The re-emergence of the skilful, mobile lock

There seems to be a trend in our game back towards a more mobile style of agile, skilful lock and I think that can only be a good thing for the NRL.

A lot of teams have had success over the past 15 years playing a third prop at lock. There have been plenty of big, robust ball-carriers who could just as easily wear No.8 or No.10 as No.13.

That's a far cry from a generation earlier when great players like Brad Fittler, Laurie Daley and Wally Lewis were just as valuable in the 13 as they were at five-eighth.

I played some lock through my career, including my final season at the Rabbitohs in 2009. But bigger-bodied locks like Mick Crocker and David Fa'alogo ended up taking over that role by the end of that season.

In the decade or so since then, names like Paul Gallen, Corey Parker, Sam Burgess and Jason Taumalolo have dominated the position.

Those are all wonderful players and some of the best forwards of the modern era but they are also big, battering-ram type players that could easily fill in at prop but would look very out of place at five-eighth.

Sharks lock Paul Gallen.
Sharks lock Paul Gallen. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

But just over the last season or two we have seen two of the most dominant clubs in the NRL – the Rabbitohs and the Roosters – enjoy success with a return to the smaller lock with plenty of mobility, tons of stamina and good footwork and attacking skills.

Victor Radley and Cameron Murray are both being touted as possible Origin players sooner rather than later and both have been crucial to their teams' strong starts to 2019.

Jake Trbojevic is a current Origin and Test player and while he is also a bigger body who can play prop, he plays as an extra ball-player for Manly and has an excellent short passing game as well as being able to get through 80 minutes every week.

This shift, which I think is being impacted by a reduction in the interchanges as well as a move towards and more open and flowing style of play this year, is a good thing for rugby league on several fronts.

You require more strings to your bow to play that type of role rather than being a heavy body to hit it up powerfully. You need to be someone with a high work rate and you need to be good on your feet as well.

It broadens the skill set the player needs to have to play in that position.

We're only three rounds in but the teams that have been struggling, like the Warriors and the Titans, have a whole heap of middle forwards and very big packs while the teams that have impressed – like South Sydney, Melbourne and the Roosters – have a better balance with mobile forwards balanced out with a few big, powerful bodies in the pack.

I foresee a time when good front-rowers have a skillset where they can kick and pass a ball, put players into holes and can step just as well as a smaller-bodied player.

You're already starting to see it with Jason Taumalolo but you've also got players as big as Latrell Mitchell that can step and he has a 50-metre kick on him. That sort of thing is going to become more apparent.

What I like about players like Radley and Murray is that they bring so much value because they can do the hard stuff when required and get through a lot of work and they won't get gassed quickly like a bigger player usually does.

They've got that little jink at the line so when you need momentum and a quick play-the-ball that can be really beneficial.

Big forwards are good if you have a roll on but if you have a slow play-the-ball against a set defensive line someone like Murray he goes at the line with a jink and gets a quick -play-the-ball and changes the momentum.