Certain aspects of the game of rugby league football may have changed over the past couple of years, however the importance of forward dominance in the game is not something that has gone the way of the playing the ball forward and the hooker’s squat.
Facing up against some of the world’s biggest forwards, the England Rugby League pack faces a hard onslaught, therefore my pick of starting forwards reflect the need to have a strong, aggressive, yet mobile, forward game.
The Front Row
8. Prop Forward: James Graham – Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.
9. Hooker: Michael McIlorum – Wigan Warriors.
10. Prop Forward: Sam Burgess – South-Sydney Rabbitohs.
Positioned in the middle of the field during play, Rugby League Prop Forwards do the hard graft by running the ball at pace into the defensive line – known as hit ups. Gone are the days of lumbering prop forwards galumphing from scrummage to scrummage, modern props are highly mobile. But don’t think they have gotten any smaller – props remain the biggest and strongest players on a team. The two props I have selected are both English players currently playing in the NRL. James Graham is the former St Helens and England captain, his impressive workload on the field, in addition to immense ball handling skills, have set the standard for what is expected of modern forward play. Sam Burgess, as I have discussed in one of my previous articles for Nouse, is without a doubt the most feared and respected forward in the world of Rugby League. Since arriving in the NRL from Bradford in 2010, Sam along with his three brothers, Souths teammates Luke, George and Tom, has had great impact on the sport. A seasoned international at the age of 24, making his debut for Great Britain in 2007 aged just 19; Sam will provide a powerful, respected, figurehead for the rest of the team – who can take solace in the assurance that his steam-rolling runs and crunching hits will strengthen England’s World Cup campaign.
Hookers in Rugby League direct play by acting as ‘dummy-half’ from the ruck area at the play-the-ball. Hookers are the initial play makers, handling the ball more than any player, so need to be quick thinking with an equally good passing and tackling game. My first choice hooker is Wigan’s Michael McIlorum. Tough, tactical, and aggressive, McIlorum leads from the front, and has gained a reputation as one of the fiercest hookers in Super League. Although McIlorum does not have the kicking skills of some of his opposite numbers, his workload on the field, and ability to make individual breaks from dummy-half, should make up for it.
The Back Row
11. Second Row Forward: Ben Westwood – Warrington Wolves.
12. Second Row Forward: Gareth Ellis – Hull FC.
13. Loose Forward / Lock: Sean O’Loughlin – Wigan Warriors.
Second rowers play a major role in defence and will be responsible for the majority of tackles in any match. Fast and mobile in attack, good second rowers will not only support the front row and take hit-ups but also run at angles around the defence to set up three-quarter play. My choice for the starting 11 and 12 are Ben Westwood of Warrington and Gareth Ellis of Hull FC. Westwood is an experienced forward who is responsible for some of the hardest tackles in Super League; however it is Westwood’s skill at tactically offloading the ball that should help make the breaks necessary to score. Gareth Ellis, although I think he has not fulfilled his potential after returning from the NRL, is still one of the best defensive players in Super League. Also, with his success with Wests Tigers, before arriving at Hull this season, he is known and respected by players in the NRL – this can only boost the confidence of the England squad.
The Loose Forward (known as ‘Lock’ in Australia), is the most mobile forward. The position requires great physical fitness as well as good tactical knowledge – many loose forwards can play Stand-Off. Wigan’s Sean O’Loughlin is the player in Super League synonymous with the number 13 jersey. An experienced England and Great Britain international, O’Loughlin has an immense tackle rate, and although he doesn’t have the talents of a stand-off/loose forward, his organisational skill and leadership provide the forward pack with a strong link to the halves.