We have been blessed with some wonderful players during the existence of Rugby League. Great backs, forwards, and amongst them players with indisputable talent who have unfortunately chosen another code.
To narrow it down, in the last 20 years we have seen some of the best to play the game. While comparing across generations is fraught with danger, the recent crop must be commended. Retired players such as;
Laurie Daley, Allan Langer, Brett Mullins, Glen Lazarus, Bradley Clyde, Brad Filter, Darren Lockyer & Andrew Johns.
In more recent times, Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Jonathon Thurston & Greg Inglis.
The best player to have laced a boot is now almost a rhetorical question. Depending on what state you live in, there is always a preference on the modern era debate; Johns or Lockyer. I believe in terms of skill, vision and understanding of the sport you can’t go past Johns. He is the greatest to have played the game. In Lockyer’s defense his longevity, consistency, never ending list of accolades, premierships, Origin series wins, and test match tournament victories – a majority while as captain – is simply amazing.
These two were head and shoulders above the pack in the early to mid 2000’s, but it is also worth noting that they made a mark on the NRL at a very young age. Both played rep football at a young age – Lockyer at 20, Johns at 21 – and left their imprint on big gameswith the trend continuing well into their late 20’s and early 30’s. They dominated for the entirety of their careers.
This is what sets these two apart.
Of the players still playing, it would be fair to say that Cameron Smith, Jonathon Thurston and Greg Inglis fall into this category. A lot will be shocked that I left Billy Slater off this list, but I will explain why later.
While past and present players mentioned before are all wonderfully gifted in their own regard, it is Greg Inglis who will be the best of the lot.
Breaking Down Greg
Speed, strength, effective fend and running Game – four vital attributes that every remarkable outside back must have – all four Inglis possesses and uses frighteningly well. Having a powerful fend and the ability to bump off defenders in Rugby League is undervalued. Combine this with his speed and strength; it is a constant challenge for his opposition to stop him. This is now even more evident from fullback. Inglis demands a gigantic amount of attention from opposing sides. Nine times out of ten, GI will bump off one or two defenders. This forces teams to use three, four, sometimes even five players to halt his attacking prowess. As this occurs it bunches the defensive line, therefore with a quick play the ball and a couple of passes, teams are undermanned wide and can have numerous gaps through the middle. Also, if opposition teams do not chase their kicks with a straight defensive line, Inglis will tear them to pieces.
There is an added amount of pressure on a team when facing Greg Inglis. A teams preparation dramatically changes if GI is the opposition fullback. From the precision of every kick, discipline in defense, to knowing where he is on the field at all times. To date, there has only really been one coach who has successfully implemented a strategy to slow down Inglis.
Wayne Bennett in the 2006 Grand Final (Brisbane vs. Melbourne), told former Bronco utility, Shaun Berrigan, that his job was to tackle Inglis as soon as he touches the ball. It was quite amazing, known for his toughness and defense, Shaun didn’t pay attention to anyone else on the field, and he never allowed Inglis any space. Back in Greg’s second year, when he was much lighter and nowhere near as strong, such a strategy was achievable. These days, not so much.
The below clip is of State of Origin, Game III 2012. Every time Greg attacks, except once or twice, three or more defenders are required to bring him down! There is not one other player in the whole League that is as destructive as Inglis. This was just one game!
With Greg’s damaging style of play he’s difficult to stop anywhere on the field, but in the opposition 20 it is close to impossible. The amount of tries Inglis scores from 5-10 meters out, bumping off defenders, is extraordinary. What’s even more outrageous is he consistently produces stellar performances on the big stage; Origins, Tests matches, Finals and big regular season clashes. Can you even remember an Origin Game in recent years that hasn’t showcased Inglis and his amazing skill set? Didn’t think so.
Despite what some people say, Greg has always had decent balls skills. He’s always had the pass in his game. What he may have lacked early in his career is the ability of deciding when and when not to throw that cut out pass off the back of the second man play. No doubt Inglis has now fine-tuned this, especially since his move to the back. Greg’s positional change at club level would not have transpired if coach Michael Maguire thought he wasn’t proficient enough in that area. Particularly with the amount of tries the Rabbitohs score through their outside backs.
