Ashes Daily – To follow-on or not to follow-on: that is the question.

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England have been behind the eight ball since Joe Root won the toss and decided to bowl four days ago, but if England go on to win tomorrow the question on everybody’s lips will be ‘gee, I wonder if the result would be different had Smith enforced the follow-on’.

At face value Smith’s decision to bat again after dismissing the fragile English batting line-up makes sense.

The seamers had already bowled 76 overs and when you are carrying just three fast bowlers and a sole spinner through a five-match test series it is wise to give them a rest when the opportunity presents itself.

But consider the message enforcing the follow-on would’ve sent to England, who were bowled out for just 227 after seeing Australia pile on double that in a day and a half.

Had they been sent straight back in while the memories of the first innings carnage were fresh in the mind, England’s batsmen would’ve been low on confidence rather than buoyed by the possibility of a history-defying win for the ages stemming from impeccable swing and seam bowling.

No batsmen at any level enjoys batting after a failure in the first innings because the pressure is on to avoid back-to-back low scores.

Fall cheaply twice in a test match and all of a sudden your career hangs by a thread.

You begin to question facets of your game and technique that were once completed without question while rumours swirl in the press of a likely replacement for the next match.

Four of England’s top 5 failed to go past 20 in England’s first innings; three of those are finding their way in test cricket and, had they been put back in on the evening of day three and dismissed cheaply once again, it might have set the tone for the remainder of the series.

Where is our next run coming from? How can we score over 300 against these bowlers?

Our next game is at the WACA – we could get rolled for 100.

Australia’s bowlers would’ve looked more like the formidable West Indian attack of the nineties and the mind games that are so important in the Ashes would’ve set a cat amongst the pigeons in the English camp, potentially leading to further Overton-esque changes.

By electing to bat again, Smith has inadvertently given up Australia’s stranglehold on both the test match and the series.

All of a sudden the English don’t fear the Australian quicks, while the batsmen, who were previously infallible in their home conditions, are as human as the rest of us after all.

Cracks begin to form in the Australian batting ranks and before you know it the pressure is right back on them to avoid a loss to the old enemy on home soil.

If you need evidence of this, look no further than Peter Handscomb who could find himself out of the side if Australia goes down tomorrow.

Had Smith enforced the follow-on, Handscomb walks away with a score of 36 – assuming, of course, that Australia weren’t required to bat again – and is automatically retained for the third test at the WACA.

A loss under such circumstances, however, shines a spotlight on technical deficiencies that are swept under the rug when a side goes through a series unbeaten.

Smith’s decision has further ramifications that can’t necessarily be quantified. England have gained confidence in their ability to dismiss the Australians, and, if they complete the job tomorrow, their batting is capable of what can only be described as a statistical impossibility.

A stat was flashed up on Channel Nine’s telecast today. It detailed the highest run chases in test history at the Adelaide Oval.

The last side to chase down a score over 300 was way back in the early 1900’s when wickets were uncovered and every delivery sent down by the opposition quicks was a  potential landmine.

If a side can do it in these conditions, it can’t be difficult to replicate such a feat on an artificially concocted drop-in wicket.

Even if the visitors fail, they have been given a huge leg up by a decision that could well decide the path this series takes.

Ashes Daily – Where have we seen this before? Dogged England show fight to keep faint title hopes alive.

 

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Nothing but a memory now…An image from day two of the first 2017 Ashes test at the Gabba.

 

Today’s play showed exactly why the Ashes is seen as one of the most exciting sporting spectacles on the planet.

England’s batting crumbled as many predicted it would, before the Australians, electing not to enforce the follow-on, lost four of their own under the bright Adelaide lights.

Jimmy Anderson and Chris Woakes were the architects of England’s recovery. Both made the ball talk in a way it hasn’t so far this series to give their batsman a chance of saving the test match if – and it’s a big if – they manage to dismiss the Australians for under 150 tomorrow morning.

If the Aussie quicks are let loose on the fragile English batting lineup for any longer than 4 sessions you get the feeling that it will be good night Irene by midway through the final day.

