Fullbacks the No.1 attraction
There are players at every club who just know how to get the crowd on their feet. You can feel the excitement and expectation building around the ground when the ball heads their way. Fans come to see these players - and at the moment, the majority of these stars are wearing the No.1 jersey.
Sydney Roosters veteran skipper Anthony Minichiello continues to defy father time, scoring the first hat-trick of his illustrious 15-year, 277-game career last Saturday which took him to an incredible 500 career points for the Roosters.
The former NSW and Australian rep had never scored a hat-trick among his 125 career tries. Mini racked up 182 powerful meters against the Eels which included three other line breaks and seven tackle breaks.
People were calling for the face of the NRL in 2014 to hang the boots up after the first round, when many said he was no longer up to the standard of the NRL and that he was running on old legs. How quickly that can turn around though? There is even talk of him lining up for his 16th season next year - and with performances like that few could argue why not!
Greg Inglis moved to fullback two seasons ago in what proved to be a master stroke by coach Michael Maguire. Inglis now touches the ball many more times than when he played left centre and that’s what you need from your dominant attacking weapon.
Even when he’s not running the ball in attacking raids, he puts the defensive line in two minds, as they expect him to get it on every play. This allows Souths the opportunity to look for another runner wider out, with Inglis drawing defenders and creating space for guys like Nathan Merritt to have a clear run to the line.
In the season-opening blockbuster against the Roosters, Inglis was at his powerful and destructive best and you could see it in his stats. Inglis was unstoppable at time as he scored three individual tries, racked up an incredible 188 metres with five tackle breaks, all against the best defensive team of 2013.
Manly are a tough footy team with a winning mindset and Brett Stewart’s influence should never be underestimated. It was never as evident as in Round 1 against fierce rivals Melbourne, with ‘Snake’ firing on all cylinders in the first 40 minutes which included an incredible three try assists and another two line breaks.
The Sea Eagles led by 20-4 at half-time before Stewart succumbed to a chronic hamstring injury. What happened next shows his importance to the Northern Beaches side, with the Sea Eagles struggling to score points, giving the Storm precious time with the ball to eventually come back and win the game in the dying moments.
On the other end of the custodian spectrum, some of the young newer breed has started 2014 with a bang.
Anthony Milford was certainly the match-winner for the Raiders against the Knights last Sunday night, with people tending to forget this young man has played less than 20 NRL games and is still eligible to play NYC. To put that into perspective, he was just three years old when Anthony Minichiello made his first grade debut!
He is an extraordinary talent as was shown on the weekend, with his stepping and speeding performance paving the way to a mammoth 204 metres, including three line breaks, one try assist and six tackle breaks.
I was fortunate enough to work with him when he starred for Samoa in the 2013 World Cup and it’s mind-boggling to think how good he could be as he develops and matures.
I really admire the way young West Tigers fullback Jame Tesdeco has fought back from a horrific knee injury in 2012 and he seems to be another young fullback who has benefited tremendously from a trip to the World Cup.
His performances for Italy gave him some much-needed confidence after a solid first full season for the Tigers and he backed it up with a string of performances at the NRL Nines, which had more than a few players and coaches speaking highly of him in the players’ lounge at Eden Park.
After a tough 2013 for everyone at the joint venture, Tedesco has had a boom start to this season. He was very impressive in a beaten team in Round 1 and he was wonderful for the Tigers in their demolition of the Titans last weekend.
He possesses amazing pace, and his incredible performance included two line breaks, a try and a try assist, on his way to amassing 186 metres with a round-high 10 tackle breaks.
It was a classy performance from a young player who will continue to improve in 2014 and he may well be the hope all tigers fans have craved for since Benji Marshall signed with the Auckland Blues mid-way through last season.
There are so many classy fullbacks in the competition that I haven’t even been able to mention previous Dally M winners like Billy Slater, Jarryd Hayne and Ben Barba. The game is in a great state at the moment in terms of high-entertainment players and fans will be the ones benefiting from these attacking fullbacks for years to come.