NRL hardmen: Mark ‘Spudd’ Carroll picks the best enforcers at each NRL club
Every good team has one and every struggling team needs one — find out which player at your NRL team is the enforcer.
December 9, 2020 - 7:00AM
News Corp Australia Sports Newsroom
To win a premiership you need a lot of things — a terrific fullback, classy halves, a hooker who knows how to steer a team around and backs that can run the opposition ragged.
You need a coach who can bring everyone together and forwards that hunt as a pack, and you need the team to stay hungry all the way through the season.
But as legendary enforcer Mark “Spudd” Carroll explains, “you need to have some nutcases in the house”.
Rugby league left behind the wild days of on-field brawls and brutal stiff arms a long time ago, but a team still needs an enforcer to contend for the title.
Carroll said the key was to channel the wild side and always keep it on the field.
Former Manly forward Mark Carroll and Knights enforcer Paul Harragon had plenty of memorable clashes on the field. Picture: Joe Murphy
“It’s all about controlling your aggression,” he said. “I’ve been retired for 20 years and people, because of how I played, say things like, ‘Spudd, you’re not a bad bloke. I thought you were a maniac.’ I was!
“That was my job. My job was to search and destroy, but at the end you shake hands and get off and that’s it.”
These days the wild duels that Carroll had with Paul Harragon are gone but every club has its resident hardman who makes the opposition think twice.
SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS – TOM BURGESS
The void left behind by Sam Burgess might not be filled for years but younger brother Tom did all he could this season and produced his best year in the top grade.
Out from under the shadow of his brothers, Burgess shapes as the Rabbitohs’ leader in the middle of the field.
“I think Tom had his best year in the game,” Carroll said. “You can’t create another Sam Burgess. There’s only one and there will never be another one.
“There are probably a few guys there, and I’m not going to mention any names, who need to roll the sleeves up. But I have high marks for Tom. He gritted his teeth and did a great job.”
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MANLY SEA EAGLES – JOSH ALOIAI
Aloiai has been one of the NRL’s improvers and the former Tiger could form a fearsome one-two punch in the middle of the field alongside Sea Eagles tyro Marty Taupau at his new home in Brookvale.
A consistent, no-nonsense performer on the field, Aloiai also isn’t bad with the gloves on. He was a talented junior fighter and those in the know believe he just might be the best boxer in the NRL.
“Manly need it,” Carroll said. “Aloiai has to replace Addin Fonua-Blake and they are big shoes to fill. He talks a big game. I want to see what he’s got. If he has the same antics at Manly as he did at Wests, Dessie (Hasler) won’t put up with that shit at all.”
Josh Aloiai has big shoes to fill in the front row at Manly next season.
WESTS TIGERS – SHAWN BLORE
Blore only played five NRL matches this but looks set for many more.
After his running battle with Parramatta’s Nathan Brown on debut this year, Carroll dubbed him “The Smiling Assassin” and Aloiai’s departure could leave a spot in the starting pack for the giant 20-year old.
“Madge (Michael Maguire) gets into them over the off-season, so it sounds like he’s the size of a house,” Carroll said. “He can whack, and now there’s an opportunity.
“The other guy (Aloiai) didn’t want to play for Wests Tigers and to have a good side you need players who want to play for your side. Now this kid has an opportunity he has to take with both hands.”
Shawn Blore is a big part of the joint venture’s future. Picture: Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos
PENRITH PANTHERS – JAMES FISHER-HARRIS
The Kiwi doesn’t say much but doesn’t really need to because his work on the field speaks for itself.
It’s no coincidence that Penrith’s rise to the minor premiership came in the best season Fisher-Harris has had. He emerged as one of the best props in the NRL who embodies the phrase “speak softly and carry a big stick”.
They breed them tough in Kohukohu (population 150) and Fisher-Harris has a reputation for being one of rugby league’s underrated hitmen.
