Wednesday 15 April 2009

The NRL's Most Valuable Player after 5 Rounds of 2009

So who leads the race for the NRL MVP after the early rounds of the 2009 regular season? The Dragons, Titans and Broncos lead the NRL with a fifth of the season completed, all sporting impressive 4-1 win/loss records but does the NRL’s Most Valuable Player currently reside on their rosters? After analysing the opening five weeks of the season and seeing what kind of impact (arguably last season’s MVP) Brett Stewart had on the 0-4 Sea Eagles, the current leader in the race for MVP honours in 2009 may not be on a league leading team.
Soward, Friend (not Hegarty), Campese and Gidley are all in early contention for NRL MVP in 2009.
Here are the contenders and please vote in the poll. Listed A through to L in no particular order of preference with their team record in parentheses (Win-Loss). A. Jamie SOWARD, St.George-Illawarra Dragons (4-2) B. Kurt GIDLEY, Newcastle Knights (3-2) C. Michael ENNIS, Bulldogs (4-1*) D. John SUTTON, South Sydney Rabbitohs (3-2) E. David STAGG, Bulldogs (4-1*) F. Michael WEYMAN, St.George-Illawarra Dragons (4-1) G. Terry CAMPESE, Canberra Raiders (2-3) H. Russell PACKER, Warriors (2-3) I. Nathan FRIEND, Gold Coast Titans (4-1) J. Karmichael HUNT, Brisbane Broncos (4-1) K. Luke LEWIS, Penrith Panthers (2-3) L. Sam THAIDAY, Brisbane Broncos (4-1) * The Bulldogs have lost the competition points for their victory over the Panthers in Round 2. Here is the run-down on the contenders after the first Five Rounds. Jamie SOWARD – his kicking game is giving the Dragons a huge advantage in field position, particularly when they start their defensive sets inside the opposition 20m zone. Is running the ball and bobbing around off-loading forwards a lot more this year which is a good sign but he hasn’t overplayed his hand passing the ball – which is a good thing as he is not a natural playmaker with the ball. Has had a defensive handler used to protect his defensive deficiencies in much the same way Bennett protected Lockyer in Brisbane and the benefits are plain to see. KEY STATS: 1 Try, 16 Goals from 20 Attempts, 1 Line Break, 5 Try Assists, 3 Line Break Assists, 7 Runs for 74 Metres Gained Per Game, 57 of 70 Tackles Made, 88 Kicks in Play. Kurt GIDLEY – a hit up machine from the back which has been giving the Knights essentially another front rower when they work the ball out of their own half. That might tell on his body as the season drags on but at the moment he’s been the heartbeat of the Knights grunt-work with Ben Cross out of form and Steven Simpson injured. Only injury could keep him from another NSW Origin birth but he’s no certainty for fullback now Brett Stewart is back in the picture – and that’s through no fault of Gidley’s who has done everything asked of him so far this season. KEY STATS: 1 Try, 13 Goals from 22 Attempts, 1 Try Assist, 1 Line Break, 2 Line Break Assists, 7 Offloads, 31 Tackle Breaks, 19.8 Runs for 164.6 Metres Gained Per Game, 22 kick returns for 217 Metres Gained. Michael ENNIS – arguably the most creative hooker the Dogs have ever had and he is certainly the best number nine since Jason Hetherington at Belmore. Probes out of dummy half constantly and has the short kicking game and deft cut out pass to be a threat near the line. Still a bit of a penalty liability, prone to the odd clanger in possession and gets ‘hurt’ an awful lot in tackles but he’s been money for the Dogs so far in 2009. KEY STATS: 80 Minutes Played Per Game, 5 Try Assists, 4 Line Break Assists, 124 of 145 Tackles Made, 36 Kicks in Play. John SUTTON – if Jason Taylor could only convince him to run the ball more and put the last tackle kick reflex away for a game or two, then Sutton would be going astoundingly well and you could argue the Bunnies would be undefeated (the Eels loss was punctuated by his over-reliance on the kick near the line) or at least 4-1. Has shown glimpses of a dominant running game at times this season which has in turn setup his outside men for ‘at the line’ passes but when the Bunnies need to capitalise on their field position he has gone all kick-happy and the team’s attack breaks down. Could play Origin this year despite his reliance on the kick at the moment to create tries. KEY STATS: 6 Try Assists, 3 Line Break Assists, 1 Line Break, 21 Offloads, 12.2 Runs for 89 Metres Gained Per Game, 79 of 91 Tackles Made, 37 Kicks in Play. David STAGG – has made the transition to Belmore look like he’s been with the club for a decade such is his suitability to the traditional Bulldogs game of tenacity bred out of their defence. Has run the ball a lot in the opening five rounds yet maintained his 40+ tackle counts which gives the Dogs the kind of reliability you’d normally expect in a station wagon. Ironically his best performance was in the win (or loss depending how you look at it) over the Panthers when he was outstanding. KEY STATS: 1 Try, 2 Try Assists, 1 Line Break, 1 Line Break Assist, 13 Runs for 84.8 Metres Gained Per Game, 242 of 246 Tackles Made. Michael WEYMAN – those Raiders fans who kept saying this kid was overrated and too injury prone to bother persisting with are clearly the best judges in the business. Weyman just needed a break (not the literal bone snapping type) and some confidence that came from Wayne Bennett backing him to be his starting prop and whammo – he’s quickly becoming the kind of player he promised to be way back when he made his debut in 2003. Will miss a week through suspension for a love tap high tackle but rep football looms large in his future. KEY STATS: 53.6 Minutes Played Per Game, 17.6 Runs for 141.8 Metres Gained Per Game, 121 of 127 Tackles Made & only 1 Error. Terry CAMPESE – has played three outstanding games for two Canberra wins (they threw the Round 1 game away in the second half against the Tigers after leading comfortably at halftime) and in the other two games tried his