This article wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. It wasn’t supposed to be looking at the output of one of the game’s best props and that be his only contribution for the 2022 season.
Christian Welch’s round one performance very quickly faded into the background when, in the 78th minute, he retreated the usual 10 metres, went to push off and slipped over before looking behind him.
It was a telltale sign of a serious injury. No one near him, collapsing to the turf and unable to regain his feet. Welch’s season was done courtesy of a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Many things didn’t follow the script in round one this season.
Upsets seemed more regular than in the past two years, injuries brutally ravaged some teams. Melbourne particularly with George Jennings joining Welch on the bench for the season with a ruptured ACL while Brandon Smith broke his hand in the second minute of play.
Even this correspondent, who was supposed to be perched high in the media box at CommBank Stadium, was left watching this match from his lounge with a notepad and pen after testing positive for COVID.
This article was actually borne out of a somewhat throw away line Welch had told RLM last year.
“We’re just obsessed with running metres these days and I don’t know if it’s lazy from broadcasters, just looking at a guy, “oh he’s had 180 metres, he must be playing well”. To a degree that’s important but there’s so much more to the role in the middle.”
So what does a middle forward do in the modern game?
At the completion of round one, according to Fox Sports Lab, Welch had made 104 metres from 13 runs with 26 post contact metres and also completed 27 tackles.
There is some discrepancy in the number of tackles with the NRL listing him as making 32 tackles. Different stats outfits classify tackles differently. Some count every tackle a player is involved in, while others will only count them when a player is first or second into contact, not as a third man in adding his weight to a tackle already on the ground.
He also managed two offloads and one general play pass. Those are the basics though and don’t paint the full picture.
History beckons for the Parramatta Eels as they head into a preliminary final against the heavily favoured North Queensland Cowboys.
Recalling a legendary player or former coach is often tempting for a club trying to recapture former glory. But rarely does it work, and often it tarnishes the coach’s legacy.
Harry Grant has filled the Melbourne Storm boots of Cameron Smith and seems to be taking the hooking position to the next level.