Give the England batsmen a total of 320 though and it’s amazing what confidence from a dogged bowling effort can do.

Australia will need to produce the magic they did earlier today to dismiss proven performers like Root and Cook who have managed to get England out of the woods from a similar position several times in the past.

Both threw their wickets away this morning; Root pushing at a wide half-volley; Cook playing at a rather unthreatening delivery from Lyon with an open blade. Given another chance, it is unlikely they will fall in the same fashion.

Australia will, however, have the advantage of bowling under lights for two sessions before the end of this test match.

If the ball swings and seams like it did for Anderson, Broad and Woakes this evening, England’s junior brigade will have no hope of fending off Australia’s quicks to save the game.

Just as impressive as England’s evening session were the Australian seamers who it appears have finally hit their straps.

Despite winning comprehensively at the Gabba, you got the sense that the quicks were below their best.

Cummins was on the short side for most of the first innings while Hazlewood looked to be down on pace.

Starc produced moments of brilliance but has improved with every over as the series has progressed.

One cannot write an article without mentioning the legend that is Nathan Lyon. It was only a year ago that he was on the outer following a tough series against South Africa and when Australia arrived at the Gabba for the first test against Pakistan, it looked as if Lyon might be left out.

The selectors opted in favour of the spinner over a fourth seamer and, since earning a regular spot, finds himself atop the wicket-takers list for 2017.

Of the top five players on that list, four are spinners.

Lyon has gone past Sri Lankan maestro Rangana Herath and usurped South African seamer Kagiso Rabada.

Joining him at the top of the leaderboard is Ravi Ashwin, who also has 55 wickets. Lyon, however, has played 2 fewer games.

By the end of his career, Lyon will have surpassed many of the game’s greatest bowlers on the all-time leading wicket-takers list.

He is the glue that holds the Australian bowling attack together and has played a role in many of the wickets taken by the quicks down the other end.

They say you should judge an off-spinner on their ability to bowl their side to victory on the fifth day of a test match.

Many Australian spinners have had their day in the sun – Hauritz on the fifth day at the SCG in 2010 against Pakistan being one such example – but few have managed to do the heavy lifting on wearing wickets all over the world like Lyon does on a consistent basis.

If he continues the way he has so far this Ashes series, he might outlast the likes of Warner and Marsh who will step down when younger players with quicker reflexes hit the big time.

No off-spinner is currently putting their hand up for test selection in the Shield competition other than Agar, whom the selectors prefer to play deputy to Lyon on away tours to the sub-continent as he lacks the incumbent’s control.

Jon Holand and Steve O’Keefe are also on the radar but haven’t put their hands up when given the opportunity and are reaching the twilight of their respective careers.

Lyon, much like Warne, is a fan favourite and with this comes an enormous ego boost that helps a bowler’s confidence when stood at the top of their mark.

If Australia are to win this test match, Lyon must stand up once again and their batsmen must push the lead beyond 350. Any less and they are leaving the door open for an Australian like comeback at Adelaide in 2006.

It seems unlikely, but we musn’t forget that Root and Cook, not to mention Bairstow and Ali, have conquered uphill battles like this before.

You have to wonder what the English press would make of England’s bowling performance tonight if Stokes was in the side.

350? Pfft. We’ll do that inside two sessions. Remember Cape Town?

Tomorrow’s morning session will decide the test match.

Ashes Daily – England’s bowling attack requires fire and brimstone

 

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Day One of the first test at the Gabba.

 

The English bowlers were well below their best at the Gabba last week. Broad and Anderson struggled to find rhythm, while Ball and Woakes looked tame at times and downright predictable at others. It seems to me that there is a lot of sameness about the English attack. Where is the out and out quick that strikes fear into the hearts of the batsmen? History tells us that if you want to stay competitive in an Ashes series, you’re going to have to try some short stuff from time to time. It worked for Australia at the back end of the first innings and most of the second – particularly against the tailenders – but England don’t have the bowlers capable of replicating this tactic.

