England are set to kick-off a three-match series against New Zealand this week and will face the Kiwis with a handful of players that ply their trade in the NRL. With that number set to increase further next season with John Bateman, Ryan Hall and Ryan Sutton set to head Down Under, TSZ takes a look at how the NRL-based Englishmen have got on this past season.
We’ll start with Josh Hodgson, who only played 11 matches in 2018 due to the ACL injury he suffered in the 2017 World Cup. His presence was greatly missed by Canberra Raiders as they failed to qualify for the Finals. However, his return gave the Raiders a boost with him providing 13 try assists which was more than any of his teammates managed throughout the entire season. That’s an average of 1.2 try assists per game, highlighting the important of Hodgson to his side.
The Englishman also averaged more tackles per game than any of his teammates with 34.5 in his 11 matches, nearly four more than anyone else for the Raiders. However, Hodgson did also miss an average of 3.1 tackles per game which was the second highest number for the Raiders behind Joe Tapine. Hodgson will be looking to end a difficult year on a high as he heads into the series against the Kiwis as favourite to wear the #9 shirt.
Sam Burgess is another man who has endured a difficult year with off-field distractions affecting him towards the end of the season before having to withdraw from the England squad through injury. Burgess was involved on both sides of the ball for South Sydney with his usual all-action performances on display throughout the year, but how effective was he in 2018?
Sam ran the ball in 347 times which tied him for 13th spot in the NRL, making 3046 metres in the process. That was more than any other player for the Rabbitohs whilst finishing 18th across the NRL. Whilst he tied at the top of the leaderboard for offloads at Souths (37), he could only manage to finish 13th in tackle busts and tied-14th for linebreaks. He also finished 11th in the NRL for missed tackles with 72, tied-18th for errors with 28 and tied-6th for penalties conceded with 24. Burgess will want to tidy those parts of his game up and missing the internationals may be a blessing in disguise as he enjoys a rest ahead of pre-season.
George Burgess was outshone by his twin Tom in 2018 with the former failing to stand out this year. He only ranked 7th for Souths in both runs and metres with 2647 metres from 261 runs. He made just two linebreaks, leaving him well down the leaderboard at both Souths and in the NRL as a whole. He only managed 33 tackle busts, an average of just 1.2 per game with him finishing 11th at the Rabbitohs. He also failed to offload the ball much with him producing just two all season to tie for 20th spot at Souths.
George was busy in defence with an average of 21.3 tackles per game to rank 6th for the Rabbitohs but he also missed the 4th-joint highest number of tackles (51) with him also conceding the 3rd highest amount of penalties at Souths with 23, which tied him for 9th across the NRL. His error count was low, with just nine across the season, and that will be an important statistic to keep down against the Kiwis.
As previously mentioned, Tom had the better season out of the twins for Souths last season with the numbers backing that up. He chipped in with five tries which isn’t a bad amount for a front-rower. He made the 4th highest amount of runs for Souths but more impressively, ended up 2nd on the chart for metres made with 3025. That also ranked him 21st in the NRL. T
Tom, like his twin, struggled to break the line in 2018 with just six to tie him for 11th at his club with the Englishman also managing just 41 tackle busts, the 9th highest at Souths. He chipped in with 527 tackles to rank him 7th at the Rabbitohs but also missed 52, one more than George, and he missed more than anyone else at Souths apart from two players, with one of those being his older brother, Sam. However, his error count was low with just nine across the season which was the same as George, whilst he also only conceded six penalties to tie him for 12th at Souths.
These figures don’t make for pretty reading for James Graham, with signs he may be slowing down as he reaches the back end of his career. On the face of it, he appeared as effective as usual in 2018 but his numbers don’t back that up. It could be the fact he played in a very dynamic pack that is capable of playing big minutes but only four forwards had more game time than Graham and one of those was hooker Cameron McInnes.
Graham ranked 10th at St George for runs with 248 whilst coming in at 11th for metres made with 2080. That’s an average of 8.39 metres per carry and 80 metres per game. He made just the solitary linebreak whilst also managing 14 tackle busts, ranking him tied-16th and 18th respectively. These numbers also put him well down the rankings across the league with those two figures seeing him come in at the mid-200s. Graham made 652 tackles which was the 27th highest in the NRL and the 3rd highest for the Dragons, with him missing 39 to rank tied-82nd in the NRL for that stat. He also made just five errors which was one of the fewest for the Dragons (tied-15th).
One man who continues to gain plaudits is Elliott Whitehead, who could be a standout player for England. Despite a solid enough season, he missed more tackles than any other player for Canberra (56) as well as conceding more penalties (22), which England head coach Wayne Bennett will be looking to eradicate from his game during the three-match series. Whitehead chipped in with ten tries for the Raiders to tie-3rd within his playing group.
Some of his other stat lines will have no doubt taken a knock having been asked to play in several positions through the season and whilst his versatility is an asset, he’s much more of a threat in his favoured second row position; Canberra were sometimes guilty of not getting the ball in his hands more last season. He was a dangerous runner as usual last term, but with just six linebreaks, 21 tackle busts and eight offloads, he didn’t rank well for the Raiders. One stat where he did stand out was in terms of the number of tackles he made with 641, which was the most of any Canberra player.
Looking at the only English back to play in the NRL, Gareth Widdop enjoyed a very impressive season with his loss greatly felt in his side’s elimination in week 2 of the finals. The Dragons were missing their most creative outlet with Widdop providing no less than 19 try assists in 2018, the most for the Dragons and tied-5th across the NRL. Whilst he only contributed four tries himself, the number of assists more than made up for that whilst his goal kicking was also important; he kicked 94 goals, the 3rd highest number in the NRL, whilst he converted at 83% which also ranked 3rd amongst kickers that had attempted at least 20 goals.
Widdop was targeted in defence, just like halfback partner Ben Hunt, with teams looking to go wide when playing the Dragons to avoid their imposing pack. This saw Widdop miss 60 tackles, the 2nd highest in his side. He also made more errors than any other Dragon with 31, but that is to be expected for somebody who is constantly in possession and trying to create chances. Unfortunately for Widdop and England, he too will miss the New Zealand series due to the shoulder injury suffered in the first week of the finals and his absence will leave a big hole to fill in the halves.
*Sample size was too small to include a table for Josh Hodgson