Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

League: Backs rely on heavy hitters

Manu Vatuvei. Photo / Getty Images
Manu Vatuvei. Photo / Getty Images

If the Warriors make the finals in 2016, it will be with arguably the biggest outside back division in their history.

Over the years, Australian commentators have been notoriously over the top in their claims about the Warriors' size, often making out that the Auckland club have 13 Godzillas on the field.

But last night that hyperbole - finally - had a ring of truth. Manu Vatuvei (1.89m, 110kg) and Ken Maumalo (1.91m, 105kg) are surely the biggest wing combination in the Warriors' history and one of the largest the NRL has seen. David Fusitua (1.89m, 98kg) is on the larger scale in terms of fullbacks and neither Solomone Kata (1.77m, 97kg) nor Blake Ayshford (1.90m, 100kg) are small.

"It probably would be the [biggest back five] I've played with. I don't remember having two second-rowers on the wing in any team," laughed hooker Issac Luke. "But it should help us. Those boys run hard and take a lot of heat off our forwards."

Maumalo's bulldozing style has created plenty of space over the last few weeks, and Vatuvei has been scattering tacklers like nine pins for more than a decade.

Add the swift pace and step of Fusitua, and the complementary talents of Kata and Ayshford, and the Warriors hope they have a recipe that will create plenty of go-forward.

"We have got plenty of size and power there," said coach Andrew McFadden. "Certainly our wingers are bigger than our forwards in some ways. Those guys are really important when they bring the ball back. When you start rolling forward with that momentum, it gives our quality ball players a lot more opportunity. When they get that, our game flows."

"We need to use our size and do it well to get the sets started," added Vatuvei. "It takes a lot of pressure off the big boys, because they have to do most of the tackling in the middle."

There will be inevitable comparisons made with the Brisbane team of the late 1990s if the Warriors continue with the heavy-artillery approach. Back then, Wayne Bennett's team were ruthless - giant winger Wendell Sailor would take the first hit up, swiftly followed by another behemoth in Lote Tuqiri, then the likes of prop Shane Webke kept up the pressure on the opposition defensive line.

It also illustrates how league has evolved. The five outside backs yesterday had an average weight of more than 100kg and all of them could, if necessary, do an adequate job in the forwards.

In the Warriors' first game in 1995, the line-up included Dean Bell, Sean Hoppe and Tea Ropati - big men in their day - but an average weight that was under 90kg. And of the five, only Bell was considered suitable for the pack.

A decade earlier, none of the 24-man Kiwis touring squad to England and France weighed as much as either Maumalo or Vatuvei, and only three of the forwards (Owen Wright, Ricky Cowan and Kurt Sorensen) tipped the scales at more than 100kg.

- Herald on Sunday

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter


© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 25 Oct 2016 21:13:12 Processing Time: 133ms