Monster mash: Are NRL wrecking balls facing extinction?
John Morris personally delivered an exercise bike to the lounge room of his 138kg enforcer after the NRL announced a host of new rules that has made the rugby league giant an endangered species.
Weighing in at almost 140kg, Franklin Pele was facing extinction after the NRL made rugby league even faster by abolishing the off-side penalty and the touchline infringement scrum. That was until Sharks coach Morris turned up to his house with the bike that helped him shed 16kg in two months over summer.
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A Saturday Telegraph investigation into weights of players has found the days of the rugby league colossus are numbered, with 110kg-plus forwards ordered to strip down after a host of new NRL go-fast rules that officially came into effect seven days ago when the new season kicked off in Melbourne.
"I delivered a watt (exercise) bike to his (Pele's) house during the break," Morris said. "We put it in his lounge room. I have high hopes for him, but I knew at 136kg there was no way he would have been able to play in the NRL."
In what amounts to a monster mash, the NRL giant and other hulks like him have been targeted by new rules designed to bring the little man back into the contest by reducing rest times.
Several NRL teams have stripped weight from their squads in anticipation of what could be a season-deciding move by headquarters.
"The fact that the ball is in play more is going to challenge the big man," Wests Tigers coach Michael Maguire said. "The big man either has to bring down his weight or find ways to be super, super fit. You will find a lot of forwards trimming down to handle the speed of the game.
"The rules have been changed to challenge the big man and bring the little men back."
A study of player weights has revealed the Warriors and the Sea Eagles - belted 46-4 by the Roosters in the season opener - are carrying the heaviest squads, with the New Zealand side boasting nine 110kg-plus players compared with the Sea Eagles' eight.
At the other end of the scale, the Roosters and Titans have just one player each over the heavyweight mark of 110kg.
"We have taken some weight off our guys," Morris said. "I definitely think the ideal weight is coming down and anyone over the 120kg mark, we have taken a few kilos of them. Andrew Fifita was 126kg during the finals last year and he has come back to 122kg. We have given him a target of 118kg.
"It is going to be the guys that don't have the leg speed and can't back up for repeated efforts that are going to be found out with the ball in play more often."
Still a while away from making his NRL debut, Pele became the poster boy for weight loss after losing 11kg over the off-season.
"He was 136 when we had our exit interviews last year," Morris said.
"We put the bike in his lounge room and it worked. He came back to training after the break at 125kg. He is down to 122kg now."
Having been a beneficiary of last year's faster game with the acquisition of game-changing hooker Api Koroisau, the Panthers are again built for speed after shedding the bulk of James Tamou and Zane Tetevano.
At just 103kg, Penrith's Kiwi enforcer James Fisher-Harris could become the prototype for middle men under the new rules.
"It's still a bit unknown how much the new rules will change the nature of the game and the range of effective player weights," Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said.
"But rugby league has always been a game for all sizes so as long as players are well prepared, we should continue to see bigger guys still being effective."
Players such as Josh Papalii (119kg), Junior Paulo (123kg) and Jason Taumalolo (117kg) are set to buck the trend because they have what is colloquially known in rugby league as a "big motor".
A combination of size, speed and endurance makes them a rare rugby league beast.
"There is still a role for the big guy because the line still needs to be bent back with momentum," Fox League analyst Mick Ennis said.
"But we are definitely going to see a lot more fatigue in the middle. I think it will absolutely have an effect on those big guys. There is going to be changing of the guard in regard to being able to carry big powerful blokes for short spurts."
BIG BOPPERS: HOW EVERY NRL CLUB WEIGHS UP
James Phelps and Fox Sports Lab catalogue how many big boppers - weighing in 110kg or more - are in each team and where the biggest of them all fit in beyond the scales.
BRONCOS: 5 (players weighing in 110kg or more)
The Monster: Matt Lodge (117kg)
Best known for an ugly off-field incident in New York before being signed by the Broncos, Lodge has gone on to become a front-row mainstay for Brisbane. After a barnstorming 2019, he struggled to adapt to the rule changes last year as the Broncos imploded. Injured his hamstring in the opening round - a big blow for new coach Kevvie Walters.
