Ladies and gentlemen, the Parramatta Eels are proud to present a true football player – Nathan Brown.
In selecting the player in focus for this week, I’ve skipped those flashy backs and zeroed in on Brown for his vital role as a middle forward.
Forget any suggestion about a recruitment that simply targeted a tough nut to take the hit ups. The homework was done on this bloke, and the proof has been in the pudding in just a few appearances wearing the blue and gold.
Here at TCT, we’ve been on the “Shut It Down” Nathan Brown express from the moment he began showcasing his wares during the pre-season. With a football department that’s all about harnessing and developing skills, the Eels were always going to be the perfect fit for the versatile ex-Rabbitoh.
In a match where the Parramatta backline attracted plenty of attention, the Eels forwards laid the platform against their Dragons opponents in a performance which built on their previous efforts against the Sea Eagles. Although starting from the bench, Nathan Brown played no small role and earns my gong at the Gong for most valuable forward.
His contributions thus far should put a smile on the face of even the most jaded Eels fan.
The early returns in this department shed light on the under-utilisation of Brown’s talents at Souths. In similar minutes, a 46 minute average in 2016 against 49 minutes so far this year, the numbers point to a greater all round contribution from the new recruit. Understandably, this statistic could be skewed by a 2017 reference point of two victories. Nonetheless, the comparison is worth examining.
Across various statistical sources, Brown has averaged around 16 runs per game in 2017 for a gain of approximately 145 metres. This is a massive increase on his 2016 figures of 10.2 runs for 94.7 metres. Many pundits were impressed with Brown’s powerful charges into the ruck last year, so to lift his numbers by over 50%, albeit in two victories, is a great result even at this early stage. Those re-start returns against the Dragons were proof positive that Matagi won’t be playing a sole hand in the intimidation stakes.
The indications are that Brown’s offloads will also be on the increase. Last season he averaged 1.7 offloads per match. This was probably not a noted feature of Brown’s game, given that most of the headlines focussed on his aggressive approach. The 2017 figures of 2.5 per game point to a middle forward given a licence to promote second phase football.
The averages here are definitely impacted by the relative fortunes of his respective teams. In a less than stellar year, the Rabbitohs were faced with a heavy defensive workload. It comes as no surprise that Brown averaged 27 tackles across 21 appearances in 2016, compared to 19 per match this year. What is evident is that this fella doesn’t shy away from the big collisions. For a pack that’s set the goal of attacking through defence, his aggressive attitude is a major plus.
There was a bit of light hearted banter at training and at the Auckland Nines about Brown channeling Mark Riddell. Perhaps that ribbing wasn’t so much about any physical similarity but rather the role he would play in 2017. At different stages throughout the pre-season, Brown would drop into dummy half for opposed sessions. For TCT, this signalled the coach’s intention to go with four forwards on the bench. It was also a strong indicator that the middle forward had a passing and game management skill set that had not been identified or utilised by previous coaches.
It will therefore come as no surprise that Brown will pop up as a link man. A bit of James Graham, and a touch of Paul Gallen. Expect to see those offloads for second phase play along with direct ball to outside supports. The beauty will lie in the unexpected.
That Skill Set
Let’s leave the offloads to one side. Even forget the fearless charges. Let me paint the picture of something I witnessed at training that was a window to Nathan Brown, the footballer.
As much as kids enjoy playing games before training, so too do the players. One such game often sees a group of players kicking footies to different points around the field, with some sort of target or challenge at each point. At one session, Brown joined the group and asked where they were at. “Over and back under” was the response. The challenge was to kick the ball over the cross bar and to have it bounce back under the posts after landing. On what was his first kick of the day, Brown executed it perfectly, much to the howls of his team mates.
This was a bit of fun, but for mine it became a precursor to a moment at the Auckland Nines. Emboldened by a format made for improvisation, Brown executed a kick and chase from dummy half that resulted in a try.
Will our versatile middle forward stow away similar exploits in his kit bag for the premiership proper? As both Bevan French and Michael Jennings have already demonstrated this season, expect the unexpected!
Let me leave you with this thought. In referencing early season statistics, I cautioned that those figures could be skewed by the results of those matches. However, they would also be limited by the new combinations within the Eels and Brown’s lack of familiarity with new team mates. This bloke has plenty to offer the Eels in 2017 and beyond. The best is yet to come.
Images courtesy of Parramatta Eels, NRL and Auckland Nines