The fear factor and aggression fills teams with confidence when running out with a ‘big dog’ in their pack.
Once the whistle blows it’s the crushing defence. The brutal hit-ups. The massive fend. A quick play the ball, late feet and post-contact metres. The ability to attract many defenders and still get a ball away for second-phase play. These are the traits of a pack leader.
Some of the big dogs from recent history include Steve ‘Blocker’ Roach; the brick with eyes, Glen Lazarus; Bradley Clyde; The Chief, Paul Harragon; Matt ‘Spud’ Carroll; Ian Roberts; Steve Price; the Raging Bull, Gorden Tallis; and Sonny Bill Williams.
Inevitably they were not held in great esteem for only their presence on the field; they also won premierships and had representative duties for their state or country.
The top teams have the best packs, and the biggest of the big dogs always lead a strong pack. In order to answer the question I have decided to assess the current NRL packs according to the 2020 ladder to identify all 16 teams’ big dog.
Parramatta Eels: Nathan Brown
Browny is a high-energy, enthusiastic player who is well known for his aggression. He fires up the pack with his big hits and strong carries. When he arcs up he can change a game. His physical courage is admirable.
Penrith Panthers: James Tamou
Now at the Panthers, Tamou is thriving under coach Ivan Cleary. This season he has been eating up metres with inspiring runs and smashing defence. An international and premiership winner, Tamou is a great addition to the performing Panthers.
Melbourne Storm: Nelson Asofa-Solomona
Nelson is the hard man of the Storm’s current roster. Big Nasty, as he is affectionately known, is over 200 centimetres tall and over 115 kilograms heavy. His massive frame crashes through opposition defences. He is a brutal defender and is only getting better. He played every game in the 2019 season.
Sydney Roosters: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
The two-time premiership-winning Roosters are the benchmark of the competition and Jazza is clearly the big dog in the Roosters pack. At 31 years old and with 227 NRL games under his belt, his presence and experience create an aura of calm in his teammates. Averaging 150 metres per game and with his stinging defence, he’s a professional, and you know what he will bring to the contest.
Newcastle Knights: David Klemmer
Klemmer, now a leader at Newcastle, is teaching the likes of Daniel Saifiti the art of fire and brimstone in the front row. He is a very dangerous ball runner and a master in defence. At 26 he is a seasoned New South Wales and Australia player. He is certainly the Knights’ stand-up man. He never shies away from a forward battle.
South Sydney Rabbitohs: Thomas Burgess
A massive man, Burgess is a very hard body for the opposition to handle. He carries the ball for good metres every game and defends with a lot of steel. An English international, this no-nonsense player is a real confidence-builder when lining up with his teammates. The opportunity to be another dominant Burgess is all his.
Canberra Raiders: Josh Papalii
Lock forward Papalii constantly advances the Raiders down the paddock with his strong carries and powerful leg drive. In the face of battle he mans up. He is a Queensland, Australia and Samoa representative. This brutal beast has an outstanding tackling style and has rattled the ribs of many an opponent.
Wests Tigers: Russell Packer
Packer was once touted by Wayne Bennett as “one tough hombre”. He is an extremely imposing figure on the field and is feared by the opposition. A big. strong man with amazing ability, he frequently bends back the opposition defensive line.
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks: Andrew Fifita
While Paul Gallen was the big dog in the Sharks pack for many a season he has been suitably replaced by Andrew Fifita. When on the park and when on song Fifita takes the tough carries and puts his body in front of the defence. As a hard shape to tackle, he always achieves plenty of post-contact metres.
Manly Warringah Sea Eagles: Marty Taupau
Taupau is a tough opponent. His presence on the field worries the opposition. He is a determined ball runner with a good fend. He can really find the tryline. His stinging defence has put opposition players down for years. Look to Taupau for the mustard.
St George Illawarra Dragons: Tariq Sims
The retirement of James Graham is a loss for the Dragons. Jack de Belin was a strong candidate when on the field, but he isn’t in contention. For the 2020 season look to Tariq. He is a new Dragon, but in the absence of the regulars there are expectations for him to step up and lead the pack.
North Queensland Cowboys: Jason Taumalolo
Jase is a skilled athlete who can rip and tear. He has a big engine and plenty of aggression. Signed to the Cowboys for ten years he is the big dog you can build a pack around. In 2019 he ran for a career-high 311 metres in an outstanding 80-minute performance. Taumalolo can change the momentum of the game.
New Zealand Warriors: Adam Blair
Blair is the Warriors leader and hard man. A seasoned journeyman, he is well loved for his aggression through the middle third. He has a determined willingness to get involved in the tough plays and never takes a backward step.
Brisbane Broncos: Tevita Pangai Jr
Matthew Lodge is certainly a front-rower among men, but Tevita Pangai Jr has now taken the title of big dog for the struggling Broncos. Tevita brings a lot of unbridled aggression and regularly makes the highlight reel with his damaging one-on-one defence and explosive ball running. A real talent, and only 24 years of age.
Gold Coast Titans: Jai Arrow
Arrow has been a fantastic signing for the Titans. The Origin representative is constantly hungry for work when in attack and defence. He is a standout out for the Gold Coast. Jai Arrow is a talented league player with a big future and has signed to the Rabbitohs in 2021.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs: Dylan Napa
While in an underperforming team Napa has stepped up in his carries and his defence. He is a representative forward who can deliver on the big stage. Luke Thompson has also just arrived at Canterbury. The pair are capable of fireworks so some big efforts are required.
NRL forwards hunt as a pack. Every pack has a leader. Who is your big dog?