Matt Parish, NRL.com
It's nearly a quarter of the way through the 2014 season and already we have seen many great tries scored by outside backs. Certainly the days of the winger standing on the outside of a sweeping backline movement and putting the ball over the line for an easy try are gone and we’re now seeing stronger, more athletic players on the edges as teams look to use them as aerial threats and mobile battering rams.
Not only are they dangerous in the air, wingers are now used to gain crucial metres when teams are coming out of their own end, giving forwards valuable time to regroup and set up for the tackles in the middle of a set of six.
Just look at the Roosters in 2013 and the contribution made by their two powerhouse wingers Daniel Tupou and Roger Tuivasa-Scheck, who I believe were the unsung heroes of the Roosters' season. Both these players were overshadowed by the likes of Sonny Bill Williams, Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney as the Tri-colours made their way to the premiership, but their efforts were no doubt noticed by their coach Trent Robinson and their teammates.
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I remember listening to my old coach Warren Ryan last season, whose opinion on wingers obviously hasn’t changed since the 1980s. He commented tongue-in-cheek about how he and his fellow commentator David Morrow could stand outside Steve Matai and Jamie Lyon to score.
While I partly agree playing outside gifted centres certainly helps getting you on the try-scoring sheet, 'Wokka' forgot to mention how tough it can be putting your body on the line going for the corner with some desperate defenders steaming across in cover.
He also forgot to mention the tough carries that the Manly wingers do for the Sea Eagles coming off their own try line. Jorge Taufua provided his team with an average of 175 metres per game last season, along with his 20 tries, while the 'Wolfman' David Williams ran an equally handy 147 metres per game. Impressive stats no matter who you are playing outside of.
Fiji sensation Semi Radradra’s barnstorming 65-metre try against the Broncos last Friday night was like watching the block-busting ‘Guru' Eric Grothe in the 1980s , as he charged through a number of Broncos defenders. Already this season the young Fijian leads the try- scoring list with eight, along with nine line breaks and an average of 119 metres per week.
This influence allows the Eels to play off the back of some quick play-the-balls and gets them on the front foot in attack, allowing players like Chris Sandow and Corey Norman to pick out gaps in a retreating defensive line.
Brett Morris’ acrobatic effort three weeks ago against the Sharks was another spectacular display which we’re being accustomed too in this new era of athletically gifted wingers.
This was no more evident last season when Wests Tigers flyer David Nofoaluma scored a spectacular try which saw him almost upside down when he planted the ball down for the four-pointer.
That play by Morris on its own proves to me that wingers in attack may now be on another planet, as they are now more like incredible leaping contortionists rather than the old school fast and skinny versions of yesteryear.
At the Dragons their wingers take on an incredible workload to compensate for their smaller pack of forwards, allowing the likes of Trent Merrin to get on a roll later in the tackle count. Both Morris (average of 138 metres) and Jason Nightingale (average of 124 metres) do many tough runs getting them moving forward.
Likewise at the Knights, their pair of hard-running rep wingers in Akuila Uate and the under-rated James McManus rack up many metres, with their fearless charges into opposition defensive lines leaving many opposition players scattered on the ground.
While the flying Fijian Uate has scored just three tries this season, he still averages over 133 metres per game with 19 tackle breaks and a further three clean line breaks. McManus on the Knights' left racks up 114 metres per game a further 10 tackle breaks.
At the foot of the mountains, powerhouse charger Josh Mansour is rated second in the NRL for the most metres run per game with a mammoth 170 metres per week. Incredibly he has only played three games so far but has amassed four tries with another four clean line breaks, not to mention a whopping 27 tackle breaks in just three games!
And what about the debut last weekend of young Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, whose two tries in atrocious conditions made the difference.
Broncos recruit Daniel Vidot has been sensational for his team carrying the ball out of his own area this season. Often the powerfully built Vidot can be seen carrying the ball twice in a set of six so his forwards can have a rest.
So no longer are we expecting wingers to turn up to games with a pair of footy boots in one hand and a comb in the other; it’s more likely you'll see them practising their play-the-ball speed rather than their post-try celebrations.