Eels prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard has pumped out some massive, career-high numbers in 2020 but still reckons his 2017 run of form that earned him Test and Origin call-ups was more consistent.
NRL.com Stats crunched the numbers on the former Panther's unbelievable season to date, which includes the three biggest single-game run tallies of his career, plus two of the three biggest tackle counts and the two biggest games by minutes played.
Campbell-Gillard had run over 200 metres just three times in his career before this season, all in 2017, with a best of 230. He has done so seven times already this year, including the past five games straight with tallies of 297 and 247 twice.
"I probably had some good form back in 2017, I still believe that's the best year I've played to date," Campbell-Gillard told NRL.com.
"But currently we're winning and playing good footy so that makes my job a lot easier as an individual to knuckle down as a player and get this team forward as a forward. I feel like our combinations are working together really well as a whole."
He said he felt totally comfortable getting through his current elevated workload.
"The second stint comes easier now compared to the start of the year – probably the last four weeks I definitely feel comfortable with what we're doing. I can't really put it down to anything but I feel pretty good."
RCG got through his first ever 80-minute game in the round 10 loss to Manly and backed it up with 68 minutes against the Tigers – a game in which he believed he could have gone 80 again if needed.
"I'm doing my part as a player for the team. I feel like that COVID period away from football as an individual and as a club we set ourselves the goal to stay fit and stay on top of everything. We've come back in good shape and playing some good footy," he said.
What's even more impressive is that Campbell-Gillard is producing these elevated numbers in an environment where the game has been sped up significantly by the new rule interpretations. He believes a club-wide commitment to fitness during the COVID-19 shutdown is now paying dividends across the entire group.
Breaking the season down game by game, Campbell-Gillard has been arguably the Eels' best player this year in a very strong field but the real uptick in production started in round seven in a tight win over the Raiders.
The side lost Mitch Moses (calf) and Daniel Alvaro (who was on for just eight minutes before being cleaned up by a high tackle) in the first half and had two other players go off for HIAs in the second half, putting huge pressure on the remaining players (also missing the suspended Nathan Brown) to fill the breach.
RCG responded with what was to that point the most minutes (78), run metres (247) and equal-most tackles (49) of any game in his career.
Big man in open space alert
He pumped out 214 metres in 57 minutes in a romp over the Cowboys in round eight in a game where the team was never under pressure.
But Oregon Kaufusi and Ray Stone came out of that game with broken hands, leaving the team missing four middle forwards along with Kane Evans and Peni Terepo, with Nathan Brown also suspended.
In the three games since, rookie prop Stefano Utoikamanu has totalled just 25 minutes of game in three matches; in round nine fellow big-minute prop Junior Paulo played just 28 minutes due to back spasms; in round 10 Nathan Brown was ruled out just before half-time with a corked hip and in round 11 Ryan Matterson was concussed inside 15 minutes. Through it all Campbell-Gillard has been a rock for coach Brad Arthur.
In the round 10 loss to Manly he produced his first ever 80-minute game, the third-biggest tackle count (47) of his career and beat his best ever run tally by 50 as he racked up 297 metres.
Then against the Tigers he equalled his second-best run tally of 247 in another big, unbroken 68-minute stint which included a 45-metre gallop to the try-line for his first four-pointer in blue and gold.
"You never see a front-rower like that in space!" Campbell-Gillard laughed.
"It was one of those ones that could have gone 50-50 with a legs tackle but lucky for me I got away with the little ankle tap and kept my feet. It's always nice to get a try, I'll add that one to the highlight reel."
Having gone close a week earlier when he wasn't quite able to scoop up a Reed Mahoney grubber, RCG spookily guaranteed teammates his first try would come against the Tigers, a bold pre-game claim that was also confirmed by Arthur.
"I predicted at the start of the week with everyone, they think it's a bit freakish but I told them I was definitely going to score," Campbell-Gillard said. "But I didn't think it was going to be a try like that!"
It's possible the team's heavy reliance on Campbell-Gillard may ease from this week, with Kane Evans (calf) and Oregon Kaufusi (broken hand) each listed to make injury comebacks against the Bulldogs.