In the build up to the Rugby League World Cup 2017, there’ll inevitably be speculation among fans, coaches and players about who will make the cut for Bennett’s final squad. It is commonly thought that England have the greatest depth in the hooking position: Hull fans are still bemused that Houghton didn’t get picked for the 4 nations, Wire fans argue that Clark should be England’s number 9 and Saints fans think that Roby has still ‘got it’. So let’s settle this debate once and for all – Who is the best English hooker?
What makes a good Hooker?
Before we get down to business, it would be a good idea for me to state what I believe makes a good hooker. Firstly, as they defend in the middle, a hooker MUST be a reliable defender and a defensive leader of the team. Secondly, a hooker must, obviously, be a good passer as when on offence this is their primary job. The final must for a hooker is to provide impact. As most teams play with a hooker on the bench, the hooker on the bench needs to provide impact whilst the starting hooker catches his breath.
A good kicking game, leadership, communication, frequent line breaks and support play are also desirable extras for a good hooker.
The 2016 Steve Prescott Man of Steel has been a contender for international honours for a number of years now but has never earned a call-up let alone a cap. Widely regarded as Super League’s best defensive player, his defensive talent and work rate has never been in doubt. His average tackles per match for last season and the first 4 rounds of this season is about 47. This is phenomenal!
What has been in doubt though is his attacking play. Is it true that Houghton is just a defensive giant? Well, not really. He kicked 2 40/20s during the 2016 season which was the joint 5th highest in the whole of Super League. As well as this, in the first 4 rounds of Super League he averaged 8.67 metres a carry from 24 carries. This is very impressive for somebody who ‘can’t attack’, the only question is, can he maintain this throughout a whole season and if you look at the stats, you’d have to say probably not. Excluding the 2017 season, the only time Houghton averaged above 6.5 metres per carry in the past 5 season was when he made on average 6.76 metres in 2015.
Houghton is an awesome defender and a solid attacker but he is also an inspirational leader in the Hull team and poses an almost unrivaled work ethic. If I was Wayne Bennett, I would give Houghton a shot in the Samoa friendly in May to see how he does.
Potential England Hooker rating: 7/10