Anderson, Ball and Woakes are all in the team to pitch the ball up and make it swing, but this plan of attack is ineffective when the pitch isn’t offering the sideways movement of Trent Bridge or Lord’s. When playing on flat wickets, the likes of which England will encounter at the SCG and MCG, bowlers must bend their backs and intimidate rather than float it up and pray for seam movement. Broad is the man that posses the pace required to execute a leg-side trap, but Anderson – whose record in Australia is rather disappointing for a bowler of his calibre – Ball and Woakes are all working towards a common goal that in Australia, with a Kookaburra ball and flat drop-in wickets, can be a frivolous task.

England would do well to bring in a Mark Wood, who is currently on tour here in Australia with the Lions, or Liam Plunkett, who appears to have been pigeonholed in the shorter formats. I must admit I haven’t seen a lot of Overton and he could well be the man that adds some variety to an otherwise similar bowling attack. If so, the sooner they get him in the side the better. An attack featuring Ball and Wokes alongside Anderson and Broad is incapable of getting the job done at the WACA, where pace and bounce – and more importantly, who uses it best – often dictates the outcome of the game.

We all knew not having Stokes in the side would greatly weaken the English batting lineup, but it seems it has hurt the bowling unit just as much. Not only does he add the mungrel to get under the skin of the Australian batsmen, he adds variety to the pace attack that can trouble batsmen on flat wickets where swing bowling won’t cut the bacon during the second innings.

Adelaide and the pink ball will suit the English quicks because the wicket will play into their hands and allow them to gain reward from standing the seam up as they would in England. As soon as they move on to the WACA, they require a point of difference to avoid the embarrassment of the Gabba. That point of difference is someone who can successfully execute a 145 kph short ball directed at the batsman’s badge.

Ashes 2017 – First Test Review

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If England are to take one positive away from the first test at the Gabba, it is that they were in the contest for the best part of three days.

Many touring sides walk away from the ‘Gabbatoir’ with egos damaged, reputations tarnished and careers in tatters.

This was certainly the case in 2013/14 when England came to the Gabba and were blown away inside four days by Mitchell Johnson.

Jonathan Trott and Graeme Swan were left with psychological scars so deep they returned home, while the remainder of the English dressing room were left puzzled as to how they would go about thwarting the firebrand quick for the rest of the series.

They never recovered and went on to lose 5-0.

Years earlier Simon Jones, who had shown signs he could become a prolific wicket taker for England in the few overs he got to bowl before plugging his knee in the Gabba outfield during the first test of the 2002/03 series, was whisked off to hospital and took no further part in the tour.

England also had 350 runs put on them on that first day at the Gabba after Nasser Hussain decided he would make his bowlers toil on a wicket harder than the M1.

To no one’s surprise, England lost that series 4-1, with their only relief coming in the final test of the summer at the SCG.

The first test of this summer didn’t follow the conventional Gabba storylines.

Few England players have been left with deep psychological scars despite the fact they lost by a margin of 10 wickets and many key batsman failed to score runs – Alastair Cook being one of those.

Normally it is the quicks who leave batsmen fearing for their collective futures at the Gabba. But the first test of this Ashes summer belonged to Nathan Lyon, and you get the feeling most of the English left handers will be losing sleep over him rather than Starc and Hazlewood.

Malan and Stoneman were both dismissed in the second innings prodding at a ball that ripped and turned from the footmarks outside off stump.

They had no set plan to the off spinner and spent most of their time plonking their front foot down the line of off-stump, hoping the ball would go straight on to hit the middle of the bat.

Kevin Pietersen made mention in the aftermath of the first test that the English batsmen must go after Lyon or risk being bogged down and eventually lose their wicket without progressing the score.

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Hazlewood to Malan on Day one at the Gabba.

You sense that Lyon was able to contain the English batsmen during the first test because, to put it simply, they were scared to leave their crease.

With the ball spinning and bouncing, the risk of being stumped became far greater and so they reverted to playing with soft hands and a vertical bat.

Taking one method of dismissal out of the equation betters your chance of survival, right?

Wrong.

