Rugby League has evolved a lot in the last ten years with fitness and athleticism more valuable than anything else. Sometimes a good footballer can take a backrow seat to a highly tuned athlete who can play more minutes, make more tackles and be fit for the following week.
Looking at some of the skill and flair of players like Karmicheal Hunt, with his huge step or Benji’s hop skip and jump – these are certainly crowd favourites.
As much as this is exciting to watch, nothing gets fans more pumped up or vocal than a massive defensive hit. Even todays fans, who see a more policed game and less physical intent – still love to see the big hits and rough stuff come into play. (Who can forget Ray Warren’s famous words “Awwwwww CRUNCH”) – it’s not just heavy hitting in defence – but also brutal front on aggressive attack is also loved by the NRL fans. A Grothe style run where the tackler gets flattened or Carl Webb running like a wild mad man and knocking defenders over like ten pins.
In the Monday night game in Canberra, as Todd Carney stepped the defence and scored his team’s first try – he actually had a teammate push him and tail him over the line. While Carney did well to score a nice try, NRL these days see’s a lot of softer stuff such as team mates pushing and driving in offence to help their own player make ground. Sure, they want to help the team in every play – but really, I would be embarrassed if a team mate had to help push me to gain metres? Imagine big Mark Geyer having Steve Carter PUSH him up the field? No way.
Take for example Anthony Watmough. A very talented player and an asset to Manly who pushes through the line well. Compare this to – Anthony Tupou who will smash, fend and bash his way through the defence and lay on an offload for a team mate. Always intense and exciting and much preferred by the NRL faithful.
Well in Round 5 it seems we may have unearthed a player with the bash and barge of yesteryear. Surely it has to be the Tigers new boy Taniela Tuiaki. His run in the second half taking it up the outside and beating 4 or 5 defenders was inspirational. He was like the incredible hulk as he fended half the Cronulla team off like rag dolls. The roar from the 17,500 Campbelltown fans was proof of its popularity, the way this guy is going – they’ll need an ambulance to cleanup the aftermath of one of his runs. I didn’t expect half the Cronulla team to get up after they were flattened by the runaway train.
Another example is the exciting backs, such as Bowen or Wade McKinnon – these guys have pure speed and quick stepping talent and regularly beat their defenders. When you compare to a Nathan Hindmarsh bash and barge line break, Piggy or Sonny Bill Williams – the heavy, intensive stuff gets the juices of NRL followers flowing.
Guys built like Mack Trucks, Shane Webcke – simply irreplaceable – his loss is being heavily felt by the Broncos as they battle away at the NRL cellar in 2007. And love him or hate him – on his day big Willie Mason has the ability to run over the top of opposite players like a steam roller.
So while the backs are pretty to watch and get the accolades, we all know “the forwards have to lay the platform ” so the bacline can look slick.
Imagine being a player, you have the ball in your hand ready to attack, you look up and two metres in front of you is Rueben Wiki charging at you to take yo down, he has steam coming out of his ears and looks like a wild animal. This is the difference between beautiful backs and heavy hitting forwards. The fear factor!
Now I’d be thinking about staying alive , rather take my chances with a beast such as Wiki.
As we make rule changes and try our best to keep the game clean, exciting and fair – we must never forgot – the game cannot be without ‘Brute Strength’