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

Tim Gore Columnist

By Tim Gore, Tim Gore is a Roar Expert

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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.

    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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    The Crowd Says (68)

    • September 14th 2017 @ 6:58am
      nerval said | September 14th 2017 @ 6:58am | ! Report

      Of the three players featured here, the one I most enjoyed watching – by a country mile – was Adrian Morley. Whatever Webcke and Gallen’s virtues – and I rate the former well above the latter – Morley in his prime was an excitement machine, a description usually reserved for fast, dashing, try-scoring outside backs. He was explosive, either when running the ball or lining up an opponent for a big hit, in a way the other two couldn’t match. Compare and contrast with someone like Dylan Napa, another player I like. While Napa hits like a freight train, his running of the football is powder puff (relatively speaking) by comparison.

      I look forward to part two and finding out just who will sit alongside Sam Burgess and Jason Taumalolo in the top three…

      • Columnist

        September 14th 2017 @ 9:01am
        Tim Gore said | September 14th 2017 @ 9:01am | ! Report

        All will be revealed next week!

      • September 14th 2017 @ 9:29am
        DLKN said | September 14th 2017 @ 9:29am | ! Report


        • Columnist

          September 14th 2017 @ 9:50am
          Tim Gore said | September 14th 2017 @ 9:50am | ! Report

          Was in the running.

          • September 14th 2017 @ 2:53pm
            matth said | September 14th 2017 @ 2:53pm | ! Report

            In one of my favourite lines, I think it was part of the rugby league week players poll one year. A player responded to the hardest player to tackle section with Petero. He described him as completely made of bone and tackling him was like tackling a bag of spanners. The perfect description I thought.

        • September 14th 2017 @ 3:27pm
          Big Will TBU said | September 14th 2017 @ 3:27pm | ! Report

          Petero is a must – and Brisbane won’t win one until they recruit two front rowers the calibre of Petero and Webke.

      • September 14th 2017 @ 10:55am
        JohnB said | September 14th 2017 @ 10:55am | ! Report

        Lazarus maybe? Depends how you count 18 years – given he retired after the 1999 GF that’s just within 18 years of now. But maybe it’s meant to be from 2000 on, which would rule him out.

        • Columnist

          September 14th 2017 @ 11:15am
          Tim Gore said | September 14th 2017 @ 11:15am | ! Report

          Yes if we were covering outside NRL. While he played 98 and 99 he was past his best.

    • September 14th 2017 @ 7:54am
      Wild Eagle said | September 14th 2017 @ 7:54am | ! Report

      On you tube I saw Morley rate Tallis as his toughest opponent.

      He’s not someone who will feature on this list or ever be considered but Soloman Haumono at Manly in his early period in first grade was just something else.

      He hit so hard and cleanly that it was scary. I reckon he could have been top dog in the NRL if he had his head screwed on.

      I remember Dan Staines from Cronulla ( a black belt in Karate ) picking a fight with him. Sol .H tried to walk away several times but when he stopped walking Staines was in huge trouble.

      I remember Mathew Ridge from Manly race over to rescue Staines from something horrible.

      • Roar Rookie

        September 14th 2017 @ 8:38am
        Hard Yards said | September 14th 2017 @ 8:38am | ! Report

        Gee I remember Haumono at Brookie back then. He was a monster. He turned his hand to the Heavyweight division in boxing and won all his matches – with none of them going to a points decision. He turned down Don King when approached to sign up with him.

        He also played for the Dogs. While playing for them he met some English bird who was a TV presenter over there while out in a Sydney nightclub and, without telling anyone including his family, he just packed a bag and flew over there to spend time on the workbench with her. Completely missing in action. I think he played for St George after that.
        He was a Super League Australian rep if my memory serves me well.

        • Roar Guru

          September 14th 2017 @ 8:46am
          Con Scortis said | September 14th 2017 @ 8:46am | ! Report

          Was that “The Pleasure Machine”?

          • Roar Rookie

            September 14th 2017 @ 9:02am
            Hard Yards said | September 14th 2017 @ 9:02am | ! Report

            Yes Con, I think that was her! The Pleasure Machine ! The genius of the tabloids of the time at coming up with a name. Wish I could remember what she looked like.

            • Columnist

              September 14th 2017 @ 9:04am
              Tim Gore said | September 14th 2017 @ 9:04am | ! Report

              It was a waste of great talent for mine. But each to their own!

              • September 14th 2017 @ 10:56am
                JohnB said | September 14th 2017 @ 10:56am | ! Report

                A waste of him or her?

