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Standing tall: Why little blokes rule in rugby league

They are pint-sized but powerful forces at their respective clubs.

You've just gotta love the little guys in the NRL these days.

Whether it's Ryan Papenhuyzen slipping through tackles, Adam Reynolds' pinpoint kicks to the corners, Luke Keary putting a teammate through a hole, Kurt Mann moving seamlessly from play maker to hooker, or Jamal Fogarty picking up a loose ball and racing 90 metres to score, these guys are small but they're very good.

All of them weigh less than 90kg and none of them is much higher than 180cm.

Rugby League has always had vertically challenged players.

But in the increased speed, size and intensity of players in the game in 2020, it's refreshing to find there's still a place for the 77kg frame of Fogarty or the 80kg of prime fullback in Papenhuyzen.

Keary weighs in at 85kg but in 11 games this year he's offered Roosters teammates 11 try assists, 8 line break assists and scored five tries himself.

Roosters maestro Luke Keary.
Roosters maestro Luke Keary. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

He seems to be everywhere on the park and all his touches and instincts are quality.

"For a little man he plays big," coach Trent Robinson told Fox Sport's 'NRL 360' this week.

Perhaps shorter in stature means they can be more sneaky in and around the ruck as bigger players tire.

"I think it's been a good transition," said Reynolds of the faster 'six-again' era.

"The big boys get a bit fatigued at times and allow for the little men to get into the game and take their opportunities. It works hand in hand either way."

Rabbitohs halfback Adam Reynolds.
Rabbitohs halfback Adam Reynolds. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

Of course the downside is having every generously-proportioned forward spot you in the line and run straight at you because of your size.

"I don't mind a bit of defence," said Reynolds, who's made 171 tackles in 11 matches.

"It's definitely faster, the six-again call puts a bit of fatigue into the defence and that's where you can exploit and try to take advantage of the opposition."

Geoff Toovey, the former Manly Sea Eagles dynamo at halfback and hooker, still has the scars all over his eyebrows, ears and forehead from being clipped as he tried to duck under the swinging arms of defenders.

"I always found myself the perfect height for elbows and knees," Toovey told

"It was more wild and woolly back in those days, but in saying that with the change in tackling style today in wrapping blokes up, it's very hard for little blokes to do that now.

"But I still think the smaller blokes are showing incredible strength and adaptability in the competition now. The new rules probably help them out a bit.

Former Manly skipper Geoff Toovey.
Former Manly skipper Geoff Toovey. ©NRL Photos

"And if they (NRL) did – which I don't see happening – reduce the interchange then that will help the smaller guy, or the more fit guy, once again," Toovey said.

So how did he survive 286 games in first grade?

Alan Tongue, the ginger-haired whipper snipper for the Raiders in over 200 games, spoke about being among the smallest on the park in his recent Legends Q&A interview.

"Size is what it is. I was determined and I think if you've got that desire and determination, that's worth 10 kilos alone," Tongue said.

"That's what I keep telling myself anyway."

Toovey agrees with the theory of being well in control of your own thinking and outlook.

Titans playmaker Jamal Fogarty.
Titans playmaker Jamal Fogarty. ©NRL Photos

"I always found that size is a mindset – of course it comes down to a certain physical base because you can't deny physics – other than that, it's in your own mind," he said.

"It's about not letting someone beat you in the contest. Whether that's better preparation, being more attuned to what you need to do in a game to use your size as an advantage."

Titans halfback Fogarty subscribes to that theory.

"As a little fellow I just keep lifting my weights and keep sticking to all the good foods that I can to get the body right," he said.

"I'm obviously a lot smaller than some of the bigger guys. But I'll keep taking my medicine, keep getting in front of the big fellas, and keep turning up for the team."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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