Stats Column – The most important position?

I’ve often had the discussion with people about the most important position on a rugby league field and to be fair there are a number of contenders.

You never set a platform without a prop forward and a second row tests the fringe defence long before a winger or centre get their hands on the ball.

Half-backs usually call the moves and full-back is such a physically demanding role with everyone trying to chase you down whilst quite often playing a supporting and playmaking role.

This week I want to look at the role of hookers, specifically those that played in Super League games during the last few days.

On Sunday table topping Castleford Tigers hosted Warrington Wolves and whilst the media quite rightly picked out Greg Eden and his five try haul in a 36-16 Tigers win, you can’t discount the work of Paul McShane.

McShane has already been called up into Wayne Bennett’s international plans and he is having a wow of a season.

He’s what I’d describe as a schemer. Like most hookers his defensive work rate is right up there. He made 28 tackles which included seven marker tackles during the match. On attack with ball in hand he put an attacking kick in and carried the ball six times, five of these were testing the markers from dummy half.

During this match McShane kept his errors to a minimum as well.

Now looking at Warrington and they are an out of form side that made 400 less metres than Castleford overall. Daryl Clark was their starting hooker and he can be a real threat with the ball. He’s what I’d describe as a runner.

Like McShane he was solid defensively (27 tackles, two marker tackles) while on offence (at risk of sounding North American or Canadian) he came up with two attacking kicks, carried the ball eleven times including seven from dummy half but he made 111 metres with the ball and bust four tackles.

This game also saw an example of a third type of hooker – what I’d call the distributor. You’re distributing hooker doesn’t go at the defence very often and passes out of dummy half. Brad Dwyer of Warrington was more like this. Again solid in defence (21 tackles, five marker tackles) but just four runs out of dummy half.

If we look at the Catalans versus Huddersfield game then the stats show on this day the hosts had two distributing hookers. Overall Catalans were blown out of the water by Huddersfield and collectively the Dragons made just 831 metres in a 56-12 pummeling, the lowest I’ve seen from any side this season.

Paul Aiton and Alrix Da Costa were the nines on a roasting day in the South of France. Together the pair made just five attacking carries in a game that saw them rarely have the upper hand. In this game Huddersfield also used two hookers in the shape of Kruise Leeming and former Bradford man Adam O’Brien.

I would usually describe both of these guys as runners, but this week they knuckled down and were controlled with Leeming taking the defence on five times making an average gain of 9.80 metres per carry.

What I do find fascinating is that a lot of teams run with two hookers in their match day squads. This was a tactic generally introduced to this country by Ian Millward and several other Australian coaches in the late nineties and is still widely in use today.

Wakefield went against this in their match against Leeds, naming Kyle Wood as their only recognised dummy half specialist. Wood had a busy night in defence with 37 tackles to his name and four of those came from marker. In this game it appears that Trinity were under orders not to run from dummy half.

Eighty minutes produced just eleven runs from dummy half collectively and only one of those came from Wood. In fact Kyle only carried the ball twice all game, breaking the line on one occasion.

Leeds also only carried the one hooker in Matt Parcell, and like Trinity, the Rhinos rarely went from dummy half (just eight times in 80 minutes). The difference here though was that Parcell did it six times. I think he is more of a schemer and I’ve said before what a good piece of business his signing has turned into.

That brings me to St Helens where James Roby by his own high standards has been having a quiet season. This year he has shared the role with Tommy Lee, but with no Lee there he stepped into the limelight again in the 26-10 win over Widnes with a controlled performance that only saw one error but brought eight raids from dummy half and saw him make 36 tackles with no misses.

In the same game Widnes Vikings started with Jordan Johnstone at nine. A former half-back, he is settling really well into the role and it was encouraging to see him with a much smaller workload this week. Previous games have seen him notch thirty or forty tackles. In this one he made eleven with Aaron Heremaia – another former half-back now more of a hooker chipping in with 23 tackles.

Over at the AJ Bell Stadium, Salford were out of their game against Hull at half-time when they trailed 22-0.

It was a quiet evening for Kris Brining while Hull went with the experienced Danny Washbrook as their hooker. He scored a try, made six carries in the game (three from dummy half) and did 34 tackles to help Hull to the win.

Leigh Centurions made history against Wigan on Thursday night, putting 50 points on their illustrious neighbours and winning against them in a competitive fixture for the first time in 33 years.

Key to this in my eyes was the contribution of hookers Eloi Pelissier and Liam Hood (pictured). At times this year Pelissier’s form has drifted from average to excellent but this was one of those nights when he was dynamic.

A hundred running metres and a line break were the highlight of his performance along with two tackle busts and eighteen tackles in an error free performance. This allowed Hood to play the schemer role perfectly. I picked Hood out as my man of the match on the night.

At first glance if we take just running metres into account his return is quite modest (nine carries, 19 metres), however he scored two crucial tries from close range and assisted a further try.

Wigan’s pair were Michael McIlorum and youngster Josh Gansen. It was perhaps the most attack minded that I’ve seen McIlorum as he continues to come back from a horrible injury run and to be fair I thought he was right up there for Wigan despite three errors. In future years I think we will hear a lot more about Ganson who, like his opposite number Hood, came from the bench to claim two tries.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on most important players on a team. Let me know in the comments section below.

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