Top five forward packs in the NRL
Ask any footballer and they'll tell you that forwards win matches – the backs just decide by how much. With that in mind, the NRL.com team put their heads together to come up with the best five packs in the NRL heading into the 2017 Telstra Premiership season.
Starting pack: Jacob Lillyman, Ben Matulino, Ryan Hoffman, Bodene Thompson, Simon Mannering
A mix of hardened State of Origin players and Kiwi internationals ensures the Warriors have a formidable forward pack. Jacob Lillyman and Ben Matulino continue to get better and provide the grunt work up front, while Ryan Hoffman and Simon Mannering provide plenty of experience, guidance and poise in the middle of the field. It isn't the biggest forward pack the club has produced, but it might just be one of the hardest working.
Starting pack: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Dylan Napa, Boyd Cordner, Mitchell Aubusson, Isaac Liu
The Roosters have one of the most intimidating packs in the Telstra Premiership. Firebrands Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Dylan Napa certainly provide plenty of punch both with and without the ball, while Boyd Cordner is just about the best second-rower in the game. With the versatile and highly underrated Mitch Aubusson and Isaac Liu, the Roosters have a pack to be reckoned with.
Starting pack: James Graham, Aiden Tolman, Josh Jackson, Greg Eastwood, David Klemmer
The Bulldogs have one of the biggest packs going around, but their huge workrate is the feature of their play. Starting props Aiden Tolman and skipper James Graham – who has claims to being one of the best in the world in his position – are relentless. Sam Kasiano off the bench is one of the biggest players in the game but also one of the most skilful big men you'll ever see, with soft hands and great vision. Blues forward Josh Jackson is one of the best back-rowers in the NRL, while Kiwi international lock Greg Eastwood doesn't get the plaudits he deserves. They get criticised for playing too much in the forwards at times, but you can't blame the pack for that – it's their strength.
Starting pack: Junior Paulo, Shannon Boyd, Josh Papalii, Elliott Whitehead, Sia Soliola
The Raiders pack has quickly evolved into one of the best in the competition. In Junior Paulo and Shannon Boyd, Canberra have an absolute monster front row that takes plenty of stopping. Josh Papalii continues to improve and is one of the more damaging ball runners (and big hitters) in the NRL, while Elliott Whitehead is one of the better ball playing forwards in the game today. Add the hard-working Sia Soliola into the mix and you have a forward pack that has all bases covered – providing ample opportunities for their electric backline. The fact that New Zealand international Joe Tapine cannot force his way into the starting line-up and fan favourite Shaun Fensom can't even make the bench shows the depth of the Green Machine's pack.
Starting pack: Andrew Fifita, Matt Prior, Luke Lewis, Wade Graham, Paul Gallen
Cronulla have long built their game around a take-no-prisoners forward pack, and in 2016 they went the whole way to premiership glory. They have incredible depth with Tony Williams, Jayson Bukuya, Chris Heighington and Sam Tagataese unable to force their way into the starting line-up. Matt Prior is the traditional, no-nonsense prop, while Andrew Fifita is a one-man wrecking ball capable of ripping teams apart by himself – as seen with his destructive grand final try. In the back row, they are blessed with three hard-working forwards, all capable of ball playing and creating second-phase opportunities. Paul Gallen offloads at will, Wade Graham has spent plenty of time in the halves, while Luke Lewis is arguably one of the best hole-runners in the game. Put these things all together and the Sharks have arguably the best pack in the competition.