Liam Martin, the formidable Penrith second rower, continues to accumulate accolades with some now acknowledging him to be the premier back-rower in rugby league – and this plaudit isn’t limited to his teammates.
On Monday night, Martin received the True Blue award at the Brad Fittler Medal ceremony. This was presented to him with an endorsement from Penrith legend, Greg Alexander, who currently serves as an advisor for the Blues. From this platform, Alexander categorically labelled Martin, aged 26, as the foremost in his position.
Critics were quick to attribute Alexander’s commendations to club favouritism, but he ardently reasserted his stance on Tuesday.
Viliame Kikau has a robust reputation as the standout edge forward in rugby league. He has consistently been proclaimed the Dally M back-rower of the year for three consecutive seasons, sharing this honour with fellow sportsmen Jeremiah Nanai, Isaiah Papali’i and Tohu Harris. Individuals such as David Fifita of Gold Coast, Nelson Asofa-Solomona of Melbourne and Briton Nikora of Cronulla cannot be excluded from this enlightening discourse.
Undoubtedly, Martin’s presence will cast an indomitable shadow on the field as the reigning champions stand against the New Zealand Warriors this Saturday afternoon.
Alexander stated: “What I’ve noticed about Liam is even if you’re not a Penrith supporter, people enjoy watching him as a player.”
He further elaborated: “I hear that from other commentators and people in general. The Panthers have Nathan Cleary and Isaah Yeo and Dylan Edwards, but the one player people bring up the most when talking to me is Liam. People just love the way he plays. Players improve with age and experience, and he’s just kept improving to the point where he is now. It’s always debatable when it comes to who is the best in the one position, but I think Liam is [the best].”
Upon receiving this accolade, Martin, a man of humble and commendable nature, rejected the assertions of superiority and ceded the honour to the ex-Panther, Kikau.
In Martin’s own words: “Look at the calibre of back-rowers out there, and while I know ‘Kiks’ had an ordinary year with injury, I still think he’s the best back-rower in the game.”
Complementing Martin, Cronulla star Nicho Hynes, who shared the NSW Origin team stage with Martin this year, recognises his exceptional talent.
Hynes said unequivocally: “I’ll always back Briton because I’m his teammate, but if I had to pick a back-rower not in my team, it’s Marto – he’s the best back-rower in the comp I believe. He’s got so much mongrel and is the hungriest player I’ve seen. He just goes after people. He’s not scared to take anyone on, he never takes a backward step, he takes the tough carries, and will shoot out of the line [in defence]. He’s the guy you want to play with.”
However, Martin’s ascent comes with some perils. In the previous weekend’s game, he sustained a head injury in a low hit on his Cowboys opponent Luciano Leilua, leaving him with nine stitches over his right eye.
On a lighter note, Martin humorously projected concern that his mother Maxine might be inclined to give him nine stitches over his other eye – a response to his forgetfulness at the awards when he overlooked thanking her.
Departing from the limelight in a surprising twist of events, despite her son’s reputation and dominance, the main Brad Fittler Medal was, in fact, awarded to Brian To’o. Having anticipated Martin’s win, To’o himself confessed he thought Martin would clinch the honour. Both To’o and Martin were among seven players who represented the Blues in all three Origin games.