Leila McKinnon, Channel Nine, NRL.com
At first the mind boggled, but once I realised Peter Sterling’s “excitement machine” countdown was about NRL players with flair, and not something I’d see on “Sex and the City”, I got to thinking. Behind every superstar is a good solid worker, there to do the grunt work. A workhorse to keep attackers at bay, run decoy, and generally allow the team stars to shine. Every team has at least one quiet achiever, but just to stir things up and hopefully generate much heated debate, I’m going to count down my top five.
Workhorse number five of the NRL, in my opinion, is Storm captain Cameron Smith, who’s so ubiquitous on the field I sometimes wonder if he has a clone. Not only is he in the game’s top five scorers, and its second best goal kicker, he’s in the top five for 40/20 kicks, he’s second behind Isaac Luke in the top dummy-half runners, and he’s notched up an impressive 912 tackles this season, four times the average for an NRL player. He was all over Origin I like white on rice, getting in twice as many touches as any other player on the field. Why clone Dolly the sheep when we could all do with a Cameron Smith in our team?
The Newcastle Knights’ Chris Houston has my vote for workhorse number four. The second rower is simply a one man wrecking machine. Houston leads the NRL for the most one-on-one tackles, a massive 16 ahead of the next placed, Rooster Jake Friend. Howzo prefers to crunch bones all on his own, stopping even the largest, fastest front rowers in their tracks, and cleverly preventing an off-load at the same time. No one puts his body on the line more than this bloke.
Coming in at number three is NRL Dream Team favourite Corey Parker. He’s the most selected player by virtual club chairmen, and the highest scorer in the virtual game. Scores are based on actual minutes played, tries, conversions, tackles, line-breaks and metres gained. Points are lost for knock-ons, missed tackles, and trips to the sin bin. Parker is Mr Reliable, an all-rounder who’s up among the top goal kickers in the league, and fourth in the league for the number of hit-ups and offloads. The only thing better than having him on your virtual team would be having him in your actual team.
Unless you live in “The Shire” it’s a safe bet you love to hate Paul Gallen, and he gives supporters of rival teams plenty of reasons to dislike him. Despite playing injured for a good portion of the season, the Sharks skipper boasts the highest number of metres run in the NRL with 3670, an average of 186 metres a game. That’s no easy feat with people such as Chris Houston and our top workhorse trying to stop him.
Which brings us to number one, the toughest of them all: Nathan Hindmarsh. He may have started playing in the nineties, but he’s shown once again he’s got what it takes. Hindy leads the NRL’s tackle count with an incredible 1198 this season. He’s one of four players in recorded history to surpass 30,000 career metres. He’s the only player ever to have made 10,000 career tackles.
Sure he doesn’t make as many metres as he once did, peaking in 2001 against the Dragons with 252, but he still outruns men much younger than himself, making 2250 metres this season, more than twice the player average. No one demands as much of Hindy as he does himself, telling NRL.com earlier this month: “You know I would have liked to have done more, I think my attacking game has suffered with the amount of defence I’ve done, but that happens – that’s just the type of player I’ve turned into.”
Honourable mentions to Keith Galloway, Luke Burt, and Shaun Fensom, but I stand by my list. Who are your top NRL workhorses?