Nathan Lyon is the kind of bowler that will immediately find a second gear if he gets a sniff.

With many of the English batsmen new to the test arena, Lyon was able to play on their vulnerabilities and improve his chances of taking a wicket by removing the only way he is ever put off his length – the dancing feet of an opposition batsman.

When a batsmen is rooted to the crease, as the likes of Bell and Prior were back in 2013, Lyon fires.

He can build up pressure around the bat and let the rough do the talking while the batsmen push and prod in the hope of survival.

If a batsmen goes after him, as many touring sides have done in the past, he begins to drop the ball short and run scoring becomes far easier.

The sooner the English batsmen realise this, the better chance they are of scoring over 400 in Adelaide and beyond without Stokes.

Of course, there is still the quicks to contend with, but they will be far less threatening if Lyon isn’t building up pressure down the other end.

For the better part of the first innings at the Gabba, Australia’s bowlers were far too short. This could easily be blamed on the slowness of the Gabba wicket, for if it had played normally – as it did in the second innings – the shorter length may well have been effective.

But the Australian quicks, Cummins in particular, were too short too often and went looking for a mode of dismissal that was nigh on impossible during much of the first innings.

Only when the wicket quickened up did the back-of-a-length tactic pay dividends.

For the reminder of the summer, the WACA aside, the wickets will be flat, slow and might even seam from time to time.

The benefit of touring Australia is that you play on drop in wickets that are devoid of life and flatter than a pancake after a day and a half.

If England can win in Adelaide, there’s a chance they can win the series. Lose and there is no coming back with a game at the WACA to come.

Tests at the Gabba and WACA are so often seen as the games that make or break a series because the wickets at both venues play into Australia’s hands.

But Adelaide is now seen as the tie-breaker because the games at the MCG and SCG could go either way.

If England lose in Adelaide, the series is all but sewn up for Australia.

If this scenario transpires, all hell could break lose in England’s camp and we could witness a repeat of the carnage and turmoil of their last trip down under.

Australia have the upper hand but Adelaide will tell us a lot about the direction this Ashes series is headed.

 

RLWC scheduling disaster – where it has all gone wrong

If you build it, they will come. This might well be the case inside Papua New Guinea’s recently refurbished National Football Stadium, which has been bursting at the seams for the two group games played there so far, but it couldn’t be further from the truth here in Australia.

Low crowds and empty grandstands are a common theme in NRL land, where attendances have been in free fall for the past 5 years, but it seems to have crept into Rugby League’s showpiece event.

Here in Australia, we saw it coming from a mile away. If crowds aren’t turning up to see two highly supported local rivals go toe-to-toe at ANZ Stadium or Allianz on a balmy Sunday afternoon in prime time, why would they show up to watch Lebanon play England, or Italy play the U.S.A?

Ticket sales are of course indicative of the tournament’s advertising methods, which have been flimsy to say the least, while ticket prices aren’t exactly tempting punters to part with their hard earned.

But to blame poor attendance rates on the tournament’s questionable promotion alone is to miss the bigger picture.

Only four games have been played at one of Australia’s big rectangular ‘stadiums’ so far, while Western Sydney has been neglected altogether.

Two of those fixtures included Australia, and even then the stadiums still appeared to be only half full.

If the host nation can’t draw a crowd, how can you expect anyone to be interested in attending a game in the sweltering Townsville heat on a Saturday evening at 9:00pm?

Australia’s premier Rugby League venue, Suncorp Stadium, will be used for just two games in this edition of the World Cup. It will host a semi-final on the 24th of November and the big dance a week later.

This seems like a missed opportunity on multiple fronts; foremost that Queensland, one of Australia’s League heartlands, is effectively starved of live action until the tournament has just three games left to run.

During a different month, in a different city, this might not pose an issue. But while the semi-final is being played out between two of the competition heavyweights, the second day of the first Ashes test will have concluded just a few kilometers down the road at the Gabba.

The logic behind taking games to rural hubs like Cairns and Rugby League mad cities like Townsville makes sense, but when they feature noncompetitive games between minnow nations where the scorelines blow out after a few sets of six, you can hardly expect them to pique the interest of locals.

