When you're fighting for your life, up against a wall with someone advancing on you, I want a mate beside me. And not just any old mate, no stoner-pal or drinking buddy, I want a mate who is a also a forward !
Forwards have got the guts and the courage, and backs haven't. I want a forward beside me and the only time I want a back is when I'm retreating because I'll want a fast piggy-back.
Forwards have the important jobs and positions in the rugby league game. We have all heard the old truisms: “Forwards win big matches”, “control the middle of the field and the ruck”, do the hard yards first”….When it comes to defending in the trenches, when it comes to going forward with the ball, when it comes to the sickening clashes and biffo - it's the forwards that provide the grunt and the guts.
Look at recent grand finals - all won on the platform of the forwards. The 2001 and 1999 grand finals are great examples of this. The 1999 grand final was in the bag for St George Illawarra at half time on the back of great work by Mundine and Blacklock, but in the second half the Storm forwards came out and monstered the St George Illawarra pack, led by Nikau and Lazarus. This got the St George Illawarra team on the back foot and allowed the outside backs to score the tries. In the 2001 grand final, why did the Knights win over the much-vaunted Parramatta ? The gutsy Knights forwards blew away the Parramatta pack in the first half and Parramatta never got a look in. Joey Johns had a bit to do with it, but remember, he's a half-back which actually makes him a half-forward too!
The dominating images of the State of Origin are players like Spud and Chief lining each other up, the raging bull Tallis rampaging and big hitting, and the littlest half-forwards like Johns and Alfie bamboozling the tackle-shy gutless backs ! The 3rd origin match in 2003 shows this perfectly, the previously tired and outplayed Queensland forwards came out in the 3rd match and just steamrolled the NSW pack leading to their win in that match - Queensland didn't have a real chance until their forwards stood up to be counted.
Maybe the smartalecs outside the part-forwards (half and five-eigth) score the tries but it's because of the forwards that backs get their opportunities. Everyone knows how important the forwards are, screaming out “Go forward”. The only guy on the field who says “go back” is the referee !
Too many forget the hard work by the forwards for the fancypants backs, but when it matters the forwards stand up and take control of the game. Its no accident that the teams soften each other up in the early stages - no wonder the backs back away when the going is tough ! One of the best compliments given a modern winger is to say he played like an extra forward ! Modern wingers are chosen partly on their ability to play in the ruck area. Most are just forwards waiting to slow down whilst speedy backs like El Masri, Slater and Wesser languish on the sidelines because the selectors realise it's better to have a couple of extra forwards. Even master coaches like Bennett often stack their bench with four forwards.
The forwards are the only ones you can depend upon, when you're on your own line and the opposition is pressing hard, it's the forwards who form the nucleus of the defenders, spreading out from the ruck. The softest try you can score is the pushover next to the ruck (probably because some backs are defending there), because it's recognised that the gutsiest and hardest men (the forwards) are supposed to be there.
At the end of the match you only have to look at the jumpers to see how dirty and ripped they are, from the backs to the forwards, the jumpers get dirtier, because the forwards have been doing the work. The shirkers out the back just ponce around bludging on the hard workers.
Don't get me wrong, backs have their uses, when the team plane crashes on the desert island and you're stuck there for years, it's the backs who are going to be wearing the skirts and high heels and the forwards will be controlling the rations in exchange for favours……
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