The NRL’s unsung heroes: The ‘Meat and Potatoes 17’

Tim Gore Columnist

By , Tim Gore is a Roar Expert

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    We are entering Round 9 of season 2017 this weekend and people everywhere are starting to speculate about which players are going to be selected for the Queensland and NSW State of Origin teams.

    I’m not going to join them.

    Instead, I want to look at a group of players who are highly unlikely to get picked for representative duty this year* but who are fantastic servants for their clubs. Week in, week out they bust a gut, not always topping the stats but always giving 100 per cent.

    They are the ones that might not have their names up in lights, but they are beloved by their coaches and their fans. So here is this year’s Meat and Potatoes 17…

    Fullback: Michael Gordon
    Now with the Sydney Roosters, Gordon has been at more clubs than the Deltones, so his reading on the ‘Beloved-by-fans-ometre’ may not be the highest. However, his stint at the Roosters is going very well. A goal-kicking fullback, his stats this season are impressive.

    Stats: 122 metres a game, 66.7 kick return metres a game, four line breaks, two line break assists, one try assist, five tries.

    Winger 1: Nathan Ross
    The Ross Dog is somewhat of a rock star up Newcastle way. His acrobatic finishing is indicative of the 100 per cent effort that he brings to every game. Whether it is tackling, returning the ball or hurling himself through the air at the try line, this bloke only has one setting: full on.

    Stats: 166 metres per game, 3.2 tackle breaks a game, six line breaks, six tries.

    Winger 2: David Nofoaluma
    If Michael Gordon might not be burying the needle on the ‘Beloved-by-fans-ometre’, you can bet 23-year-old David Nofoaluma is after signing a four-year deal to remain at the Wests Tigers. Furthermore, he waived the ten-day cooling off period as well. Like Nathan Ross, this bloke scores some unbelievable tries and always gives 100 per cent.

    Stats: 179 metres per game (#3 NRL), 56 tackle busts (#2 NRL), three tries, five line breaks, three line break assists, one try assist.

    Centre 1: Jarrod Croker
    What can you say about Raiders captain Jarrod Croker? Thrice he has been the leading point scorer in the NRL. He is one of five players to have scored 100 tries and kick 500 goals. In the past his defence has been seen as weak. However, in the past two seasons Dean Pay has turned him into a fearsome one-on-one defender – the try-saver on Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is case in point.

    Croker now averages just 1.3 missed tackles per game. That’s better than the likes of Jack Bird, Blake Ferguson, Will Chambers and Dylan Walker. However, he seems destined to be snubbed for rep duties when even former Raider and Australian coach Mal Meninga can select a right centre over him in his left centre position. The Raiders wouldn’t be without him.

    Stats: 105 metres a game, three tries, one try assist, one line break assist.

    Jarrod Croker running

    Centre 2: Tyrone Peachey
    The boy from Wellington initially went to the Shire but has found a home at the foot of the mountains. Able to play anywhere from the back row to the wing, centre has been Peachey’s preferred position of late. And he has made a great fist of it.

    In 2016 he made ten line breaks, nine tries, six try assists and five line break assists from his 15 games. If he has an Achilles heel it is his missed tackles. He is averaging a high 2.9 a game in 2017.

    Stats: 124 metres per game, four tackle breaks per game, three tries, one try assist, one line break assist.

    Five eighth: Cody Walker
    It took until the age of 26 for Walker to make his first-grade debut, eight years after starting in the Titans U20s side. However, now he’s got there he is making up for lost time. If the Rabbitohs have a chance in 2017 following Greg Inglis’ knee giving way, a large part of it rests with Walker. He has made very few errors, his missed tackles are low for a five-eighth and he is a great foil for Adam Reynolds.

    Stats: 98 metres per game, 3.4 tackle breaks per game, nine line breaks, six line break assists, seven try assists.

    Halfback: Chad Townsend
    It is not often you can say that the reigning premiership halfback is not in representative contention. However, Townsend isn’t. His ten try assists and eight line break assists during the Sharks’ drought-breaking season seem to have gone through to the keeper with those considering rep squads, even train-on squads. This bloke is going from strength to strength. His organisational abilities and his strong kicking game are a great foil for James Maloney. He is loved in the Shire.

    Stats: five try assists, 244 kick metres.