The Monster: Dylan Napa (113kg)
The former Queensland Origin enforcer was bought by the Bulldogs as a replacement for David Klemmer when the NSW giant defected to Newcastle. The ex-Rooster has failed to reproduce the type of form that won him an Origin jersey and he now sits on the Bulldogs bench.
The Monster: Wiremu Greig (124kg)
A contender for the biggest man in rugby league. Only rivalled by Franklin Pele and Junior Paulo, Greig has a George Rose body type and could make his NRL debut this year. Certain to become a Cowboys cult figure if he wins a top-grade spot.
The Monster: Eddie Blacker (116kg)
Joining the Dragons from Brisbane in 2019, Blacker is all tall timber. Standing at 195cm, the prop made his NRL debut against the Storm last season. The 21-year-old will almost certainly get another chance this year.
The Monster: Junior Paulo (123kg)
Only rivalled by Josh Papalii as the NRL's best big man, Paulo is a rare beast who can defy his size to play big minutes and produce flat-out repeat efforts. A devastating line-bending runner, Paulo also has good hands to match his big motor.
The Monster: Daniel Saifiti (121kg)
Forming Newcastle's twin tower with brother Jacob, Saifiti has established himself as one of the game's premier props. Standing at 195cm, his towering frame allows him to carry his incredible bulk, seemingly with ease. Outstanding opening-round performance.
The Monster: Viliame Kikau (116kg)
One of the most destructive ball runners in the game, Kikau is among a handful of backrowers who weigh more than 110kg. Kikau has speed to match his size in a combination that makes him a wrecking ball. Kikau is not renowned for repeat efforts - the only real blight on the Fijian's game.
The Monster: Thomas Burgess (120kg)
The last of the Burgess brothers left in the NRL, Thomas has been an NRL mainstay for Souths since 2013. Known for his power game - not his hands - Burgess is now in the twilight of his career at age 28. Lines up against Manly today after being cleared or a neck injury in round 1.
THE MONSTER: Josh Papalii (119kg)
Proved himself a one-of-a-kind freak when he ran down the Titans' Jamal Fogarty to produce the ankle tap of the century last season. Pound for pound, he is the fittest player in the NRL and the benchmark that big men strive for in rugby league.
The Monster: Daniel Suluka-Fifita (112kg)
The only man in the Roosters squad who weighs more than 110kg, Suluka-Fifita is earmarked as the enforcer who will take over from Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.
SEA EAGLES: 8
The Monster: Toafofoa Sipley (120kg)
Only managed two games for the Warriors before moving to Sydney to play for the Sea Eagles, Sipley has played a back-up role for Martin Taupau since joining Manly.
The Monster: Franklin Pele (132kg)
Weighing in at 138kg at the end of last season, Pele is the biggest man in the game. Signed by John Morris as a teenager, Pele has worked hard on his fitness under the urgings of the coach.
The Monster: Nelson Asofa-Solomona (115kg)
Not just one of the biggest, but also one of the best. As destructive as they come, Asofa-Solomona is a leader with a big workrate.
The Monster: Russell Packer (119kg)
Once one of the most sought-after props in the game, Packer has become a huge source of frustration for Wests Tigers fans since being signed by former coach Ivan Cleary on incredible money. Has spent far too much time outside the playing 17.
The Monster: Sam Lisone (110kg)
A big man with the ball-playing ability of a half, Lisone forms an important part of a new-look Titans pack boosted by big-name recruits David Fifita and Tino Fa'asuamaleaui.
The Monster: Addin Fonua-Blake (118kg)
Part of the Warriors' bid to add size to their pack this season, Fonua-Blake controversially quit the Sea Eagles to play under Nathan Brown.
Originally published as Monster mash: Are NRL wrecking balls facing extinction?