For all the fancy-pants pin-heads who win the awards, the scurrying little critters in the halves, at fullback and hooker, it’s madmen and meat-axes who win premierships.
Yes, you need speed men to plant the pill over the stripe, to convert power into points. But to own the sheep station you need dogs of war – wild men keen to hit and be hit.
Exhibit A: your National Rugby League competition leaders and co-favourites, South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Watch the Bunnies up close at ANZ Stadium, playing the Bulldogs on a fine, mid-winter afternoon: their man-on-man action is visceral, meaty. It’s Rocky Balboa thumping into slabs of beef in the cool-room. Whack. Thud. Yow!
On TV the game can look… well, not soft, but through the HD screen it can appear sanitised. You don’t feel the hits. You can’t really empathise with the pain. Few who’ve not known the meat-grinder can.
But watch Souths from ground level and you’ll know this: these people don’t tackle so much as belt. Statisticians should record belts.
From the ruck, their forwards push hard backwards, find their mark with the referee, and immediately sort of slingshot themselves back into the fray, keen to damage the Bulldogs anew. It’s heavy, sweat-jolting stuff, and fierce. It’s surprising they don’t hurt themselves more.
And they belted the Dogs 24-6. And sure, Canterbury are poop, but it’s not like they don’t sport several giant, committed belters who grow muscles for money.
At the head of the spear is Sam Burgess, who plundered a game-high 199 metres in 80 high-octane minutes. The man’s a beast, an all-running barrel-chested marauder. Had the Poms given him more than a week to prepare for the Rugby World Cup, he could’ve been very fine indeed, as Brad Thorne was. He just needed to find his place.
But he’s a league man, Sam, custom-built. He and Jason Taumalolo are the prototype ‘middles’ – the No.13s on their back, but they’re effectively Prop No.3.
Souths’ Prop No.1 and Prop No.2 are Sammy’s twin baby brothers, Thomas and George, who tear around like Thing One and Thing Two from the Dr Seuss book I read to my kids 72,082 times. They’re big, athletic, fit, and capable of long and short minutes of tub-thumping grunt. They’re scary, dangerous dudes.
The cardinal and myrtle sport a bevy of quality big units to complement the Burgii Three. Angus Chrichton brings plenty to the party; you very much like the footy of Angus Chrichton. How good does he go, Angus Chrichton? When you can run and tackle and pass, and play like a centre in the second-row, you’re a valuable man, as Nick Politis would tell you.
And this weekend they’ll do it again for 299-game club legend John Sutton. Had a coffee with the man during the week down in Maroubra, the top little Sydney surf ‘burb they call “the ‘bra”.
Johnny wanders the ‘bra, waving at people. He’s been surfing there since he could. His footy form this year’s smokin’. He could – probably should – go around again.
And on the back of all the forwards’ go-forward, hooker Damien Cook, as he was in Origin, is among the most dangerous men middle of the park.
Half an hour into the Bulldogs match, Cook set-up the Bunnies’ second try, when he scooped up the ball one-handed, sniped among the back-peddling pigs, and took off on a scorching long run. The ball found Chrichton, who found Cody Walker, who found Adam Reynolds, who scored a scintillating four-pointer.
Cook would make one line break and four tackle breaks, and looks in the form of his life. He has the big units to thank for it.
Save for the last few weeks, the Dragons have dominated their enemies. Their pack is beefcake best practice. Before their shock loss to Wests Tigers, the NRL’s website listed four big ‘Ins’ – Paul Vaughan, Jack de Belin, Tariq Sims and Tyson Frizell. This is the Dragons’ Fab Four.
Yet the Blues brothers were in Origin hangover mode. And they were out-enthused by the smaller, nippier Tigers, led by born-again vets Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall.
In the Nation’s Capital on Saturday night we wondered afresh: who are these Cowboys and what have they done with the Cowboys? There are largely the same names on the team list that went all-but into 2017. They’re largely the same people who won the job lot in 2015. And yet they play like bad cowboys. Outlaws. They miss Matt Scott more than they can say.
And what does Matt Scott have in common with the players from the teams top of the pops? He’s a big unit! Have you read nothing?
Against Canberra, North Queensland completed at 70 per cent. They didn’t force a drop-out. They didn’t score a point in the second half. And in still, if chilly conditions, the Raiders ran through them like a flood through a village.
Canberra? Their big units are doing the job and sit four points out of the top eight, behind Brisbane. But it’s their pin-heads who haven’t been icing cakes. Sam Williams’ form’s been pretty good. Blake Austin’s looked electric off the bench.
But when your forwards lay a platform for 12-, 16- and 18-point leads, and you can’t win from there, it’s the backs’ fault. Fact.
The Raiders face Cronulla this weekend, followed by five other top-eight teams in their last seven fixtures. Their season remains as dislocated as Jarrod Croker’s knee.
They’re a basket case, but nowt if not entertaining.
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The Sharks have a super pig unit, though their 24-12 victory over Penrith must be taken with so many grams of prime Rhodesian rock salt. The Panthers were missing their main big unit: Reagan Campbell-Gillard.
Oh yes, and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Dylan Edwards, Josh Mansour, Tyrone Peachey, James Maloney and Nathan Cleary. They may have made a difference, also, those backs. But the Panthers have been humming because of rampaging RCG and Viliame Kikau, whom they’ve secured until 2023 – the scary big kid will be a cult figure and icon.
Watch old mate Kikau storm down the left – he’s a bloody beauty. And he’s a big unit. And as I may have intimated, a valuable man.
Big units are an old black. It’s a paradigm of rugby league: you need to fill your squad with as many of these people as you can under the cap. Then feed them the finest meats and make them lift the finest heavy things. And then get them to run as hard as they can at the other mob’s meat-eating weight-lifters.
And repeat. And win. And hear the lamentations of the women.
The pin-heads can keep the prizes.