With the 2018 Telstra Premiership about to kick off and set to be as tight as any competition in memory, we take a look at each club’s goal kicking stocks and find a gulf between the best – and worst – equipped teams.
At the top of the tree, Penrith and Canberra each have the luxury of a player in their starting 13 with a career accuracy above 80% who won’t even be required to kick.
At the other end, clubs like Newcastle and Wests Tigers are on the verge of starting the season with a first-choice goal-kicker who has yet to take a shot at NRL level. Yet other clubs, such as Manly and Cronulla, have a host of candidates but none who are established or yet have convincing records.
1. Penrith Panthers
Nathan Cleary: 145/168, 86.31%
James Maloney: 707/876, 80.71%
Blues five-eighth James Maloney’s precise goal-kicking has been invaluable in former clubs Cronulla and the Roosters achieving premiership glory in 2016 and 2013 respectively. He has also been the Blues kicker in recent series. However, despite being one of the best in the NRL in recent years he has now moved to a club that officially has the competition’s most accurate kicker in Nathan Cleary. Most of the other teams would kill for this luxury.
2. Canberra Raiders
Jarrod Croker: 593/728, 81.46%
Aidan Sezer: 173/210, 82.38%
Raiders skipper Jarrod Croker is one of the NRL’s top sharpshooters and at just 27 years old is set to break all kinds of point-scoring records. Halfback Aidan Sezer was one of the NRL’s best goal-kickers throughout his four-year career at the Titans and actually boasts a slightly better career percentage than Croker, but has barely been required at the tee in his two years in the nation’s capital. Like Maloney at Penrith, Sezer would be a first-choice kicker at most other clubs.
3. South Sydney Rabbitohs
Adam Reynolds: 455/543, 83.79%
Damien Cook: 7/8, 87.50%
Cody Walker: 10/12, 83.33%
Adam Reynolds is the second-best kicker in the NRL percentage-wise after Cleary and while his back-ups haven’t slotted a ton of goals at the top level, both Damien Cook and Cody Walker are more than handy.
4. North Queensland Cowboys
Thurston: 846/1062, 79.66%
Lowe: 69/89, 77.53%
Johnathan Thurston has the second-most goals of any currently active player and to kick that many at a rate nudging 80% is no mean feat. A few injuries plus plenty of rep duty have forced the Cowboys to lean on Ethan Lowe heavily in recent seasons and after kicking below 70% in 2014 and 2015 the rugged back-rower came into his own in Thurston’s long-term absence last year, kicking at 79.7% in 2017.
5. Gold Coast Titans
Michael Gordon: 596/733, 81.31%
Kane Elgey: 18/23, 78.26%
Ash Taylor: 65/96, 67.71%
Veteran fullback Gordon is set to bump Kane Elgey and Ash Taylor out of the top job in 2018 with the former Roosters, Eels, Sharks and Panthers custodian averaging better than 80% over a long career. The young halves pairing provide more than serviceable second-string options.
6. Parramatta Eels
Moses: 109/149, 73.15% (at Parra 31/37, 83.78%)
Gutherson: 50/68, 73.53%
Clint Gutherson was doing a fine job as first-choice Eels kicker before Moses joined mid-season last year, and the former Wests Tiger quickly found his mojo, averaging a far superior 83.8% as an Eels compared to just under 70% at his old club.
7. Brisbane Broncos
Jordan Kahu: 139/180, 77.22%
Anthony Milford: 35/52, 67.31%
Jordan Kahu had been edging ahead of club great Corey Parker for a few seasons before he officially assumed the role in 2017 and has crafted a handy record, averaging close to 80% over the past two years. Milford is a part-time but serviceable understudy.
8. New Zealand Warriors
Shaun Johnson: 265/356, 74.44%
Issac Luke: 179/253, 70.75%
Warriors and Kiwis Test goal-kicker Johnson has averaged a reliable mid-70s at the tee over his five seasons as top-string kicker and upped that to 79% across 2017. Hooker Issac Luke has been a first-choice kicker in the past at South Sydney and has kicked 45 goals at 79% in his two seasons at the Warriors when Johnson has been out.
9. Melbourne Storm
Cameron Smith: 1007/1366, 73.72%
Cameron Munster: 12/23, 52.17%
Probably the only ladder ranking where you’ll see the Storm in the bottom eight this season. However a lack of a reliable back-up to skipper Cameron Smith, combined with Smith’s less-than-spectacular career average of under 74%, has them at ninth in our list.
10. St George Illawarra Dragons
Widdop: 288/388, 74.23%
Hunt: 25/36, 69.44%
Lafai: 12/19, 63.16%
The last of the 10 clubs with a recognised and established first-choice kicker, the Dragons are in a fairly similar boat to the Storm and Warriors. New buy Ben Hunt and centre Tim Lafai have each dinked over a few in their time with Lafai providing back-up to Widdop last season, kicking six from 10 in two games.
