Five props to watch in 2021
Mikolaj Oledzki (Leeds Rhinos)
It’s hard to believe that Mikolaj Oledzki is only 22 years old – the Polish born forward made his debut in 2017 and has since made over 50 Super League appearances for the Rhinos. Oledzki recently signed a long-term extension with the Rhinos – keeping him at the club until at least 2024 – and will be a big part of Richard Agar’s plans as he aims to take the club back to the summit of Super League.
Learning his trade alongside experienced and former NRL Grand Final winning front-rowers at the Rhinos, Oledzki will only get better. He possesses an unyielding spirit and has shown his workman like effort in both attack and defence – making more metres than any other Rhinos forward in 2020 and defending with a 95% tackle efficiency rate - proving to be a real asset for his Leeds side.
Liam Watts (Castleford Tigers)
Liam Watts campaign ended frustratingly last year - injury struggles and a premature ending to Castleford's season will have left Watts with a desire to rectify that disappointing period as they head into the new season. The experienced front-rower took no time to settle into life as a Tiger when he joined the club in 2018 - he's a player who has been a standout performer for several years in Super League - and will have one eye on England selection as added motivation to perform at his unplayable best in 2021.
The prop forward is as skilful as he is tough – adept in leading the forward charge as he is offloading during contact or ball playing close to the defensive line. His unpredictability in attack constantly creates more space around the ruck, helping his side get on the front foot and contributing to the teams ‘Classy Cas’ style of play.
Alex Walmsley (St Helens)
Walmsley was the form prop in 2020 and a huge part of Saints success as they won back-to-back Grand Finals. Mid-season rule changes which promised to speed up the ruck and increase ball in play time left onlookers wondering whether some of Super League's big men would be as effective after the resumption.
Big Al answered those questions emphatically - he flourished for the Saints and averaged over 130 metres a game, 15 carries a game and an impressive 9 tries in 2020 - a stellar year for the England international who missed just one game after the restart, thriving in the new environment. Walmsley will be at the forefront of Saints attack in 2021 as he pursues a record-equalling third Grand Final ring in consecutive years.
Alex Walmsley has been on fire for @Saints1890 since lockdown 🔥
Will anyone stop the big man today? #SuperLeague pic.twitter.com/S0S0gSCr9a
— Betfred Super League (@SuperLeague) August 30, 2020
Oliver Partington (Wigan Warriors)
Partington has firmly established himself in Super League after his breakout year in 2019. The Warriors academy product built on his 22 appearances in 2019 with an impressive year in 2020 – solidifying himself as a regular feature in a strong Wigan pack. Never one to shy away from the physical challenges in the middle of the field, Partington plays well above his weight and is always eager to be in the thick of the action.
Still in the early stages of his career, Partington is hungry and aggressive on the pitch. The Warriors DNA is instilled into the young prop with an uncompromising attitude a focal point of his game. His tough demeanour is matched by a fast-developing skill set with ball in hand - an attribute which will only further his improvement in 2021 and beyond.
Korbin Sims (Hull KR)
Rovers free flowing and expansive brand of rugby will be complimented by having Sims leading the line – a tough, no nonsense and experienced front rower that will help lay the platform in the middle third. Hull KR have been short of an aggressor in the middle and Sims certainly fits the bill - younger brother of former Warrington prop Ashton, we can expect a similar rugged and hard-nosed style of play from Korbin.
The Fijian international has amassed over 100 NRL appearances and will bring much needed experience and leadership to Hull KR’s young and exciting side. Despite their attacking flare and open style of play, the Robins struggled to make big metres and leaked too many points in 2020. With Sims introduction alongside their other off season arrivals, they are likely to be more solid in the middle during 2021.