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Masters of the Air: The NRL’s ten best acrobatic tries featuring GI, Folau, Young ... and a prop

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23rd January, 2024
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Rugby league used be about a player’s ability to rise to the occasion, but more in the emotional sense than the physical.

Now, however, the elite player needs to be an acrobat as well as an animal, with more spectacular airborne tries scored than ever before.

We’ve always loved a kick to the corner for a salmon-like winger, but since key rule changes in the late 2000s that made the corner post fair game, we’ve seen a rise in high-flying putdowns, too, with the likes of Dominic Young, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Selwyn Cobbo able to wow fans on the regular with seemingly impossible tries at the corner.

With that in mind, we’ve thrown together a list of our favourites, taking in the new, the old and the impossibly spectacular.

10 – Murray Taulagi, Cowboys v Tigers, 2022

Not all great flying wingers are doing it for themselves. Magic Round 2022 was almost done, with the Cowboys and Tigers scheduled for late on Sunday afternoon at a time when most attendees were either too drunk or had already left, anticipating that Wests might cop a battering.

They did, but not before one of the best assists you’ll ever see.

North Queensland winger Murray Taulagi looked likely to attempt the stock standard acrobatic diver at the corner, but opted late to go for the barge on Tigers halfback Jackson Hastings.

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Hit with force by the tackler, Taulagi looked all set for the touchline, but took to the air to give himself time and space over the line to swing the most unlikely of offloads back infield, where Scott Drinkwater, as surprised as anyone inside Suncorp Stadium, was able to catch and score.

Hastings couldn’t believe what happened. Neither, really, could Taulagi. Or anyone else.

9 – Cameron Munster, QLD v NSW, 2023

We can’t leave this without mentioning Lindsay Collins, not least because it was so unlikely.

In what is not our first State v State, Mate v Mate example, the Queensland front rower put a full stop on their victory in Game 1 of Origin in 2023 by rising high above clubmate James Tedesco to win a ball that he had no right to reach.

The prop not only got to the ball, but then had the presence of mind to offload within a split second to put his half, Cam Munster, over the line.

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8 – Nathan Ross, Knights v Bulldogs, 2017

The change of rules to take the corner flag out of the occasion could have been invented for Nathan Ross.

He managed 23 tries in 60 appearances for the Knights in the mid-2010s, and we’re willing to bet that a serious proportion of them would have been eligible for this list.

It’s hard to pick a favourite, but seen as we’ll have a Newcastle v the Dragons effort later – spoiler alert – we can ignore the springboard effort he managed against them and instead pick a late career option, from 2017, where the Ross Dog took a kick from Jamie Buhrer, got smashed in midair but rode the challenge to plant the ball down.

7 – Brett Morris, Dragons v Sharks, 2014

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The Morris twins scored 334 NRL tries between them over their illustrious careers, and if you had to pick the best of the bunch, the one that Brett scored against Cronulla in 2014 would come pretty high.

With the clock about to run out on the first half, Gareth Widdop puts in a chip towards the corner that is definitively in the ‘hit and hope’ category. It looks overhit, too, only for his winger to somehow get himself high enough to take the ball and, as he comes down, land it inside the field of play.

In the post-match, Morris said that the contact he received from Sharkies winger Jonathan Wright helped him to get his torso aligned with the touchline – at least proving the point that, even when producing an insane piece of individual skill, the default footy player answer is a variant of ‘full credit to the boys’.

6 – Jordan Atkins, Titans v Cowboys

Jordan Atkins made just 42 appearance for the Titans across four seasons and will not go down in the annals as one of the great wingers.

As long as great debuts and putdowns are discussed, however, the name Atkins will come up.

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His try on debut in 2008 – one of four in what was also the Titans’ first ever game – was a classic, soaring high above Mark Henry to claim a kick from Scott Prince that defied gravity and logic.

Atkins was all but out, but twisted backwards, landed a foot inside the field and kept the other off the deck as he found the floor with the footy.

5 – David Nofoaluma, Tigers v Manly, 2013

Pour one out for David Nofoaluma, spectactularly defenestrated from the Wests Tigers after over 100 tries and close to 200 games this week.

We prefer to remember him at his best, and there can’t have been many tries in that century to match the one he scored at Brookvale Oval in July of 2013.

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It’s the man who ditched him this week, Benji Marshall, with the kick to the corner, but from there on out, it’s all Nofa.

The winger takes the ball midair, high above the post, but is collected by Jorge Taufua in the air. The momentum sends his body well wide of the field, but somehow he contorts himself to land the ball on the only available piece of real estate in the in-goal.

Ray Warren, on the commentary, is, for once, speechless. He wasn’t the only one.

4 – Dominic Young, Knights v Dragons, 2023

Dominic Young might be the best finisher currently playing in the NRL, with a ridiculous combination of height, topline speed and acrobatic ability.

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There’s only one choice among his highlight reel: it was arguably the best ever of the corner post putdown genre of try, and brings everything we want from that sort of score.

It was barely believeable and had a high degree of difficulty, of course, but also included some epic commentary (Andrew Voss, who else?) and an amazing photo captured by the snapper at the corner, complete with Young’s trademark dreadlocks flying everywhere.

3 – David Fusitu’a, Warriors v Storm, 2015

David Fusitu’a got his name in the paper for one of the best tries in NRL history, but it’s not him that we’re here to talk about.

His finish at the corner was pretty decent – The Fuss was one of the best acrobats of the early ear – but the spectacular piece of play to keep the ball alive was the star, with Nathan Friend catching a crossfield kick upside down, backflipped over a Storm defender, before depositing the ball to Sam Tomkins, who got it to Shaun Johnson, who found the winger.

Vossy, on the call, said it might have been the best piece of gymnastics that rugby league has ever seen. He wasn’t wrong.

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2 – Israel Folau, QLD v NSW, 2008

We couldn’t get through a list of the best aerial wingers without a mention of Israel Folau. He could have a top ten of his own, but instead, let’s dedicate the whole thing to his finest hour, leaping high above Anthony Quinn in 2008.

It was State against State and Mate against Mate – Quinn was also at Melbourne at the time – but there was no doubt about who won this one.

Quinn had impressed in Game 1, scoring twice, but was no match for Izzy as the winger bodied him in the air, then spun and planted the ball down for one of the all time great Origin tries.

1 – Mark Gasnier, Kangaroos v Kiwis, 2008

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Wingers do not have to dominate the high-flying stakes, and neither do acrobatic finishes or aerial exploits.

Our winner is both acrobatic, aerial and astonishing – and quite unlike anything else. We can’t look beyond Mark Gasnier in the 2008 Centenary Test, or, at least, the assist that got the ball to him.

That was Greg Inglis, so far over the dead ball line at the SCG that he could have in the Members’ Stand, flying through the air to simultaneously catch and pass beneath himself. Gasnier, as stunned as everyone else, had the easiest task in the world to score the try.

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