A LIKELY TEN
(article appeared in League Week Magazine, 1 May 2002)
For this weeks column I thought I would concentrate on the players. Almost a third of the way through this years NRL and already there are notable stand out players. Saying stand out, I don’t mean man-of-the-match each week or even that games best player, but players who are weekly raising the bar. So with that I’ve nominated the players, in order, who’ve caught my eye. Let me stress that these 10 players are not necessarily the games best, but it is my view, and certainly their teams, they would be considered irreplaceable.
1 ANDREW JOHNS – Never before can I remember one single player dominating the competition like Joey has this year. If it’s not his setting up of tries from unbelievable passes or groundbreaking kicks it’s barging over from 10 metres out like a front rower to score one. His defense is outstanding and more importantly his leadership skills are growing every day. Put simply the best and most complete footballer I’ve ever seen.
2 STEVE SIMPSON – For mine the standout forward in this years NRL. Whether it’s having the games best player along side him each week makes a difference, I still think he has "International" written all over him. He has become such an attacking weapon that his team mates are paying him the ultimate compliment in 4 or 5 of them backing up his every run. Huge piece of the Newcastle jigsaw.
3 NIGEL VAGANA – One of the most outstanding feats in the NRL of 2002 is Vagana’s amazing 5 try bonanza. But it’s not just that one game that stands out; it’s every time he touches the ball you sense something is about to happen. Very few players in today’s game have that infectious compulsive viewing that Vagana brings to the field. He also seems to have gained an extra 3 to 4 yards of pace this year to boot. Maaaan…..the skies the limit for this very likable Kiwi who seems to love his footy.
4 ALLAN LANGER – No doubt the main reason the Broncos are where they are this year is because of the 4 foot 3 nugget known as Alf. Put your hand up if you thought "Nah, there’s no way he’ll go any good this year, should have retired after that Origin game". Well don’t worry mines up as well. Ask anyone, some even North of the border and they all would have cast aspersions as to Alf’s ability to perform week in, week out in the hardest comp in the world. Well guess what? He’s back and so are the Broncos chances of winning this years Telstra Cup.
5 DANNY BUDERUS – Again like Simpson, having Joey right next to you can only help your play, but I also feel he is one of the big reasons why Joey is playing so well. OPTIONS in any rugby league team are a huge asset and with Buderus’ unpredictability out of dummy half the Knights certainly have plenty of them. The one thing Buderus needed in his arsenal to become one of the games elite’s was his one on one defense. Ask any forward in today’s game and they will quickly tell you Danny Buderus is an elite player.
6 SCOTT HILL – It is no secret that the Storms methodical rise this year to the Leagues top end of the ladder has a lot to do with a fit and healthy Scott Hill. Tipped from an early age to be one of the games greats, only frustrating injuries have been his main obstacle in reaching that accolade. A representative player with immense ability he always seems to be 2 to 3 steps ahead of all other players. Very much in the Brett Kenny mould, has the tag as the most dangerous man in the comp 10 metres out from opposing try lines.
7 MARK O’MELEY – While the fascinating duel and rivalry between he and Dragon young gun Jason Ryles is starting to catch the imagination it is O’Meley who has turned the Bulldogs season right around. Since his suspension was served earlier in the year he hasn’t taken one backward step. Losing Darren Britt was a big blow for the Bulldogs but in hindsight probably a blessing in disguise. While Britt was tough, honest and a good ball player it’s the mongrel that the "Ogre" brings to the Doggies pack that makes him a much needed commodity. I would definitely have him and Ryles as my front rowers for the SOO Series.
8 P J MARSH – As I said earlier in the column these 10 players weren’t necessarily the games best but when it comes to improved I can’t go past PJ Marsh’s transformation this year as one of the highlights thus far. Stacey Jones has been crying out for a fellow playmaker and foil for years and this year he has certainly found one. Marsh’s ability both at five eighth and especially hooker has been the main ingredient in the Warriors constant dominance and coincidentally has seen Stacey play some of his best football in years.
9 PAUL STRINGER – "The big ball of" (I like that one) has been an unlikely shining light in the Rabbitohs welcome back season. After an amazingly quick recovery from an early season knee injury he has certainly showed some resilience, but it’s his constant high work rate that seems to stand out. Tugger sure does know a good thing (or string) when he sees one, and with Paul Stringer he has definitely acquired a durable workaholic front rower that has to be very close to representation.
10 LUKE LEWIS – Luke who? Even Kenny Sutcliffe called him Luke Ferris in an early season interview and ask anyone outside the Penrith region and they wouldn’t know him from a bar of soap. That’s all about to change. This kid is a prodigy in the making and has been, along with fellow flanker, Luke Rooney a real thunderbolt of enthusiasm for the Panthers this year. His 3 try effort against the Broncos a couple of weeks back would surely back this up. Here’s a tip. Luke Lewis Australian winger 2003! Who wants a lazy lobster on it?
While Origin draws closer each day I’ve been given creative freedom in putting together my dream forward pack from this years opposing State of Origin squads. Incidentally this would also be my Australian pack.
FRONT ROW (8) – Webcke – Seasoned, tough and as hard as nails. Never looks back and always seems to make ground. Still sets the high benchmark for all front rowers. But don’t look over your shoulder Webby cause the young guns are a comin. Ever Ready Batteries should use him for their next add campaign.
HOOKER (9) – Buderus – The stand out hooker by far this year who only seems to be getting better and better. Has the perfect dummy half game, which also compliments an underrated kicking game.
FRONT ROW (10) – Ryles – 6 foot 4, 110kg of pure footballer. When called upon can role the sleeves up and do the hard yakka but also has the astute ability to off load in heavy traffic. Also very agile for a big man.
SECOND ROW (11) – Tallis – In my view the best second rower that has played the game. While that’s a bold statement, and I didn’t see the McCarthys, Provans etc play, I can’t imagine another second rower having the raw bone ferocity that the "raging bull" displays. Along with Joey the first Aussie picked.
SECOND ROW (12) – Simpson – I know that plenty will argue and after last Friday nights game, confidence will be down, but I believe with his ability to play anywhere in the pack (besides hooker) he is the perfect partner for the destructive Tallis. It’s also a huge asset to be able to play both tight and wide.
LOCK (13) – Kennedy - My dream packs lock forward would be Ben Kennedy. Slightly overshadowed by fellow teammates this season. Still, if fit, will be one of the first Blues picked. Dynamic game breaker who was badly missed by the Knights last Friday night. He could have only dreamed that his transition from Canberra to Newcastle would have been this dramatic and successful. He has the speed of a centre and tackles like a hooker. This would make him the perfect forward to lock the scrum in this fantasy Origin forward pack.
Of course if I were the Aussie coach I would have 4 forwards on the bench and it would look something like this:
(14) – O’MELEY – Imagine him coming on fresh after 20 minutes.
(15) – D SMITH – "Age shall not weary them". Outstanding player who never has a bad game.
(16) – HINDMARSH – Getting better as the season wears on. Very effective on the fringes.
(17) – FLETCHER – Best ball player in the NRL.
Just finally I was shocked and really disappointed to have been given the old "heave ho" by the Management at 2UE. I was really enjoying my time on radio and it was a real hoot to be part of the Talking League Team. I was informed it was experience and a bit of streamlining that they were after.
So I guess, as they say in show biz "Ka Serah Serah", what ever will be, will be……………"