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Watch out! - Australian Rugby league News
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globalrugbyleague - Tue, 20 Feb 2007 18:14:00 GMT
Injury, particularly in a very physical sport like rugby league, is a fact of life. As a matter of fact, these days, how a team deals with injury is nearly as important a factor in their success or failure over the course of a season as how they deal with opposing attacks and defences. Terms such as “depth”, once only heard in the parlance of American sport, are now de rigueur.

No one wants to see any of their players get injured, but there are those on each team whose health you pray for more than others. And then there are some…well, let’s just say, if you’re a fan of their team, you’d rather your own mother did her cruciate ligament than they did, because without them, you’re stuffed.

Is anyone truly indispensable? Probably not. But here is, in no particular order, a list of the ten guys in the NRL at the moment who are closest to it- fellows the fans hope, wish and pray, don’t fall victim to the dreaded injury bug this year.

Andrew Johns (halfback, Newcastle)
The code’s biggest star and most famous player seems an obvious place to begin. For many, particularly in the Hunter region, Johns is rugby league. The Knights have the seeming heir apparent to Joey, 19 year old Jarrod Mullen, playing outside of him at five-eighth, apparently learning from the great man. Needless to say, they’d prefer the student to be out there with the teacher for as long as possible. And it would spare us the endless going over in the media of Newcastle’s record without Johns, as well.

Darren Lockyer (five-eighth and captain, Brisbane)
What Johns is in the Hunter, Lockyer is north of the Tweed. The undisputed top dog of rugby league in Queensland after Shane Webcke’s departure, the gravelly-voiced Roma Cities junior was Mr. Rugby League last season. Captain of a premiership-winning team? Tick. Captain of an Origin-winning team? Tick. Captain of a Tri-Nations winning team? Tick that too, the man did the trifecta. The Broncos run through him. If he goes down, any chance of back-to-back titles goes with him.

Luke Bailey (prop, co-captain, Gold Coast)
Bailey is a workhorse, one of the most consistent front rowers of recent seasons. But look at the other potential grunt-position forwards on the inaugural Titans’ roster: Michael Henderson, Michael Hodgson, James Stosic, Gavin Cooper, Anthony Laffranchi, Brad Meyers, Mark Minichiello, Luke Swain, Kris Kahler, Clint Amos, Luke O’Dwyer, and Matt Hilder. Not exactly an all-star list, eh? A collection of bit-parters and some youngsters with potential, but all well off Bailey’s class. If the injury insect gets it's incisors into Luke, it could be a long rookie season for Jetstar’s mob.

Benji Marshall (five-eighth, Wests Tigers)
One of the most exciting attacking players in the game has already spent large chunks of the ’04 season and last year fighting injury issues, and it’s a battlefront Tigers fans hope like hell they don’t have to return to this season. Say what you want about him, but we saw last year that without Benji, the Tigers’ attack is pedestrian. And this will be exacerbated this season now that former halfback Scott Prince has departed for the Gold Coast.

Nathan Hindmarsh (second rower, Parramatta)
Talk about a workhorse. In attack, and more recently, defence, this guy has been perhaps the ultimate plough-puller of latter times. Word is this preseason that new coach Michael Hagan wants the defensive burden on he of the Beatles-style haircut eased, but fact is, the blue and golds just need ‘Hindy’ out there. True, the brother’s back from France, and there are some youngsters about, but the Parra back row is more or less punchless without big Nathan. If you ever want proof, just plug in a tape of the ’05 preliminary final’s 29-0 loss to the Cowboys- you’ll see it graphically illustrated over 80 minutes.

Craig Gower (halfback, Penrith)
Controversial? Yes. Dispensable? Far from it, nearly as far from it as you can get. We’ve seen in recent times that the little Pennie Panthers are mere declawed kittens without Colyton’s favourite junior in the drivers’seat. Witness Round 8 last year against the Sharks, or the last round belting in Newcastle, a game where they had a chance to make the finals if they won. One suspects that the departure of Preston Campbell and the arrival of Brett Firman, or even the elevation of youngster Peter Lewis, outside Gower won’t change that. A return to 2003 form from the much publicised halfback would be a hell of a boost for the Panthers as they look to claw their way back to the top of the NRL table under Matt Elliott.

Cameron Smith (hooker, Melbourne)
Very nearly the complete footballer, Smith is perhaps the key turns the considerable Storm machine on. A regular in big-time rep matches now, he’s the creator of much of Melbourne’s attack from dummy-half, and occasionally a pass or two in, a strong defender like most hookers, and a member of the Storm’s leadership group. Young halfback Cooper Cronk has much to thank Smith for in terms of easing the burden on him as he became established as Storm halfback last year. A missing Smith would impact the whole team, particularly Cronk, and his loss would be felt even more this year, with regular understudy Nathan Friend now with the Gold Coast.

Hazem El Masri (winger, Canterbury)
A winger on this list? Surely you jest us? No- you’re not being played for a fool. This nomination is testimony to the way El Masri’s amazing goalkicking has changed the game. When Hazem signed his current contract in late 2004, Bulldogs CEO Malcolm Noad said he was worth a significant amount of points per game just for his goalkikcing alone. It is nothing special now to see the Lebanese-Australian icon landing kicks from half an inch inside the touchline. In fact, it’s almost expected- and it gives the Bulldogs extra wiggle room to run plays out wide in attack, knowing that they’re at least an even-money bet to get the extra two on top of a try, no matter where they score it. To lose that strike weapon would be such a dent to the Bulldogs’ potency, perhaps even more so than the loss of the biff and barge of one of Mason, O’Meley, Williams, et. al. And given the quality of those forwards, that’s saying something.

Johnathan Thurston (halfback, North Queensland)
He was a hailed as a prodigy with plenty of potential when he first started popping up for the Bulldogs. Now that he’s left them, there are rep jerseys all over the shop and we’re fully seeing why, and that’s why the Cowboys are up the creek should he go down with a serious injury.

Alan Tongue (lock, Canberra)
Perhaps a bit of a wildcard choice. But this nuggety little redhead is probably still one of the most underrated, beneath-the-radar stars in the game. A product of Tamworth’s famed Farrer Agricultural High School, he’s a true, record-breaking workhorse (1,040 tackles last year! That’s nearly 200 more than Nathan Hindmarsh, for God’s sake!) in defence, punches above his weight in attack, and is perhaps the best player on a team that now distinctly lacks stars. Lose him, and the Raiders look even greener (and we don’t mean in jersey colour) and weaker in 2007. - Read More, Here