Who has been the best Aboriginal rugby league player through the first half of this NRL season?
Owen Craigie

Over the Black Dot
7 Jun 2017 - 4:15 PM  UPDATED 7 Jun 2017 - 4:15 PM

We’re halfway through the NRL season and it’s really still anyone’s competition. But I suppose the one thing that really stands out for me is that last year’s premiers, Cronulla, are still winning games and look like they could be headed for a back-to-back.

But they’re winning very sloppy. They’re not playing really good football, which is scary. Once they do play good football, there’s daylight between them and the rest of the competition. You look at their stats: they’ve got more errors in them and more uncompleted sets than any other team. But they’re winning, which is very, very scary.

I think it’s just because of their style of football. I think with Paul Gallen leading the way for the last couple of years, he’s their leader and his style of football is to get down-and-dirty and get into the grudge match. I suppose over the years they’ve just made that kind of play, their style of football - just getting in there - there’s nothing flash or pretty -  and they just grind away and they’re grinding and grinding away, and all the stats are against them but they’re winning. And I think that once you come to semi-finals time, they’re a good chance of going back-to-back.

A big part of that is Andrew Fifita. He’s killing it, and he’s been the best Indigenous player in the comp.

Last year he scored that amazing try in the grand final and to be in this type of form halfway through the season is amazing, and I suppose if you look at the form he’s in and the form Gallen’s in and Valentine Holmes and Jack Bird and a few other players, the Cronulla side is quite scary to think they could be the first team since the 90s to go back-to-back.

But I think the standout right now is Fifita. He’s fast, he’s big, he bumps off, he’s got great skill.

As always, there are some great Aboriginal players this year and early in the season, the best of those was Corey Norman, until he got injured.

Corey Norman for Parramatta, he was on fire - kicking 40-20s and taking the line on and creating all these opportunities for Parramatta.

Jack Bird’s another who has really stood up and Dane Gagai is playing really well in a Newcastle team that’s been a few years with the wooden spoon.

But I think the standout right now is Fifita. He’s fast, he’s big, he bumps off, he’s got great skill.

And front-rowers are not allowed to score tries and he’s scoring tries at club level and representative level. Forwards go their whole careers without scoring tries - this bloke’s scoring them for fun.

I think the key for him is what he’s doing away from the field and it’s showing in his performance on the field.

As you might know from earlier articles, I reckon James Roberts for the Broncos is another who’s really stood out this year.

These days you’re a brand, you’re a product of yourself as an individual. And if you’re looking after yourself off the field, then you’re gonna be even more successful on the field. And obviously what he’s doing off the field is working, and considering what’s happened in the last 12 months or 18 months with him, there’s a prime example of someone who’s made changes in his life and it shows in his football, which is amazing.

I think he’s in a good head space at the moment, and I think that’s why he’s playin such great footy. Obviously he can get better but at this point in time in his career, what he’s doing right now is amazing.

They’re comparing him to big Artie Beetson and I was coached by Big Artie and I’ll tell ya now, Big Artie Beetson would be very proud of the kid because Artie Beetson, who was a brilliant rep player, the way played the ball and ran is similar to Fifita.

As you might know from earlier articles, I reckon James Roberts for the Broncos is another who’s really stood out this year.

Everyone loves someone who’s got plenty of speed and is very fast. See him in open space and I think every time you watch the Broncos now all you want to see is James Roberts scoring a 100m try, because it’s so common what he’s doing.

The highlights from Aboriginal footballers keep coming, and someone who’s having a breakout year is Josh Addo-Carr. He’s got representative football written all over him.

And he’s another guy - you just love watching Melbourne play now because you want to see him in open space. He’s just gone leaps and bounds forwards in a short amount of time. Some players go to other clubs and it takes them 12 months. He went down there and overnight became a superstar.

While some players have taken their opportunities, there’s always still plenty of chances for others to step up. That’s what clubs and coaches are looking for at this time of the year. They’re gonna give you an opportunity but they wanna see what you’ve got. They want to plan their future and see what the future holds for the club and this is a perfect opportunity for these guys to go out there and really make every post a winner.

A good example is at South Sydney, because they’ve just relied too much on Greg Inglis in the past and I suppose watching Souths play now, you can see that they’re missing GI. But at the same time they really need other players to stand up as well. There’s plenty of young Aboriginal kids there and there’s some that are currently in the first grade side. So it’s an opportunity for them to really shine and stand up and plan for life after Greg Inglis.

And that’s when you come back to Corey Norman, because you can always give people opportunity, but not every player takes it. It’s those one per cent of players that really take it and back themselves and make their commitment, that’s the ones the coaches and clubs are really looking for.

At this time of the season it’s very funny, because the season’s very long and it’s representative time.

This is where you see clubs fall out of the top eight and never recover because of injury.

So this time of the year, it’s all about staying injury free, keeping your side fit and get ready for the back end of the season. And this is where teams really fall off and struggle to stay and compete, because a lot players are playing rep, a lot of players get injuries.

So it’s really important at this time of year because the season can swing either way for you, as a club and a player.

To hear more from Owen Craigie and for all of your rugby league news, tune in to Over the Black Dot on NITV at 9.30pm each Wednesday, or On Demand.

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