The six most powerful NRL players of the past 18 years: Part 1

Tim Gore Columnist

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    Paul Gallen remains one of the NRL's most powerful players. (AAP Image/Craig Golding)

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    Power comes in many forms.

    In the NRL era of rugby league, some of the best embodiments of power are the rampaging big man on the charge or smashing the ball carrier. This is again amplified if they have the motor to keep getting up to do it again and again.

    This kind of power is what I love about rugby league and the NRL players who personify it are some of my very favourites.

    But who have been the best?

    To establish this, myself and former Bradford Bulls and Tonga coach Rohan Smith have run the rule over the wrecking balls that have taken the field in the past 18 years.

    Smith is quick to point out that these monsters aren’t just to be feared when they have the ball in hand.

    “As a coach, it is very difficult to game plan for these guys,” Rohan says.

    “You may work out effective ways to tackle them to limit the damage but it is very difficult to take energy out of them.

    “With smaller players, you can run traffic at them and you have plenty of people willing to run at small guys. However, not so many put up their hand to run all day at this type of player. You can put the likes of Sam Burgess and Jason Taumololo as targets on the tip sheet but I’m not sure how many would be brave enough to run straight into them consistently.

    “These guys are physical weapons.”

    These are the factors that we assessed each player on in regard to their power:

    • Collision: the blunt force a player brings when they charge like a berserker into the opposition.
    • Speed: The speed at which the big unit propels himself into the fray.
    • Endurance: How long the big unit can keep doing it for during a game.
    • Longevity: how many seasons the behemoth played at the peak of his powers.
    • X-Factor: the ability of the large man to change the game.

    In each of these categories, we graded them against the whole field. This includes James Roberts for speed and Darren Lockyer for longevity.

    So, who made the top six?

    6. Shane Webcke

    From Leyburn Queensland, out west of Toowoomba, Webcke was a one-club player. He spent his entire career under Wayne Bennett at the Broncos, winning the 1997 (Super League), 1998, 2000 and 2006 grand finals, the last of which was his final match.

    Speed: 12/20
    Rohan: While not having pure leg speed like some of the other names on this list, Webcke could definitely move well. Heavy and very strong post contact. Momentum was used to generate force North–South, there wasn’t any drifting sideways.

    Shane Webcke of the Broncos makes a break

    (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

    Collision: 14/20
    Tim: I was on the sideline right next to the Broncos bench on grand final day in 1998. I’ve forgotten most things about that game but I’ve never forgotten seeing Shane Webcke up close for the first time.

    He was like a barrel chested bull running on its hind legs. No fat, just pure, rippling muscle. I remember watching him hit those poor Bulldogs players in attack and defence. He smashed into them like a wall of steel. I’ll never forget the crack of bone on bone he caused.

    Endurance:12/20
    Tim: Webcke played a great deal of his career in the period of unlimited interchange, followed by the 12 interchange era. While I’m sure he could have played greater minutes than he did, Bennett kept him fresh and at his best via frequent rotation.

    Longevity: 16/20
    Career span: 1995-2006 (12 seasons)
    NSWRL/ARL/SL/NRL games: 254 games
    State of Origin: 24 games (Queensland)
    Internationals: 27 (Australia)
    Total: 305 Games

    X-Factor: 10/20
    Rohan: Webcke’s X-Factor was in his ability to repeat his efforts over and over. Every carry would require the best efforts of three to four players to get him on the ground.

    By the time they did, he was often much further down the field than where the first contact was made. One carry could build the momentum of a set and allow his halves to dominate.

    5. Paul Gallen

    There aren’t too many players in the game of rugby league who have attracted as much controversy and hostility as Gallen. However, love him or hate him, what isn’t in question is his power. The bloke is a one-man wrecking machine.

    Speed: 10/20
    Tim: Even at the venerable age of 36, Gallen is still not slow. However, he has never been a speedster either. But he just keeps coming at you remorselessly.

    Collision: 12/20
    Rohan: Part of the success of Paul Gallen is his ability to avoid huge collisions when carrying the ball. On both sides of the ball, he certainly has a presence. But longevity in the game is tough if every collision is big.

    Gallen has subtle ways of avoiding big contact when carrying the ball. Defensively he stands his ground, but he isn’t a renowned big hitter.

    Endurance: 18/20
    Rohan: Gallen is endurance! Even when he is tired he can carry the ball twice a set. Even three times a set on occasions. His leg drive post contact is a key aspect of his endurance. He has the ability to continue to carry and tackle for 80 minutes if his team requires it.

    Paul Gallen Sharks

    (Photo by Jason O’Brien/Getty Images)

    Longevity: 18/20
    Career span: 2001-??? (16 seasons and counting)
    NRL games: 303* games
    State of Origin: 24 games (New South Wales)
    Internationals: 32 (Australia)
    Total: 359* Games

    X-Factor: 12/20
    Tim: In Game 1 of the 2013 State of Origin series, I watched on as Queensland forward Nate Myles constantly put real dirty mongrel into his defence. He had been pushing the boundaries the entire first half when Paul Gallen stepped in to blunt Myles’ impact.

    First he got Myles with a decent swinging arm in the tackle and, when Myles took issue with the treatment, he put two or three big punches on the Maroon. Gallen had imposed the law of the jungle. It is his X-Factor.

    4. Adrian Morley

    If you had the ball and you were his opponent, Adrian Morley meant you harm. The boy from Salford played rugby league like he was going to war. He took no prisoners, gave no quarter and asked for none.

    He is the only league player to have won the NRL, Super league and Challenge Cup treble. He had the longest top grade career of any player I know of.

    Speed: 12/20
    Tim: The man they called ‘Moz’ was not a speedster but he routinely wound right up to smash his 16-stone frame into the opposition line. It was a sight I never tired of – except when he was playing my mob.

    Collision: 18/20
    Rohan: This was the part of the game he seemed to like most. Morley was an old school player, often getting himself into strife with the judiciary. His teammates loved playing with him, because they knew he would protect them.

    Adrian Morley of the Roosters in action

    (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

    Endurance: 14/20
    Rohan: It took a year or so for Morley to adapt to the rigours of the NRL, but once he did he was setting the agenda! During his time at the Roosters, they played a style of defence that required a lot of energy, rushing up to cut the ball runner off from their support and then quickly returning to the line.

    Morley led the way. He could get forward to the tackle and then get back onside. He could do it again and again, consistently.

    Longevity: 20/20
    Career span: 1995-2015 (21 seasons)
    Top grade games: 487 games (114 NRL, 373 Super League)
    Internationals: 53 (30 Great Britain, 23 England)
    Total: 540 Games

    X-Factor: 14/20
    Rohan: Morley’s X-Factor was his complete willingness to collide, to compete, to hurt his opponents – and to strike fear into them because they knew he truly enjoyed it.

    To be continued…

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