I came across a Debbie Spillane article the other day, in which she heralded Billy Slater as possibly the greatest rugby league player of all time.
The article itself wasn’t much chop – let’s be serious, Billy Slater is probably not the best fullback of his generation, let alone the greatest player of all time– but one small thing captured my attention.
Spillane described Billy Slater as one of the greatest loomers to have played the game.
Even more delicious was her anecdote regarding legendary coach Jack Gibson, who apparently used to keep a statistic for looming, such was his appreciation for this one percenter.
Looming, for those who do not know, is essentially the ability to lurk off a ball runner (usually behind the play) before accelerating to make yourself available for the offload.
Looming is as it sounds: creepy, surreptitious and opportunistic. It’s also one of my favourite things about rugby league – a sport which I have stuck the boot into in previous weeks (see here, here and here).
To be a good loomer, you need to be able to read ahead of the game. Like a great snooker player, visualising the table seven shots ahead, loomers must do the same.
Perhaps on the second tackle, they might see that an opposition forward is tiring – and on the fourth tackle, they will strike, exploding onto a teammate’s off-load in traffic like a ferocious pinball. It’s almost as if they gain speed once the ball hits their chest.
I think this is my favourite thing about rugby league. It took a terrible Debbie Spillane article to make me realise it, but I am thankful.
Rugby league has the line-break. Fuck the hits – the line-break remains the best thing about this code. And the line-break is made even more possible by the advent – and now widespread adoption – of looming.
Because a rugby league defence is so rigid, tough to penetrate, the line-break represents the proverbial opening of the floodgates. Especially if it comes in the 78th minute, with Billy Slater scything through the line to steal victory yet again.
What’s more: a linebreak never fails to surprise. Ray Warren has called probably 50,000 line-breaks, but each one causes the great man to leap out of his seat and shift into an excitable mid-high register, breaking from his controlled dulcet tones.
The crowd rises as one. The opposition fullback is charged with making a clutch tackle. It’s a classic one-on-one scenario – attack v defence. Dichotomy in sport. Man on man. Mano-a-mano.
Looming is creepy. It’s like a David Attenborough documentary where a young tiger cub is preying on an unsuspecting fawn; learning how to hunt and kill for itself under the guidance of its watchful mother . It’s fucking fantastic and primal.
Now that I live in Melbourne – and do not have Foxtel – I have barely seen a game of rugby league this year. But as long as there are blokes making linebreaks – and Ray Warren calling them in an excitable manner, no less – then I will continue to watch rugby league wherever possible.
By Dave Edwards