MVP: Nathan Peats (Parramatta Eels; Hooker)

With the Eels
With the Eels

Nathan Peats is one of the ultimate small-scale NRL players, which also makes him one of the most approachable and endearing as well. In a football era in which player movement, trading and exchanging has become so integral to the game – a second game, really – you can often distinguish a large-scale from a small-scale player by how much agency they have over their movements. Where luminaries like DCE seem to be able to choose any club they want, no matter the price or complications, players like Peats tend to be the ones who get shafted or shunted to make for the luminaries. In the ongoing drama that is the NRL salary cap, there’s a whole underclass of players who are forced to shift their allegiance from year to year to clear enough cash space at the top, and there’s a peculiar ingenuity and dignity to the way they handle their game in the process.

Chilling with Kane Evans at Souths
Chilling with Kane Evans at Souths

In the case of Peats, that ingenuity and dignity is particular pronounced. On the face of it, nobody in their right mind would have left the Rabbitohs for the Eels last year, and certainly not a player like Peats who’d enjoyed such a long relationship with the club. Not only was he Souths Under 20s captain, but he skippered the team to their 2010 Grand Final alongside such up-and-comers as Adam Reynolds, Dylan Farrell and Josh Starling. If anyone was going to stick with the Bunnies through to a Telstra Grand Final, it would have been Peats, so you can only assume that he took a long hard look at the roster last year and realised he wasn’t going to make it to the top salary stratum, at least not at this point in his career. In any case, the Rabbitohs’ taste for importing big-name players might easily have edged him out in the next year or two anyway, especially as Russell Crowe began the search for the next big Burgess replacement. In a hothouse like Souths, being an up-and-comer can actually be a bit of a liability if you don’t soar as rapidly and improve as exponentially as, say, an Adam Reynolds. Talented enough to be a factor in salary cap considerations, but not talented enough – yet – to drive them, Peats took the plunge and made the move to Parra in what will probably turn out to be one of the canniest decisions of his career.

On point
On point

Although Peats couldn’t have known how 2014 would play out, the fact that Souths took home their first victory in forty-three years – and their first since escaping the Super League – while Parra ended up in the bottom eight once again all served to make his decision feel ever more classy and mature. In a recent interview with Fletch and Hindy, Peats and Corey Norman had a bit of a talk about what missing out on that historical moment meant for him. While Peats started by saying he was fine with it, Norman ribbed him a bit until he conceded, comically, that he’d been a bit disappointed about it. It was an honest admission, delivered in a frank and comic manner, that just imbued Peatsy’s movement to Parra with more conviction, clarity and, once again, maturity.

Daniel Mortimer, kindred spirit
Daniel Mortimer, kindred spirit

And Peatsy is, in his own way, one of the most mature players in the NRL. Sure, he’s still got room to extend his game, but there’s something about being on the edge of the spotlight that dissuades the kind of extravagant indulgences of a prestige player. On top of that, Peats has the kind of family connection to the game – his father, Geordi Peats, is something of a Bulldogs legend – that can admittedly produce the entitlement of a Mitchell Pearce, but can also result in the level-headed maturity that Peats has in droves. I’d also put Daniel Mortimer in the same category, and it’s not coincidence to me that both players have really come into their own as Parra hookers, nor that Geordi Peats made his name playing the same position for the Dogs, setting up his team with the same quiet dignity he’s passed on to his son, which is not to say that Peats doesn’t enjoy a bit of rough-and-tumble when the moment is right either. After all, it was Jarryd Hayne himself who described Peats as “the most aggressive hooker I’ve ever player with,” an “angry ant” who managed to give the team a new “hard edge.”

“Hard edge” (Hayne)

While I’ve got some stuff to say in a later post about hookers more generally (OK, that didn’t sound very good), the exemplary playmaker and panache of Peats Sr, Peats Jr and Mortimer should tell us that there’s something about the position that personifies the business end of the game. While bad boy fullbacks and halfbacks can afford to have big personalities, it’s only because they’ve got the hookers working for them at the coal face. More on that later, though, since what I want to stress now is that Peatsy is the hooker par excellence, up there with Robbie Farah and Cameron Smith in the way he manages to slip into some of the duties of a half without every giving himself over to halfback histrionics in the process. Not only does that tend to make him feel like he’s co-captain with Tim Mannah, but it makes him feel like the coal face of the very NRL, given Parra’s peculiar ability to personify the precarity that seems to perpetually haunt the game. Even his recent spate of injuries have just made him more focused and good-humoured in his game. On or off the field, there are few players who better encapsulate the spirit of play-the-ball, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Peatsy replace Robbie in future Blues units.

Tough player, perfect hooker
Tough player, perfect hooker

And Peatsy’s off-field life is just as endearing as his onfield game. Whereas big personalities in the NRL are often defined by one or two traits that are then consciously massaged into a media profile, small-scale players often get away with being a bit more eccentric, a bit more of a mixture. Combined with the journeyman sensibility that typifies the best hookers, that makes Peatsy the ideal panel guest, where he often makes a refreshing change from the vanilla personae of the regular lineup. One of my favourites is a recent Fox Sports interview in which the panel give him a bit of a rib about his new hairdo, but there are others in which Peats just manages to take it all in his stride as well. In fact, you could write a whole post on heaps of his different traits, from the way he carries his indigenous pride, to his role in footy tattoing culture, to his Twitter feed, which is one of the most entertaining and low-key in the NRL, replacing the generic League retweets typical of most players with a wide-ranging series of observations and reflections, from his favourite 80s movies (the Beverly Hills Cop series is clearly close to his heart) to his fanboy love for the Washington Huskies. All too often, NRL comes off as a petulant sport, when at heart it is really a picaresque sport, and few players embody that picaresque sense of play as effortlessly as Nathan Peats.

Author: Billy Stevenson

Massive NRL fan, passionate Wests Tigers supporter with a soft spot for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and a big follower of US sports as well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s