Why is it that the major venues – AAMI Park, Suncorp, GIO and the SFS – receive all the games involving Australia at some point across the tournament? Wouldn’t it make more sense to pack Barlow Park to the rafters on a Friday evening while the minnow nations battle it out on Saturday at the major venues to whet the appetite of the fans in places like Queensland and Perth, where the tournament has no presence until the final few weeks?

By starving fans living in and around the big stadiums in Melbourne, Brisbane and Western Sydney, the RLWC organisers are cutting off their noses despite their face.

Crowds are going to be naturally low for games involving minnow nations, and it is hard to find an excuse for the poor crowd that saw England play Lebanon at the SFS on Saturday night other than to say that this has long been the case in the NRL as well. But by moving some games that matter to the heartlands, and the remainder to the major stadiums, fans in all regions are being exposed to the action.

The state of Rugby League outside the nations with a national competition, or a presence in those individual leagues, has seen the gulf in standard increase dramatically, as evidenced by Fiji’s 66 point demolition of Wales.

Finding a way to pack out any stadiums under these circumstances is going to take some progressive thinking, so why not move them to the big cities where developing some interest in the tournament is better than letting it fly under the radar?

England did a fine job of making games between the minnows appealing four years ago; Australia must do the same.

Cowboys return to the Promised Land without their ‘Messiah’

For the second time in three years, a Grand Final featuring two non-Sydney clubs will be played at the Olympic Stadium. What an utter embarrassment this is for the Sydney clubs who purport to own the game.

When Josh Dugan was busy burning bridges on social media and missing the team bus, Michael Morgan and his teammates were waiting silently behind the scenes, hoping the Dragons would self-implode and the Cowboys would fall into the finals.

The Dragons, who scored more tries than the Cowboys during the regular season, went on to lose to the Bulldogs in a game that had the hallmarks of final but featured two teams whose cultures were suffering the ill effects of a few self-important, overpaid prima-donnas.

The rest is history. The Cowboys made it through to the finals, defeated the defending premiers, the comeback kings, and the high flyers, and now find themselves in another Grand Final.

Their drought-breaking victory against the Broncos two years ago in the greatest Grand final of the modern era will go down as the finest in their history no matter what happens because Jonathan Thurston was finally crowned a premiership winner. But a win against the giants of the game would give many punters, not to mention rugby league fans, something to smile about.

The club’s culture is what has allowed them to achieve so much success over the past few years. There are few other teams in the competition that could make it through to the Grand Final from eighth position, and even fewer who could do it without two of the game’s greats.

When Jonathan Thurston and Matt Scott were ruled out for the entire season, few gave them a chance of moving within touching distance of the finals.

Then former Queensland Origin star Justin O’Neill went down with an elbow injury, and the Cowboys were all but written off.

What followed showed the unity of the club and the resilience of certain players that don’t receive the plaudits they deserve because they play in a side that is headlined by Thurston and fronted by enforcer Jason Taumalolo.

One of these underrated stars is Michael Morgan, who has gone from Thurston’s right hand man to dominant playmaker.

His performances in the finals series without the game’s greatest halfback have suddenly put Morgan within the top echelon of playmakers in the NRL. He has laid down a marker and asked the competition to chase him.

Nathan Cleary might be the best up and coming half in the competition, and Pearce a reliable playmaker at club level with all the talent but little to show for it, but neither has had to overcome the kind of adversity Morgan has this season.

Take one look at the rugby league forums, news sites and on social media and you will see that Morgan has gained a number of supporters across the finals series.

Kids suddenly want to be him, coaches lose sleep over him, and the remainder of the competition envies his ever-expanding skill set.

Many have said that Queensland’s Origin dynasty will die off once Thurston and Cronk depart, but Morgan has shown there is plenty of life in the Maroons when the current stars begin to get their retirement plans in order.

Perhaps the most fascinating battle this Sunday will be the one between the old firm – Cronk and Smith – and the next generation – Morgan and Te Maire Martin.

