August 2022

The Big Five

Metre-eating outside backs were once a luxury in the NRL, now teams build their attacking plan around them.

Remember the saying that “wingers are just blokes that hang around footballers”?

Well, those days are long gone. Your tiny whippets who would stand on the wing and slice their way over for a try have been replaced by metre eating machines whose second and third tackle hitups are as important as their try finishing ability.

Teams now build their entire strategy around their wingers and centres starting their sets well. Penrith famously look to chew up four tackles using just their backs to allow their forwards to rest before they chase the last tackle kick and pin the opposition on their own try line.

This transition of course happened gradually. RLM has previously covered the increase in size across the NRL with wingers growing six kilograms since the start of the competition.

If you were to look at the 2022 top 10 average run metres (all stats from NRL.com), there are two forwards that sit in the list – Payne Haas and Ryan Matterson. 

The rest are backs, and to be more specific, seven of those remaining eight players are fullbacks or wingers. Only Siosifa Talakai plays in the centres.

Contrast that with 2013. Where the top 10 average run metres list featured five forwards. 2014 and 2015 featured three forwards each, 2016 saw six forwards, 2017 dropped back to three, 2018 and 2019 saw two, 2020 had one, as did 2021.

Metre-eating outside backs were once a luxury in the NRL, now teams build their attacking plan around them . . .

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