11. Sydney Roosters
Mitchell: 21/34, 61.76%
Taukeiaho: 30/39, 76.92%
Outside of the 22 games Michael Gordon played for them last year, the Tricolours have had a tough time off the tee since James Maloney left the club at the end of 2015. Lock or prop Sio Siua Taukeiaho is the best of the rest, forging a respectable 77% average in his 39 attempts (which almost all came in 2016).
He kicked a superb 16 from 18 for Tonga at the recent World Cup. The problem for the Roosters is that he is unlikely to play 80 minutes often if at all (especially if he lands in the front row rotation). Back-up Latrell Mitchell had a dusty start to his NRL goal-kicking career, going at barely over 50% in 2016 before an impressive nine from 11 last year.
“I’ve been working really hard at it and after every training session I’m still jumping in and kicking some goals; it’s something you have to work hard at,” Mitchell told NRL.com this week.
“Siua has kicked at international level and you can see why. He’s the favourite to do the job but I’ll be second string and I’ll keep him honest. I’ll be there with my hand up if they need me to have a go at it.”
Taukeiaho told NRL.com he had sacrificed days off over the off-season to come in and do a few hours of kicking practice.
“I’m pretty confident but there’s a lot of good goal kickers in our team so whoever gets the first thing, we’ll just go for it,” Taukeiaho told NRL.com.
“Me and Latrell and Reece Robinson have been practising in the pre-season and they’re awesome goal kickers as well.
“We have a kicking coach, Jason Taylor, we’ll judge that from how we go at training and how we slot them and how our techniques are going. Two points is a big thing in the game these days so we have to get everything right when round one starts.”
12. Cronulla Sharks
Matt Moylan: 29/47, 61.70%
Chad Townsend: 50/85, 58.82%
Val Holmes: 23/32, 71.88%
The Sharks have no shortage of kicking options but none has ever been much more than a back-up previously. According to coach Shane Flanagan, Townsend is hitting them the best at training. Moylan rushed to grab the tee in the first trial while Townsend had the duties in the second. Holmes, who actually has the best record of the three at NRL level, appears to be third in the pecking order.
“Moysa, Val and myself have all been kicking and it’s been pretty close actually, we’ve all been hitting them really well,” Townsend said recently.
“It will be up to Flanno to decide. If he chooses me I’m happy to do the job. I’ve done it previously in my years as a junior… It was more about going back to my old repetition and old routine and just getting reps in, kicking on a regular basis. I feel like I’m in a pretty good groove and I’m happy for whoever’s kicking them nicely to have the job.”
13. Manly Sea Eagles
Dylan Walker: 42/64, 65.63%
Cherry-Evans: 37/62, 59.68%
Api Koroisau: 7/15, 46.67%
Matt Wright: 49/68, 72.06%
Centre Dylan Walker will miss the opening rounds through injury but shapes to retain first-choice goal-kicking duties despite a lacklustre 65% average to date. Cherry-Evans kicked three from four in the final trial and hit them pretty well. Matt Wright is a solid kicker but no guarantee to be in the 17 to start the season and even less likely to hold a spot once Walker returns.
14. Canterbury Bulldogs
Moses Mbye: 65/100, 65.00%
Kerrod Holland: 63/82, 76.83%
Mbye is reasonably experienced but an average of 65% doesn’t exactly instil confidence. Kerrod Holland has a good record despite producing the odd shank but is at least one injury away from a spot in a best-17. Next cab off the rank in 2017 was back-rower Adam Elliott, who landed just two from seven attempts.
15. Newcastle Knights
Kalyn Ponga: yet to kick at NRL level
Brock Lamb: 23/28, 82.14%
The Knights will be relying on untested teenager Kalyn Ponga to turn four points into six in 2018. Pending his success at that task the Knights could quickly climb this list but there is also a concerning lack of back-up. Brock Lamb has an excellent record in his young career to date but with Connor Watson set to partner Mitch Pearce in the halves, Lamb will have to bide his time for a spot in the 17.
16. Wests Tigers
Tui Lolohea: 56/79, 70.89%
Taane Milne: NA (WC 8/12, 66.66%)
Esan Marsters: NA
Benji Marshall: 402/565, 71.15%
The two men shaping as most likely to vie for goal-kicking duties at the reshuffled Wests Tigers this year – Tui Lolohea and Taane Milne – are now both looking likely to start the season in reserve grade. Returning veteran Benji Marshall has kicked plenty of goals over his career but if he is in first grade for round one it will be as a bench utility playing limited minutes, meaning another kicker is required.
Young centre Esan Marsters shared the goal-kicking duties with Lolohea and Milne through the trials (kicking two goals from three attempts) and will assume the duties at NRL level if Lolohea misses the round one team. Like the Knights, the Tigers could quickly climb this list if their untested kicker proves an early success.