The fullback position has continued to grow in importance in the NRL over the past few years, but it’s set to influence the season even more given recent rule changes and the evolving of the position as a ‘roaming and attacking’ type role in the past 18 months.
Billy Slater has been a wonderful exponent of the roaming fullback role in attack, consistently enjoying try assists for the Storm and Queensland as he pops up in attack and runs off the hip of a tackle busting forward.
Brett Hodgson was probably an early pioneer of this role earlier in the decade, when the skinny Campbelltown junior moved to the Eels and took on the advice of Brian Smith. Hodgson and the Eels had great success, the fullback winning the battle for the No.1 position and forcing Clinton Schifcofske from the club.
Hodgo was relentless, every time his team mates made a break – he would hover and push through in support; many times without result, but he was always there regardless.
In the years the followed, other fullbacks were able to adapt and perfect this method to an even better standard. As mentioned above, Slater is a flawless example of this ‘roaming, attacking fullback’ and the likes of Kurt Gidley, along with Wade McKinnon for the Warriors – who on their days can tear opponents defence to bits in broken play.
Jarryd Hayne has been the most recent to adopt this new age fullback style and as proven in 2009 – the results were astounding. Hayne was extremely unpredictable in attack, would he run, step, pass or kick? Not even teammates knew and this was extremely powerful for the Eels in attack.
This evolving role has certainly not been missed by the man that probably started it all – Brian Smith. The new Roosters coach deciding to use the power of Todd Carney at fullback and to help with the switch of position, Smith called back the man who pioneered it – Brett Hodgson.
Hodgson while back in Australia recently spending time with Carney, explaining the positional stance in defence and how to expliot the licence to roam in attack.
Smith like other smart minds in the game is always trying to get an edge, whether it’s the evolution of faster, more mobile forwards or the positional switch of a key man like Carney. Wayne Bennett is no different, the super coach orchestrating the Lockyer move from fullback to pivot years ago, when many said it was crazy.
While the positions of the 1, 6, 7 and 9 have always been crucial to winning a competition – never has the fullback role had more bearing.
More freedom from the kick rule changes in 2010, fullbacks already have protection in the air when defusing a bomb and they get a rest in defence when one-out plays are happening on tackles 1,2 and 3.
Chances are, if you have an attacking, roaming fullback you’re looking good for a finals birth in 2010.