              • Columnist

                September 14th 2017 @ 11:15am
                Tim Gore said | September 14th 2017 @ 11:15am | ! Report

                His. I don’t know much about women…

            • September 14th 2017 @ 9:30am
              DLKN said | September 14th 2017 @ 9:30am | ! Report

              Gabrielle Richens. Let Google show you the way.

              • September 14th 2017 @ 2:55pm
                matth said | September 14th 2017 @ 2:55pm | ! Report

                Wow, he never had a chance did he?

        • September 14th 2017 @ 1:03pm
          Wild Eagle said | September 14th 2017 @ 1:03pm | ! Report

          Leaving Sydney to see the Machine is a myth. It was an excuse to get him out of his contract at the Dogs inspired by Sonny Boy Williams and his similar antics.

          Sorry if I’m wrong Choc Mundine but I’m pretty sure Choc had his finger prints all over it as well. I can’t remember the exact reason but Boxing or Super League contract may have played a role.

          He came back to Manly or the Sea Beagles for a while but said he didn’t want to hurt people anymore and I don’t think he did.

          He missed the 97 GF against the Knights from memory thru a non football injury. He was exactly the player we needed that day as Newcastle finally got on top of the Eagles after losing 13? straight against them.

      • Columnist

        September 14th 2017 @ 9:02am
        Tim Gore said | September 14th 2017 @ 9:02am | ! Report

        Haumono was considered when making this list. Rohan brought him up. Not Dan Stains though.

    • Roar Guru

      September 14th 2017 @ 8:58am
      Nat said | September 14th 2017 @ 8:58am | ! Report

      Good article Tim and Rohan. I can think of quite a few over the that time but then compare them with someone else. So many good ones I’d have to do a top ten but cannot fault these 3. Gallen is a machine. Webke was a brute and Morley was just brutal. Has anyone beat his record for fastest send off yet?

      • Columnist

        September 14th 2017 @ 9:03am
        Tim Gore said | September 14th 2017 @ 9:03am | ! Report

        Now wasn’t Sean Edwards sent off in the opening minute for going high on Brad Clyde in a Test back in the early 90’s?

        • September 14th 2017 @ 9:31am
          DLKN said | September 14th 2017 @ 9:31am | ! Report

          That was Morley.

          • Roar Guru

            September 14th 2017 @ 10:08am
            Nat said | September 14th 2017 @ 10:08am | ! Report

            That’s what I thought. Wasn’t it Sean Edwards who took off Clyde’s head running down the sideline?

            • Columnist

              September 14th 2017 @ 11:16am
              Tim Gore said | September 14th 2017 @ 11:16am | ! Report

              Yeah, that one. I thought it was opening hit up.

            • September 14th 2017 @ 5:26pm
              Adsa said | September 14th 2017 @ 5:26pm | ! Report

              Poms going high in a tackle, was it the half back Andy Gregory that jumped off the ground to put a swinging arm of Sirro ?

              • Columnist

                September 14th 2017 @ 5:34pm
                Tim Gore said | September 14th 2017 @ 5:34pm | ! Report

                What a hard nut Andy Gregory was. Head like a brick with a nose and dreadful haircut…
                Although I probably shouldnae throw stones on that front…

        • September 14th 2017 @ 10:52am
          Gray-Hand said | September 14th 2017 @ 10:52am | ! Report

          Morley also took out Webke with a swinging arm in the opening tackle of a test.

          • September 14th 2017 @ 5:17pm
            Paul said | September 14th 2017 @ 5:17pm | ! Report

            It wasn’t Webcke, it was Robbie Kearns. 12 seconds I believe were on the clock. “Adrian, it’s a bad one…”

    • September 14th 2017 @ 9:14am
      uglykiwi said | September 14th 2017 @ 9:14am | ! Report

      You might as add Rodney Howe in if you add in Gallen.

      • Columnist

        September 14th 2017 @ 11:17am
        Tim Gore said | September 14th 2017 @ 11:17am | ! Report

        Howe just didn’t have the sustained career to put him in this company.

        • September 15th 2017 @ 7:10am
          Gary said | September 15th 2017 @ 7:10am | ! Report

          I think uglykiwi might be referencing the comparison to Howe and Gallen both having faced drug cheating allegations.

        • September 15th 2017 @ 7:15am
          Gary said | September 15th 2017 @ 7:15am | ! Report

          I think uglykiwi was referring to the fact that both Gallen and Howe have faced allegations relating to the use of performance enhancing substances.