    Lock: Mitchell Barnett
    The Taree product is week in, week out one of the Knights’ best performers. He is a tackling machine and bends the line whenever he runs the ball. In his second season at Newcastle, he has quickly entrenched himself as a fan favourite through his tireless efforts.

    Stats: 36 tackles a game, two tackle breaks a game, two try assists, one line break assist, nine offloads.

    Second Row 1: Jack De Belin
    It may be a bit premature putting De Belin in this side. I’ve always been a fan of his ball running and his offensive defence, however this season he’s going off and could just jag a sky blue jersey. This year, while he has departed from the whale spout haircut, the jury is still out as to whether his new ‘wild man’ look is any better. One thing that everyone agrees on is that De Belin’s great form is a big part of the Dragons’ resurgence.

    Stats: 111 metres a game, three tackle breaks a game, 37 tackles a game, 16 offloads, two tries, three line break assists, two try assists.

    Second Row 2: Mitch Aubusson
    In meat and potato terms, Aubusson is filet mignon with duck fat roast potatoes. He’s that good. In fact, he’s the player that made me consider this list. You never have to worry about whether he’s going to be switched on or up for the game. He will be. Usually in the back row, he can cover centre as well, and provide excellent punch off the bench. His efforts and leadership were a large factor in the Roosters claiming the Auckland Nines title this year. A superb club man.

    Stats: 38 tackles per game, 1.5 tackle breaks per game, two tries.

    Prop 1: Nathan Brown
    I really disliked Brown’s stomping incident in 2016. He has more than a bit of white line fever about him. While I dislike his foul play aspects, I love the aggression and competitive nature he brings. The go forward he is bringing to the Eels this season is superb and a big reason Corey Norman has good space to work his magic in.

    Stats: 114 metres a game, 31 tackles a game, 16 offloads.

    Prop 2: Matt Prior
    The Sharks wouldn’t have made the 2016 NRL grand final without this guy. His performance against the Raiders in Canberra in Week 1 of the 2016 finals was outstanding and match winning. Until recently, most have considered this bloke pure meat and potatoes, but his teammates and lots of people are now calling for him to be considered for rep roles, so strong has his 2017 form been. He has picked up where he left off in 2016.

    Stats: 29 tackles a game, 90 metres a game, six offloads.

    Michael Morgan

    Hooker: Cameron McInnes
    Along with Paul Vaughan, McInnes was one of the only big signings for 2017. Just like Paul Vaughan (who is a real chance for NSW selection), McInnes has made a massive impact for the Dragons. While he isn’t yet the try-assisting machine like Josh Hodgson, his defence is tireless and precise. Further, his sharp service from dummy half is really helping the Dragons forwards get over the advantage line.

    Stats: 45 tackles a game, 0.6 missed tackles a game (that’s an extremely good ratio).


    14 – Apisai Koroisau
    A Fijian rep player, so a bit of a cheat on this list. A very skilled hooker who is a central reason that Manly Warringah are in the hunt for a finals berth in 2017.

    15 – Clay Priest
    The first Mount Pritchard Mounties player to earn a Raiders contract, mostly through his uncompromising work ethic. Can play prop, second row and lock.

    16 – Joel Thompson
    How well is Joel playing this year? A wide running backrower who can also play centre, he knows his way across the stripe.

    17 – Dale Finucane
    There are a lot of Bulldogs fans who are still mad that Des Hasler let Finucane go. Craig Bellamy and the Purple People love the reliable tackle machine.

    Honorable Mentions
    Anthony Don – The Titan wingman knows how to convert a half chance.
    Ricky Leutele – Largely unsung by all but the Shark Park faithfull.
    Jordan McClean – A big unit who makes good metres and almost all his tackles.
    Elijah Taylor – Tackling crazy. Would tackle his grandma into the grandstand concrete.

    I think that you will agree that this side would be extremely competitive. So what are your thoughts? Who would you include?

    *All Stars and City/Country do not count as rep duty as they clearly have no bearing on national or state selection.

    Tim Gore
    Tim Gore

    Tim has been an NRL statistician for ABC Radio Grandstand since 1999, primarily as part of their Canberra coverage. Tim has loved rugby league since Sterlo was a kid with lots of hair but was cursed with having no personal sporting ability whatsoever. He couldn't take a hit in footy, was a third division soccer player making up numbers, plays off 41 in golf and is possibly the world's worst cricketer ever. He has always been good at arguing the point though and he has a great memory of what happened. Follow Tim on Twitter.