Fisher-Harris lets his game speak. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
PARRAMATTA EELS – NATHAN BROWN
Brown made his Origin debut this year and has become a fan favourite because of his energy and intensity in the back row for Parramatta.
While he gives up a fair bit of size to some rivals, he never takes a backward step and provides a hard edge the Eels need.
“I call him ‘The Energiser Man’,” Carroll said.
“Any kid reading this article, the rules of the game are this: you run from the back fence and you don’t stop running until you get hit.
“That’s what Nathan Brown does.”
Nathan Brown would gladly take on the world. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts
NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS – JASON TAUMALOLO
Taumalolo is NRL’s metre-eating king and arguably the best forward of his generation but there’s far more to his game than just raw numbers.
The Tongan colossus has incredible speed for a man his size and once he winds up it can take an elephant gun to slow him down.
In North Queensland, they used to call Taumalolo “Hulk” — as in you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.
Jason Taumalolo is the best forward in the world. Picture: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images.
CRONULLA SHARKS – TOBY RUDOLF
For a long time, the hardman at Cronulla was Paul Gallen and he was ably supported by the likes of Andrew Fifita and Wade Graham.
Now, there’s a new breed of tough nuts coming through such as Braden Hamlin-Uele and Jack Williams, but none have impressed Carroll more than rookie prop Toby Rudolf.
“I love the way he plays, he had a great year for Cronulla,” Carroll said.
“Every time he plays he runs hard, he hurts. He reminds me so much of Geoff Robinson.
“He listens to and follows orders, and he runs hard and tackles hard, and that’s all you need to do in rugby league.”
CANBERRA RAIDERS – JOSH PAPALII
Papalii is the best prop in the NRL with his mix of size, power and skill — and he has the toughness to go with it.
Three seasons after coach Ricky Stuart switched him from the second row, Papalii’s career has skyrocketed and he is a certified tough nut.
There is also plenty of talk that the big Queenslander has a fair bit of ability in the ring.
Papalii’s father used to get him and his brothers to spar in the backyard as kids and he’s a cousin of former heavyweight title challenger Alex Leapai.
They don’t come any better than Josh Papalii. Picture: Grant Trouville/NRL Photos
CANTERBURY BULLDOGS – JACK HETHERINGTON
Hetherington is still just getting started but the newly minted Bulldog has wasted no time in mixing it with some of the game’s biggest names.
The former Panther and Warrior has the aggression that, if channelled properly, could put some bite back into the Bulldogs.
Carroll describes Hetherington as “fearless” and the 24-year old could be one of the underrated signings of next season.
GOLD COAST TITANS – TINO FA’ASUAMALEAUI
He announced himself as a new tough guy during this year’s Origin series, especially in game two when he had a stoush with Payne Haas that landed both of them in the sin bin.
Fans will be watching for fireworks when Fa’asuamaleaui and Haas clash next year but Carroll wants a little less of the nice stuff afterwards.
“Those two blokes went to a new level but when you hit someone, don’t say sorry,” Carroll said. “I want to see more aggression from those two. They run so hard and they are built like granite.”
Tino Fa’asuamaleaui announced himself in the Origin series. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS – DAVID KLEMMER
When choosing the toughest and grittiest player at the Knights, it’s hard to go past David Klemmer, who sneaks in ahead of the rapidly improving Saifiti twins, Daniel and Jacob.
Klemmer has always had a few screws loose on the field and that has helped him become one of the best forwards in the NRL.
He was a baffling exclusion from the Blues this year, and they missed the intimidation and aggression he has provided since making his Origin debut in 2015.
David Klemmer doesn’t mind mixing it up. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
BRISBANE BRONCOS – THOMAS FLEGLER
We could have gone with Haas, Tevita Pangai Jr or Matt Lodge but Spudd can’t get enough of Tom Flegler.
Injuries restricted Flegler to 13 matches this year but the 21-year old is one of the NRL’s most promising big men. If he can add consistency to his toughness, he will be a force for years.
