I find it fascinating to look around at the latest batch of young front-rowers coming through and compare them to the days when I was trying to make my way in the NRL.
Back in my day the traditional front-rower was a straight-line sort of player, running hard and trying to get over the game line. These guys have taken that to another level and offer so much more – explosive speed off the mark and sheer athleticism.
They are also ball-players with the ability to get the ball away and play before the line. They don’t just gain momentum for the team but add another element to the attack in promoting the ball. And there are five young guys coming through that I am particularly impressed by:
AARON WOODS (Wests Tigers)
I’ve known about Aaron Woods and what a good player he is for a number of years now. The way he has started this season makes him a standout in regards to the young props going around. He is filling some big shoes and with Keith Galloway out for some time he has really stepped up. His fitness level for a big man is what impresses me most – he is averaging more than 14 runs per match in 47 minutes on the field. His mobility – I’ve played Aaron a few times and he is a big unit that is hard to stop but what I like about him is that he is capable of playing big minutes. That’s not easy with the speed of the game these days and the lateral movement that big men need to have. Aaron has got that covered.
DAVID KLEMMER (Bulldogs)
I’ve only seen a handful of David’s games but talk about big men that can move! He can also play big minutes whereas most big men rely on the interchange to get them through a game. He has shown at under-20s level that he can play 80 minutes without question and as he develops he will adapt that ability to NRL level. At the moment Des Hasler is using him sparingly – he’s averaging less than 30 minutes a game but is still contributing 70 metres and 15 tackles. Just wait until he gets double that game time! It is such a huge positive for any team to not have to sub your big guys off all the time. To be able to keep that momentum going without having to use interchange is a huge bonus.
GEORGE BURGESS (Rabbitohs)
This is a big guy who has impressed a lot this year. The sheer size of the bloke… the last time I played him he came off the bench and caused all sorts of problems but he has gone to another level this year. Incredibly, despite playing just 32 minutes a game so far in 2013 he still ranks as the second best Rabbitohs forward for metres gained (behind big brother Sam) with 109 each week. George has scored a couple of tries already and all of the above goes to show that he is following in Sam’s footsteps. He is an example of size alone being a huge advantage and I expect we will see even bigger things from him at the Rabbitohs than we’re seeing now – and it won’t be long, either.
KANE EVANS (Roosters)
Kane is a guy I saw play for NSW Under-20s and he really impressed. He hasn’t played first grade yet but I can see him being a superstar of the future. Hopefully he gets an opportunity this year. Kane’s sheer speed for a big man is amazing. I remember watching him in the Under-20s State of Origin game last year when he made a break and left everyone for dead. I have been fortunate enough to get to know Kane through the Australian Fijian association and he is keen to play for Fiji – although I think in the coming years we’re going to see him put on that sky blue jersey for NSW and then Australia if he chooses that way. He is fully capable of it.
CALEB TIMU (Broncos)
I’ve kept an eye on Caleb for the past few years in the Broncos system. He is a back-rower that can play prop as well and he was absolutely outstanding in the under-20s last year. He is 19 this year but the Broncos have huge raps on him. When you look at the calibre of forwards in the Broncos team, for him to even be talked about yet is outstanding. He will be a big part of that forward pack in the coming years. He is an explosive ball-runner (14 tackle-breaks, four line-breaks and five tries in three games in the Holden Cup in 2013 so far) and can play back-row as well so he is one to keep an eye out for.