MVPs of 2014: Jamal Idris
As we count down to season 2014, NRL.com identifies 30 players who will be crucial to their team's fortunes this year. From new faces to rising stars to proven performers who will need to lift this season, these are our 'MVPs' for 2014.
If you're looking for reasons why Panthers supremo Phil Gould snapped up Jamal Idris from the Gold Coast Titans this season, this stat is a pretty good one to start with: only once have the Titans lost in the past two seasons when Idris has scored a try.
The key for Idris's new club, of course, is finding a way to get the Auburn-born behemoth more involved and across the white stripe on a more regular basis.
His penchant for carrying some 'puppy fat' and his relaxed demeanour off the field can sometimes be misconstrued as a player not wholly committed to the task at hand, but natural talent only gets you so far; you've got to work hard to play for both New South Wales and Australia.
Stand next to him and you are left in no doubt that at 194 centimetres and 115 kilograms he has all the physical tools required to be a dominant figure in the game yet injury and form and have prevented the 23-year-old from recapturing the type of destructive performances at the Bulldogs that led to his sole Origin appearance in 2010 and Test debut in 2011.
"I had some real concerns about Jamal Idris a couple of months ago," Gould said in his role as Channel Nine commentator during the Titans' Round 9 clash with the Dragons last year. "He was looking very heavy in condition and not all that enthusiastic but I've got to say, the last couple of weeks and again here today, there's a real energy in what he does. He looks fitter, he looks trimmer."
Gould was speaking in the immediate aftermath of an Idris bone-rattler on Dragons prop Dan Hunt that jolted the ball free and earned his side possession just 15 metres out from the opposition tryline.
He'd also made the tackle before on Matt Prior and was moving across from marker when the shot opened up on Hunt.
In a man-of-the-match performance at Mudgee against the lowly Eels in Round 11, it was a play where Idris neither touched the ball nor made a tackle that signified the effort he was putting in for his teammates.
Eels fullback and captain Jarryd Hayne had burst downfield on a 60m run after taking a bomb just short of his goal-line. He raced down the right-hand side as his pursuers gave chase, including Idris who was sprinting across from the other side of the field. He wasn't needed to bring Hayne's run to an end on that occasion but he was the first to get back the 10m and set the Titans' defensive line as Parramatta looked to go on the attack.
In a Round 15 game against the Storm Idris was so effective at the defensive end of the field that two of his tackles were featured in NRL.com's 'Hit of the Week' video package, collectively gaining 43 per cent of the public's vote.
The Titans defeated an under-strength Storm outfit 18-12 in Melbourne that day but just five minutes into their Round 16 cash with Newcastle, Idris's season was over.
A broken leg and dislocated ankle ensured he would play no further part in the 2013 campaign and his teammates suffered four straight losses having won three of their previous four games.
They mounted a spirited run at the back-end of the season that had them within reach of a finals berth but it's hard not to think that the influence of Idris could have been the difference in losses to Penrith, North Queensland and the Warriors.
But the good news for Gould and the Panthers is that Idris has once again been put through some torturous pre-seasons fitness sessions and is ready to make an impact at his new club, where he moved in order to be closer to his NSW-based family.
"Everything's good at the moment and I'm back to 100 per cent. My shoulders have missed hitting people, but they're back," he said in his enigmatic way.
And that should serve as an ominous warning to every player in the NRL, no matter how big they are.