“After one game of his they named him the next Shane Webcke, which was ridiculous because there’s only one Shane Webcke,” Carroll said.
“But I want to see that every week. Not one week in and one week out. Not one week in and five weeks out. Every single week.”
Tom Flegler might be young, but he never takes a backward step. Picture: AAP Image/Craig Golding
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS – TARIQ SIMS
Sims is a hunter and his prey is opposition halves – he would grind their bones to make his bread if he could.
He admits he lost his way a little at the Knights but has returned to his best with the Dragons, especially after being moved back to the second row in 2018.
Torrid and aggressive, he specialises in targeting wayward halfbacks and five-eighths but will take on someone his own size should the need arise.
Tariq Sims eats opposition halves for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images
SYDNEY ROOSTERS – VICTOR RADLEY
Not all hardmen are giants.
Victor Radley gives up plenty of size every week but is a feared hitman.
The Roosters missed his aggression after he injured his knee this year, and he played a major role in their back-to-back premierships in 2018-19.
“It’s all about timing,” Carroll said. “They can all be the same build or they can be like him and Cameron Murray. It’s all about timing and what they call leg speed.”
Victor Radley plays well above his weight. Picture: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
MELBOURNE STORM – NELSON ASOFA-SOLOMONA
At the other end of the spectrum to the Radleys and Murrays is Nelson Asofa-Solomona.
At 200cm and 115kg, he’s one of the most imposing players in the NRL.
The Kiwi enforcer is also one of the meanest, as evidenced during his brutal grand final performance when he dominated the Penrith pack. There is always a place for little men but sometimes there’s nothing better than a big unit in beast mode.
“I miss players like Willie Mason, who are six-foot-six and go around destroying people,” Carroll said. “Big Nelson, that’s what he does. How good is he, just unreal.”
NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS – ADDIN FONUA-BLAKE
The Warriors broke the bank to lure Fonua-Blake across the ditch from Manly and it is easy to see why. Fonua-Blake can make metres with the best of them, but he’s also an imposing and terrifying customer in defence.
His wild aggression has helped him become one of the best forwards in the game.
Sometimes the aggression still gets the better of him, so mastering his emotions is all that’s stopping him from becoming an elite player.
Addin Fonua-Blake is a key signing for the Warriors. Picture: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
SPUDD SALUTES NEW BREED OF HARD MEN
The days when wingers were just guys who hung around footballers are long gone — now, the back three are among the toughest players in rugby league.
That’s the view of Mark “Spudd” Carroll, who believes wingers and fullbacks are close to the hardest men in the NRL.
“I’m going to blow a few minds here, because I’m going to give a few wingers a wrap — they do the hardest runs,” Carroll said.
“The hardest runs are when a fantastic kick goes into the in-goal, the fullback brings it out 5m from the line, the defence compresses, they’re there to bash the shit out of them and the first two blokes who have to run the ball up are wingers.
“You don’t see any front-rowers or second-rowers getting back there.
“Wingers used to be there to score tries. But you see how they’re built, there’s more fat on a chip, and they run hard, they run between shoulders and when they run they hurt.
Josh Addo-Carr is one of Mark Carroll’s favourites. Picture: Brett Costello
“They get hit by three blokes who are 100kg and if you don’t run hard you’ll get hurt.”
In recent years, a winger’s work in yardage has become just as important as their ability to finish tryscoring chances.
It’s gotten to the point where a team struggles to move the ball up the field without strong carries from their back three — even once the forwards do get back onside, the damage is often already done.
In his playing days, Carroll wouldn’t have stood for any talk about wingers being tough — but his attitude is as sure a sign as any that times have changed.
“Josh Addo-Carr, he’s one of my favourites because he runs that fast and runs that hard,” Carroll said. “I’ve always been a fan of Tom Trbojevic because he runs so hard through the middle, Josh Mansour is another one who rolls the sleeves up and rips in. James Tedesco is one of the tough guys.”