Nigel Wall,, NRL.com
Last week we ranked the 10 best impact forwards and halves combinations for 2013 – this week we name the 10 blistering outside backs who we believe will run rampant this season.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
In first grade he’s provided star quality at five-eighth, wing and centre – but there’s no question GI’s move to fullback will go down in history as one of the NRL’s coaching masterstrokes.
No player was more forceful at the back than Inglis in 2012 – his average 7.5 tackle-breaks were more than even Bulldogs dynamo Ben Barba.
And after punching out 149 metres on average last season Inglis is already on track for a bigger 2013, with a whopping 161 metres plundered against the Chooks last Thursday. Not to mention three try assists, a line-break assist and a try assist.
Danger sign: With an Inspector Gadget-like extend-a-fend, fast hands and reflexes like Mohamed Ali in his prime, plus an unrivalled left-foot sidestep, Inglis is a coach’s dream – and you can bet Michael Maguire will sleep soundly over the coming months as the 26-year-old continues to deliver.
The Roosters haven’t wanted for power out wide in recent seasons – but they have lacked genuine speed and evasion skills. Michael Jennings will change all that.
Arguably the fastest NRL player from a standing start, Jennings’ presence down the left edge will yield the Roosters plenty of scoring plays. His staccato feet and mesmerising body swerve delivered the Panthers 10 tries and 12 line-breaks in 2012, while his 99 tackle-breaks were the most by any centre. Not bad numbers from a restricted (17 games) and controversial season that saw him enter negotiations to leave the foot of the Blue Mountains.
Danger sign: Okay, in recent times he’s been a rocks-or-diamonds kind of guy – but when Jennings puts his mind to the job he’s unstoppable – like against the Roosters in Round 2 last season, when he scored a double and ran for 216 metres with 11 tackle-breaks; or the Tigers in Round 19, when he left 15 would-be tacklers strewn in his wake en route to 164 metres. If Trent Robinson gets him focussed week in, week out, Jennings will have a banner year.
Some might consider Croker’s inclusion alongside the bigger NRL names a little wide of the mark but coming off a stellar 2012, and with a stronger forward pack and the anticipated return of creative maestro Terry Campese, the Raiders’ goal-kicking centre could again top the competition’s point-scoring list in 2013.
Croker is integral to Canberra’s ability to post points, accumulating an NRL-high 16 tries and 81 goals last season. He has a lightning-quick sidestep and great strength in the tackle – his 16 line-breaks were the second most by any centre behind Josh Morris, while his 92 tackle-breaks were third most by a three-quarter.
Is Croker capable of superstar status? He is if he replicates his performance against the Tigers from Round 4 last year more often: he scored two tries, ran 241 metres and made 12 tackle-breaks!
Danger sign: Any time Croker gets quick, clean ball in space and with depth inside 30 metres of the opposition try line he’ll pose a huge threat – particularly with any of the speedy Josh Dugan, Edrick Lee or Jack Wighton also on hand.
Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin is depending on evergreen veteran Hodges to provide the side with the spark it so desperately needs to overturn their alarming form slump.
At his best there isn’t a more penetrative runner of the Steeden from dummy-half on the edges – last season Hodges’ 133 scoots were the most by any backline player and ranked third overall behind the prolific Issac Luke.
He’ll be called on to match his 140 metres a game last season and really deliver in the creativity stakes – and judging by his efforts in a beaten team last weekend, when he carved out 150 metres, laid on two tries for team-mates Matt Gillett and Lachlan Maranta as well as two line-break assists, Hodges is up to the task.
Danger sign: Hodges’ right-foot sidestep jolts like a rollercoaster rounding an acute-angle bend, while his ability to keep the momentum flowing will see the Broncos piece together plenty of end-to-end plays. Last season the 30-year-old managed 50 offloads – 14 more than the next mark by a centre.
Manly Sea Eagles
The Manly co-captain is perhaps the most understated impact player in the premiership, going about his business with chilling calm but red-hot efficiency.
Lyon’s biggest asset is his ability to draw on a gamut of skills on the right edge of the field, either standing up an opponent and sneaking around his outside, or feigning to pass to a support before jinking through the line.
Lyon has a wonderful ability to keep the ball alive and set up his inside and outside men – last season he helped more team-mates to the try line than any other centre in the league (18) while his 15 line-break assists were similarly unrivalled in his position.
Danger sign: Not many players can offer multiple try assists multiple times in a season – Lyon did so three times in 2012. And his value to the team was never more evident than when he notched three line-break assists in their win over the Rabbitohs in Round 23.
