The NRL 11 who will put British Bulldog to the test
LEGENDARY Canterbury front-rower Peter Tunks says that the Bulldogs' British recruit Luke Thompson can't lay claim to the world's best prop until he proves himself in the NRL.
And Tunks should know.
He was twice voted the best prop in rugby league during the 1980s, so he understands the effort and energy required to stand at the top of the pile.
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Tunks is a huge fan of Thompson's game, but believes the fanfare surrounding the former St Helens bookend is just hype for now.
"Because you have to do it in the NRL," said Tunks, who played for South Sydney, Canterbury, Leeds, Penrith and Sheffield in a decorated 14-year career.
"It's like you are winning good races at Gosford, Newcastle and Kembla Grange but then they bring you to Sydney and you have to step up to win.
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"But Thompson has got the ability, so if he is willing to work hard he has got an opportunity to put himself in the conversation as one of the best props in the world.
"But until he proves himself here, no one is really going to say that he is the best player in his position.
"If you are good over in England, you still have to come over to Australia and prove yourself like John Bateman and Josh Hodgson have at Canberra.
"It is a great challenge."
Tunks remembers the battle he faced attempting to be crowned the world's best prop during his time at Canterbury and Souths before joining Leeds in 1987.
"I hadn't played in England before, so I was never getting rated the top prop in the world," Tunks recalled.
"I'd finished fifth or third but in '87 and '88 I went over to Leeds for six months and that was the year I got voted the best."
Tunks, though, wasn't too worried about the pressure that came with being touted world's best.
"Not really," he said. "Back in our day, everyone had a shot at you so you just did what you had to do and got rid of them.
"But when you get to the top of the tree, everyone wants to knock you off it."
Tunks expects Thompson to experience similar heat from rivals in the NRL, but he believes the 24-year-old who has played 157 games for St Helens will be up for the challenge.
"I think he is a good pick up for Canterbury," he said.
"The Bulldogs have already got Dylan Napa and Aidan Tolman in the front-row, but they probably need someone who is going to dominate in the middle of the park.
"And that is something that I think Thompson can do.
"I've seen Luke play a bit for England and St Helens. He is a big guy, he has got aggression, so he has got all the ingredients.
"I've been impressed with him.
"Thompson has done really well in the Super League over there by winning a title and making rep teams, but he is coming to the most competitive rugby league competition in the world.
"He will have to get a bit fitter, stronger and faster but I'm sure that he will put the work in."
TOP OF THE PROPS: RUGBY LEAGUE'S BEST DEMOLITION MEN
1. JOSH PAPALII
A few years ago, you could argue the only place Papalii stood first was hotel buffet lines. Not anymore. Having overhauled his diet, attitude, everything in recent seasons, this 27-year-old Raiders wrecking ball is now the No.1 enforcer for Queensland, Australia and Planet Earth should anyone want to challenge us.
2. DAVID KLEMMER
The Australian Test prop remains among the most consistent, and feared, props in the game. Was among the top three middle forwards for average metres in 2019, bettered only by Payne Haas and Jason Taumalolo.
3. NELSON ASOFA-SOLOMONA
Looks like that type of bloke who, in medieval times, the villagers sacrificed virgins to. A genuine NRL enforcer, Asofa-Solomona arrives in 2020 with a rapidly-increasing CV of carnage all premiership rings, Test match wins and one grainy video from outside a Balinese bar.
4. PAYNE HAAS
Not since Mark O'Meley bathed his scalp in Dencorub has a teenager entered the NRL with such intent. Comes off a breakout second season where he beat every other bookend for metres, tackle busts, even post-contact metres - eventually claiming the Dally M Prop gong.
5. SIO SIUA TAUKEIAHO
Remember, growing up, when your old man warned to be wary of that quietest bloke in the room? OK, so Taukeiaho is why. Instead of claiming headlines, this 28-year-old assassin prefers scalps, premierships and, to the shock of almost everyone, igniting Tonga as an international rugby league force.
6. JARED WAEREA-HARGREAVES
Undeniably, the spiritual leader of rugby league's toughest pack. The tattooed Kiwi also found himself a Golden Boot finalist in 2019, thanks largely to an increasing ability to mix maturity, calm and consistency with that signature playing style which involves placing heads on spikes.
7. LUKE THOMPSON
Best prop in the English Super League? Sure. And as for becoming top dog in the NRL yard? Absolutely, he can. Indeed, with promise oozing from this 24-year-old Canterbury recruit, we reckon only a greater body of work, especially at Test level, sits between him and a crack at the No.1 crown.
8. JESSE BROMWICH
A mainstay of the Melbourne Storm success story, 30-year-old Bromwich isn't simply among the toughest hombres anywhere in rugby league, but the owner of said tag for near on a decade. Consistently among the Storm's best.
9. PAUL VAUGHAN
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA
When the Dragons signed Vaughan to a three-year deal worth $1.75 million in 2017, plenty wondered aloud if he was worth it. Then this big unit, he went and silenced them. While the Red V undoubtedly struggled last winter, Vaughan still charged, tackled and sweated his way into both NSW and Australian jerseys.
10. ADDIN FONUA-BLAKE
Outstanding for the Sea Eagles in 2019, this Tongan powerhouse averaged 153m per game for the Sea Eagles, which was enough to put him third among bookends and behind only Kangaroos Payne Haas and Dave Klemmer.
11. MARTY TAUPAU
Plays exactly like you would expect rugby league's strongest man. Yet apart from churning through more metres than any prop not named Payne Haas in 2019, 'Kapow' also finished top three for offloads - ensuring a wonderful mix of subtlety and slaughterhouse.
12. ANDREW FIFITA
Say what you like about this tattooed Sharkies bad boy - plenty do - but there's no denying, when on, his ability to bulldoze, bust tackles and ball play still compares to few others in the code. Undeniable handful.