“Jake’s pretty tall, he’s a big boy already. But as he puts some more size on, I think he’ll be a really nice ball-playing lock”
Has NSW Origin great Luke Lewis just foretold the future of Jake Arthur?
Writing about the 20 year old on the NSWRL official site, Lewis was full of praise for Arthur and his skill set.
“ I really like what Jakob Arthur can do. He’s got some really good footwork, he’s strong, he’s tough, he goes looking for the ball, always wants to get heavily involved.”
Given the Eels halfback’s form in the NSW Cup this year, this should come as no shock. Those who’ve caught him in action would be nodding along with Lewis’ assessment.
The eye test tells you that he’s performing well, and the stats back that up in a massive way.
Jake is the standout player in the NSW Cup for line engagements with 101. And it’s a gap to the rest as the closest to him is Zach Dockar-Clay with 55.
He also leads the competition for try assists (8), line break assists (7), kicks (58) and kick metres (1446). Arthur’s level of involvement, as referenced by Lewis, is reflected in his run metres (12th with 643) and his player in support numbers (3rd with 67).
It should be noted that these rankings are even more impressive as they are in comparison to all players, not just his peers in the halves.
Little wonder that Luke Lewis is liking what he sees. But it is his comment about Jake’s future which might draw the most debate.
“I do believe Jakob Arthur’s body shape though, will turn him into a 13.”
He’s not wrong. Standing at nearly 6ft3 and approaching 90kgs, Arthur is very different to the small, lightweight playmaker of his junior rep days. Given his age and frame, he will continue to add bulk.
Lewis is well credentialed to identify talented young players who could transition from the backline to the pack. The 2010 Dally M lock of the year, and former IRL Lock of the Year trod a similar path in his stellar career.
After debuting in 2001 with the Panthers, Lewis played on the wing, centre, five-eighth and halfback before getting his first taste of the pack in 2009. The immediate success of his transition to the forwards was evident in the awards which came soon after, and his premiership title as a second rower with the Sharks in 2016.
Given the recent evolution of the lock forward position to what is virtually a fifth spine role, it’s not surprising that Lewis can see Arthur as a ball-playing 13. It would certainly be advantageous to have another member of the spine who can pull out a clutch play like this one in the final minutes of last weekend’s clash with the Dragons.
And as for Arthur’s capacity to handle a more physical role, his NRL tackle efficiency of 85.6%, as a teenager, (currently 88.2% in 2023 in NSW Cup) compares favourably to the career statistics of the code’s highest profile halfbacks.
Daly Cherry-Evans has a career tackle efficiency of 89.7%, Adam Reynolds 87.2%, Nathan Cleary 86.3% Jahrome Hughes 84.2%, Mitch Moses 79.5, and Sam Walker 79.4%.
Incidentally, there should be no comparison between the high defensive efficiency of forwards to that of the halves. Halfbacks have one of the toughest defensive roles. Positioned on an edge, they are often targeted, with attacking plans looking to isolate them. It’s not unusual for them to be asked to make one on one tackles on much bigger opponents.
Please also note that these averages are not reflective of how the above players have improved their tackle efficiency as they’ve become older and more experienced. One could expect Jake to improve similarly and he’d be coming off an already sound base.
But it’s not just Arthur’s defensive capabilities which are indicative of a positional switch
His try against the Dragons last week looked as much like a lock as it did a halfback. Consider how he steps right, then left before the first defender then carries his opponents over the line.
Luke Lewis’ crystal ball might signal some future point for Arthur, but a decision for the Eels current NSW Cup halfback might have to be made sooner than expected.
Jake is only signed till the end of 2024, so with Dylan Brown and Mitch Moses apparently both locked in long term at the Eels, unless the young half intends going old school and becoming a lower grade stalwart, any NRL halfback aspirations won’t be met for some time at Parra.
This current season was earmarked by Brad Arthur to be a consolidation and development year for his son. He was going to build up game time at halfback in NSW Cup rather than the limited minutes he was getting on the NRL bench. Right now, such a call appears validated as Jake is going from strength to strength.
But where does that lead?
The sort of performances and statistics that Jake is producing would be attracting the attention of rival clubs in an era where game managing halfbacks are as scarce as hen’s teeth. And with every passing week, Jake is building on that form.
Forget all about the father/son relationship here. Brad Arthur has committed to Moses and Brown for the long haul. If Jake has the intention of building a career as an NRL half, there’ll be limited opportunities at Parra for the next three to four seasons.
Perhaps his best option will be to change clubs. Right now, he can’t do much more than be the stand out half back in NSW Cup.
Or maybe, as Luke Lewis predicts, a positional change lies in store. But when?
Given the importance of having a back up halfback to the NRL, we won’t see Arthur playing anything other than number 7 this year. If there’s an injury to either Moses or Brown, he will be needed.
Down the track, the emergence of a young halfback like Ethan Sanders into the lower grades might take away the current necessity of limiting Jake’s potential move to the forwards. Determining a time frame on that is well beyond my pay grade – if I had one!
Regardless, there’ll be plenty for Jake to weigh up when he considers his next contract.