Rugby League

License article

No Ringo, but Mullen still a star

Mullen's move to five-eighth may benefit Blues, writes Brad Walter

WHEN Jarrod Mullen was called into the NSW team as halfback in 2007, his then Knights coach Brian Smith wrote a column in the Newcastle Herald in which he quoted John Lennon's legendary response when asked if Ringo Starr was the best drummer in the world.

''He's not even the best drummer in the Beatles,'' Lennon said.

Smith, who suggested Mullen was better suited at five-eighth and also had concerns about a calf injury that was troubling him, wrote: ''Mullo may not even be the best halfback at the Knights''.

Five years later, Knights coach Wayne Bennett has also decided that Mullen's best position is five-eighth. It is a move that has the 25-year-old in the reckoning for his first Origin appearance since the opening game of the 2007 series.

According to statistics supplied by Sportsdata, Mullen has been one of the form playmakers in the NRL this season but, if his three appearances at five-eighth were isolated, he would be ranked No.1, with an average contribution value rating of 392.68 per game.

In comparison, the CVR figures for each game calculated by Sportsdata for the other contenders for the Blues halfback and five-eighth roles are:


James Maloney: 378.06

Peter Wallace: 349.23

Todd Carney: 321.50

Mitchell Pearce: 319.72

Terry Campese: 291.60

Jamie Soward: 249.54

However, when Mullen's appearances at halfback in the opening three matches of the season are isolated, his CVR drops to 304.15.

Former Newcastle coach Michael Hagan, who handed Mullen his NRL debut as an 18-year-old in 2004, said he always considered him a better five-eighth than halfback.

''Jarrod was a five-eighth in the team that won the SG Ball back in 2004 and he was the five-eighth back in 2006 when I finished up at the Knights,'' Hagan said.

''That was always probably his most natural position and I think it is good he has been allowed to concentrate on that role because I think that suits his footy the best.

''I think with a little less responsibility, he can really concentrate on the things that he is good at; his kicking game is good, his defence on the edges is good, he certainly runs the ball a bit more than we have seen from him and he is making some good decisions at times.

''In the past, he has been expected to play as an organising halfback, which is not really his make-up, and, like a lot of people, I have probably been critical … because he hasn't been able to take control of the team, but that isn't his natural game … by necessity, he was put into that role, which is a bit unfair.''

The event that made Mullen's switch to halfback necessary was the sudden retirement of Andrew Johns in April 2007.

Until then, Mullen was being groomed to play five-eighth for the Knights and Smith believed Luke Walsh, now at Penrith, would be Newcastle's long term halfback.

Johns even pleaded after announcing his retirement for people to accept that Mullen was not a genuine halfback, saying: ''Don't crucify him for not being me. He is really a five-eighth playing halfback and he has only just turned 20''.

Less than two months later, Mullen was running out for NSW before a capacity Suncorp Stadium crowd that included 24 of his family members all wearing Blues No.7 jerseys with his name on the back.

The NSW coach at the time was Graham Murray, who is now the Knights coaching director. He said Mullen had matured a lot since making his Origin debut.

''That was a tough time for him to come in and do that when he did,'' Murray said. ''But there is no better man than Wayne Bennett to work out whether he should play halfback or five-eighth, and I think Wayne has come in and identified five-eighth was his best position.''

Former Newcastle second-rower Steve Simpson, who was one of four Knights players in the NSW team beaten 25-18 in the opening match of 2007, said one of Mullen's best attributes at five-eighth was his defence - as evidenced in last Sunday's defeat of Parramatta in which Fuifui Moimoi repeatedly ran at him without success.