Cronk has played mentor to Morgan for several years, and has taught him the tricks of the Origin trade. Now he must find a way to shut him down.

Also key to the Cowboys success are Shaun Fensom, Te Maire Martin and 2015 Grand Final star Kyle Feldt.

There are several young halves in the competition that have had their names put up in lights, but Te Maire Martin is going about his work quietly yet effectively.

Then there is Fensom, who has had to work his way back to the top since falling out of favour with the Canberra Raiders.

Fensom spent much of last season in reserve grade but Green, like he does so often, took a punt on him and his investment is now paying dividends.

Think about the number of players Green has pulled from relative obscurity to fill a void in the Cowboys line-up. There’s Granville, who Green coached at Wynnum Manly and brought across to the Cowboys from Brisbane after just 10 first grade appearances; Coeen Hess, who they signed on a whim after a successful U/18’s campaign for the Townsville Stingers; and, of course, Michael Morgan, who is another local product that Green has turned into a million dollar half since taking the reigns.

Somehow, Green has been able to change some of these bits and pieces players into premiership winners and—perhaps more importantly—a single, united team rather than a team of individuals who are more concerned about their own public image than they are their club.

Many clubs go in search of marquee players with over 100 games of first-grade experience to deliver them a premiership. The Cowboys policy, with Green as head coach, has been to bring fringe first graders to the club that other teams wouldn’t take a second look at, and mould them into hard-working footballers that buy into the culture created by Thurston et al.

The Roosters and South Sydney have won premierships at some point over the last five-years by bringing superstars like Sonny-Bill Williams and Sam Burgess to the club. The tradeoff is that when these players depart, they are left with a hole in the salary cap that they must fill with undeveloped players who haven’t been nurtured by the club and mentored by its forefathers.

The Bulldogs are going in search of a premiership next year by using the very same approach, and it might pay off in the future, but when they all depart at once, the club will be left in dire straights. Young players will be thrown into the deep end without knowing what it takes to deal with the hustle and bustle of the NRL.

The Cowboys have been in two deciders in the last three years with only two genuine superstars on their list. The rest have been taught to play for the spirit of the jumper and the loyal fans living in the North of Queensland.

If they play at anywhere below their best on Sunday night, the Storm will carve them up like a Christmas turkey. If they show the fight that has been drummed into them, then they will really fulfil their ‘giant killers’ tag.

NRL Team of the year – as voted by the writers at Nothing But League

The Nothing But League writing team has put their heads together to come up with the nine best players of the 2017 NRL season.

Their selections are as follows:

Fullback:

Tom Trbojevic – three votes/ Billy Slater three votes

Michael Gordon – one vote

If ever there was a player that embodied the lyrics in Chumbawumba’s smash hit I get knocked down, it is Billy Slater. Since returning in round three, Slater has added another notch to his belt, winning his ninth Origin series, and is about to embark on another NRL finals campaign. One more premiership would be a fitting reward for Slater’s resilience and mental resolve.

Many were surprised to see Trbojevic go without an Origin jumper in 2017, but the young Manly number one hasn’t let that phase him. He has played a crucial role in Manly’s journey to the finals and has put on a show at times during the season. Not only is he a try-scoring machine, his defence has improved markedly and it has made all the difference at the back for Manly.

As reward for his efforts, he is the joint winner of NBL’s fullback of the year.

Winger:

Suliasi Vunivalu – four votes

Jordan Rapana – two votes

Alex Johnston and Nick Cotric – one vote each

Most of what Suli does on the field belongs under a big top. But that’s why we love him. In full flight he is poetry in motion; when scoring a try he defies gravity. His fly kick against the Roosters might go down as one of the most bizarre incidents in rugby league history, but it is unpredictable moments like these, and his remarkable strength, that has pushed him over the line as NBL’s winger of the year.

