Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Warriors fast winning a reputation for speed

Shaun Johnson. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Shaun Johnson. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Glen Fisiiahi and Shaun Johnson are among the quickest men in the NRL. Both have, in recent times, chased down renowned speed merchant Michael Jennings, leading to speculation that the Warriors duo may be close to the fastest on the NRL fields.

Sprint times and measurements are closely guarded secrets but the pair showed their penchant for pure pace in last week's dramatic victory over the Roosters.

According to club statistics, Fisiiahi reached a top speed of 36km/h during his blistering burst to the tryline midway through the second half. The same statistics show that Johnson at one point hit almost 35km/h as he reeled in Jennings in the first half, despite the Origin centre having a significant start on him, following a dropped ball by the Warriors.

Warriors head trainer Carl Jennings, who has also worked at Bradford, Canberra and Penrith, says in terms of running pedigree, Fisiiahi is a rare gem.

"In terms of rugby league, he is the best natural sprinter I have ever coached. He has a running style that sees him glide over the ground. He's got great acceleration but what makes him special is his ability to maintain a peak speed for a long period of time. He's built for speed."

According to Jennings, Johnson is also something of a freakish talent, being a particularly well-balanced athlete. Kevin Locke sits just behind those two, while Manu Vatuvei, as he showed with length-of-the-field efforts against the Broncos and Roosters, is deceptively quick for someone who is 1.89m and 108kg. The 'Beast' peaked at almost 34km/h at one point during his sprint to the line late in last Sunday'smatch.

Konrad Hurrell is not quite at the same level in terms of speed but has remarkable pace and acceleration over the first 20m, which makes him dangerous close to the line and allows him to score tries like the match-winning effort against Manly.

The Warriors haven't always been known for pace but they have put a special emphasis on speed in 2013: "We decided in the off-season that one of our points of difference could be speed and power," says Jennings. "We knew we had some great athletes here and it was a matter of gearing a programme that would get the best out of them."

The club has tailored much of the gym work towards that area and employed specialised sprint trainer Dane Norton, who has developed specific programmes.

The debate around the fastest men in league is an endless one, as clubs rarely release statistics and most shy away from in-season testing, given the possibility for injury. Men such as Billy Slater, Ben Barba, David Mead and Akuila Uate are regularly mentioned, while rookie Tiger swinger Marika Koroibete is said to have a 10.75s 100m time on his resume.

The debate may be ended next year, as the Sydney Morning Herald has reported that Cronulla sprint coach Roger Fabri has been in talks with sponsors and athletics officials to stage a winner takes all race before the start of the 2014 season, with a large purse on offer. Each club will be allowed to put forward two representatives, though both must have played at least two NRL games this season.

However, even then the title of fastest man may attract some qualification. Speed over 100m is not often required in league, and acceleration over 20m to 40m may be more telling in the context of the game.

Michael Jennings

The New South Wales player is one of the NRL's quickest over 20m to 40m. However, he seems less able to maintain his top speed over a longer distance, being run down in both Warriors clashes this year, first by Glen Fisiiahi and then Shaun Johnson.

Glen Fisiiahi

According to Warriors data, the 'Flying Fish' recorded 3.7s for 40m in testing in May and is the club's fastest over 40m and 100m.

Usain Bolt

The Jamaican world record holder has topped 44km/h at his fastest during a 100m race. The six-time Olympic champion averages over 37.5km/h as he thunders down the track over 100m.

Billy Slater

The Storm fullback has maintained a high level over a decade. Now 30, he remains one of league's most dangerous players in open space.

Jarryd Hayne

The Eels fullback has been hampered by strain injuries but when fully fit is still one of the fastest men in the sport. Hayne won the Gatorade Bolt in 2008 and finished third in a similar cross-code novelty race in 2010, headed by Waratahs winger Lachlan Turner.

- Herald on Sunday

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