THE GREAT WALL OF BONDI
The anatomy of the Roosters’ defensive dragnet reveals a ruthless machine,
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.