SEVEN minutes. That’s all St George Illawarra hooker Cameron McInnes has missed for the Dragons this season, a brief early mark against the Warriors in round four his only spell.
He’s otherwise gone the duration in 20 of this 21 appearances in 2017, the highest tally of matches the 23-year-old has managed in four NRL seasons.
Having gone beyond the distance in two golden-point fixtures, he’s averaging a nice round 80 minutes for the year in which he leads the competition in tackles made with a staggering 1007.
It’s up on the 62 minutes he averaged with the Rabbitohs last season and, while he’s flown under the radar in a tough mid-season stretch, his importance to the Dragons power game is certainly not lost on coach Paul McGregor.
“He’s been a big part of our year and it’s been a long year for him,” McGregor said.
“It’s the first time in his career that he’s played every game, and an 80-minute game at nine, but nothing seems to worry him.
“He just gets on with it each week. He turns up to training, works as hard as anyone else there, he stays behind and does extras all the time. He’ll do nothing different this week.
“Having an 80-minute hooker that lets you swing your interchange with your middle and have that utility on the bench is really important these days.
“It’s especially at an important time of the year like we’re at now.”
Having been forced to share hooking duties in his three seasons at Redfern – first with Isaac Luke and most recently with Damien Cook – McInnes said he came into the season determined to transform himself into an 80-minute man.
“It’s probably a hard goal to set at the start of the season, to play every minute, but I wanted to be the starting hooker and I wanted to be an 80-minute player,” McInnes said.
“Obviously, the way the year’s gone it’s worked out that way for me but I’m just pleased to be playing week in week out.
“The longer the season’s gone on, the more minutes I’ve played, I’m feeling more and more comfortable out there.
“The body feels really good so I’m really enjoying being on the field all the time.
“No player wants to go off the field so I’m really enjoying that role being out there the whole time and getting to experience everything with the boys.”
McInnes picked up a double in last week’s emphatic win over Gold Coast. Second-placed Brisbane will provide a much sterner test, but McInnes believes his side re-found their groove in the 42-16 win.
“Every game’s won and lost in the forwards and, all year, when our forwards have played well, we’ve played well,” McInnes said.
“We had a really good forwards game against the Titans on the weekend in terms of our enthusiasm in running the football and just holding the ball.
“We completed at 94 per cent on the first half. When you hold the ball like that, you have plenty of energy and enthusiasm in attack.
“If you look at the Knights game and the Souths game, our completion rates at the start of both games were horrible.
“It’s not a hard formula. If you look at all the top sides, they’re all holding the football and, if we hold the football, we’ve seen all year the points we can put on teams.”