28 Feb 2021

Five hookers to watch in 2021

James Roby (St Helens)

2021 could well be James Roby’s last season in Super League. The Saints skippers’ contract is due to expire this year with uncertainty around whether he will continue past his current deal. It’s hard to imagine life in Super League without James Roby – he has been an integral figure for St Helens and the competition since his debut in 2004. Highly revered by teammates, fans and opposition alike, Roby consistently sets the benchmark whenever he plays. Showing no signs of slowing down, Roby was a vital component in Saints pursuit of Grand Final success last year and finished the season with a 99.1% tackle efficiency rate – missing just 5 tackles in his 14 appearances.

If this is to be Roby’s final year, he will be determined to finish on a high. Never one to rest on his laurels - his sides triumphs over the last two seasons will do little to weaken his appetite for a third Grand Final ring in consecutive seasons - as he aims to take his Saints side to record equalling heights. 

Andy Ackers (Salford Red Devils)

Ackers has taken the unconventional route to Super League - earning his stripes predominately in the Championship - he had little top-flight experience before 2020. Now, the Salford hooker has been awarded the number 9 shirt for 2021, following Joey Lussick’s departure in the off season. Ackers will be an integral figure in the Red Devils spine this year and is likely to play for longer periods as their starting hooker – improving on his 41 minutes-per-game average last season, he was typically utilised as an impact player from the bench. 

After moving to the club mid-way through last year, it will also be Ackers first full season with Salford. He can only benefit from a full pre-season with his teammates - allowing more time to improve his combinations with his forwards and halves partners - ensuring they are firing from all cylinders as the club look to build on their recent league and cup success.

Paul McShane (Castleford Tigers)

McShane’s Man of Steel crowning in 2020 was a culmination of his consistent and dominant performances for the Tigers. He has been an integral part of the clubs rise in Super League – the Tigers have firmly established themselves as a fighting force at the summit of the competition in recent years. McShane has proven himself as one of the best number 9’s in the British game – his ability to control the speed of the ruck and his dynamite defence make him an all-round threat.

Despite his personal success in 2020, McShane will be hungry for more. A disappointing season for the Castleford club left them outside of the play-offs after a dismal end to the year – something which McShane will be desperate to rectify. Add to that the small matter of a World Cup at the end of the year, McShane will be doing everything in his power to be selected in Shaun Wane’s squad by performing at his best throughout 2021.

Jordan Johnstone (Hull FC)

Many observers would have expected 2020 to be a transition year for Johnstone – he made the step up from Widnes in the off season and joined Hull FC expecting to be understudy to the experienced club captain Danny Houghton. Johnstone however found himself in the midst of the black and whites team - playing a key role in the sides end of season play-off pursuit. 

Johnstone started every game he played following the enforced break last year – including Hull FC’s two play-off matches – as he was given the task of setting the foundation for his side in the opening exchanges before Danny Houghton was introduced from the bench. The young hooker thrived in his starting role and gained invaluable experience during his first year in West Hull. Now, with a years’ experience under his belt, Johnstone will be determined to kick on and make the starting hooker position his own once again in 2021.

Danny Walker (Warrington Wolves)

Walker has settled into life at the Wolves after making the move from Widnes in 2019. The 21-year-old has been eased into the Wolves line-up, making 13 appearances during his second season at the club. Playing under Daryl Clark – who occupies the starting hooker role – Walker is developing his game next to one of the leagues most dangerous 9’s. And he is beginning to showcase his talent as he strives to compete for the starting hooker role at the Wolves.

Walker made a mammoth 71 tackles during the Wolves round 14 defeat at Salford – a huge defensive effort - which demonstrates his grit and unrelenting work rate in the middle of the field. Those efforts, paired with a developing running game and match awareness in attack, will only help improve Walker as he continues to mature – you can expect him to fight his way into the Wolves 17 on a regular basis next year, eager to showcase his talent as one of the best young players in the competition.