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For & Against: Payne Haas is the game's No.1 prop

Fullbacks and halfbacks get the headlines but without a champion front-rower, the men in the No.1 and No.7 jerseys find it very difficult to have an impact, let alone dominate a game.

Just as the NRL is blessed with a stunning array of classy custodians and hotshot halves, so too the men in the engine room have enhanced their reputations in 2021 with Payne Haas, James Fisher-Harris, Daniel Saifiti and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves among those enjoying stellar seasons.

While JFH, Saifiti and JWH are all part of finals-bound teams, Haas has toiled away in a Broncos side that has won just six games all year on top of taking their first-ever wooden spoon in 2020.

Through the carnage of the past two years, Haas has stood like a colossus, churning out huge metres and displaying incredible athleticism for a man his size. 

So is Haas top of the props or does that crown belong to one of the big men headed for the big stage in September?

For & Against - Payne Haas is the NRL's best prop

For - senior journalist Martin Lenehan

When you consider that Broncos behemoth Payne Haas is still just 21, it's scary to think how good this metre-eating machine will be in five years' time.

A winner of the Dally M prop of the year and rookie of the year in his debut season in 2019, Haas now has 60 NRL games to his credit and seven Origins for NSW, where he teamed with Daniel Saifiti and Junior Paulo to help Brad Fittler's men to a 2-1 series win this year.

Haas' impact off the bench was immense, making 132 metres in the series opener and following that up with 105 metres in 32 minutes of game time as the shield was secured in Game Two and another 135 metres from 12 hit-ups in the third match.

Throw in 86 tackles across the three encounters and you get a pretty fair idea of why Haas is such an integral part of the Blues set-up and will be for many years to come.

Things haven't been quite as rosy back in clubland for Haas, where his Brisbane team has floundered for the second season on the trot, winning just six games and conceding a whopping 30 points per game.

Had it not been for the Bulldogs' horror season, a second wooden spoon could well have been on its way to Red Hill after the ignominy of 2020 when they tasted victory just three times and ran last for the first time in their proud 33-year history.

Payne Haas is beyond superlatives

Through all the struggles in Kevin Walters' debut season as coach, Haas has been the one constant, averaging 172 metres per game and busting 68 tackles in 19 appearances.

Remarkably, of the 3271 metres he has gained for his team, 1438 of those have been post-contact, showing just how powerful he is through the legs and how hard he is to get to the ground.

With Haas signed through until the end of 2024, Broncos fans can look forward to many more standout performances like the one he produced against the Sharks in round 16, running for a game-high 219 metres, setting up a try for Ethan Bullemor and peeling off 40 tackles as Brisbane got home 26-18.

When you tip the scales at 117kg and you've busted a gut for 65 minutes to carry your team to just their fourth win of the season, you could be forgiven for clocking off in the final 20 seconds but instead, Haas was chasing back to knock the ball over the dead-ball line to deny the Sharks a late try. 

Payne Haas is everywhere

As Sharks flyer Sione Katoa sets off down the right-hand side, Haas summons one last effort and runs 60 metres to be there when a grubber is sent back towards the posts and Will Kennedy looks like being first there to score, slapping it into the crowd and letting out a scream of delight.

"Particularly in the 80th minute, Payne Haas showing up to knock the ball dead. It was typical Payne," coach Walters said post-match.

"I believe that playing for NSW has really helped Payne – being in that winning environment you come out of your shell a bit more."

"I’ve just noticed in him since he has been in that side, he has come back really confident. He’s a great guy to have at our club and we’re very fortunate to have him."

Indeed you are, Kevvy, and next year you'll have Adam Reynolds and Kurt Capewell joining forces with the big bloke to ensure Suncorp Stadum is rocking and on the door of the finals you'll be knocking.

Is Payne Haas the best prop in the NRL?

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Against - Paul Zalunardo

The voices labelling Payne Haas the best front-rower in the NRL are growing but how much of that is due to him being the standout in a team that doesn't boast the depth of talent of teams preparing for the finals. 

It’s indisputable that Haas is in the upper echelon of NRL props, but the likes of James Fisher-Harris, Daniel Saifiti and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves have at least matched it with the Broncos giant this year. 

It’s in the intangibles such as leadership where some of the more experienced props in the game still have an edge over Haas. 

Right now Haas is a superb player but not yet a great on-field leader. 

In his defence, the other players in this list weren’t anywhere near as advanced as Haas is in all aspects of the game at 21 years of age. 

While it’s not the be-all, and end-all, the metres props make do provide a great indication of their value across a season. 

Every try from Round 24

Haas leads the way among those considered to be in the upper echelon of props with an average of 172m per game. That’s a handful of metres ahead of Fisher-Harris, with David Klemmer and Warriors big man Addin Fonua-Blake also above 160m. 

Saifiti, Waerea-Hargreaves, Martin Taupau and Reagan Campbell-Gillard are among those averaging at least 140m each week. That’s pretty good. 

While he has still been strong, to see Maroons and Australia prop Josh Papalii back on 130m per game provides an indication that this hasn’t been his best season.  

Another aspect almost important as gaining ground is the ability of a prop to lead a team. 

In this department, JWH and Saifiti are top of the pops. While Saifiti has turned into the undoubted leader of the Knights, the manner in which Waerea-Hargreaves has both inspired and led the heavily-depleted Roosters in 2021 has been superb. 

He isn’t the official captain, but when times are tough it is clear to see who serves as the great motivator for the Tricolours. 

That has been worth more to the Roosters this year than another 20m of ball running each week. 

Despite everything that Saifiti and Waerea-Hargreaves have offered, Fisher-Harris has probably been the one to make the loudest statement that he’s been the best front-rower in 2021. 

Fisher-Harris is unstoppable

His numbers are great, the Panthers pack look up to him and perhaps most importantly, he always stands out in a side laden with talented forwards. 

On the back of his individual numbers, Haas will probably land a few of the 2021 awards, but when the entirety of the worth of a front-rower is weighed up, a select few seasoned campaigners remain a little more valuable. 

They do for now, but that won’t be for long.  


The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.

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