Few hookers in the modern game have had the influence on a team such as Danny Buderus did at Newcastle at the turn of the century and the former Knights rake has anointed Canberra's Josh Hodgson as the No.1 No.9 heading towards finals football.
With just one round remaining in the regular season there are plenty of permeations possible as nine teams vie for eight spots and a variety of finishing positions with old foes Cameron Smith and Michael Ennis to go head-to-head in a battle for the minor premiership between the Storm and Sharks on Saturday night.
But in ranking the hookers of the teams in the top eight through 25 rounds Buderus says it is Hodgson who has the greatest impact on the fortunes of his team, with the Raiders a chance of finishing as high as second with a win over the Tigers on Sunday.
"Statistics tell part of a story about the importance of these players, but I thought I would break it down, combining total line-breaks, line-break assists, tries and try assists to come up with a ranking that shows how valuable each player is to his team," Buderus writes in this week's issue of Big League.
"What a year it's been for [Hodgson]. His ability to balance his skill with being a competitor has allowed him to back himself and come up with so many highlights for the Green Machine this season."
Buderus has Storm skipper Smith ranked second behind Hodgson with North Queensland hooker Jake Granville and Penrith's transplanted No.9 Peter Wallace rounding out his top four.
"Smith is consistent every game, every year in his long career," says Buderus.
"His combination with Cooper Cronk, who takes a lot of pressure off his shoulders, allows him to be such an amazing player and to keep raising the standard for everyone else.
"The young Cowboys hooker [Granville] is fast, has a skilful sell-and-deception and is technically sound. With the go-forward and superstar Johnathan Thurston in his team, he's given so many opportunities to do his thing.
"And what a great positional change the move to hooker has been for Wallace's career.
"His calm and experience have been perfect for taking pressure off his young halfback Nathan Cleary."
For Buderus's complete ranking of the top-eight hookers get the Round 26 issue of Big League, on sale now at newsagents and at the ground. Digital version is also available through www.zinio.com, the Apple iTunes Store and Google Play.
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