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To my mind, the best two hookers in the competition are Cameron Smith and Jake Granville. You know, they both play for the two teams that made the grand final.

It continues to astound me how how under-rated attacking hookers are in Rugby League. Year after year, we see hookers making clear and obvious differences to their teams, particularly when it gets down to the business end of the season.

For me, that comes down to how well-drilled defensive teams are these days, particularly when they are set. So much so that all teams are generally willing to give away penalties, even in their own 20, because they believe that with a set defensive line they can hold out the opposition. Unless you can first effect a break-down in that defensive set-up, it’s very, very difficult - even with the best halves in the world, or the most effective structures - to broach NRL defences.

There are basically two ways to crack open a defence, so that your rivals don’t quite manage to number up properly. The first is to have a big bopper who can skittle defenders, and cause too many defenders to get involved with the ruck, while effecting a quick play the ball. However, the second is the hooker. The hooker can provide that level of unpredictability in a team’s attack that causes defensive structures to break down. A great hooker is constantly counting the numbers, and poking for holes or vulnerability. A good hooker can suddenly decide to kick when nobody is expecting it. A great hooker turns a quick play-the-ball into a momentum changing charge of dummy half.

At the same time, your hooker is normally your biggest defensive vulnerability in the middle of the park. He can be giving away 30kg and represents an easy target for big forwards to aim at, as first contact.

Yet the hooker is treated as almost a peripheral figure in many teams. Much of the criticism directed as Des Hasler centred around his unwillingness to let his number nine do much more than shuffle the ball from dummy half. Jason Taylor, when ejecting Robbie Farah, stated publicly that he wanted his halves to run the team, not the dummy half. And how many hookers in the competition are on elite money? It would not surprise me if Cameron Smith and perhaps Isaac Luke are the only hookers in the competition on more than $500k per year.

There also seems to be a general unwillingness to “manufacture” a hooker. Most of today’s hookers, grew up playing the role. That despite the fact, that there have been plenty of examples of players shifting into the role with success. Peter Wallace, most recently at Penrith went from has-been to possible Origin contender, and Ben Hunt’s best footy of the year came when he was thrust into the role at Brisbane.

For me, your hooker needs to just be a great all-round footy player. A lot of other positions require very specific traits - you really need a bunch of speed to be successful as a fullback, you need playmaking abilities to be a half, or size to play in the forwards. Your perfect hooker is fast, has playmaking skills and is a strong defender. It means that a hooker with the right skillset could really come from any position. A fullback who doesn’t quite have the necessary speed, a lock who isn’t quite big-enough to play in the forwards, a half who doesn’t quite have the necessary playmaking abilities.

And these experiments don’t have to work straight away. Hookers get better with age. Cameron Smith is obviously playing terrific football deep into his 30s, Jake Granville only made his debut at 24, Michael Ennis probably had his best year both in terms of success and individual performances in his final year.

So hooker is the one role where I think you really need to look outside of the box - and not just pick from the pool of number nines - but to judge players on their all-round playing abilities, and to take the time to manufacture a number nine. Because certainly recent history has shown that when its gets down to September, it’s been the teams that have the elite hookers who are the ones that are going all the way.

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I did
Brett, both king and Kaysa are solid defenders but wasted by doing close 50 tackles a game. Surely in centres if only have make a third of that will have plenty more energy in attack. Only handful of centres would expose them for speed where taka is amongst slowest centres in the game.
I think Kaysa could handle it as shown be quick off mark and can take down big men by himself.
Totally agree, I think we have two great dummy halves but like you say Phil, it will be some time before our dummy halves are at that career playing best.

King seemed to improve the more games he played, I think with a full pre-season under his belt and knowing the hooking spot is his for the taking in '18, you will find that he will be a better proposition than KP. I think KP will be playing a lot at Wenty next year.

If KP is our hooker we are in some serious shit.
Why can’t the coach see it?
We all saw it in Seffa, we all saw it in Kelly (well nearly all), we all saw it in Morgan but for some reason many can’t see it in KP.
What is it exactly? He is bog average.
Oh well they just resigned King for a year so that's something.

I think BA likes Pritchards toughness,while not everyone's cup of tea I'd let him and the above battle it out and may the best man win.

Phil, does your wife know you are writing blogs about hookers? 

Shame on you, I will be reporting you to the mods. 

There needs to be an investigation.

Spot on Phil. I've said for years no team will go well without a good 9. Especially with the interchange laws as they are now. The faster your hooker can get the ball to the right player, the less chance the opposite forwards have to cut down your meters gained, or hospitalise your halves. It gives the forwards more time to get a roll on and the halves that extra second to organise an attacking move. CK is getting better at reading the plays, but he needs to be a bit more urgent getting the ball out of the ruck. Kaysa is the opposite, very speedy out of the ruck but often makes poor choices.
That's where 9's like Smith excel.
Remember 05 Riddell and PJ? 09 Kingston off the bench? That's what we're missing in our side. You need a 9 who can run, kick and create. A quick play the ball means pick it up and run, keep the momentum going forwards instead of a shift which can put you sideways and give the defence time to recover. It's one area I'm disappointed in BA, he wants a tackling machine and automatic ball passer at 9. It won't win us a comp. All the good 9's run - look at Smith in Origin and GF, made so many yards and THAT created the space. Ennis in 2016 was a huge pressure release valve for their halves - won the comp, look at them this year? King, Pritchard, whoever it is, needs to have the option to play eyes up football when we make good yards and get a fast play the ball. Marsh & Kingston were devastating off the bench in 2nd halves in 05/09, look how well we went those years.

In 09 when Kingston came of the bench the other hooker stayed on the field as part of the Forward rotation

In 2017 in the Broncos game at ANZ we went with four forwards on the bench and no utility or hooker. That worked for us because we did not have the big damaging middle forward. For the Cowboys game BA went away from that strategy and played Kritchard off the bench.

We were in trouble from the 5th minute when Alvaro went off with concussion. I am assuming that Kritchard was there to cover for King who went into the game with a possible elbow injury.

It may be different next year with Kane Evans, a fully fit Vave, a fully fit Terepo and possible a new middle forward recruit.

Agreed there, except Keating would usually come off for a rest towards the back of the first half and then come on as a back-rower to give Mateo a rest while leaving Kingston at dummy-half.

I wouldn't mind carrying Pritchard on the bench for him to come and begin sniffing around dummy-half at the back-end of the halves with his instructions simply to create chaos behind the markers and in between the A defenders.

Excellent post mate, 100% agree


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