Five BIG match ups



By Smithy

  1. Numero Uno’s. Just how important are the two fullbacks to their respective teams!

Manly is a tremendous footy team with so many wonderful attributes and talented, committed individuals – my personal favourite team to watch as a fan throughout season 2013.

But without Brett Stewart it’s a great cake without the icing. In the footy dictionary for “icing” it says “breaks, tries and winning”.

Souths are the disciplined power machine, striving for physical dominance in every area. Keeping attacking errors to a minimum while shutting down every play by their opponents with a choking, Storm style defence is the winning method almost perfected.

When their opponents stand up in the physical stakes the Rabbits sometimes falter. The lack of big plays through the design plan of the minimalist style requires an individual to break the deadlock. Inglis did this so many times in 2012 but was not so effective in the big matches at the end. This season a knee injury has held him up again.

Has the 2 week break allowed Inglis time to get that knee to a level where he becomes that player capable of converting pressure and field position into points? With Sutton also disrupted by his own injury issue, no-one else, except  Luke,  seems to be capable of such incisive attack to accumulate enough points to ease the pressure.

Or perhaps it will be Brett Stewart whose recovery from his hammy problem who can win it for his teammates? His anticipation and support play on the many opportunities created by the Eagles is uncanny. It complements the team attitude of “let’s play some footy at every opportunity” and sadly for them can’t be replicated by anyone else in maroon colours at present. Will Stewart even play?

2. Number 9 Number 9.  Two extraordinary players wearing the same number, both vital but so contrasting in style.

Matt Ballin has been the quiet, efficient team player since he entered NRL footy and for many seasons before as a Queensland country junior. His capacity for work, tireless almost faultless tackling and defensive play combined with quality but understated dummy half play for 80 minutes complements the teams other qualities.

Isaac Luke is almost the opposite except in terms of importance to his team! A manufactured NRL performer, he has his coach to thank and his own personal development to open himself up to how to change from incredible natural talented athlete to highly respected and valued international standard footballer.  Explosive play has become his second string item in the past 2 seasons but it’s still there and it may be him who opens up the Manly D if they are loose after a quick play the ball at any stage.

3. At sixes and sevens? Not this pair of pairs. Efficiency and discipline versus instinctive and smash mouth.

The Rabbits halves have a great mix in Reynolds and Sutton (if at his best). The quiet and consistent quality of all things kick related is completely owned by the young rookie of the year season 2012. His ability to find the right kick at the right time not only creates great conversion of field position at the end of those power sets by his forwards but the tries from pin point accuracy is a big part of the Souths mindset. Reynolds has not been at his kicking best only at some vital times for Souths since his meteoric rise in the NRL. Tonight he encounters a team who are like Bloodhounds and Rottweiler’s on kick pressure defence!

Sutton offers left foot balance to Reynolds both in kicking and running game. His knee (and confidence in it) may determine the match result.  Just how much kicking and how many of his potentially dynamite carries on that left side to offer real threat to Manly will determine how much pressure Reynolds will endure. When at his best, Sutton, with that powerful inside step off his left foot to beat loose and tired Eagles defenders around the ruck will almost certainly be needed in such a tight physical contest.

The Manly halves are the best in the NRL this season by some distance in my opinion. Cherry Evans is most definitely the best performed half. His willingness to do whatever needs to be done and his physical ability both in strength and endurance are matched by his techniques to perform the necessary skills.  Like any young halves he will have the opportunity to improve his decision making with more games like he will encounter tonight but he is already very good at responding to his sound instincts.

Keiran Foran showed his number one footy talent on debut – and in every match I have seen him play since! He challenged Jonathon Thurston immediately as the games number one competitor. Count the number of times he turns up at either end of the field and everywhere across it when a vital play needs to be made. Mitchell Pearce, his great mate from junior footy days, was similar in competitive excellence in his initial seasons but has not been able to sustain those levels. Foran is still rising as he is now developing his instincts around what appears to be better vision and feel for what is needed and when. His attacking play has much more variety now, courtesy I would suggest from a head coach who encourages that type of development in individuals.

And if you think learning how to play smarter causes players to lose their strength check out that Manly left side D that Foran leads. If it’s not the best edge in the NRL please point out which one was better in 2013!

4. Front Up for the Battle. The physical confrontations in this match won’t be restricted to the boys in the big numbers but the huge number of them performed by 2 sets of very aggressive forwards could very well determine the winners. Souths will ensure it has a war of attrition if they have their way.

After more than 50 matches under Michael Maguire’s match plans and plenty of big game practice at executing it there can be no excuses for the Rabbits players tonight in not getting it right. Having 2 full pre-seasons and all those matches with the same job description has given them the perfect opportunity to take their great old club back to the glory, glory days of grand finals footy. I am not saying the job is easy; it’s anything but that against any team but against Manly even more so. But it is simple, at least when it’s starting from nil all.

Manly is one of those very few teams who dare to be different to the many others basing the match plan on out-muscling the opposition. Read on carefully please if you think I am about to say that Manly are not physical! In fact they base their game on winning by all physical means possible from every member of their 17 man squad.

But they spice it up with some real footy stuff to go with the muscle. Unafraid to find a cross field run at their own end after a long kick reception, their dummy halves are keen to add a pass to it, linking down the opposite side of the field on play 2! And at the start of the match!!

When I watch them play I get the feel that their players are encouraged to play what they see, play to their strengths in skill, support the ball carrier in numbers rather than wait for the next power run.

In fact what they do differently is back themselves to defend any errors in possession; great confidence in defence. This makes them dangerous in attack to teams like Souths who are best defending teams who attack the same way the Rabbits do themselves.

It’s Manly’s right side D that has issues if too many errors occur.  They face a massive challenge with Inglis and Sutton loving that side of the field for attack.

5. How good is the off-field team?  This is where the challenge REALLY differs for the two combatant clubs.

Has the medical, physical performance and coaching segments of the Eagles managed the preparation this week well enough to overcome the physical battering their players have endured in recent weeks? Sometimes in these circumstances, the prep can be too soft and too relaxed in an effort to regenerate but I get the feeling most of the really key players in this crew could spend a week in Bali or even Afghanistan and still get themselves up for it!

That extra week off has brought plenty of teams undone over the decades too.  The difficulty is in maintaining momentum, not getting ready too soon and too much time to think. Coach Maguire spoke publicly about not allowing themselves to think about anything past Friday night’s battle. Sometimes that simply highlights and stimulates such thoughts! “Don’t look at the sun”.

How effective the off-field teams have been we will determine sometime soon after kick off.

I fear for Manly if behind or with only a small lead in the last 10 or 15 minutes – they wobbled but hung on, somehow, last week v the Sharks and couldn’t convert possession and position into points the week before v the Roosters.  In those dying moments when just one try would have converted on-field dominance into a scoreboard victory, without B Stewart, they couldn’t jag that try.

My tip:

  • I want to see the Manly team sheet an hour before kick -off.
  • I want to observe the warm up with all eyes on #1 for Manly, if he is there.
  • I want to observe, for 10 minutes of the match, #s 1 and 6 for Souths and #1 for Manly.
  • By that time I might have changed my mind 3 times.
  • Make up your own mind if you need to tip to enjoy the game.

Whilst I love disciplined teams and individuals, I prefer to watch and coach teams that display skill and quality decision-making all over the field in attack more than those with a Route 1, plan A only.

Discipline doesn’t need to be a casualty of variety if combined with great execution. The Eagles will need to remember that for any chance of victory. Still, I think they need to play that way as much as possible to unsettle the rolling rabbits machine.

It will be a ripper I reckon!