Coaching decisions and selection decisions will be running through the minds of all four coaches in preparation for this weekend’s big games. Pull the right rein and a grand final appears from behind the curtain of uncertainty. The wrong rein will mean a painful end to a season of hard work.
Trent Robinson’s Roosters would appear to be in the box seat after a winning season with very few low points . Suspensions to O’Donnell and Waerea-Hargreaves have upset the upfront muscle at times but both are eligible this weekend. JWH is a no decision re-entry to the line-up but what about that extended bench?
Should the head coach add O’Donnell after some weeks of no footy? Will he be freshened up by the enforced break or is his attraction to concede penalties too much of a concern? Some of his aggressive conduct could cause referees to bin or send him off. The veteran forwards experience might be tempting his coach over the rookie pair Liu and Napa but his error rate particularly early in many of his stints might also count against him.
On the counter, obviously the rookies might miss out because of that inexperience.
The biggest selection decision I feel is around Daniel Mortimer. His utility value, in case of emergency only – no other team in the final four has this luxury. Covering all of full back, five eighth, half back and hooker is not to be underestimated. Whilst the Roosters have so many other interchangeable parts they don’t have great coverage on these specialist spots without Morts.
However in my view the limited role he has played this season has led to a gradual decline in his effectiveness. He is such a determined defender for a little fella but when he is on the opposition tend to target him looking for quick play the balls or offloads in his tackles. Can the Roosters afford to carry a versatile sub who may only play 10 or 15 minutes, when their opponents have an extra forward to add to the fray?
Another huge call for the rookie NRL coach is what to do with everyone’s favourite Boyd Cordner. His popularity is universal throughout the club due to his determination and leadership. But he has missed plenty of recent game-time and there would be some sort of concern about re-injury.
No-one wants to give the opposition an advantage by carrying only 3 significant interchange players compared to 4. The intensity of these playoff matches demands everything from 17 players which is how the other 3 clubs will go into this sudden death situation. Will Robo and the Roosters continue with their differing formula or make a change at this late point of the season?
Their opponents, the Knights, on the other hand are steady as she goes in terms of selection. Just the way coach Benny loves it.
However there may be some risk with the apparent inclusion of rookie Tyrone Roberts, injured in last week’s victory in Victoria. It really says something about the season young Tyrone has had that he is even in the playoff squad for the Knights after Craig Gower was added to the club’s roster mid-season.
Carrying any player with a significant injury is a risk at any time but for a play-off match it’s huge. Taking that decision with an inexperienced half says plenty about the veteran coach’s opinion of his #7.
Geoff Toovey’s biggest decision is way simpler. Is Brett Stewart fit enough to play at that level of which he is capable at his best? Can he make the difference required in such cut throat circumstances?
Perhaps what might make the decision a little more complex revolves around the injury itself. Is it the sort of thing that he may be able to play with but be NO CHANCE of playing the following weekend, should they win through to the GF?
A further confusion to that could be the outstanding performances of Peta Hiku. He followed up that outstanding MAN of the MATCH performance in the epic 4-0 loss to the Roosters with a solid game in the Eagles win over the Sharks. Whilst he does not have the strike power of Stewart (who does?) if the injury will be certain of keeping the Eagles superb match winner out of the GF Toovey may decide to give the young Kiwi another opportunity versus the Bunnies to save Stewart for the BIG ONE.
For Michael McGuire it seems he need only decide on which of his multitude of BIG BOPPERS to put on the bench. The tough decisions have already been taken in recent weeks when Inglis and Sutton sustained injury. They have both shown they can get through matches despite the obvious limitations on their best performances so unless there has been some training mishap they will be all go for the big game.
The big decisions might arise for the Souths coach mid game if his big guns are obviously well below their best and a change-up is needed. A weakness in the Rabbits lineup is also its strength – all those big boppers means a lack of utility to cover full back and five eighth (and hooker and half too!)
I get the feeling these matches are going to be so hard fought and so very, very physical that in-game coaching decisions may well decide the match.
That’s why they are on the big bucks”!