Dan Walsh, Staff Writer
In the first of a weekly series of countdowns sure to stir vigorous debate, we name the top 10 interchange weapons in the 2014 Telstra Premiership.
1. Martin Taupau
With a last name that rhymes with kapow you can almost see the comic book sound effect bubble each time the recent Kiwi debutant bends, and on more than the odd occasion, breaks the defensive line. Only issue is Taupau has had such an impact off the pine this year that any animator would have to be paid overtime just to keep up with the Tigers big man, as he's been running for an average of 108 metres per game and making 30 tackle busts, behind only North Queensland's Jason Taumalolo (36) and Cronulla's Andrew Fifita (31) for forwards in the NRL.
2. David Klemmer
The word out of Belmore is the addition of a bouncing baby boy to the Klemmer household over the off-season has quietened down the big man, but his performances off the bench for the Dogs register higher on the decibel reader than even a hungry six-month old can muster. Some 95 metres in 14 minutes against the Panthers, 142 metres and three tackle breaks in half an hour against the Storm, 88 metres and three tackle busts in 19 minutes against the Warriors are the type of whirlwind performances that rank Klemmer high up in our bench arsenal – and didn't the big fella look comfortable in his first senior rep jumper out in Dubvegas, getting through 123 metres and 13 tackles?
3. Paul Vaughan
They breed them big down in the nation's capital, and they don't come much bigger than the Green Machine's Vaughan, whose larger than life bursts off the bench have seen the Gungahlin junior play his way into a Country jersey at the weekend and rack up three tries and an average of 129 metres and 24 tackles per game in 2014. Despite tipping the scales at 108 kilos, Vaughan also has some pretty handy dance moves if his fancy footwork against the Storm to score THAT match-winning try
is anything to go by.
4. Chris Heighington
The England veteran (yep, that's right) has told NRL.com he'd rather not be warming the plastic chairs down Cronulla way, but given his numbers coming off the bench it's hard to argue with Peter Sharp keeping him there as the Sharks turn around their slow start to the year. Heighington sits equal tenth in the league for offloads (14) and has averaged 104 metres per game and 23 tackles when he enters the fray typically within the first 20 minutes and more often than not stays there.
5. Jacob Lillyman
It seems almost unfair to lump the Warriors veteran as an impact player, given the big bopper's contribution is more of a slow burn than a bright spark when he takes the field, but his numbers off the bench in the struggling Kiwi side are just too good to ignore. Lillyman, now in his sixth season across the ditch, is churning out the type of form that saw him crack the star-studded Queensland pack for six games between 2006 and 2011, and has run for a total of 1139 metres, a whopping 315 more than the next best Warriors forward Sam Rapira (824m). His average of 150 metres per game in his five matches off the pine is far and away the best in the NRL and comes with a handy 23 tackles a game to boot.
6. Tohu Harris
Versatility, thy name is Tohu Harris. Able to fill in at second row, lock and prop, Harris took to the New Zealand five-eighth spot like a duck to water last week in just his second cap at international level, and it's easy to forget the shaggy-haired utility has barely more than a season of first grade under his belt, such is his composure at the top level. The 22-year-old won the Storm's rookie of the year award last year and offers a dynamic counterpoint for Melbourne's left-edge attack whenever he gets thrown into the fray, as well as a dependable 23 tackles per game.
7. Mitch Aubusson
Roosters teammates are quick to sing the praises of a man they believe doesn't get the plaudits he deserves, but you get the feeling that amongst the superstars at Bondi 'Aubo' is happy to rip in for his 24 average tackles a game and incisive ball running off Mitchell Pearce's hip and be on his way. Closing in on 150 first grade games, the Ballina product is the Roosters safety net, filling in for big names Sonny Bill Williams and Shaun Kenny-Dowall with aplomb when needed, evidenced in the two tries and four line breaks he's quietly racked up for the premiers this year.
8. Paul Carter
Whenever the 21-year-old Carter goes near the ball commentators can't help but compare him to his old man Steve, the most-capped Panther of all time, but Paul is well on the way to carving out a name of his own, with the livewire utility turning in some impressive performances off the bench for the Titans this year. Carter adds another dimension to the Titans attack out of dummy-half, having laid on two tries, got away 12 offloads (equal 12th in the NRL) and run for 335 metres from acting half in his limited game time, though his 21 missed tackles does suggest he needs to tighten his work in defence.
9. Daly Cherry-Evans
When picking a utility on the bench at rep level there's always the inherent risk they won't get much of a run, and with elite stars Johnathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith actively avoiding the trainer for fear of being spelled in the trans-Tasman Test, it's hard not to argue with Tim Sheens' decision to leave Manly's Daly Cherry-Evans unused for all but eight minutes. But on sheer weight of potential alone, as well as some handy performances in that other maroon jumper of his, Cherry-Evans sneaks into our list of the game's best interchange weapons. Let's just say it's a fair old side that can keep a bloke who set up seven tries against the Raiders up their sleeve for a rainy day.
10. Mike Cooper
The latest in the wave of British imports to take to our sunny shores, Cooper has quietly been making his mark for the Dragons with a series of robust displays off the Red V’s bench. The former Warrington forward's 87 running metres per game ranks behind only NSW rep Trent Merrin and club captain Ben Creagh for the Dragons, while his 27 tackles a game are equally impressive for a bloke who admits he is still coming to terms with the pace of the NRL.