guts out as his team-mates failed to finish off the opportunities he created. There is a touch of Laurie Daley to the 25-year-old nephew of former Union great David Campese and while Terry may never reach the heights of the Canberra legend – he certainly plays a lot like Daley in attack. And it is always refreshing to see the genuine chip and chase back in the game on a regular basis – that try he setup for Jarod Croker on Saturday night was a thing of beauty. KEY STATS: 1 Try, 12 Goals from 16 Attempts, 8 Try Assists, 6 Line Break Assists, 2 Line Breaks, 5 Offloads, 12 Tackle Breaks, 8.4 Runs for 79.2 Metres Gained Per Game, 89 of 93 Tackles Made, 63 Kicks in Play including 3 40/20 Kicks. Russell PACKER – if you haven’t seen the beast that is Packer play yet in 2009 – check your FoxSports guide (because the Warriors are hardly ever on free to air) and make a date to watch the best front row prospect going around. Only 19 years of age the 188cm, 119kg prop has been quality in all five games this year and stood up in a big way the last fortnight with Captain Steven Price injured. Has also been a threat near the line and has just missed 4 tackles all season (and all came last weekend against the Knights) which is usually an area where rookie props struggle due to the pace of the game. KEY STATS: 2 Tries, 2 Line Breaks, 2 Line Break Assists, 1 Try Assist, 15 Tackle Breaks, 15.6 Runs for 120.2 Metres Gained Per Game, 116 of 120 Tackles Made. Nathan FRIEND – the love affair with the Titans is back on after a few tumultuous months where the club flirted with Robbie Farah and Cameron Smith and made Friend feel unappreciated. But after five straight weeks of near man of the match displays the hooker earned himself a new contract and the Titans must be extremely relieved no other club stepped in and signed Friend while he was available. Has been his usual durable defensive self but has really taken a more influential role in attack as he is playing 80 minutes each week. KEY STATS: 80 Minutes Per Game, 2 Tries, 3 Try Assists, 2 Line Break Assists, 1 Line Break, 7.2 Runs for 59.8 Metres Gained Per Game, 210 of 219 Tackles Made. Karmichael HUNT – Brisbane’s 4-1 record has been achieved without any of the other big four being particularly dominant (Lockyer, Hodges or Folau) but Hunt has been the most influential. Set up three of the Broncos four tries in the Round 1 win over the Cowboys, had a hand in another in the 2-point win over the Storm, was solid in the next two games against the Warriors and Dragons and made a number of key plays in the high-scoring clash with the Roosters. Loves to run off a second man pass by Lockyer on the left hand side and has produced the goods from that pet-play when the Broncos need it. If he can start to mix with the Broncos right hand side strike-power of Hodges and Folau – the Broncos might be irresistible. KEY STATS: 2 Tries, 5 Try Assists, 4 Line Break Assists, 2 Line Breaks, 11 Tackle Breaks, 10.4 Runs for 95.2 Metres Gained Per Game. Luke LEWIS – is he a five-eighth, a lock forward, a halfback or a centre? I’m not even sure Matt Elliott knows, let alone Lewis himself. But he’s been the Panthers go-to man on every occasion so far in 2009 and a big part of their 2-3 record which could be as impressive as 4-1 had the Bulldogs not broken the rules and his own cut out pass late in the Storm game been ruled ok. There have been calls to pick Lewis on the bench in the NSW Origin team but I think Phil Gould has it right when he said Lewis might fit the bill at centre if they do take him. Defensively sound and with a strong running game mixed with some ball-playing ability – Lewis might be a real asset starting at centre for the Blues. KEY STATS: 2 Tries, 2 Try Assists, 4 Line Breaks, 4 Line Break Assists, 6 Offloads, 18 Tackle Breaks, 9.8 Runs for 75.8 Metres Gained Per Game, 92 of 101 Tackles Made, 23 Kicks in Play. Sam THAIDAY – has stolen the great Slammin’ Sam Backo’s nickname in recent times due to his robust and at times reckless running style. Backo will always be the true Slammin’ Sam to those who saw him play but Thaiday has really come into his own in the past 18 months – transforming from a error prone bench player into a powerful running backrower capable of playing the whole game. His early season form could see him in the Australian starting back-row he’s been going that good. KEY STATS: 71.8 Minutes Per Game, 16 runs for 115.2 Metres Gained Per Game, 190 of 206 Tackles Made. Note: To qualify for the MVP Nominations each player must have appeared in at least four of their club’s opening five games in 2009 and a maximum of two players from any one side were nominated. And most importantly be playing great football that is having a huge impact on their team’s fortunes so far this season. Thus the likes of Scott Prince, Steven Price and Brett Stewart weren’t considered having not played enough games and Darius Boyd and Ben Creagh fell short through the player quota. Others considered to have a strong case to be included the dozen nominations included Luke Bailey, Robbie Farah, Preston Campbell and Billy Slater. And before you go pointing at Braith Anasta’s stats and say surely he’s an MVP contender – is he being the kind of difference maker at the Roosters that has you thinking they are better than an also-ran team after five weeks? He’s playing well sure but the Roosters look terrible and look fortunate to be 2-3. Also those expecting to see a Melbourne player – don’t know what to tell you but Slater and Smith have both been good without being great and the Storm are only 3-2 and two of those wins weren’t exactly convincing over the Dragons and Panthers. Their stars will feature in the future but Slater (who has been their best) isn’t in red-hot form by any stretch and thus missed out on a nomination. So who is your NRL MVP after the first Five Rounds of 2009? Check back tomorrow for my MVP Top 5.