By far the worst thing to happen to the glorious craft of sports journalism in my lifetime is the reliance on statistics to describe a player’s effectiveness.
Like the 99 premierships that came before it, the 2007 campaign introduced a new generation of players that went on to entertain, enthral and enrage us.
The class of 2007 boasts a big, blue-collar forward pack, three-quarters coming out of their ears (strange, given the paucity of wingers and centres in many other rookie cup sides of this era), and a maligned spine that achieved more on the field than many would give them credit for… even if some of their off-field activities deserved our ire.
Fullback: Israel Folau
With strict social media clauses inserted in his contract, Israel Folau is the first man picked.
It’s extraordinary the Storm rookie squeezed so much — two grand finals, a World Cup decider, three triumphant Origin series — into such a short NRL stint, which ended at the ripe old age of 21.
Wingers: Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Jason Nightingale
Kiwi pair Shaun Kenny-Dowall (Roosters) and Jason Nightingale (Dragons) team up again for the class of 2007, having combined for more than 500 games and 249 NRL tries.
Fellow ‘07 debutants Denan Kemp and Beau Ryan would’ve made for a more media-savvy partnership, while James McManus and Bryson Goodwin are unlucky to miss.
Centres: Josh Morris and Will Chambers
St George Illawarra first-gamer Josh Morris and Melbourne’s Will Chambers were nearly impossible to split from Penrith product Michael Jennings. But Jennings’ ignominious finish to his career while the other two keep running around settles the argument.
Maroon Dane Nielsen and Kiwis Krisnan Inu and Chase Stanley would’ve contended for a call-up to plenty of rival rookie cup squads, but they’re not in the frame in this race.
Five-eighth: Blake Green
Darrien Doherty, Tyran Smith and Blake Green are the only men to have shuffled through seven NRL clubs.
But surely Green takes out the gold medal for adding not one, but two Super League clubs — Wigan and Hull KR — to his Australian resume, which began at Parra, ended at Newcastle, and took in Cronulla, Canterbury, Melbourne, Manly and the Warriors in between.
Halfback: Mitchell Pearce (captain)
Everyone’s got an opinion on Pearce, and nothing I write will change your mind about New South Wales’ favourite whipping boy. But bad halfbacks don’t play 300 games — especially under the pressure of being chucked into first grade aged 17 with that surname.
Props: Tim Grant and Scott Bolton
Penrith’s Tim Grant and North Queensland’s Scott Bolton form a no-frills front row that’s low on fuss and even lower on interesting tidbits to write about them.
Hooker: Issac Luke
He wobbled when he left Redfern, but at one point when Issac Luke wore the claret and myrtle, he was one of the two best hookers in the game.
And maybe Cameron Smith didn’t appreciate the competition, kicking the Kiwi in the face the year after Luke’s dynamic dummy-half play helped end Souths’ title drought, despite cruelly missing the decider due to suspension.
Manly’s Matt Ballin can count himself unlucky, although years of being stuck behind Smith in the Queensland queue should steel him for non-selection.
Second-rowers: Ben Te’o and Mitchell Aubusson
Ben Te’o — who began at the Wests Tigers before becoming another key cog in the Rabbitohs’ 2014 premiership — links up with the Roosters’ Mr Reliable, Mitchell Aubusson.
Te’o was born in Auckland but represented Samoa and Queensland in rugby league, England and the British and Irish Lions in rugby union, and 15-man clubs in Ireland, England, France and Japan.
If any footballer has accumulated such a cosmopolitan CV without lacing up a professional boot in his homeland, I’d love to read about him in the comments.
Locks: Frank Paul Nu’uausala
Frank Paul the wrecking ball started rolling at the Roosters on Anzac Day in 2007, continuing an Eastern Suburbs flavour flowing throughout this starting 13.
Bench: Ryan Hinchcliffe, Sam Tagataese, Sika Manu, Chris Houston
Melbourne debutants Sika Manu and Sam Tagataese join future Storm charge Ryan Hinchcliffe and Dragon-turned-Knight Chris Houston on a raw-boned bench brimming with Craig Bellamy-esque work ethic.
Coach: Brad Fittler
Freddy’s NRL coaching career didn’t amount to much, but with fellow ‘07 rookie mentors Neil Henry and John Cartwright as his seasoned assistants and plenty of Origin success under his belt, he deserves this gig.
Fun fact: Fittler and his ex-Panthers boss Phil Gould are the only New South Welshman to coach more than one Origin series victory.
Keep Folau off Twitter, Pearce off the grog and Luke off the weekly list of judiciary charges and this team is a playoff fancy, for sure.
Next up, the class of 2008 — a team that begs the question: what could have been?