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Panthers make hitmen fashionable again

Penrith's Adam Docker (13) has fast become with one of the NRL's best hitters. Copyright: NRL Photos/Robb Cox. Credit: NRL Photos/Robb Cox. Copyright: NRL Photos/Robb Cox.
The game in 2014 would be faster and more exciting than ever, the story went.

These new rules, it was promised, would usher the quick-thinking, little speed demons back into the game and every fan would cheer every line break that led to multiple tries until their voices went hoarse.

While that's undoubtedly occurred, out Penrith way they're embracing it with a balance of the traditional approach: that bruising defence is the cornerstone to winning matches.

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At the Panthers, every James Segeyaro highlight has been supported by a Nigel Plum showstopper. Each Jamie Soward try assist has been matched by an Adam Docker bell-ringer. And for every time Dean Whare freezes an opponent with his feet, he also stops them dead in their tracks with lethal tackling technique.

Who would've thought that in rugby league, advantage would be gained by simply bending your knees, directing your shoulder into someone's lower torso and leaving them on their backs gasping for oxygen?

"I don't know if kids are taught that anymore," Panthers co-captain Peter Wallace told NRL.com.

"We've got a couple of good hitters here, it's definitely helping us."

And by a couple, he's referring to the likes of unheralded types Plum and Docker, both of whom have built their careers more on what they do without the ball rather than with it.

"Teams that catch more than hit [in defence] are a bit more disadvantaged than us with blokes like Plummy and Docker that actually do tackle and tackle hard," Wallace continued.

"That's where you get your advantage now. If you put a good shot on now, you get a bit more time in the ruck. It's bringing those blokes back in the game. They were lost there for a couple of years."

Plum agreed the new rules were brought in to protect players from getting hurt.

"It's good for player welfare, what the NRL is doing," he said.

"I'm happy with how [the new rules] are going. Obviously they're looking after the players, which they should. It's harder to get the slow play-the-balls with the referees calling 'held' earlier. But when it comes to player welfare, it's paramount."

But the player who used to tackle sheep before his transformation into a footballer said the new laws should also bring back the fans. The headgear-wearing brute has a point: what opposition fan wouldn't want to see the all-conquering Burgess brothers cut in half, which has half a chance of happening at Sportingbet Stadium on Friday night?

"It's always good when a player can come out and tackle like that," he said.

"We've got young Adam Docker who's a good example, and Dean Whare as well. It's good seeing when those boys do it.

"It would be good to see more players in the NRL tackle like that. It'd be more exciting for the fans – I think they'd love it more. I guess it's just the nature of the game. The game's evolved over the years, you've just got to go with it."

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