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When deciding between the great players of our game and the greatest players of all time there is one statistic that sets them apart – rugby league IQ.
While it is difficult to calculate and record, it is no less important than the more measurable statistics such as tackles, run metres and so on.
Rugby league IQ relates to those one percenter plays that decide close games. Not the flashy flick passes that are on highlight reels for weeks on end, but the subtle kick to the corner on the last when your side is ahead by two with a minute left.
Let me give you an example. Benji Marshall versus Johnathan Thurston. This seems like a chalk and cheese comparison for some, and others will call it ridiculous. Why?
Because one is on the verge of immortality and the other has just got his career back on track after several years in limbo.
Comparing these two players, you have Marshall, the flashy all or nothing player that will be remembered for his 2005 Grand Final flick pass to lead the Tigers to victory over the aforementioned Thurston. Marshall is arguably a more skilful half based solely on what he can do with the football in hand.
The Marshall step is something the kids grew up watching week in week out from the mid-2000’s. However, Marshall’s downfall has always been what he does at the end of sets and games (granted he has been far more controlled this season).
Too often did Marschall take the showy option instead of giving the ball back to the opposition and asking them to win the game from their end of the field. If you were to place Marshall on a table between 1 and 10 he would fall somewhere in the middle with regard to rugby league IQ.
Thurston, on the other hand, has built his career on one percenter plays. He just always seems to be where the ball is, whether it be with the run of play or against it. His ability to take control of games with the right last play option is the sole reason why he will become an immortal.
The best example of Thurston’s brilliance was a Monday night game several years ago. Eels fans will no doubt remember the game I’m talking about. Semi Radradra went on a rampage in the first half, putting the Eels ahead by roughly 20.
In most circumstances and against almost any other team in the competition, this would have been enough. However, Thurston came out and played almost the perfect half of football and turned a halftime deficit into a victory.
This is but one example of his complete dominance of the game, relying solely on his ability to read the game and make the right decision. While Marshall would fall into the mid-range, Thurston would score a perfect 10 on the rugby league IQ scale.
While comparing two players may not emphasise how important a high score is to a team or the game, we can look at Origin Two last year. New South Wales went into the halftime break 16-6 up with all the momentum in their favour. Yet they eventually went down 18-16 in the final minutes of the game.
This came down to poor last tackle options and errors. Unlike Thurston and Cooper Cronk (also a 10), the NSW halves combination of Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney failed to control the game. They continually kept the ball in play by failing to find the sideline or running it on the last.
This was NSW’s eventual downfall. They would go on to lose the series despite being one-nil up and having control of the second game.
While there are many factors on a rugby league field, this one that sets teams up for success or failure. The one area where a player can constantly grow, and the reason why it takes time for younger players to find their feet in the NRL.