Stats Insider: A tribute to NRL's retiring heroes
Some players are stats machines… belting out run after run, tackle after tackle. And invariably they are doing even more away from the numbers to help their team across the line any given weekend.
As we near the end of another regular season and the excitement gears up for fans of eight NRL clubs we should also be mindful of the players who will leave our fields in 2012. And it would be remiss not to use this week’s column space to give one of the all-time best workhorses a fitting tribute
Nathan Hindmarsh headlines a bunch of players who will hang up the boots after this Sunday’s clash with the Dragons. His team-mate Luke Burt is another; and Dragons Ben Hornby and Dean Young also say goodbye in the same match. Micheal Luck will give sports writers and editors a break by also calling it quits after the Warriors game against the Raiders (why did his parents go with that spelling of Micheal?); and then there are a few guys hoping to bow out on grand final day, or at worst in the finals, in Petero Civoniceva, Colin Best, Aaron Payne and Scott Geddes.
But first, let’s focus on Nathan Hindmarsh. Did you know up to this point the Eels stalwart – this is his 15th and last season with the one club – has made a staggering 12,150 tackles in the NRL? Some 12,150 times he has put his body on the line for his beloved blue and gold. Over his 329 games this works out to 36.9 tackles a match throughout his career! Truly a phenomenal effort. Not including his debut season in 1998 (when metres gained weren’t included in stats counts) Hindy has run with ball in hand for 32,362 metres. Again, over that 14-year span from 1999 to now, this equates to 103.7 metres a game. NRL forwards use the triple-figure zone as a benchmark so those who have labelled Hindmarsh just a defensive player should stop and take note – he did his share in attack.
Since average minutes per game were collated from 2001 onwards, Hindmarsh has been above 70 minutes a match every season except this one, his last, where he’s still at 66.8 minutes a game. In six of the past 12 seasons he has averaged more than 75 minutes a match – incredible for a forward that gets through his quantity, at his quality.
He has 60 tries to his name, and has only had to face the dreaded ‘nudie run’ once in his career (last season). He has scored a double on seven occasions but never a hat-trick (does anyone dare to dream this weekend?). He’s more likely to punch out 60 tackles, and save a few tries, such has been his way for years.
Hindmarsh also took out the Ken Thornett Medal as the Eels’ best seven times and could easily make that eight this season. He played 23 games for Australia, 17 Origins for New South Wales, a Country Origin game, two NRL All-Stars matches and three games for the Prime Minister’s XIII (plus countless trial games). There are quite a few more tackles and cart ups in there, too!
My favourite Hindmarsh memory: Just his ability to shut down what looked like a certain try by cutting off a speedster, or chasing down a support runner.
Hindy – you will be missed.
Like Hindmarsh, Petero Civoniceva is one of the true legends of the game. With 33 Origins and 45 Tests for his country he deserves a huge send-off. Unless his former club Penrith spoils the party this weekend Civoniceva will have the honour of going out in the finals. Like Hindmarsh, Civoniceva started in 1998 and has been a pillar of strength since. He is also a member of the 300-club with 307 games on his resume and while he may not have made as many tackles as Hindmarsh, his 6792 tally is impressive for a prop. It equates to 22.1 a game over 15 seasons in the engine room and the frontlines of combat. In his past 14 seasons (remember, 1998 didn’t keep tabs on running metres) Civoniceva’s runs totalled 37,372 metres. That’s 130.7 metres a game over that period. Wow! Petero has scored 25 tries in his career, with two doubles, but has had lean pickings in recent times. He faced the ‘nude run’ in 1999 at the Broncos but not again until 2009 and 2010 at the Panthers. He scored twice last season but is on the duck again this year.
My favourite Civoniceva memory: Interviewing Petero in Newcastle one year post-game I saw he was spraying himself with some bizarre substance. Upon closer inspection it was revealed he was using an engine degreaser/lubricant on his knees, ankles, elbows and shoulders. No word of a lie! The big man swore by it at the time… hey – after 307 games who are we to argue?
Luke Burt has been another Eels veteran who may not have reached the heights of Hindmarsh playing for state and country (he did play a game for Country Origin and a few Prime Minister’s XIII matches) but he is one of the game’s most significant point-scorers He is the all-time leading try-scorer for Parramatta with 124, beating out Brett Kenny’s 110 last season. In his 263 games to date he has added 645 goals and five field goals to tally 1791 points, putting him at eighth all-time in rugby league history. And he is the second-highest point-scorer for the Eels behind Mick Cronin. He has three hat-tricks in his career and scored a double on 25 occasions. His best haul was 28 points (twice) which remains an Eels club record for points in a game.
My favourite Burt memory: Call me twisted but my favourite recollection is the moment he’ll always regret. Burt missed a penalty goal in 2010 late in the season against the Wests Tigers that would’ve given the Eels a chance to keep their season alive. It was relatively easy by his standards. I don’t like this because I’m a Tigers fan (I’m not); I like it because it showed his true passion. Burt was a shattered man for hours, even days afterwards. He’s still dirty on himself for not giving Nathan Cayless a better farewell. To me it just showed how much he’s always cared about team-mates and his club.
Ben Hornby has been a loyal servant to the St George Illawarra Dragons since breaking through in 2000. With 272 games under his belt entering this weekend Hornby could’ve tried to push for the big 300 next year but unselfishly called it a day to allow for new blood. Hornby is arguably the most understated hero our game has seen over the past decade. Not many players can claim playing for state and country and even fewer can claim captaining a premiership-winning side… Hornby has done them all. He won the Dragons Medal for season’s best in 2003 and he’ll leave the game as the most-capped Dragons player ever (including those records of St George and Illawarra) – not bad for a thin little tacker from Corrimal.
