At the halfway mark of the NRL season, there are few certainties about what we can expect by the time the finals roll around.
The top eight is still seriously in flux, with the four teams occupying places seven through ten all having recorded equal wins; the Raiders have reminded us that a Roosters three-peat is by no means a given; and two of the biggest clubs in the game – the Broncos and Bulldogs – are in a battle to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon, along with perennial battlers the Titans.
Who’ll make the eight? Not sure. Who will win the comp? Couldn’t tell you. Who’ll stumble in dead last? No idea.
But there’s one prediction I am willing to make: I suspect we know the identity of the Dally M Rookie of the Year for season 2020.
Because Bradman Best is playing out of his skin.
Statistics rarely do an outside back true justice, but the teenage centre has chalked up some outrageous numbers this year.
He’s the Knights’ leading try scorer, having bagged six meat pies, which is particularly impressive considering he has only played seven games so far this season, sitting out the first few rounds through injury and missing the trip to North Queensland (which we’ll discuss in a moment).
We also saw evidence on the weekend of his ability to set up a try as well, getting an arm free to deliver a flick pass to his winger, Enari Tuala, that would have made Matt Gidley proud.
Perhaps more impressive than the tries he’s scoring and setting up are the metres he’s making – averaging a whopping 151.8 per match! That has him in the top 40 players in the entire comp for average per game, ahead of such metre-eaters as Moeaki Fotuaika, James Tamou and Tom Burgess.
What’s more, of the seven matches he’s played, he has only failed to crack the 100-metre mark once, in last weekend’s loss to the Eels, when he only managed 92.
A few weeks ago, there was a photo of Bradman’s dad, Roger, in the Daily Telegraph. It was an older snap, from Roger’s time as a professional footy player – he spent a few seasons at Manly before heading to the London Broncos in the English Super League.
The photo of Best senior was like looking at a snap of Bradman with a faded filter applied – no need for a paternity test!
The only major difference is that Roger played his rugby league career primarily as a prop, while Bradman is making his name as a three-quarter. However, the youngster clearly learned a thing or two about playing tough from his old man, because he seems to relish taking early hit-ups and making yardage out of his own end.
He just keeps the legs pumping too – so much so that his average of 62.1 post-contact metres per game is 20th in the entire comp, outstripping Test props Josh Papalii and Paul Vaughan, as well as James Tedesco.
It’s silly to look back on games and wonder what could have been, but I honestly believe the Knights would be two points higher on the ladder if young Best had been on the plane for the match against North Queensland.
Sure, the Cowboys blew Newcastle off the park in the first half, but the away side came home with a wet sail and Best may have been able to help them engineer 12 more points to force golden point.
But, as I say, it’s silly to hypothesise. Best wasn’t there and what happened happened.
As for why he missed the game, it wasn’t another injury but a breach of COVID protocols.
When it was announced Best wasn’t permitted to enter the Knights’ bubble that week, I wondered what he had done. We’ve all seen this movie before, so surely a young man who is starting to make his mark on the NRL scene made the kind of off-the-field error we are all too familiar with – I was hoping, at worst, he’d been photographed propping up the bar at Fanny’s (you can’t tell me that joint’s now called Argyle House, I refuse).
But no. Not even close.
Bradman breached coronavirus protocols by going to his parents’ place on the Central Coast to catch up with his Mum! What’s more, he could surely have got away with it – I doubt his folks were going to dob him in – but he self-reported when he realised he may have misunderstood the rules.
Silly mistake, for sure. But on the list of dumb things footy players have done, an 18-year-old who just wanted a cuddle from his Mum – who he hadn’t been allowed to visit for six weeks – doesn’t even register, especially when he had the integrity to admit his error and wear the consequences.
I wish he’d played, but I think I love him more as a result of the incident!
It was also a shame Best didn’t get a crack at the Cowboys because it would have been a wonderful opportunity to compare him with fellow teen sensation Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow.
Tabuai-Fidow scored the first of what will surely be many tries over his career that afternoon against Newcastle, although it was his freakish effort against the Panthers on Sunday that will be making highlight reels for years to come.
Add in the likes of Penrith’s four-try-on-debut rookie Charlie Staines, to say nothing of the amazing year Harry Grant is having – the Tiger cub would probably be rookie of the year if not for the fact I suspect he’ll take home the major gong instead – and the NRL has got a bumper crop coming through.
But then, that’s always the case. A lot of talented young humans play the greatest game of all.
Still, it’s nice when one of the genuine superstars is lacing up his boots for your club. Even better when they seem like a decent human. Best when their first name is Bradman.
Word is the Knights have him signed on until the end of 2022. If they’re smart, they’ll have started talks about an upgrade and extension already, because Bradman Best is already on the verge of star status – the Hunter club can’t afford to lose him.