THE next time Danny Brough pulls out one of his trademark booming 40/20s, the Huddersfield Giants captain will be in touching distance of Lee Briers’s record for the highest number of such piercing kicks in a Super League season.
Recently retired, the metronomic Briers booted 11 for Warrington Wolves in 2006, his unerring accuracy so often proving the scourge of fearful back-threes and getting his side instantly in prime attacking position.
However, there are still seven rounds left of this campaign and Huddersfield will, inevitably, reach the play-offs, too, so it seems certain Brough – already on nine – will obliterate that milestone with just as much menace as one of those brilliant kicks.
That alone is interesting enough but the more intriguing aside is the fact that the Scotland half-back has struck more than double anyone else in the competition this term.
Hull KR’s Travis Burns is the next most prolific along with Matty Smith of Wigan Warriors but, prior to this last weekend of action, they had each only contributed four 40/20s in 2014.
Furthermore, once you have taken aside Rangi Chase and Luke Walsh, who have both managed the feat twice, others have managed it just once.
Why is that? Is it because it is such a difficult skill to master, kicking the ball from inside your own 40m area and bouncing it into touch in the opponents’ 20m zone to get the head and feed?
Or is it mainly because most sides have managed to get into the opponents’ half via good, old-fashioned hard work, a few meaty charges taking them into plum attacking territory without the need to kick out of trouble?
Have defences simply wised up and cut off the option by dropping back early in the count?
The law – aimed to reward accurate kicking – was introduced to Super League in 1999, predictably after it had been initiated in Australia two years earlier.
On his own success with it, Brough said: “It’s probably something that does come naturally. You do practice your kicking but it’s something people have been doing long before the rule ever came in; the only difference now is you get recognition for it.
“It does give your forwards a lift if you’ve been bogged down in your own area but also, at the same time, probably demoralises the opponents’ pack, too, as they’re walking back to the scrum at the other end.
“There’s a bit of instinct to it all when it comes to choosing when to go for it and it’s not that hard.
“When it first came out, I thought it would be but as time’s gone on it’s got a bit easier and if you get a full-back standing in the middle of the park that’s a great time to try one.
“It’s a good rule. There’s a lot of aspects to it and the tactics but you have to be a confident kicker especially if you’ve not had the ball for a while and you attempt one on tackle three.”
The 31-year-old’s nine – he topped with six last year – is the highest since Paul Deacon’s eight for Bradford Bulls in 2003 as they went on to win Super League.
Burns knows first-hand just how devastating the ploy can be – from both viewpoints. “It is a massive play and often the rewards outweigh the risks,” said the Australian. “That said, I went for one in our game against Huddersfield recently and kicked out on the full. Danny Brough then nailed his and they scored.
“He was probably the difference in that game – he got a couple of 40/20s – and is a master at that skill; it’s not a huge kick as such but more about accuracy and it can really lift your team.”
England captain Kevin Sinfield won the Golden Boot as the world’s best player in 2012 and a major factor behind it was the quality of the Leeds Rhinos stand-off’s kicking. However, he readily concedes the 40/20 kick still proves a problem. “When I’m out practicing, I can kick them all day. When the bullets are flying, though, and people are charging kicks down, it makes it all the more difficult.
“It is a really specialist kick and there are plenty of dynamics to how it affects the way teams defend.
“It certainly changes things for the full-back and back three and also brings new dimensions to how you attack with the ball, too, if or when the wingers drop back.
“There’s certain players – no one more than Danny Brough – who are real clever with it. I’m not great but, having said that, I’ve not needed to do too many as traditionally Leeds’ forwards have got us up the field and into the opposition half so we’ve not had to rely on that sort of kick.
“It’s been a great addition to the game, though.”
Castleford Tigers scrum-half Liam Finn, the Ireland captain who kicked his first 40/20 of the year in Friday’s win over Huddersfield, goes further still.
He said: “It’s the best rule change the game’s ever had along with taking the corner flag out of play. We tend to bemoan everything we get wrong in rugby league but there’s a couple of things that we’ve really got right.
“I don’t think we need to go to the Australian extreme where you can run down now and take a quick tap – that’s a bit unnecessary and turns the game into touch and pass really – but the 40/20 is a great idea and Broughy and Lee Briers are its masters.”