He may have had a moderate 2012 season by his standards but there’s no doubt that when he’s on song there are few more exciting sights in rugby league than the powerful Fijian in full flight.
And with a massive vote of confidence from coach Wayne Bennett via a new four-year extension deal at the Knights, Uate looks destined to catapult back to the devastating form he displayed in 2011 when he was the NRL’s tearaway broken-field runner with a whopping 150 tackle-breaks to his name.
Uate finished with 18 tries on Newcastle’s right wing last year, along with 25 line-breaks – two adrift of Ben Barba’s competition-high 27 busts but gathered from five fewer matches.
Danger sign: Uate derives enormous power from a piston-like leg action that will see him burst through a defence despite being seemingly collared. And he has exquisite balance; he’ll size up the opposition, stepping repeatedly from left foot to right, searching for a lapse in focus – then put the pedal to the metal and be off and gone.
St George Illawarra Dragons
If the under-siege Dragons advance to the finals you can bet fans will look back and offer huge thanks to strike weapon Brett Morris.
Morris’s blinding and sustained speed and uncanny evasion skills have embarrassed the best defences over the past few years – even when it looks like he’s been contained he will slip out of a tackler’s grasp as though his legs were coated in melted butter.
Last season he covered more ground over football fields than any other player in the NRL – a whopping 3750 metres at an average of 161 a game. Plus he scored 14 tries and made 17 line-breaks.
Danger sign: Morris carries a double-edged sword into battle: not only is he a gifted ball-runner but his tremendous upper body strength makes him a lethal offloading threat. Even when stopped by a swarm of cover defenders close to the try line ‘B-Moz’ remains a better than even-money chance of keeping the play going. In 2012, splitting his time between wing and fullback, he tallied 35 offloads – equal with Ben Barba in the fullback stakes and a number way ahead of all other wingers.
The 20-year-old Fijian was an immediate success in the NRL last season and given Lote Tuqiri’s ongoing injury problems, he looms as the new X-factor on the Tigers’ left edge.
In just six NRL appearances Koroibete has seven tries to his name, as well as a whopping 32 tackle-breaks – that’s an average right up there with the best in the premiership.
Factoring in the attacking skills of left centre Chris Lawrence, fullback Tim Moltzen and halves Jacob Marshall and Benji Marshall, we can see the tall, speedy Koroibete generating plenty of newsprint as the Tigers push hard for a return to the finals.
Danger sign: Koroibete appears an instinctive ball-runner who won’t be confined to focussing on sprinting down the left sideline. We can see his pace and high-stepping action testing centre-field defences running angles back through the middle third of the park.
North Queensland Cowboys
He may be embarking on his thirteenth season in the top grade but if last year’s performances are anything to go by the jack-in-the-box fullback still has plenty to offer the Cowboys as they push hard for their maiden premiership title.
The return of blockbusting back-rower Tariq Sims on the left edge, coupled with the continued development of burly Jason Taumalolo on the right edge, should free up the 31-year-old (he celebrated his birthday with a win over the Bulldogs last Saturday) to inject himself into the action selectively.
Bowen is at his best when trailing the action looking for opportunities – he led all players in support play in 2012 with 162 individual back-up receives.
Danger sign: Bowen will pose a threat backing up a team-mate or chiming into the backline on wide sweeps, where he’ll often deliver the knockout punch – his 27 try assists last year were the third most in the league and the top number by a fullback. He already has one to his name after their Round 1 win over the Bulldogs.
The ‘Hayne Plane’ is back! If Saturday night’s flogging of the Warriors, in which Hayne scored three tries and ran for 171 metres, is any indication then the Parramatta fullback could be destined for his best season yet.
In past years Hayne has had to do it all himself – not that he’s complained. Apart from dotting the Steeden over the try line he has been the player who has created the breaks and the tries. In 2011 he compiled a staggering 24 try assists and 23 line-break assists. He kept his averages throughout an injury-plagued 2012 season (12 line-break assists and try assists in just 12 outings).
Now, with a rejuvenated Chris Sandow set to draw more heat from oppositions, Hayne could be freed up to deliver selectively rather than every time he handles the Steeden – which will only make him more dangerous.
Danger sign: When he’s not grasping the football you know he’ll be scheming for an opportunity as a support player lingering around the centre of the ruck. And when he chimes in on either flank, look out for his trademark, no-look cut-out pass to his winger.