The first thirteen rounds of the 2016 NRL Telstra Premiership have been perhaps the most unequivocally clichéd of the competitions recent past. No less though have the contests been beguiling, results perplexing and viewing exhilarating. The statutory calibre of Rugby League in this country in recent times is utterly intoxicating for the staunchest adherents of ‘the greatest game of all’. The storylines interwoven throughout each and every game have led to a showcase to be etched in footballing folklore.
The men from the shire have returned to the fore, leading the pack in a season destitute of such unprecedented fairytales. Meanwhile, the magic of the Cowboys’ 2015 campaign continues to set a benchmark for the competition heavyweights in 2016.
We don’t have a product though without the indisputable talents of the games greatest players. This column takes a look at the best transfers of the 2016 season.
The acquisition of Matt Parcell by the Manly Sea Eagles as a replacement for the 217 game veteran Matt Ballin – whose ACL injury has all but ended his 2016 campaign with the Tigers – has proven fruitful for a club experiencing a turbulent period both on and off the field. Parcell possesses speed in spades, a quality that has seen him exploit tired marker defence to cross the stripe on two occasions this season. Just last Friday, amid the swirling arctic winds of GIO Stadium, Parcell scooted out of dummy half past the meager, although visibly fatigued, defences of Paulo, Wighton and Whitehead to score, and inspire a Manly resurgence. His game was earmarked for first grade following a prolific 2015 with the Ipswich Jets, where coach Shane Walker labeled him a ‘new breed of hooker’. Brisbane’s rake incumbent Andrew McCullough hampered Parcell’s game time in first grade last year and was a major contributor in his move to Manly.
Parcell’s passing accuracy, speed and dexterousness is paramount when linking up with Daly Cherry-Evans out of dummy half, allowing space for him to take the line on and time to produce attacking kicks at the back end of a set. It’s disappointing that this combination will experience a mid-season hiatus as Cherry-Evans waits cantankerously on the sidelines for his injured ankle to recover.
Parcell’s career is still very much in the embryonic stage. However, his fitness, passing adroitness and defensive know how will see him prosper on the northern beaches for some time, and could see him earn a maroons jumper in years to come.
If you’re a Gold Coast supporter you’re rejoicing. If you’re a part of the Brisbane faithful, you’re questioning what could have been and bickering over the comparative qualifications of current halves pairing, Milford and Hunt. Taylor is arguably the most laudable transfer of the 2016 season. It’s hard to believe that just two years ago he was plying his trade in the u20’s. His running game, willingness to take the line on and refined kicking game are the archetypes of a modern generation halfback.
Taylor, alongside fellow new recruit Tyrone Roberts, has shown wisdom beyond his years and has already produced match-winning performances for the Gold Coast. Starting a career at playmaker can often be a daunting and unforgiving experience for young players, where ephemeral stints in first grade are symptomatic of poor performance. No such drama for Ashley Taylor however. In twelve games he has managed six try-assists while scoring four of his own with his crowning achievement, a clutch field-goal in the dying stages of lasts weeks clash with the Rabbitohs.
A year in the Northern-Hemisphere playing Rugby Union looks as though it has strengthened the mental and physical resolve of the big back-rower. His 2014 Clive Churchill Medal winning form has been ameliorated further in 2016. The only blight on his game this year is a proneness to drop the football at inappropriate periods of the game. In fact, he’s made the most handling errors of any forward in the competition this season. Despite this, Burgess’ damaging runs and copybook defence makes him one of the most balanced, consistent forwards in the NRL. Over the last month he’s averaged 185 running meters, and 32 tackles per game.
He’s the most improved five-eighth of 2016 and has been duly rewarded with a second chance in a blues jumper. The successes of the Sharks this season can be partly attributed to the Maloney-Townsend halves pairing, who have led the go forward from game one in 2016 and set up a number of tries. Maloney’s short kicking game has produced a plethora of attacking opportunities for the Sharks, while his willingness to take the line on has put the big men into holes in the opposition defence.
Though, as ardent followers will note, there are still qualms over the effectiveness of his defence. Across twelve rounds of the competition in 2016 Maloney has missed 53 tackles, second only to Ben Hunt (56) in the halves.
Notable Mentions: Aiden Sezer (Canberra Raiders, HLB), Chad Townsend (Cronulla Sharks, HLB), Michael Gordon (Parramatta Eels, CTW/FLB), Trent Merrin (Penrith Panthers, FR), Te Maire Martin (Penrith Panthers, HLB), Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (New Zealand Warriors, FLB), Jordan Rankin (Wests Tigers, CTW/FB), Joseph Tapine (Canberra Raiders, 2RF), Nathan Peats (Gold Coast Titans, HOK) and Tim Lafai (St. George Illawarra Dragons, CTW).