Every club has them. Champion blokes who embody everything that’s good through their character on and off the field. The jolly good chaps who you’d follow into battle. The “heart and soul of the club”.

Every club also has the other extreme. The ones opposition fans, and sometimes home fans, just can’t stand. The ones the coach invariably says “we love what he brings” while supporters mumble “well, you need a bit of mongrel in the team”.

But which is better? Let’s grab a hero and a villain from each club, build a 17 and find out.

Brisbane Broncos forward Pat Carrigan is a softly spoken giant, someone who leads by example and is still fallible enough to overdo the beers on occasion. His Broncos teammate, the nail-polish-wearing, ref-abusing smart alec Reece Walsh is definitely a villain.

Canberra Raiders centre Matt Timoko combines talent with hard work and humility. His teammate Hudson Young though, combines eye-gouging, fighting and Origin dud into one package that would not only make the villains side but would revel in it.

(Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

It was Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs former captain Reed Mahoney that started this idea, having transformed himself from likeable headgear-wearing tackle machine into an unlikeable complaining grub. He should look at young Jacob Preston, who is showing more experienced teammates how to play with effort and integrity each and every week.

Former Dally M medallist Nicho Hynes is one of Cronulla Sharks’ good guys. Talented, humble, likeable and respected. And surprisingly for a club that once contained Wade Graham, the Fifita twins Andrew and David and the grubbiest of them all Paul Gallen, it is hard to find a villain in this current crew. Ronaldo Mulitalo gets the nod for trying to pass himself off as a Queenslander.

The Dolphins brought a ready-made villain in cheap-shot merchant Felise Kaifusi. For the good guys, many were happy to see Jamayne Isaako realise his talent to top the point scoring table last year.

Gold Coast Titans have an absolute gem in captain Tino Fa’asuamaleaui. Champion bloke and champion player. To say they’re lucky to have him is an understatement. They also have David Fifita who is offensively inoffensive, particularly given his pay packet. Lazy Davy is as villainous as this bland bunch get.

Manly Sea Eagles have a million Trbojevics to choose from and Jake is the epitome of good bloke. Loves a laugh and looks totally unathletic but tackles like a demon and never lets his teammates down. Rainbow-jersey-hating bookend and brain-snap specialist Josh Aloiai, on the other hand, is an irritant for fans and foes of the club alike.

Everyone loves seeing Ryan Papenhuyzen back and the mullet flying for the Melbourne Storm. Everyone loves an underdog and this luckless, undersized champion is just that.

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 24: Ryan Papenhuyzen of the Storm tackled by Bradman Best of the Knights during the round three NRL match between Newcastle Knights and Melbourne Storm at McDonald Jones Stadium, on March 24, 2024, in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)

Ryan Papenhuyzen is tackled by Bradman Best. (Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)

While Papi is universally loved, Nelson Asofa-Solomona is as far from that as you can get, with his raised forearms and big angry man schtick somehow escaping the match review committee time and again.

The enigma that is Newcastle’s Jackson Hastings is puzzling indeed. Now on his fifth club, he is polite and humble when on camera, but despised by past teammates and consistently moved on from clubs due to conflict. He has to be a villain. Bradman Best, on the other hand, seems well-liked and quietly gets on with living up to his aspirational name.

The New Zealand Warriors have Shaun Johnson playing with a smile on his face and the kind of carefree abandon that comes with being released from the burden of expectation. It’s a beautiful thing. Choosing a bad guy is hard though.

While the on-field thuggery of elbow-thrower Mitch Barnett and the domestic violence of Addin Fonua-Blake stake a claim, Dylan Walker combines on-field fighting, off-field unsavouriness, and Origin failure into one package.

North Queensland has the pocket-sized Tom Dearden as a co-captain. Heading north with a point to prove after failing to establish himself at Brisbane, this strawberry blonde lad quietly worked his way into an Origin jersey and nobody begrudges him that. Like Cronulla, the Cowboys are short on villains, but Kyle Feldt will always be one to Brisbane fans thanks to that try in the 2015 grand final and the villains need a winger, so he’ll do.

Parramatta Eels halfback, terminal whinger and one-time gay slur exponent Mitchell Moses is an easy pick for the villains, although some would give his captain Clint Gutherson the nod. The heavily tattooed J’maine Hopgood, on the other hand, is the kind of bloke who keeps his mouth shut and gets on with it. That makes him a hero in this team.

Almost cartoonish in his villainy is Penrith Panthers pivot Jerome Luai. On and off the field he’s never too far away from trouble, usually because of his mouth. His captain Isaah Yeo, however, exemplifies the hard-working country boy and couldn’t be more opposite.

South Sydney captain Cam Murray is respected by teammates, opposition players and fans across the board. He feels fear as much as he feels fatigue – not at all. While angry ant Cody Walker has made a stake at villain status, fullback Latrell Mitchell’s extensive judiciary record gets him the nod, although he’ll have to play centre.

Roly-poly prop Blake Lawrie is the kind of pie-eating, self-deprecating and immensely likeable everyman that fans, and not just St George Illawarra fans, can get behind. Jack De Belin is a walking example that there’s a big difference between “not found guilty” and “found not guilty”. Let’s just leave it there.

Speaking of not-found-guilty-in-a-criminal-trial types, drug cheat Michael Jennings is an embarrassment to the Sydney Roosters. He also keeps hard men Jared Warea-Hargreaves and Victor Radley out of the villains side. For the good guys, Daniel Tupou continues to impress not only for his consistency but his complete lack of emotion. Ever. Has anyone confirmed he’s not actually a robot?

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 03: Daniel Tupou of the Roosters is tackled during the round 23 NRL match between the Sydney Roosters and Manly Sea Eagles at Sydney Cricket Ground on August 03, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Daniel Tupou is tackled by Matt Lodge. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Last of all the Wests Tigers are being captained wonderfully by the ever-effervescent Api Koroisau who epitomises the heart-and-soul type. International angry man John Bateman can represent the villains, especially because it would be funny to make him play alongside Jackson Hastings.

Every side needs a coach and a bunch of good blokes needs a gentle cajoling type to make them feel happy and get the best out of them. Unassuming Andrew Webster has done this with the Warriors and can grab the clipboard for the heroes.

For the other side, current Dragons coach Shane Flanagan has shown that he won’t let salary caps, suspensions or anti-doping laws get in the way of his efforts to succeed. He’s a certainty.

So how do they line up?

Heroes

1. Ryan Papenhuyzen
2. Daniel Tupou
3. Bradman Best
4. Matt Timoko
5. Jamayne Isaako
6. Tom Dearden
7. Shaun Johnson
8. Tino Fa’asuamaleaui
9. Api Koroisau
10. Pat Carrigan
11. Jacob Preston
12. Cam Murray
13. Isaiah Yeo
14. Nicho Hynes
15. J’Maine Hopgood
16. Jake Trbojevic
17. Blake Lawrie
Coach: Andrew Webster

Villains

1. Reece Walsh
2. Ronaldo Mulitalo
3. Latrell Mitchell
4. Michael Jennings
5. Kyle Feldt
6. Jerome Luai
7. Mitchell Moses
8. Josh Aloiai
9. Reed Mahoney
10. Nelson Asofa-Solomona
11. Hudson Young
12. John Bateman
13. Jack De Belin
14. Jackson Hastings
15. Felise Kaufusi
16. David Fifita
17. Dylan Walker
Coach: Shane Flanagan

What do you think, Roarers? Will the good guys overcome the innate villainy of the bad guys? Or will the bite of the bit-of-mongrel side be too much for those goody two-shoes?

Let the showdown begin!





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