Centre:

Will Chambers – three votes/ James Roberts – three votes

Dylan Walker – two votes

The writers here at NBL simply couldn’t split Roberts and Chambers, with both earning three votes to finish equal first. James Roberts has been perhaps the most frustrating player in the competition this season. At times he dazzles; at others he looks out of ideas. It is his best performances that have caught the eye of NBL’s team of writers. The speed he posses has put him in contention for Origin selection, and there can be no higher praise than that.

If there is a player in the NRL that is more consistent than Will Chambers, I’d like to hear about them. His name might not be put up in lights like the Cronks and Smiths of the world, but he rarely fails to get the job done. Not only does he earn the top gong for wingers, he wins the award for the most dependable player in the NRL.

Five-Eight:

Luke Keary – four votes

Michael Morgan – two votes

Anthony Milford and Gareth Widdop – one vote each

Luke Keary is another player who rarely receives the plaudits he deserves. When Pearce was playing for NSW, Keary took full control of the side and earned the Roosters some crucial victories during a typically treacherous Origin period.

Taking out NBL’s five-eight of the year in his first season as a full-time number six is reward for perseverance. The Bunnies will be licking their wounds and questioning why they didn’t identify his talent and keep him on board.

The Roosters can thank Keary for their current standing on the ladder.

Halfback:

Cooper Cronk – three votes

Nathan Cleary – two votes

Michael Morgan – two votes

Daly Cherry-Evans – one vote

No surprises here, Cronk has taken out NBL’s halfback of the year award. The 2016 Dally M Medalist has had another sterling year, and, like a fine wine, is getting better with age. No one quite knows where Cronk will end up next year, but one thing is for certain – the NRL won’t be the same without him or his professionalism.

Nathan Cleary also earned a respectable two votes from our writers and this comes as no surprise when you look at what he has done for Penrith this year. Like I said in last week’s column, we might just have another Darren Lockyer on our hands. Get your checkbooks out Penrith, this young gun is worth his weight in gold.

Prop:

Paul Vaughan – six votes

Jarrod Wallace and Jesse Bromwich – one vote each

The man that polarized many rugby league critics around the start of this year’s Origin series has won NBL’s prop of the year by an overwhelming majority. Vaughan earned six votes from our writers, the second most in any position.

It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he is given the call up to next year’s Origin series. This man is simply too powerful to leave out. Not only has he improved the Dragons go forward, he has become as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar when defending the line. Fingers crossed he plays out the entirety of next year without sustaining an injury, because the Dragons are better for it.

Hooker:

Cameron Smith – seven votes

Unsurprisingly, the writers were unanimous in selecting Cameron Smith as the NRL’s hooker of the year. There isn’t too much you can say about Smith that hasn’t already been said; he might just be the finest player in the history of the game. Another big finals series lies ahead for the man who currently holds the record for most representative caps. Will he take Melbourne to another premiership? Or will they stumble at the final hurdle much like they did in 2016?

Second Rower:

Matt Gillett – three votes

Angus Crichton – two votes

Simon Mannering and Boyd Cordner – one vote each

Matt Gillett has continued his dominance at second-row for Brisbane and is set for another action packed finals series that will see him take on greater responsibility. There is no doubt Gillett is one of the best forwards in the game; he is a workhorse that will make over 30 tackles and 100 run meters as a bare minimum.

Matt Gillett has continued his dominance at second-row for Brisbane and is set for another action packed finals series that will see him take on greater responsibility. There is no doubt Gillett is one of the best forwards in the game; he is a workhorse that will make over 30 tackles and 100 run meters as a bare minimum.

As reward for another consistent season, our writers have voted him in as the second-rower of the year.

Lock:

Jason Taumalolo – five votes

Nathan Brown, Jake Trbojevic and Jack De Belin – one vote each.

Powerful, tough, resilient; there aren’t enough superlatives in the English language to describe this man. He has shown throughout the 2017 season why he remains the game’s premier lock forward. I put Taumalolo in the Glenn Lazarus category, because much like the brick with eyes, he is difficult to tackle and remarkably elusive for a big man. If he ends his career with a premiership record as half as impressive as Lazarus, we are in for one hell of a ride. The Cowboys will be hoping he doesn’t hop between teams like the former prop turned MP.