When it is time to consider great rugby players, statistics can sometimes be misleading. The true contributions of a player often disappear over time if those contributions do not occupy the realm of data that can be recovered and analyzed after the fact.
Many great players did not post high numbers in any of the significant statistics that are used to compare players of today with those that played in earlier eras.
Certain players, however, have created marks that leave no doubt as to the abilities those players possessed.
It would seem that objectively, scoring the most points in a season would be one statistic that eliminates the need for subjective considerations from teammates and skilled or casual observers.
Our subject for this article has scoring the most points in a season on his resume not just once, but multiple times. Not only is this true. He also scored the most points of all time in one season and had multiple seasons where he topped rugby league in scoring.
His 342 points scored in the 2004 season beats the second-best all-time points in a season by 34 points. Additionally, El Masri led the league on five other occasions, in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2006 and his last season, 2009. His tallies from 2006 and 2003 occupy positions three and four respectively on the all-time points per season list. His name is found again in 11th, 20th, and 26th position on the list of all-time points in a season.
He managed this without being what would be described as a prolific try scorer, although he did produce 19 in 2001. Rather, it was 10 seasons averaging over 80 percent on his goal kicks that contributed the lion’s share of his points.
Born in the city of Lebanon in Tripoli on 1 April 1976, El Masri came to Australia with his parents in 1988 when he was 12 years old.
Naturally athletic, he was of course interested in soccer, but the Sydney suburb of Enfield where the family settled initially was home to a local rugby squad, the Federals. He was spotted by scouts for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in 1994 and created an impression sufficient to receive an invitation to a trial for the Jersey Flegg side. His play in that capacity found him being advanced to the senior side the following year.
He made his debut with the first grade team in the 1996 season. At that time, the Bulldogs had Daryl Halligan for their primary goal kicker, and so it was not until Halligan was injured during the 1997 season that El Masri got his opportunity. He was firmly entrenched on the Bulldogs squad by the time the 1998 NRL season got underway. Along with that assignment, he also played for his native country of Lebanon in international matches as early as 1999.
In NRL play in 1999, he scored 74 points with 14 tries and nine goals. Interestingly, in 2000, his 40 points were all the result of tries. From that point, he began to amass the figures that would at times make it seem as though there was more than one of him. Playing for the Lebanon’s national side in that country’s first World Cup appearance, he was captain on the side that was trounced in no uncertain sense by New Zealand, enduring a 64 – 0 drubbing at the hands of the Kiwis.
El Masri’s 19 tries in 2001 were his personal best in that statistic. Combined with 97 goals, he led the league with 270 points, even though his 74.6 percentage was the lowest of his career.
The Rabbitohs sought his services in 2001 after he topped the league in scoring, but El Masri opted to stay with the Bulldogs despite the $2 million the Rabbitohs dangled in front of him.
He led the league in points again in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 when he established the record that stands as of 2015. He seemingly took the season “off” in 2005, but only someone of El Masri’s calibre could describe 180 points as a poor season. He made a good comeback in 2006, when his career second-best 17 tries and best ever percentage of 86.36 for goals put him at 296 points for the 26 games in which he took part.
El Masri’s 210 points in 2007 was followed by his worst season since 2001 when he had just 130 points from 21 games in 2008. His final season of 2009 had him back in form, however, and he tallied 248 points, to give him 2,418 for his career, 242 beyond second-best Andrew Johns. As one of only four players to exceed 2,000 points, with all four having retired, El Masri’s record seems secure for the foreseeable future.
The Canterbury-Bankstown District Rugby League Football Club did well due in no small part to El Masri’s efforts as part of the squad. They won the premiership in 2004, the year he scored 342 and were runners-up in 1998. They also experienced their share of hardships during the period as well, earning wooden spoons in 2002 and 2008.
In one of those marvelous “what-if” scenarios of which sports seemingly has an inexhaustible supply, it is a source of speculation to wonder what El Masri’s totals would have been if the club had relied on him more during the first five years of his career. He very well might have been the first player to ever top the 3,000 point mark, with the 582 points he lacked, over the course of five seasons, would have taken only about 117 points per year, below his output in even his worst season.
That he tops the all-time scoring list, even though he ranks only seventh on the tries list, says much about his skill as a goal kicker, and his career percentage of 81.97 would seem to back that assertion. It is quite likely that anytime the subject of all-time greatest NRL wings is raised, his name will be the first to pass most lips.