THE GREAT WALL OF BONDI

The anatomy of the Roost­ers’ de­fen­sive drag­net re­veals a ruth­less ma­chine,

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - 2018 GRAND FINAL - writes Nick Camp­ton

IT all hap­pened in just 10 sec­onds, but it tells you ev­ery­thing you need to know about Syd­ney Roost­ers.

Just 15 min­utes were left in the pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal against South Syd­ney. Rab­bitohs on the at­tack, deep in the red zone.

The best at­tack­ing team in the league do­ing what they do best and load­ing the guns. The shots are com­ing. “We did our home­work on the Bun­nies and we knew when they were set­ting up to take a mo­ment, or a shift,” prop Jared Waerea-Har­g­reaves told The Sun­day Tele­graph.

“I just sort of felt it.

“I saw my lit­tle mate (Jake Friend) stand­ing in front of the big bloke and I just wanted to do my best. I knew I had to get across, to try to cover their set-up play.”

Ev­ery­thing un­folds in less time than it takes Waerea-Har­g­reaves to de­scribe it. Tom Burgess hits it up and Waerea-Har­g­reaves is the last man there, fly­ing in hard to make sure the English giant is brought down.

Then, set-up com­plete, South Syd­ney move left.

They love go­ing left. They live on go­ing left.

Sam Burgess tries to pick out a gap in­side Lind­say Collins and, sud­denly, the gap is not there be­cause Waerea-Har­g­reaves has flown across and, with the help of Collins, forced the er­ror.

Vince Lom­bardi called them sec­ond ef­forts. Roost­ers coach Trent Robin­son calls it part of this liv­ing, breath­ing thing that has taken the club to tonight’s grand fi­nal with Mel­bourne.

De­fence wins pre­mier­ships is a nugget of sport­ing wis­dom that can make fans roll their eyes but it’s true. Since 1998, the team with the best de­fen­sive record in the com­pe­ti­tion has made the grand fi­nal 16 times.

Six­teen of the 20 NRL pre­miers have fin­ished in the top four in terms of fewest points con­ceded. If the Roost­ers win tonight, it’ll be 17.

So, it’s no won­der Robin­son dreams about de­fence and talks about it the way peo­ple talk about sym­phonies; it’s no won­der he de­scribes it as some­thing that lives and breathes, it’s no won­der he has drilled into his play­ers, again and again, that ef­fort and an­tic­i­pa­tion in de­fence can carry them through just about any­thing.

For ex­am­ple, a minute be­fore Waerea-Har­g­reaves made his sec­ond ef­fort, he’d dropped the ball try­ing to force an off­load. The Roost­ers

made plenty of er­rors in the win over Souths. That’s some­thing they’ll never be able to fully elim­i­nate. But the re­built Bondi Wall, with 13 red, white and blue bricks that think and move as one, can with­stand the bar­rages.

Mis­takes are al­ways a hin­drance but know­ing the op­po­si­tion is un­likely to break open the wall keeps the blem­ishes from be­ing fa­tal.

Waerea-Har­g­reaves’ mo­ment was just one of dozens in a 12-4 vic­tory built on tack­ling, tack­ling and tack-line some more. “We talk about hav­ing pride in our de­fence and, af­ter hav­ing a per­for­mance like we did, you feel like you de­serve to be in the po­si­tion that you are,” Waerea-Har­g­reaves said. “It’s about work­ing hard for your team­mates, for each other, and I feel like we do that.”

To say these things is one thing, to live them quite an­other. Robin­son’s phi­los­o­phy on de­fence might seem unusual, or too con­cep­tual for sup­pos­edly meat­headed foot­ballers to grasp but the sys­tem only works if ev­ery­one un­der­stands.

An­tic­i­pa­tion, not re­ac­tion, is the key. There is no time to re­act. Waerea-Har­g­reaves said he felt the play; that’s how he knew it was com­ing.

Re­ac­tion isn’t just about see­ing what the op­po­si­tion does, it’s re­act­ing to what the player in­side and out­side of you can do at any mo­ment. The line has to think to­gether, move to­gether, know what ev­ery­one is go­ing to do be­fore they do it.

“I know what the blokes next to me are go­ing to do,” kamikaze lock Vic­tor Radley said. “If one of us makes a mis­take — and it hap­pened on the week­end a few times, I got caught a few times — there’s three or four other blokes ready to cover your arse and it’s a good feel­ing.

“I know what the bloke right and left is go­ing to do if I’m not even look­ing at them. It’s some­thing you need to feel.

“It proved this year how much of it is liv­ing it, breath­ing it. Es­pe­cially in the game on the week­end. You can’t hear much, it’s so loud.

“It takes a long time to get but it’s a good feel­ing when you’ve got it.”

There’s only one team that de­fends like the Roost­ers, and that’s their op­po­nents tonight.

Mel­bourne con­ceded 363 points in the reg­u­lar sea­son, just two more than the Chooks. Since the play­offs be­gan, the Roost­ers have con­ceded just two tries.

Mel­bourne held Cronulla to a sin­gle try in the pre­lim­i­nary fi­nal.

As con­cep­tual as Robin­son can be about de­fence, Waerea-Har­g­reaves knows the way to out-tackle them is sim­ple. It’ll be a phys­i­cal bat­tle which will take ev­ery­thing the Roost­ers have but the way to do it is sim­ple enough.

Re­act, com­pete, work as one, and do it again and again and again.

Jared Waerea-Har­g­reaves gets his man Tom Burgess (far left) while (right), the Rab­bitohs love to go left and wait­ing for them is Waerea-Har­g­reaves again as Lind­say Collins joins in to force Sam Burgess into an er­ror.

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