Monday Morning Halfback: Round 22
A host of new superstar fullbacks are all pressing to be number one, Manly grab momentum by taking the tap instead of the penalty goal, final stages of Provan Summons voting and what rugby league can learn from the Bledisloe Cup.
Fullback production line
The modern era of fullbacks has often been dubbed the best ever as this special crop of players have revolutionised not only the custodian role, but the way the game is played. Billy Slater, Brett Stewart, Greg Inglis, Anthony Minichiello, Josh Dugan, Darius Boyd and Jarryd Hayne have all put their own stamp on the No.1 jersey in recent times.
While the first and most important role of the fullback in any team is to organise the defence, this group of special players have reinvented what it means to wear the No.1. Essentially, the fullback has become a floating five-eighth in attack, with the ability to set up tries with silky hands or break the line wide open on their own with damaging speed, footwork and strength.
But what about the next generation?
Penrith's Matt Moylan (24), Wests Tigers' James Tedesco (22), Canberra's Jack Wighton (22), Roosters' Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (22), Melbourne's Cameron Munster (20) and Manly's Tom Trbojevic (18) are all among an exciting group of youngsters who will be rival superstars for the best part of a decade.
Munster has averaged over 150 running metres since filling in for the injured Billy Slater at Melbourne and scored a hat-trick against the Titans on Sunday. He'll have to bide his time at left centre next year while he waits for Slater to retire. It is the same story for Trbojevic who has more than impressed in Holden Cup and his few chances in first grade, but can't crack Manly's star-studded backline.
Tuivasa-Sheck averages an incredible 234 metres per game and has run over 1500 metres more than the next best in the competition. He'll add a whole new dimension to the Warriors in 2016.
Tedesco leads the tackle break category (135) by a large margin, the next best is Tuivasa-Sheck (108) and Dugan (80).
This is without mentioning Cronulla's new iceman Valentine Holmes (20) who looks a natural fullback in waiting or Roosters' Latrell Mitchell (18) who has already impressed those in the know.
Fair to say, this young crop of fullbacks will push each other to greater heights in the coming years. They are superstars of the future, if not already established in their own right.
Manly tap away
In the opening minutes of Friday night's game, the screams of the Brookvale Oval faithful urged South Sydney to take a shot for goal and the visiting side obliged.
When offered the same opportunity after defending for several minutes at their own end, the Sea Eagles went old school. A roar of approval echoed around the old hill and a few tackles later Manly were vindicated by scoring the opening try of the game. They repeated the dose a few minutes later, again turning down two points to go for more and effectively, the game was over. Once Manly attained the advantage on the scoreboard, they were never troubled by the defending premiers.
It was a loud statement from a team that has been maligned all season: "We are here to play and we're coming to get you". They still have a long way to go to recover from their dreadful start to the season and history tells us that it might be a mountain too high. But for the 15,000 packed onto the hill on a cold Friday night, the decision to take the tap singled confidence and something that has been missing for most of the year.
Young star among the punters
As the Manly first grade team ran onto the field, a familiar face was seen warmly meeting family members and taking his seat on the hard wooden bench seats in front of the Brookvale hill. Earlier he had scored a try in the opening four minutes by beating three defenders and later set up another in the under-20s victory. While the calls grow louder for Tom Trbojevic to get a regular start in first grade, the 18-year-old superstar of the future was happy to sit amongst the punters as his brother Jake scored two tries and – the man keeping him out of the side – Kiwi international Peta Hiku crossed for a hat-trick.
Provan Summons voting
Voting for the fans player of the year is heating up with the contenders whittled down from 400 NRL players to 10 superstars.
The final 10 as chosen by NRL.com fans are: Blake Austin, Cooper Cronk, Cam Smith, Ben Hunt, Greg Inglis, Shaun Johnson, Michael Morgan, Corey Parker, Johnathan Thurston and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
Voting in the second phase is open, with fans to pick their favourite players in a 3, 2, 1 voting system that mirrors the Dally M voting.
The winner will be announced at the Dally M Awards at a gala function during Grand Final week. Previous winners include Ricky Stuart, Laurie Daley, Terry Lamb, Brad Fittler, Andrew Johns, Greg Inglis, Johnathan Thurston, Darren Lockyer and Nathan Hindmarsh.
If there is one thing rugby league can learn from rugby union it is the use of the sin bin. There is a no-nonsense approach from officials and players in this area. During Saturday night's Bledisloe Cup match between the Wallabies and the All Blacks the sin bin was used three times.
When Sekope Kepu prevented the All Blacks from taking a quick tap, the referee didn't hesitate, stating: "You were clearly offside, you made the tackle". That was it, he produced a yellow card and the Wallaby forward left the field no questions asked. No player from either team muttered a single word and the game continued.
It is definitely something rugby league as a game should aspire to. The manner in which players left the field in the Bledisloe Cup after being given 10 minutes in the bin is a great example to all levels of the game. Respect starts at the top and it was great to see.
Just a reminder that Thursday night footy starts this week. Don't forget! It starts with the Cowboys hosting the Rabbitohs at 1300SMILES Stadium. Both teams will be out to prove a point after losing in Round 22. It should be a cracker.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the NRL.