Peta Hiku topped the Warriors’ try charts in 2020 with eight – the lowest tally in the club’s history. Though it occurred in a truncated season, Hiku’s eight meat pies in 18 games also represented the lowest strike-rate by any Warriors top tryscorer.
In the first 2021 instalment of This Warriors Life’s TAB stats talk, WILL EVANS runs the rule over the Warriors’ Top Team Tryscorer contenders.
NRL Try Time Is Back!
Place a pre-match Anytime Try Scorer bet of $30 or more on tonight's match between the Melbourne Storm and South Sydney Rabbitohs and get a $5 Bonus Bet for every try scored!
— TAB Sport (@TAB_Sport) March 10, 2021
Ken Maumalo’s snail-paced tryscoring strike-rate early in his career made Ian Herron and Eion Crossan look like Brian Bevan and Ken Irvine. The wing goliath scored just 14 times in his first 64 NRL games (0.22 per game). But metre-eating Maumalo enjoyed a tryscoring feast after Peta Hiku switched to his edge in 2019, piling up 17 tries that season (third in the NRL). He added another five in eight games in 2020 before opting out of the Warriors’ bubble in favour of going home to Auckland.
Big Ken is the hot $2.00 favourite to be the Warriors’ Top Team Tryscorer in 2021, but the wildcard that could stem the flow of four-pointers is Hiku’s return to the right with St George Illawarra recruit Euan Aitken to be stationed inside Maumalo on the left. Aitken has produced just 13 try-assists in his 121-game NRL career, including a mere two in 17 appearances last year – an unflattering rate similar to former ball-hog Warriors left centre (who help stifle Maumalo pre-2019) Solomone Kata.
Chanel Harris-Tavita’s classy ball-playing is capable of opening up more chances for Maumalo, but it’s likely the Warriors’ attack will favour the Nikorima-Katoa-Hiku-Fusitu’a combination right side.
David Fusitu’a’s club-record-equalling, Ken Irvine Medal-winning 23 tries from as many appearances in 2018 feels like an eternity ago, after getting over the stripe just six times in 23 games since. Hampered by injuries and starved of quality opportunities due to Shaun Johnson’s departure and Hiku’s switch from right centre to the left in 2019, ‘Air Fus’ had a fruitless stint at centre, endured more injury setbacks and eventually returned to Auckland after Round 11 last year for family reasons.
It’s unmistakably a crossroads year for Fusitu’a with other wing options at coach Nathan Brown’s disposal. But at only 26 years of age and with Hiku returning to the right, the pieces are in place for the gifted Mate Ma’a Tonga Test star to undergo a tryscoring renaissance. Fusitu’a still boasts a career strike-rate of 0.59 (61 in 103 games) and the Hiku factor alone renders him the most astute option in the Top Team Tryscorer field at $2.70.
Hiku has scored 52 tries in 143 NRL games (0.36 per game); his strike-rate is slightly worse (0.30) in his specialist centre spot, where he has crossed 24 times in 79 starts. The somewhat enigmatic veteran bagged a career-high 17 tries for Manly in 2014 – predominantly playing on the wing – but after a shaky start to 2020 he arguably enjoyed his best-ever campaign as a key part of the Warriors’ brave resurgence.
Hiku is $10 to go back-to-back as the Warriors’ Top Team Tryscorer. The 28-year-old – probably better known as a silky provider for his wingers – habitually scores his tries in multiples. Last season’s tally of eight including a hat-trick and two doubles. He also boasts a four-try haul and another hat-trick on his career résumé.
Aitken’s ability to lay on a try may be limited, but he can get over the line himself. The hard-running 25-year-old scored 39 tries in 121 matches (0.31 per game) for the Dragons, including a career-high 10 in 2018. Team Top Tryscorers tend to chalk up regular doubles, however – something Aitken has done just once in the past three seasons. Kata led the Warriors’ season tally twice from the left centre spot Aitken has landed. He’s not the worst option at $10.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck scored 10 tries for the Warriors in their dismal 2017 campaign – just two behind club leader Fusitu’a – but has otherwise been a modest tryscorer compared to other fullbacks of his elite ball-running ilk. The inspirational skipper found the tryline just 15 times in 64 games from 2018-20, with four of his five tries last season scored during a three-game tear. Nevertheless, RTS – who scored a career-high 12 tries in 2015, his first campaign as the Roosters’ custodian – is worth considering at $11 as a Warriors Top Team Tryscorer option.
Double-digit halves tryscorers are not uncommon in the NRL – Cody Walker has dotted down for 38 tries in the past three seasons for South Sydney, while Kodi Nikorima chalked up 17 tries in 43 games for Brisbane in 2017-18. The livewire five-eighth has managed a modest six tries in 33 games for the Warriors, but he’s over the Top Team Tryscorer odds at $67.
— NRL (@NRL) July 19, 2019
Halfback Chanel Harris-Tavita ($51) is at shorter odds despite scoring just four tries in 26 NRL appearances to date. CHT’s only two tries in 2020 came courtesy of a spectacular three-minute double against Parramatta, with his tenacity and support play coming to the fore.
Hooker Wayde Egan once scored four tries in an NYC match, but he’s not exactly the most dynamic running dummy-half in the comp or the type to go himself close the line – as his five tries in 47 NRL games attests. Very few No.9s rack up the tries consistently anyway; for instance, brilliant Souths rake Damien Cook boasts just 18 tries in 123 NRL first-grade appearances. Penrith’s Steve Martin (1979) holds the all-time record for most tries in a season by a hooker with 13. Another Panther, Craig Gower, is one of the few since to have come remotely close since, crossing nine times in 2001. Egan ($151), it goes without saying, is not worth considering as a Warriors Top Team Tryscorer longshot.
The back-up backs
Whether they get a chance on form or as injury cover, it seems absurd that ex-Bulldogs recruit Marcelo Montoya will see more first grade this year than big 2020 improver Adam Pompey – despite getting the right wing start in the Warriors’ trial.
Montoya crossed 12 times in a 19-game rookie season in 2017 but has only managed seven tries in 35 games since. Pompey – who beat Montoya for a spot in the 21 for Round 1 – has seven tries in 18 games since making his NRL debut, including four in a four-match stretch as his struck up a fine combination with Hiku in late-2020.
Barring a selection meltdown, it’s clear the Top Team Tryscorer value lies with Pompey ($10) rather than third-favourite Montoya ($6).
Unless we’re talking about Manly and the one-of-a-kind Steve Menzies, a forward topping a club’s tryscoring charts is a generally an indication of a bad season.
But one engine-room stud stands out as a realistic chance of heading the Warriors’ 2021 list: Eliesa Katoa. The mobile, tackle-busting tyro scored six tries in 13 rookie-season appearances as one of the NRL’s best discoveries in 2020.
There's no stopping Eliesa Katoa!
— NRL (@NRL) July 25, 2020
That strike-rate improved to six in the 10 games Katoa started in the second-row on the same edge as Nikorima, who he formed a devastating combination with last year. The 21-year-old is $19 to finish as the Warriors’ Top Team Tryscorer.
The Warriors’ left-side second-rower in Round 1, new recruit Bayley Sironen, is rated the next-best chance among forwards at $51 – despite scoring just two tries in 24 NRL games at Souths. Marquee buy Addin Fonua-Blake can find the line by prop’s standards (13 tries in 97 games, including 11 in the past three seasons) and is a better chance at $301 than several teammates at much shorter odds.