Rugby league has always been played at its best when every different body shape and talent is given the chance to play the game they love. The National Rugby League is no different and 2023 is a great example of how we do have the product absolutely perfect.
In the last few decades we’ve seen the fabric of the sport change and evolve and for the best part – devolve to allow smaller forwards to flourish again.
That’s what we keep talking about.
There’s more to a professional football club than just hiring cyborg second-rowers that can fill in at centre or five-eight. More to the sport than fantasy points and KPIs.
The game has changed again.
Thank God for that.
Because now we have the small forward back.
And if you want to thank anyone – thank Cameron Smith.
The legendary Melbourne Storm hooker was so good that it forced Craig Bellamy into playing Ryan Hinchliffe at 13.
Fast forward a few years and it was Brandon Smith.
Here’s a list of the best small forwards playing NRL in 2023.
10. JOHN BATEMAN
Back from the Super League in 2023, joining Wests Tigers, Bateman has struggled so far in his return to the NRL due to injury but he is definitely finding his feet. Your writer loves Bateman and it’s obvious he’s working hard to help his team. If we wrote this yarn at the back end of the season, the English International will be higher up the list.
9. WADE GRAHAM
The former half has been playing in the NRL forever but is still important to the Sharks. He loves Cronulla and his teammates and still gives his best. A fearsome defender with one of the best short-kicking games of any forward on the planet.
8. CAMERON MCINNES
Another Shark on the list who spent a long time in the game as a hooker and a former captain of St George Illawarra before switching to their local rivals.
7. JOSH CURRAN
An undisputed success story for the Warriors and a cult hero for the Auckland club. Made his debut for the Roosters in 2019 which was his only performance before signing with the Warriors and doing the hard yards for the Warriors during Covid lockdown.
6. COREY JENSEN
Was shocked to find out the former Cowboy is actually 6 foot 2 but certainly doesn’t look that big in the Broncos pack taking the hard yards and getting stuck in. Love Jensen.
5. JAZZ TEVAGA
A quality hooker in his own right, Tevaga has no fear and plays wherever needed by the Warriors. A bloke any coach would hire.
4. REUBEN COTTER
Who doesn’t like Cotter? Standing at just 5 foot 11 inches, with the mullet floating out the back, Cotter has been incredible for the Cowboys since debuting in 2019. So good, the Mackay junior has now represented Australia and Queensland.
3. VICTOR RADLEY
The tyro Rooster will never be the biggest man on the field but he has always played above his weight. Some new NRL rules and protocols haven’t agreed with his aggressive playing style. Make no mistake, every single club in the NRL would take Victor Radley.
2. ISAIIAH PAPALI’I
It’s easy to forget that the New Zealand and Samoan International is barely six foot tall because he’s so strong and intimidating with the ball in-hand. Papali’i is also an incredible defender and team man – desperately trying to help Wests Tigers out of the cellar.
1. CAMERON MURRAY
One of the best players in the NRL. A must-pick for the Kangaroos and the Blues. An inspirational leader that can play lock or on a fringe.
Special mentions: Ray Stone, Beau Fermor, Erin Clark, Nat Butcher, Connor Watson.