Barrett leads the contenders to join Steel band

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The Independent Online

Trent Barrett underlined his credentials as a potential Man of Steel with a hugely influential display to take Wigan to an unlikely victory on Friday night.

The Australian stand-off was the inspiration as his side overturned a 24-point deficit to beat Bradford 31-30 at Odsal. With the panel who allocate the game's leading individual award making their decision next weekend, Barrett's performance was well-timed.

His coach, Brian Noble, set out to spread the credit. "He's a special player, but there were some other big contributions as well," he said, paying tribute to Mark Calderwood's three tries, Pat Richards' nerveless kicking, Stuart Fielden's industry and Shane Millard's courage in playing on one good leg.

For all that, it is generally recognised that Wigan would have been nowhere near the play-offs, let alone two matches from Old Trafford, if not for Barrett. If the Man of Steel is the player who has the biggest impact on his team's season, then it is hard to argue against his candidature, but there will be other contenders on show on Friday night when the top two enter the equation.

If St Helens lack an obvious winner this year, they have a whole clutch of credible candidates. The reigning Man of Steel, Paul Wellens, has been as consistently excellent as ever at full-back, and few would complain about his selection.

Both hookers, Keiron Cunningham and James Roby, have been repeatedly mentioned in dispatches. Cunningham could be regarded as an overdue choice, given his long-term impact on Super League, but the smart money is on Roby, despite the fact that he does not actuallystart many matches. As a dark horse, Jon Wilkin could have his backers, as his development into a high-class loose forward has softened the blow of being without Paul Sculthorpe for virtually all of the season.

Saints' opponents, Leeds, have a number of candidates who will be considered and one or two who probably will not. Brent Webb, for instance, started the season like a house on fire, but his tackling aberrations have compromised the New Zealand full-back's impact.

Then there is Kevin Sinfield, who has become the first Leeds player ever – and only the second in the history of Super League – to play and score in every match of a season. The more likely candidates, how-ever, are Rob Burrow and Gareth Ellis. The diminutive Burrow has established himself as Great Britain's leading scrum-half, and his speed and courage make him a genuine crowd-pleaser.

Ellis's qualities might be less obvious, but his work-rate and high level of performance make him the sort of player team-mates love to line up with.