A good big man will always beat a good small man

Steve Kaless Roar Guru

By Steve Kaless, Steve Kaless is a Roar Guru

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    Josh Perry in action during the NRL Round 22, Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v Melbourne Storm at Brookvale Oval, Sydney, Friday Aug. 8, 2008. Storm won 16-10. AAP Image/Action Photographics, Grant Trouville

    Josh Perry in action during the NRL Round 22, Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles v Melbourne Storm at Brookvale Oval, Sydney, Friday Aug. 8, 2008. Storm won 16-10. AAP Image/Action Photographics, Grant Trouville

    If 2009 was meant to herald the return to dominance of the little man in rugby league, then to borrow a phrase from our tourism board, “Where the bloody hell are they?”

    The game was meant to be faster, meaning we were going to see more players like Matt Bowen carving up tiring forwards.

    However, what coaches have found is that, while it might be easy to find someone the same size as the North Queensland speedster, finding someone with the same level of skill is an entirely different proposition.

    Which means that as you look down the team sheets for this weekend’s matches, you’ll find that most coaches are still going for the tried and true formula of three forwards and a hooker.

    Furthermore, when they have a hooker that can go for eighty minutes, like the Bulldogs’ Michael Ennis, they are opting for a extra forward rather than diminutive game-breaker such as Ben Barba in the ‘Dogs case.

    Even the big units aren’t looking to trim down.

    Penrith’s Trent Waterhouse, who is playing his best football since 2003, is doing so with an enlarged physique. The Panthers coaching staff admitted earlier this season they got it wrong when they thought forwards would get smaller and they felt that stripping down Waterhouse had probably lead to his drop in form.

    So the past off-season was all about adding the bulk.

    The same can be said for Greg Inglis. For all the Storm’s science, if the game was for the elf this season, why turn Inglis into the biggest ever five eighth?

    I’d argue that the big boppers are the ones enjoying the game in its current form. Just look at how many are scoring tries.

    Barely a game goes by without a prop forward crashing over (or, in the Knights Danny Wicks case, sailing over) and it is due to the speed at which the game is played, which makes it is so hard for the defence to get set on the line.

    Particularly the little man.

    Chris Sandow and Preston Campbell are just the sort of players that attacks will focus on, and so often the big forward will be hurtling at them just as they have got back the ten.

    There is nowhere to hide.

    Not only will opposition coaches look to target the weaker defenders, they are even breaking it down to which shoulder they should run at. So player A might be suspect but if his inside shoulder is even worse than his outside, they’ll go that way.

    The big players are also playing more minutes, allowing coaches to be more judicious with their bench.

    Remember when Glenn Lazarus was a freak in the modern game for playing 80 minutes? Now every club has a few forwards that can play without a break.

    Coaches also used to bemoan having their bench reduced to, say, fifteen players. Yet, some, like the Dragons’ Wayne Bennett, are choosing only to use fifteen for large parts of the game.

    Bennett has twice this season kept an unused substitute – Matthew Head both times – on his bench for the entire match.

    Small players with freakish skills have always had a place in rugby league. And that will always be the case.

    But with all other things being equal, a big frame will still catch the eye of recruitment managers and coaches.

    The key word is agility. So long as you can pick that bulk up and turn it around, you’ll still enjoy a good career.

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    The Crowd Says (6)

    • Roar Guru

      May 1st 2009 @ 1:19pm
      Greg Russell said | May 1st 2009 @ 1:19pm | ! Report

      Steve, I am a transplanted Sydney-sider living in Christchurch. I can tell you that a lot of the talk in New Zealand this year, especially in recent weeks, has been over how Ivan Cleary can best use all his little men in the Warriors, viz. Stacey Jones, Nathan Fien, Ian Henderson, Lance Hohaia and Joel Moon. Of course Moon is not really a “little man”, but Cleary seems determined to play him at 6, a “little man’s position”, rather than the centers, so in this argument he has to be counted as a little man. It’s a real puzzle to work out how to fit all these players into a 17, especially now that Wade McKinnon is back, and Hohaia has to cede to him as starting FB (although even this is a moot point – in many ways Hohaia has been the more impressive FB this year).

      So my question to Steve, in view of his article, is how he thinks all these players are best fitted together at the Warriors. I admit I don’t know. The fortunes of the Warriors this year most likely hinge on this puzzle being well solved.

      (Incidentally, I am not really a Warriors fan, but after living in this country for 15 years, one certainly develops an empathy for them!)

    • May 1st 2009 @ 2:26pm
      Siren's Call said | May 1st 2009 @ 2:26pm | ! Report

      You mst have missed last week’s NRL action Steve. Marshall, Soward, Thurston all had match winning performances.

    • May 1st 2009 @ 2:48pm
      oikee said | May 1st 2009 @ 2:48pm | ! Report

      Maybe after a season or 2 when the coaches work out how to utilise the smaller men we might see a slight shift. At the momnet you are right, the big men are doing extras to play longer minutes in the game, maybe the coaches need to work them over more before we see a shift.
      Watching the dragons, Roosters game on the weekend i seen the little man (Soward) totally carve to peices the larger forwards of the Roosters. Thats a warning sign right their, i bet you it was not lost on Wayne Bennett.
      Good post greg, lucky devil , living in the land of the long white cloud. I have already backed the Warriors to win the premiership this year. Cheers.

    • May 1st 2009 @ 3:11pm
      westy said | May 1st 2009 @ 3:11pm | ! Report

      Actually on my observation the smaller players like Campbell, Bowen , Benji are more alive this year. I saw the penrith game against the Titans and i thought the smaller players for Penrith like Sammut/ Coote and Jennings were outstanding.
      There has been achange for the better. the next step is to reduce the interchange to 4 and once you go off you cannot come back on.
      By the way anyone who questions Campbell’s defence is not watching very closely.

    • Roar Guru

      May 1st 2009 @ 5:40pm
      Steve Kaless said | May 1st 2009 @ 5:40pm | ! Report


      For what it is worth, I’d have Mickinnon at fullback, Jones at half, Hohaia at 5/8, Henderson at Hooker and one of Fien or Moon on the bench. Maybe you are spolit for choice, but that would be my call.

      Siren’s call,

      I certainly did those players firing, my point was that while those guys are certainly special talents who’d make it in any era we haven’t seen a influx of tiny fast players, only those with above average talent.


      I wasn’t ciriticisng Campbell’s defence. Although he is certainly targeted, probably more to tire him out, although he does seem to have the energizer bunny gene.

      Enjoy your footy boys.

    • May 4th 2009 @ 3:58pm
      Russell Bussian said | May 4th 2009 @ 3:58pm | ! Report

      Players are super fit and the idea that this year with 2 refs all these small guys would be zipping around tired defenders is a myth. This year has been the lowest scoring this millenium. If you don’t like working just back unders in total points with TAB each week. Tries seem to mainly come from kicks or well worked set plays. .

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