Following on from last time, where we looked at the ultimate rugby league exponents of the running and passing game, this time we look at kicking, game management, defence and general.
There are so many variations of this particular skill, where the ball seems to defy the laws of physics, so rather than a top three, I’ve nominated a champion in a few sub-categories.
The grubber – Alfie Langer, they seemed to almost travel underground.
The chip and chase – Steve Mortimer, so clever and so quick.
The banana – Andrew Johns, speaking of defying the laws of physics.
The bomb – kickers are incredible at these now with the spiral effect, but Steve Mortimer was so accurate that after the 1985 grand final, the rules of the game were changed. Old Timer: Johnny Peard pioneered the bomb for Parramatta.
All the ugly but essential phrases in the game all stem from this skill – ‘field position’, ‘playing the percentages’, ‘controlling the contest’. You simply can’t win without one of these.
Ricky Stuart, Peter Sterling, Cameron Smith (the best dummy half kicker).
The sideline conversion to win the game is every goalkicker’s dream. The men with ice in their veins who delight in destroying the weekends for opposition supporters.
Hasim El Masri, Johnathan Thurston, Andrew Johns. Old Timer: Keith ‘Golden Boots’ Barnes
Field goals and drop kicks
Used to be very important then were changed to one point. But once again so important now that a special golden point game has been set up just for field goal kickers.
Terry Lamb, Jamie Soward, Cooper Cronk. Old Timer: Eric Simms
Overall game management
These are the guys who run the game. The referees think they run it, the opposition think they know what’s going on, but they are just the stage.
Wally Lewis, Peter Sterling, Cameron Smith. Old Timer: Duncan Thompson.
They just don’t stop believing and they produce some of the most memorable moments in rugby league.
Darren Lockyer (time and again), Andrew Johns (1997), Ricky Stuart (again that England Test match). Old Timer: Clive Churchill.
Where their teammates would rather poke Paul Harragon in the eye than let them down. The ones who say, ‘follow me’ into the trenches. They have the iron will to win.
Andrew Johns, Wally Lewis, Laurie Daley. Old Timer: Chris McKivat (courtesy of Sheek, this guy captained both the Kangaroos and Wallabies on England tours, he must have known something about leadership).
Making the game slow down around you
You know what I mean. He jogs, he walks, he skips, he has a smoke and the defence just waits to see in exactly what manner they will be deceived.
Jason Smith, Benji Marshall, Cliff Lyons.
Defence and general
Front on defence
The Big Hits. The ones that made Darryl Eastlake burst his stomach lining. Bring on the pain (but no shoulder charges please).
Trevor ‘The Axe’ Gillmeister (once tackled a Hills Hoist out of the ground to prove a point), Paul ‘The Chief’ Harrigan (funnily enough, it was often The Axe that was buried deep, deep underground), David ‘Cement’ Gillespie. Old Timer: Mal Reilly.
Something of a lost art, in the olden days cover defender was sometimes a position of its own.
Steve Mortimer, Scott Sattler (just for that one tackle), Matt Gillett (not in the pure sense, but makes more try savers at the line than anyone). Old timer: Ron Coote.
The bloke you would tackle and then apologise to. The bloke who insists it’s only a flesh wound.
Les Davidson, Sam Burgess, Shane Webcke. Old Timer: ‘Gentleman’ John Sattler
A different kind of toughness. The little guy who gets smashed 20 times a game and gets back up for number 21. The guy who never misses a game.
Johnathan Thurston (36 origins in a row. What?), Geoff Toovey, Cameron Smith. Old Timer: Billy Smith.
These are the men who laugh at the interchange. They are not human, they are clockwork bunnies.
Ray Price ‘Mr Perpetual Motion’, Paul Gallen, Nathan Hindmarsh. Old Timer (but not really): Paul Taylor for Parramatta.
And finally, the most underrated skill of them all ….
Every good team has one. They irritate just by drawing breathe. They niggle, they sledge, they slap and run, they abuse referees and they infuriate all fans. And when they are on your team they might be a grub, but they are your grub, so that’s alright.
Justin Hodges, Michael Ennis, Geoff Toovey (Come on everybody, wave your hands in the air). Old Timer: Barry Muir (he came up with the term ‘Cockroaches’, never found an opposition footballer he couldn’t hate).
So, there it is. Nearly 30 essential skills and I had approximately none of them. Oh well at least there is The Roar.