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

Tim Gore Columnist

By Tim Gore, 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.

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    The Crowd Says (54)

    • Roar Guru

      April 27th 2017 @ 7:45am
      Dutski said | April 27th 2017 @ 7:45am | ! Report

      Great article Tim and one I wished I’d written. I’d have Josh McCrone at half for Townsend. And not just based on this year. In terms of effort he’ll never let you down. Reminds me of Brett Finch in that if there were injuries for 7-8 other players you could throw him in a rep jumper and he’d give his all.

      • Columnist

        April 27th 2017 @ 8:05am
        Tim Gore said | April 27th 2017 @ 8:05am | ! Report

        I certainly considered the boy from Temora but how do you go past the incumbent premiership halfback?

        • Roar Guru

          April 27th 2017 @ 1:22pm
          Dutski said | April 27th 2017 @ 1:22pm | ! Report

          Simple, Tim. You leave him out and put in the guy I like more. Ta da!

    • April 27th 2017 @ 7:58am
      Cam said | April 27th 2017 @ 7:58am | ! Report

      It’s entirely possible that bad timing will cost Andrew McCullough a rep jumper, but he undoubtedly gives his all every week. Unlucky not to be Brisbane captain, but will go down as one of their most loyal servants.

      • Columnist

        April 27th 2017 @ 8:04am
        Tim Gore said | April 27th 2017 @ 8:04am | ! Report

        Great point! McCullough should have been in this side! However, I reckon he’ll get the maroon #9 in 2019.

        • April 27th 2017 @ 8:15am
          cantabofbroncoland said | April 27th 2017 @ 8:15am | ! Report

          But up to the point of story being written and published he hasn’t been picked, but maybe if you do a QLD list he could make that.

          • April 27th 2017 @ 10:22pm
            Matth said | April 27th 2017 @ 10:22pm | ! Report

            Yes, apparently there are no unsung heroes north of the Tweed.

      • Roar Rookie

        April 27th 2017 @ 9:52am
        Joe said | April 27th 2017 @ 9:52am | ! Report

        100% agree with McCullough. He is a tackle machine and tops the tackle stats every week and is very solid in attack too. When he is out of the team the Broncos struggle.

    • Roar Rookie

      April 27th 2017 @ 7:58am
      Squidward said | April 27th 2017 @ 7:58am | ! Report

      Thing with Mick Gordon is he always leaves with so much good will from his past clubs fans

      • Roar Guru

        April 27th 2017 @ 8:40am
        Alex Green said | April 27th 2017 @ 8:40am | ! Report

        Absolutely! Great servant for the Sharks in tough times, and unlucky to get pushed out just before the premiership year.

        • April 27th 2017 @ 10:55am
          Albo said | April 27th 2017 @ 10:55am | ! Report

          Same feelings from the Panthers fans before that ! Top bloke ! 100% good player !

          • Columnist

            April 27th 2017 @ 3:04pm
            Tim Gore said | April 27th 2017 @ 3:04pm | ! Report

            Well maybe he is burying the needle on the metre then! Nice one Mick!

    • Roar Guru

      April 27th 2017 @ 8:04am
      The Barry said | April 27th 2017 @ 8:04am | ! Report

      Nice article Tim. It’s good to recognise these players, some of whom – Croker, Aubusson, Gordon – have been putting in for a number of years.

      Andrew McCullough could get a run. I know a lot will say he’s over rated but I like him. Tackles his backside off, chooses right options continuously, great at barging over from dummy half and if I’m not mistaken led the NRL in 40/20s last season.

      Edit – started this before I saw Cam’s post…great minds…!

      • Columnist

        April 27th 2017 @ 8:06am
        Tim Gore said | April 27th 2017 @ 8:06am | ! Report

        Yep, he’s a star. Beat the Raiders this season just like that!

        • April 27th 2017 @ 8:47am
          souvalis said | April 27th 2017 @ 8:47am | ! Report

          Last weeks refs must be filthy with bobble and he scores under the post,no flop Souths don’t get a scoring leg up,no rubbish pass to the Milf no whinge about the game winner..but tough as last nights hogget chump chops..picky,I know..

    • April 27th 2017 @ 8:10am
      cantabofbroncoland said | April 27th 2017 @ 8:10am | ! Report

      Now you’ve done the NSW meat and potatoes team, why don’t you do a QLD. Then after that maybe one covering the last 25 years.

      • Roar Guru

        April 27th 2017 @ 8:45am
        Jason Hosken said | April 27th 2017 @ 8:45am | ! Report

      • Columnist

        April 27th 2017 @ 9:16am
        Tim Gore said | April 27th 2017 @ 9:16am | ! Report

        This team considered all available NRL players. There was no intention to exclude QLDers. I just looked at the players by position, their likelihood of selection and their form. Which QLDers – apart from the already mentioned Cullogh – would you put in?

        • April 27th 2017 @ 9:32am
          spruce moose said | April 27th 2017 @ 9:32am | ! Report

          Jake Granville – he’ll never be picked for Queensland while Cameron Smith is about.

          But he is a quality rake and good foot soldier for the Cowboys.

          • April 27th 2017 @ 4:45pm
            Jara W said | April 27th 2017 @ 4:45pm | ! Report

            What’s meat and ‘tatters about Granville? He provides plenty of the cowboys spark.

        • Roar Rookie

          April 27th 2017 @ 10:21am
          Don said | April 27th 2017 @ 10:21am | ! Report

          I’d probably have found a spot for Scott Bolton

          • Columnist

            April 27th 2017 @ 3:05pm
            Tim Gore said | April 27th 2017 @ 3:05pm | ! Report

            Both good calls.

            • April 27th 2017 @ 10:24pm
              Matth said | April 27th 2017 @ 10:24pm | ! Report

              The entire Gold Coast team, excluding Hayne? Haw about Jarrod Wallace?

        • Roar Rookie

          April 27th 2017 @ 9:10pm
          Dingo McNumbat said | April 27th 2017 @ 9:10pm | ! Report

          Speaks volumes though that the team which has lost all but one Origin series since 2006 has so many decent but unpicked players floating around…

      • April 27th 2017 @ 5:07pm
        Jara W said | April 27th 2017 @ 5:07pm | ! Report

        Byproduct of selection polices cantabo. Don’t have to be a hero to be selected for QLD 😉 So they’re in the 17.

        Struggling to come up with too many recent examples actually. Last few years have been pretty good I guess.

        O’Neil, Lillyman, Myles. Just can’t see these guys getting a run if they were born south of the border. Brent Tate played a heap of origins. How many would have he got for the blues?

    • Roar Guru

      April 27th 2017 @ 8:46am
      Jason Hosken said | April 27th 2017 @ 8:46am | ! Report

      Api K is like on of those bouncy super balls, he never stops while on the park. Hopefully he develops into an 80 minute player leaving Baz with more bench options.

      Could easily slot Brenton Lawrence up front in this team. At 32, he’s arguably playing his best footy, not bad after a couple of seasons lost to injury

      • Columnist

        April 27th 2017 @ 9:17am
        Tim Gore said | April 27th 2017 @ 9:17am | ! Report

        Yep, he was considered.

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