At the young age of 26, Inglis is already one of the best finishes the game has ever seen. Inglis has scored 101 NRL tries in 163 games, 19 tries in 23 matches for Australia, and holds the State of Origin try scoring record of 14 tries in 18 contests. Aside from his obvious talent, the reason Greg is such a great finisher is assisted by how comfortable he is on the field. This can all be attributed to large the amount of high-class teams, staff, and organisation that Greg has been apart of. Inglis entered the league when he was 18 years old, and since then has been involved in Melbourne’s recent feats, Queensland’s dynasty, and South Sydney’s resurrection; all of which he has been a centerpiece. The quality sides and organisations that he has been involved with have given him confidence, and it’s a defining reason as to why he is a genuine game breaker. More often than not, a missed tackle on Greg Inglis has a damaging effect.
Greg’s strength (105kg of muscle) and size (195cm) are the essential elements that drive his defense. The second strongest attacking player in the League, Akuila Uate, will tell you that.
If that’s not one of the best try saving tackles that showcases elite strength and skill, I don’t know what is. Maybe this one:
Greg’s weakest link is his positional play at fullback, which would fall a little bit under defense. When I say ‘Greg’s weakest link’, he is still stronger in this category than the majority of fullbacks (and players) in the League. When he was shifted to fullback last season it was much more noticeable, this year not so much. In Round One Greg was caught out of position a few times against the Roosters, but can you really blame him? It was game one and Inglis was against James Maloney sharp kicking game, plus Sonny Bill Williams and his textbook offloads. Since the Sydney Roosters clash Inglis has shaken the off-season rust and realises where to be. The scary fact is Greg can only improve in this category. It’s simple, all he needs is more time at fullback, and his positional play will develop.
For the last few years, undisputedly, Billy Slater has held the crown as the best fullback in the game, and I completely agree. Yet, only in the last three-four years has Slater really cemented himself, not for the entirety of his career, especially at representative level. It’s no coincidence that Billy only received the number one fullback label when Karmichael Hunt left the NRL.
Unfortunately for Slater, he is again number 2, this time to Greg Inglis.
Inglis entered the league at the age of 18, and has dominated ever since. When the talented Slater was around 27 years old, he was on the bench for QLD and fighting for a spot in the Australian side. Up until the 2010 season, Billy was constantly struggling for his Origin spot against the likes of Karmichael Hunt and Matty Bowen.
None of us will ever forget Slaters brain explosion in the 2008 World Cup.
Let me clear the air, this isn’t an indictment against Billy Slater or his career. I’m a Billy Slater fan; I believe he has been the best fullback on the paddock by far in recent years and that he will go down in history as one of the greatest to play the game – that’s reason why I’m using him as a comparative tool. If I were relating Greg’s game to Reece Robinson’s, then my article would have no credibility.
Over the first 7 Rounds of the 2013 season, Slater has 25 tackles busts, 8 line breaks, and 94 hit ups with 962 meters gained. Inglis has 51 tackle busts, 7 line breaks, and 85 hit ups with 1232 meters gained; an incredible 176 meters gained per match. Paul Gallen is averaging 188.42 meters per game, however has taken 150 total hit ups, 67 more than Greg.
Will Greg Inglis be picked at fullback for the Maroons, no. Should Greg Inglis be picked at fullback for the Maroon, no. There are a few reasons why. The Maroons current record run has come with Slater at fullback and Inglis in the centres. Coach Mal Meninga doesn’t like change and rewards players for winning the previous series. More importantly, Slater isn’t anywhere near as damaging in another position. Unlike Inglis, who has proven himself at centre, 5/8th and now fullback. Perhaps another trait that’s lacking from Slater’s repertoire? Will that become a defining point when comparing the two fullbacks legacies in the future?
From a fan’s perspective, a characteristic Greg contains is the calming feeling you get when he is on your side. Something that only great players like Andrew Johns, Darren Lockyer, Johnathan Thurston, and Cam Smith possess; it’s truly an amazing quality.
Right now, you could claim that Inglis is the most dominate force in Australian Sport, and you’d have a pretty flawless argument. When he was moved to fullback last season, he successfully changed the requirements of the fullback position. His raw natural talent gave him a birth on the representative stage in 2006 when he was just 19 years old, and his selection in rep sides has been a no brainer ever since. Having the aptitude to establish yourself as one of the best in the game from the beginning of your career is a remarkable gift, and is only something that truly great players can do.
It’s no coincidence that Greg has never lost a State of Origin series. With highlights like this, it’s easy to understand why.
It looks like Inglis has finally realised just how brutally effective he can be. Greg is an absolute wrecking ball; his potential is sky high. With or without the ball, opposition players are loaded with fear when they face the Rabbitoh from Bowraville. If they tell you otherwise, they are lying.
Thank goodness he is a Queenslander!