    • September 14th 2017 @ 9:53am
      rl said | September 14th 2017 @ 9:53am | ! Report

      great water cooler discussion material Tim! Some great/memorable names have popped up who won’t pass the longevity test, perhaps the most notable being Carl Webb. There was probably a brief moment in time (1-2 years at best) where he was arguably the most feared player in the game. And a stand-out in the Qld Origin packs for his explosiveness.

      I’m intrigued about who your top 3 will be, particularly owing to the 18 year cut off. Maybe Manu “The Beast” Vatuvei for sheer linebreaking power? The dynamic Anthony Watmough? Or Ruben Wiki, a former centre who in addition to being a metre-eater was a fearsome tackler. Or Willie Mason, who seemed to be a combo of the best (and worst) of Spud Carroll, The Chief, and MG with the ability to win or lose a game on his emotions alone. I’m sure I’m overlooking someone obvious.

      And it was interesting this week, in light of the flogging he regularly cops by fans on these pages, that Aaron Woods was voted by his peers in the RLPA team of the year. Presumably the people who have to tackle him or be tackled by him see (and feel) something that we don’t.

      • Columnist

        September 14th 2017 @ 11:18am
        Tim Gore said | September 14th 2017 @ 11:18am | ! Report

        Webb Wike, Watmough and Vatuvei were all in the discussion.
        The others best years really predate the NRL. Although obviously great suggestions.

        • September 14th 2017 @ 12:32pm
          Albo said | September 14th 2017 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

          A few others that come to my mind are those guys that are just “hard” in everything they do / did. Maybe they don’t rate on all the aspects in your rating system , but opponents always know they have played against them by the bruise count on their bodies . Guys you can’t hurt with an iron bar. The likes of Luke O’Donnell, Greg Bird, and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.

          • Roar Rookie

            September 14th 2017 @ 1:27pm
            JOHNY BULLDOG said | September 14th 2017 @ 1:27pm | ! Report

            Gee Dallas Johnson could hit like a truck!

            • September 14th 2017 @ 1:32pm
              DLKN said | September 14th 2017 @ 1:32pm | ! Report

              Indeed. Johnson, Gary Larson, Bryan Niebling, David Boyle and Alan Cann were all the hardest of men.

              • Columnist

                September 14th 2017 @ 2:04pm
                Tim Gore said | September 14th 2017 @ 2:04pm | ! Report

                Kevin Campion too.

              • September 14th 2017 @ 2:32pm
                rl said | September 14th 2017 @ 2:32pm | ! Report

                hard yes, but maybe not ‘powerful’ (when you throw collision and x-factor in the mix as Tim and Rohan have)?

              • September 14th 2017 @ 5:32pm
                Adsa said | September 14th 2017 @ 5:32pm | ! Report

                David ‘Cement’ Gillepsie and Brad Thorn are two hard men that come mind, Dean Pay and Nev Costigan were underrated but always made the ball runner work for his metres.

              • Columnist

                September 14th 2017 @ 5:35pm
                Tim Gore said | September 14th 2017 @ 5:35pm | ! Report

                That’s what Rohan said rl

          • September 14th 2017 @ 2:37pm
            rl said | September 14th 2017 @ 2:37pm | ! Report

            yeah, if JWH doesn’t enter the conversation yet he certainly will in a couple more years (he’s 28 now, and I remember the sort of output you got from the likes of Wiki in his late 20s – early 30s). Absolutely punishing defender – I’ve lost count of the number of times a runner has gone down on his haunches after a JWH hit.

            • Columnist

              September 14th 2017 @ 5:37pm
              Tim Gore said | September 14th 2017 @ 5:37pm | ! Report

              He was positively in the conversation.

    • September 14th 2017 @ 10:28am
      RM said | September 14th 2017 @ 10:28am | ! Report

      I loved Webcke with the power of a thousand suns. After he left, Petero followed soon after down to Penrith, and the Broncos haven’t really had a great front rower ever since. Much less a great front row.

      Perhaps it’s no surprise then that we haven’t won a premiership since his retirement…

      • Columnist

        September 14th 2017 @ 11:19am
        Tim Gore said | September 14th 2017 @ 11:19am | ! Report

        I will never forget that Brahman Bull running towards me. What a sight…

      • September 14th 2017 @ 1:04pm
        Jara W said | September 14th 2017 @ 1:04pm | ! Report

        Might be a bit of a stretch but I think another measure of power, particularly in the modern game, could be the play the ball. Webbie would win that one hands down. You would get a quick and clean play the ball out of him with half the opposition on his back.

        • Columnist

          September 14th 2017 @ 2:04pm
          Tim Gore said | September 14th 2017 @ 2:04pm | ! Report

          Seriously strong man.

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