has just discovered that Santa Claus is a fraud.

Sonny Bill Williams – Blues
Age: 31, Centre, Super Rugby Caps: 43
Fantasy Prediction: Sixth Round Pick

Arguably rugby’s biggest superstar, Sonny Bill ruptured his Achilles tendon at the Olympics playing for the All Black Sevens in 2016. Now he is back in Super Rugby, playing for his third team (after the Crusaders and Chiefs) as he repays faith to one of his great rugby mentors – Tana Umaga. SBW is expected to return in May, which is why he may slip down the Draft pecking order, but it is a long season so it is worth taking a punt on this freakishly talented athlete just to keep him for those crunch rounds after the June International window. This man is so good, coaches, commentators, players and armchair specialists the world over now refer to the offload  through the tackle as a ‘Sonny Bill’. If they click, can you imagine what a Blues backline with SBW, Ranger, Ioane, Nanai and Moala can do? It’s like rugby’s very own Suicide Squad!

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