In­som­nia a re­al­ity for all NRL coaches

Sunday News - - LEAGUE -

IN­CON­SIS­TENCY is the coach’s great­est enemy. In­juries, sus­pen­sions, me­dia, med­dling di­rec­tors, quar­rel­some part­ners all cause angst, but the one as­pect of a coach’s life sure to cause him to stare at the bed­room ceil­ing at 2am is a team that loses the easy games after win­ning the big ones.

The Rab­bitohs can’t be called easy­beats, but Roost­ers coach Trent Robin­son wouldn’t have had much sleep after his ap­par­ently in-form Roost­ers were list­less against Souths on Thurs­day night.

To­day’s Sea Ea­gles ver­sus Wests Tigers match pits an in­con­sis­tent team against a con­sis­tent one.

The Sea Ea­gles have gone loss, win, loss, win, loss to date, but what would frus­trate coach Trent Bar­rett even more are the mar­gins of vic­tory and de­feat: win­ning by 54 points against the Eels in round two and los­ing to the Rab­bitohs by 28 points the next week.

Ditto for a 16-point win over the Raiders fol­lowed by a 12-point loss to the Ti­tans.

Wests Tigers, how­ever, are 4-1, hav­ing re­lied on a strong de­fen­sive ef­fort and taken the few op­tions avail­able in at­tack to de­feat the pre­miers, Mel­bourne, twice. Had the ref­eree not erred in a game against the Bron­cos, they would be 5-0.

Com­pla­cency is the usual sus­pect for in­con­sis­tent form. A team com­ing off a strong per­for­mance adopts the at­ti­tude it merely has to turn up to get the same re­sult. Yet it’s been long es­tab­lished that the ‘‘on any given Sun­day’’ rule ap­plies in the NRL. That is, the com­pe­ti­tion is so even, as a re­sult of the salary cap, player trans­fers and coach move­ment, that any team is ca­pa­ble of caus­ing an up­set.

Still, it’s hard to beat that mes­sage into play­ers’ heads.

The Storm have en­joyed great suc­cess in mile­stone games and prob­a­bly as­sumed that Billy Slater’s 300th game and Craig Bel­lamy’s 400th game would get them home against Wests Tigers in rounds two and five, but they were beaten both times.

How­ever, there is an­other fac­tor that may ex­plain in­con­sis­tency, and it’s of­ten not ad­mit­ted, nor ad­dressed.

Top tal­ent in the NRL is spread very thinly and all teams have weak­nesses. If a team has no ob­vi­ous de­fi­ciency in the start­ing 13, it will have a po­ten­tial fragility on the bench. In other words, there are sim­ply not enough play­ers of first-grade stan­dard in the NRL to sup­ply 16 clubs with strong enough ros­ters to cover in­jury and the loss of tal­ent to rep­re­sen­ta­tive foot­ball.

When you see a player re­peat the same mis­takes, de­spite the cor­rec­tive ef­forts of some of the code’s best coaches, you come to the con­clu­sion ex­pan­sion in the NRL is sheer folly.

A team may win three or four con­sec­u­tive games, en­er­gis­ing its sup­port­ers, but as the hype builds, and pos­si­bly the match prepa­ra­tion of the mar­ginal player di­min­ishes, his per­for­mance drops off.

They’re called ‘‘rocks and di­a­monds’’ play­ers, mean­ing they have in­built flaws and are ca­pa­ble of sparkling mo­ments, but the weak­nesses are ex­posed when they fail to pol­ish their prepa­ra­tion.

A smart coach will an­tic­i­pate this and rest the player be­fore he is caught out, but this is only pos­si­ble if he has an able re­place­ment.

An­other con­trib­u­tor to the ap­par­ent in­con­sis­tency of re­sults is the weather. A team play­ing on a hot day, so early in the sea­son, risks drop­ping the sweaty ball. It’s con­ve­nient to say the con­di­tions are the same for both teams, but mo­men­tum is a pow­er­ful force in rugby league.

The team that drops the ball early in the tackle count can be quickly un­der as­sault, ex­pend en­ergy in de­fence and have lit­tle left for at­tack. It then con­tin­ues to drop the ball in a swiftly spin­ning vi­cious cir­cle. In other words, a team en­joy­ing 60:40 pos­ses­sion on a hot day rarely loses, ir­re­spec­tive of the tal­ent dif­fer­ence with the op­po­si­tion team.

The Sea Ea­gles played at Glad­stone at 2pm last Sun­day, los­ing to the Ti­tans who would have trained for the full pre­sea­son in hu­mid con­di­tions on the Gold Coast.

They also lost to the Rab­bitohs at 5.30pm at Home­bush. Their record points win over Par­ra­matta came in a round two game played in sear­ing heat at Brook­vale at 2pm, but a frus­trated Eels con­ceded too many late-set piggy-back penal­ties, gift­ing Manly qual­ity pos­ses­sion.

Wests Tigers have also played in hot con­di­tions, de­feat­ing the Eels in a 4pm Easter Mon­day game, but their vic­to­ries over the Storm have been in milder Mel­bourne and dewy Auck­land.

An­other con­trib­u­tor to the ap­par­ent in­con­sis­tency of re­sults in the NRL is the im­prove­ment of the team beaten the pre­vi­ous week.

Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary may have noted a fail­ure of Manly’s for­wards to com­mu­ni­cate in de­fence on their line, but if Bar­rett spent a week drilling his pack, the hoped for weak­nesses don’t ap­pear.

Solomone Kata makes a break for the War­riors dur­ing their loss to the Bron­cos.

ROY MAS­TERS

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