A pack of no-frills success



August 10, 2007

EVER since March rugby league judges have been waiting for Manly to fall over, all but throwing out a leg to trip up the Sea Eagles and expose them as the pretenders they think them to be.

Stumble they may, fall they won't and, last Monday night when Cronulla nearly pipped Melbourne, Manly came within what Paul Gallen lyrically termed "a bee's dick" of a share in first place.

While the Sea Eagles backs attract most of the glory - halfback Matt Orford is one of the NRL's highest-paid players, five-eighth Jamie Lyon its most overpaid (if his peers are to be believed), while fullback Brett Stewart is destined to be one of the game's next moneybags - Manly's forwards just keep rolling up their sleeves.

They're not just low-flying Sea Eagles dodging the radar; some of them are positively subterranean. Take Luke Williamson, a Brisbane boy who has plied his trade with two clubs that went under (the Adelaide Rams and Northern Eagles) and was cold-shouldered out of Canberra before finding success in the end with Manly. The nephew of Test winger Lionel, and son of Newtown player Henry, debuted in 1997. Fingers crossed, the final round match against the Dragons this year will be his 200th game. Then, off-contract at Manly, Williamson's career is up for grabs and he may be looking for a fifth club, perhaps overseas.

Many fans would struggle to pick Williamson, who stepped up from the bench this year to take Ben Kennedy's spot, out of a police line-up. Teammates don't overlook him.

"Luke Williamson doesn't get a lot of wraps but the team's well aware of the little things he does do on the field that go unnoticed by the average punter," observes prop Brent Kite. "No one really raves [about you] if you're in every kick chase or you're cleaning up scraps. They're things you don't get a lot of wraps for but, within a club, you do. It doesn't go unnoticed around here."

With an 80-minute capacity, and that attention to cleaning up other people's mess, it's not hard to imagine Williamson is the sort of player coach Des Hasler would cherish. If you thought so, you'd be right.

"Luke's an enormous player, a great player. He's got that workrate, a bit similar to how Dallas Johnson is with the Storm," raves Hasler.

"He just turns up week-in, week-out. We've been very fortunate our back row are like that - Willo, Glenn Stewart, Anthony Watmough and Steve Menzies - they're all 80-minute players.

"Luke is one of those players who's there, a thorough professional in the way he prepares for a game both on the field and off the field. He's just a great bloke to have in the club, the type of player who is rated very highly by his peers."

Williamson, 29, plays the game with a smile on his face, even laughing off the coins Parramatta fans hit him with a couple of weeks ago. "It was only 20 cents - if it was a gold one I would have picked it up and put in my sock."

Acknowledging career-best form, the former goal-kicking back has muscled up and made the middle his own at lock.

"It's season 11 at the moment so it's been a good run; hopefully it can continue," he says. "When you're playing in a good side, obviously things work out well and it's good to be part of it.

"I think we've got a good sort of mix in our pack. Everyone does their job, everyone knows their job and works for each other. It's easy to say that but it's very important to do it."

Most other top-flight contenders in the NRL boast at least a couple of big-name forwards. Parramatta have their Nathans, Cayless and Hindmash; the Bulldogs have Willie Mason, Mark O'Meley and Sonny Bill Williams; the Warriors Steve Price and Ruben Wiki.

Manly's are the no-frills variety. Apart from Kite, who's played eight Origins and five Tests, Watmough has a single Origin to his name. Kite's response to the star factor question is to point to the fact that one other leading team plays without leading lights in its forward pack. And plays with great success - Melbourne.

"They get by on their willingness to work together, cover each other. They're not just standing back waiting for those big names to do something, and that's the same here," he says.

"I think our time will come," ventures Williamson, although probably not for him. "I'm at the other end of the scale myself, my time is just about up, but some of the younger players like Choc [Watmough] and Gifty [Stewart], I think they'll get there. But you don't need names really, as long as everyone works for each other."

Former Canberra prop Paul Osborne, now with ABC Radio, has become a Manly fan as the season has progressed.

"I think everybody, if they are honest, questioned whether they were the real deal this year, but they just do it week after week. They're not exactly a pack of superstars but I'm just impressed with how they get the job done," he says. "Week after week people keep questioning are they the real deal but they just seem to produce and nine times out of 10, it's on the back of their forward pack."

Chip and Chase

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So Menzies is a no frills Neville ??

A no frills pack is what Canberra have running around, this guy is hard up for a story if this is the best he can come up with.


First Grader
"Many fans would struggle to pick Williamson, who stepped up from the bench this year to take Ben Kennedy's spot, out of a police line-up."

Has this journo seen Luke's haircut, I reckon most league fans, Manly or otherwise, would recognise him.


First Grader
I've been posting all year that Williamson is one of my favourite players and I just hope he goes around for us next year. He's utterly reliable, makes few errors and defends like a Trogan. Sure his attack is pedestrian and he's no BK but my heart doesnt' do back flips when he has the ball.


just adding to that DSM, with Choc/Beaver and G Stewart he doesnt have to do all the fancy stuff out wide.

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