Parramatta Eels Supporters Website
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.
In relation to Parra and the hooking role, it probably factors into the equation that I reckon the club would be thinking that it has its long-term hooker in the junior-ranks. Kyle Schneider is very highly thought of, and he's the NSW Under 18 hooker. It's probably not a position where you rush a player into first grade but I guess if you have a kid you don't want to block their path to first grade, it might make you think there is less worth in taking on a project player to mould into a different role.
King is 26 - Schneider is still playing UNDER 18s.
Now I will admit their are some truly exceptional young players with natural talent but I can't see an UNDER 18s player being considered for the #9 jersey for around another 2 - 3 years Bug.
And even then I doubt he could go 80 minutes - perhaps this could answer your question.
I'd just be concerned with blunting Gutho's attack. He's effective in the back line because he has time and space to create and his defence is kept to a minimum. Even when he was in the halves he was only making 20-30 tackles a game. Put him in the middle and he's making up to double that. Paul Gallen explained that in the 2016 grand final they made a point to run at Smith every chance they got. Smith made more than 70 tackles that game and didn't have as big of an impact as many expected. Playing Gutho there is a double edged sword. He could be fantastic for 30 minutes, or be blunted.
Gutho is also the fittest player in the squad, and would probably be in the top half-dozen in the League. If other hookers can get through that level of work, then Gutho should have no problems with it. I think the thing that people underestimate with Gutherson is he just really reads the game very well - he takes fantastic options and that is first and foremost what you look for in a hooker, beyond anything quality, in my mind.
He may be the fittest but I still think he'd be more effective in our backline. We looked the most dangerous this season with King at hooker, Gutho at fullback and Moses and Norman in the halves. He busted a gut at 5/8 but you can't tell me he was better in the halves than he was at fullback. I'm not saying he wouldn't have a crack, just that he's been most effective when he's been at fullback, a position with plenty of running, sure, but minimal tackling.
I don't think we should be moving arguably our best attacking player into a position he's never played before on a hunch that he might be effective, especially with two hookers on our books.
I still can't move Bevan out of the fullback role. I think next season, with another year of physical development, and hopefully time to recover from his injuries, plus the experience he picked up, we'll see him back to his scintillating best, and I wouldn't swap him for anyone if that was the case.
And if that's the case,I just don't see a better position for Gutho than hooker. His involvement will be too limited for my liking at centre, he's definitely not a winger, and as you say, I think while he's a good stop-gap half, we have better options.
Anyway, I totally realise I am swimming against the tide, and that's why I deliberately avoided the suggestion in the blog. Doesn't mean I'm not right, though :-)
We're almost having a Hayne to five-eighth discussion all over again.
I'm still not 100% on Bevan at fullback. His speed is a bonus there but I think Gutho has him on kick returns and passing ability. His lack of size is a real concern at the back, especially without Semi being there to start off our sets. I definitely wouldn't want to be a coach.
I think regardless of your hooker, you need a big bopper in your side who can lay the ground work for the hooker. You look at Melbourne and you have the Bromwich brothers and Solomona and for the Cowboys you've got Taumalolo. Those guys find their front often and skittle defenders, creating space for Smith and Granville to do their thing. It's little wonder their hookers are two of the best in the game when they've got big boys giving them space. Melbourne controlled Taumalolo well in the grand final and we saw the result there.
We pressured Mebourne because we stopped their go-forward. Our markers got set. Because of that, every time Smith tried to create something from dummy-half he got whacked. Cronk was also then under pressure because Smith turned into a distributor. You can have a very creative hooker but if their forwards aren't giving them time then they become limited.