Are we watching potentially one of rugby’s greatest goal-kickers in Mike Harris?
Last night in atrocious conditions, especially for goal-kickers, Harris nailed seven penalties and two conversions from as many attempts for the Queensland Reds to overpower the Western Force 35-20 at a rain-drenched Suncorp.
The nine-goal haul equalled the Reds’ game record set by former Wallaby skipper John Eales in Super 10 in 1996. The win last night also doubled up as the Reds’ 100th Super success at home.
While the vast majority of rugby fans would far prefer to see tries being scored, modern-day referees have made the code a virtual penalty shootout.
So every side needs a sharp-shooter and no-one is sharper than Harris.
So far in his Reds career, Harris has landed 24 goals from as many attempts. In the pre-season trials 10 from 10.
Harris had a scare with his 18th attempt last night, bouncing in off the left-hand upright. But the vast majority of his goals have been right over the black dot. He is deadly accurate.
And over half those goals were out wide in the “country”, or close to halfway. Matters not to Harris, he’s in a nailing mode irrespective of distance.
It’s an interesting fact, as a general rule, rugby league goal-kickers have been far more accurate over the decades.
So far Harris is refuting that fact, as have All Black Dan Carter, and England’s Jonny Wilkinson, both left footers.
Carter is the rugby world’s leading international points-scorer with 1,250 points, just shading Wilkinson’s 1,246 – both a binocular distance ahead of the field.
Carter has scored 29 tries, 224 conversions, 215 penalties, and 4 drop goals.
Wilkinson just 7 tries, but 169 conversions, 255 penalties, and 36 drop goals.
Seeing Carter’s played only 85 internationals compared to Wilkinson’s 97, it’s easy to see the All Blacks are a far more attacking try-scoring unit.
But that’s not the point of the story. Let’s take a trip down the memory lane of goal-kickers.
The All Blacks have been blessed with great footballers, and great kickers, over the years. My early memories are two full-backs Bob Scott and Don Clarke in the 50s and 60s when rugby Tests were scarce. Clarke was a prodigious kicker. In a Test against France at windy Wellington, Clarke landed a penalty from his own quarter line to win.
In those days you could kick out on the full from any part of the field. Quite often the men-in-black were defending on their own side of halfway until the ball was passed to Clarke and he cleared the touchline close to the opposition corner flag. Defence into immediate attack, thanks to one giant boot.
The All Blacks have been well-served since by Grant Fox and Andrew Mehrtens before Carter surfaced.
Michael Lynagh and Matt Burke have been the Wallabies’ most successful, although Stirling Mortlock, John Eales, and Matt Giteau proved successful on their day.
England has been all Wilkinson for the last 13 years, with very little before him, and not much on the horizon.
Scotland’s best – Chris Paterson, and Gavin Hastings.
Wales – Neil Jenkins, Stephen Jones, and Phil Bennett.
Ireland – Ronan O’Gara.
South Africa – Morne Steyn, Percy Montgomery, and Naas Botha.
Argentina – Hugo Porta and Felipe Contepomi.
Italy – Diego Domingues.
But the French have been the worst-served by goal-kickers of all the major nations. Christophe Lamaison is the highest points-scorer with 380, nearly 900 points behind Dan Carter.
So that covers the exploits of the world’s best kickers.
Let’s see where Mike Harris slots into the bigger picture as he earns more chances.
I just hope he doesn’t suffer the same fate as John Cox, who played for Eastern Suburbs in the Sydney first grade comp between 1965 and 1972.
Left-footer Cox was a superb goal-kicker in the 85-90% range, the best never to wear gold. Yet he plundered well over 200 points every season in an era when the Wallaby kickers were lucky to better 60%.
Some never get the breaks they deserve.