My favourite Hornby memory: When I was younger Ben came around to my house to assist my father with some rugby league development work. He didn’t look like a future NSW and Australia rep. He didn’t look like a guy who would bring the Dragons a premiership. And not long after he joined the top grade and was steamrolled by Wendell Sailor in a game (who then ran the length of the field to score), I remember telling my old man he wouldn’t even stay in first grade for long. However, my dad saw more in him, no doubt because he’d seen his work ethic. In 2010 when I had my photo taken with Ben and the JJ Giltinan Shield and Telstra Premiership trophies, he smiled and said: “Not bad for a guy who wasn’t going to stay in first grade.” (I guess my old man dobbed me in!) I’ve never been happier to be proven wrong.
Quite frankly it’s a miracle Dean Young, who also bows out this weekend, has lasted as long as he has in first grade. Not because he doesn’t have the talent, skill or passion – he’s got those in bucket-loads – but because his knee is basically shot and has been for some time. For Dean Young to reach 208 games is an incredible case of willpower and out-and-out guts. The number 208 is the most significant stat for him – because his career should have been over years ago. Stats Insider remembers interviewing Young in the pre-season of 2008. Young revealed the extent of his knee problems and it became clear his days were numbered. I’m not ashamed to say the facts of his prognosis did not make the season preview that year – we grew up in the same area, in the same generation and Young made it clear he didn’t want people to feel sorry for him. He didn’t want to sound like he was making excuses. He just wanted to be on the same playing field as everyone else. But what he’s had to endure to do that is ridiculous. He hasn’t trained with the squad for years, instead doing recovery and swimming and whatever he could to ensure he could play. He will leave the game knowing he needs a knee replacement – not a knee reconstruction – a knee replacement. And he won’t run again… ever. But he has a premiership ring and a NSW and Australian jersey. Again… phenomenal. For the record, Young has made 6310 tackles in 208 games throughout 10 seasons at 30.3 a game. He has run for 13,785 metres at 66.3 metres a game. He has scored 20 tries, never scored a double, and has endured two ‘nudie runs’ in his past nine seasons. If he doesn’t score against the Eels this Sunday, he’ll add one more to his tally!
My favourite Young memory: You can’t go past the image of Dean and Craig Young, both in tears, on the field after the Dragons won the 2010 premiership. A priceless moment between two tough-as-nails men who knew the sacrifices it took to be there that day.
Aaron Payne is another one-club man who has always been a solid performer for the Cowboys and who also showed some flashes of brilliance throughout his career: 217 games over 11 seasons with 25 tries and a cheeky field goal to leave him on 101 points. Having been such a clever dummy-half runner it surprises me a little he has scored only 25 tries. He scored a double on two occasions and had three ‘nudie run’ seasons in his 11 years. Payne has made 5494 tackles in his career at 25.3 a match. He became only the third player to reach the milestone of 200 NRL games for the Cowboys and will enter retirement second only to fullback Matt Bowen for games played for the club. He won the Cowboys’ best player award in 2006 and 2008.
My favourite Payne memory: Gorden Tallis wrote a column basically saying Payne’s injury in mid-2009 was a real killer to the Cowboys’ finals hopes. Tallis called Payne ‘the glue that holds the team together’; it was a fitting tribute for a guy who has always played second fiddle to Thurston and Bowen.
Colin Best has been at Cronulla, Hull in England, the Dragons, the Raiders, the Rabbitohs and now back at the Sharks again in a fabulous career. He has played 259 premiership games in the NRL and also played 57 for Hull in the past 15 years – had those games been in Australia he’d be up there in the 300 club. Best has amassed 108 tries (35 in England). He surprised plenty when he returned from Hull with the Dragons and scored 20 tries in 2005, his best ever season haul. He made 29 line-breaks that season in a deadly combination with Mark Gasnier. Best scored four tries in a match for the Raiders against the Bulldogs in 2008, his personal best. He was Dally M Winger of the Year that season. He has scored at least a double on 15 occasions in his NRL career.
My favourite Best memory: The 2005 season, without a doubt. After being a member of the chorus of critics panning Nathan Brown’s decision to bring Best to the Dragons, the flashy speedster wowed the fans all year on the end of the Gasnier flick pass.
Scott Geddes hasn’t had the fanfare career of some but he has been a valued contributor to the South Sydney cause since they re-emerged in the competition in 2002. In 125 games he battled up front despite having a body hammered by injuries. He has just five career tries and hasn’t scored one since 2009. Geddes has always been a very solid defender, rarely missing a tackle he attempts. He has averaged well under a miss a game during the past four seasons, including just 0.2 missed tackles a match this year to lead the props in the NRL. I for one am hoping Geddes gets back into the bunnies’ line-up this season – he deserves a taste of the finals.
My favourite Geddes moment: It wasn’t funny at the time but he can laugh about it now. When out injured in 2003 a small newspaper wrongly reported Geddes’ death when a man of the same name died. Given he wasn’t around the game at the time the news spread quickly before he could set things straight. Of course Geddes was fine and carved out several more seasons.
To the guys I haven’t covered off on who are also calling it a day, congratulations on your wonderful careers. Time to sit back and enjoy our game – without the aches and pains of the weekly recovery sessions!
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