Stopping tries key to title
OPINION: DEFENCE will win the 2017 premiership.
In a season where all 16 NRL teams have racheted up their attack, some very soft tries have been scored over the past month.
All teams remaining in the play-offs can score tries; some from structure, others from freakish play and increasingly where luck and the bunker play a role.
Therefore, the team which shuts the opposition out best will win this year’s title.
The challenge to coaches of stopping tries, rather than scoring them, is significant in terms of the momentum versus rest-andregroup debate.
Immediately a team loses in the first weekend of the play-offs, it rolls out the momentum theory, arguing it is better to play on and iron out faults on the field under intense pressure.
Parramatta, following their loss to the Storm in the qualifying weekend, noted that a week’s rest had been a disadvantage in the past.
One Eel, Kenny Edwards, pointed to their play after byes being disjointed, and therefore preferred to approach the 2017 grand final “the hard way.”
Broncos coach, Wayne Bennett, after the loss to the Roosters in the same weekend, looked like a man who knew what to do, but that doesn’t mean he had the means at his disposal.
There are drills to fix up almost anything in the NRL and coaches will be working hard to simulate the conditions where gaps have appeared in the defensive line and tries been scored.
Bennett was busy with the whistle this week, encouraging, cajoling, instructing and enthusing – but whether another week of drills, free of having to play a game, would have helped mend the Broncos’ porous defensive line is doubtful.
They have serious defensive problems on both edges, especially in the centres, and fiveeighth Anthony Milford is erratic defensively.
While the Roosters will have been happy with the week off, it doesn’t mean it was the answer to their problems.
They have been a scratchy team, playing with moments of brilliance and then periods of seeming disinterest.
The Storm have all troops on deck, meaning they didn’t need a week off to wait for injured stars to return. They had a worrying lead-in to the semis, with three easy matches against the Knights, Rabbitohs and Raiders.
The Storm, therefore, needed a hard match and, if the Eels had not put up much resistance, Melbourne would have gone to the preliminary final well underdone.
But Parramatta gave the Storm what they needed: a giant scare. Even when the Storm hit the front in the second half, to lead by eight points, fate worked in their favour.
Had winger Josh Addo-Carr’s boot not touched a speck of sideline white and he been allowed a try, the score could have blown out. A 14-point lead could have given the Storm a false sense of security.
Instead, the Eels came back with a converted try and the Storm had to hold on to a nervous two-point buffer.
So the Storm got what they needed without having to play all four weekends of the semis. Grand final winners invariably come from the teams which enjoyed the week’s rest, but that statistic was partly built on the pre-2012 finals system where the minor premier played the eighth-placed team; the second-placed team played the seventh-placed, and so on.
Now, with 1 v 4 and 2 v 3, the top games are competitive but increase the chances of losing in week one.
While the Storm don’t have injuries that would have ruled anyone out of playing this weekend, some players have corks which prevent them training robustly.
Training will be disrupted while reserves take the places of the wounded but, by Monday, Bellamy should have a top 17 to train together for the rest of the week.
So, the real advantage of a week off is the opportunity to rest those with minor injuries, allowing a full-on week of intense training.
But then comes a further test: how does the coach manage the heavy contact drills to avoid injuries to stars?
The Roosters and Storm must do some contact to ensure they sharpen the players’ defensive skills but their coaches must make it as safe as possible.
All NRL teams have similar defensive structures and the team which tackles best, holding on to the ball carrier and putting him to the ground, will win the 2017 premiership.
‘ The team which tackles best will win the 2017 premiership.’