Seconds Out – Round 2

21/03/2014

Seconds Out - Round 2

All of us who feel like clairvoyants when it comes to footy tipping are made to look like complete fools after the results of ROUND TWO.

I heard one guy tell his partner that anyone who has tipped well so far obviously knows nothing about footy. Hmmm. Keeps the feeling of self-worth intact I suppose.

It raises the point though of knowing about footy and how that attaches itself to picking winners. I know one guy in footy for many years who is an excellent judge of player talent – without doubt one of the absolute best, who has apparently lost a fortune over the years punting on winning teams. Well I guess that should be LOSING teams.

They sure are different skills.

To measure myself on this score I have started this season off with a rating of every player in the NRL. It has presented a reasonable guide so far when teams meet each other to compare the team totals.

I am not a punter so it won’t make me any cash but it will show me how each player rates in a few weeks’ time when I reassess every player on 2014 performances as opposed to previous form.

What has sparked my interest more so than previous seasons are the emotional tags, or complete misjudgments, in my own view, of teams and individuals. Some of these border on such passionate favourable comment that it then almost must lead to shattering disappointment when that team doesn’t fire up in week one! This is so overdone at times the little cynical piece of me thinks it might be the old revereroo. Build massive expectation deliberately to make it very easy to bash them or someone with in that club when those false, in my opinion, expectations aren’t immediately met.

The job is tough enough without the ensuing critique of every move that everyone within the club then being scrutinized even more vigorously. Perhaps that’s how some work?

The most obvious of these false expectations for me has been those that the Warriors have faced. Pre-season some “experts” were tipping that they were playoff bound and some even spoke of top 4!

Let’s take a closer look at how the Warriors measure up to that sort of expectation.

We can assess them using the latest popular theme of the spine being the key component of team success.

#7 is most often deemed as the most critical position. No doubt Shaun Johnson has displayed some of the skills of our game in the most exciting fashion in his short time in the NRL but has he proven he can do the really tough stuff which ultimately is what every half back must master.

His tackling and general defensive play – kick chasing, chasing back on breaks and kicks, leading the line on his edge, organizing and controlling that edge – are all deficiencies in his game at present. This is so obvious that everyone who recognises patterns of attack of opposition can surely see that the Warriors key attacker is also the key defender. They run at him when looking for the softest target to escape their won end – yardage play – and string their best attacking shots of shifts with overloaded numbers at his right side when he is defending in his own half. They double this up with a second, following play at that short side if they have not reaped success on the shift.

Admittedly it has not helped the young fellas confidence or likelihood of defensive success by having equally inexperienced backs as his group assistance on the outside and now with a noted insecure tackler in Bukuya on his inside!

But more importantly its Johnson’s strength that has not shone often enough. His attack can be scintillating when he gets the opportunities to play off the dominance of his teammates. From off loads or breaks he is deadly with that dynamic footwork and speed converting to tries regularly but what about when they are not?

The truly quality halves do things to assist the hard yards guys on the tough days or just the tough plays. I see no real evidence of that.

Contrastingly I see it in Luke Brooks already – 3 NRL games only. He is ALIVE in his own 20 metre area. Watch how he stands flat beside the ruck itching to push on the outside of a big forward who might get a hand with the ball free or to support a dummy half runner one day when his teammates and coach are ready for it he will be in perfect position to use a short shift to an edge from that position when his opponents least expect it. Not so Johnson (or many other halves in the NRL). Josh Reynolds and Maloney are naturals at it and Pearce is too when he concentrates as he has been in recent times.

Because of this I feel Johnson is under producing what he is certainly capable of doing for the team on the tough plays and days.

Hooker Friend is the toughest of competitors. He has stood the test of time in the tough stakes no doubt but his physical capabilities seem to me, on the wane. I am led to believe he has chronic issues with his upper body that specifically limit his abilities to do what he was once capable of. More credit to him for such courage, but it doesn’t provide the quality of play that other teams get from that all important area. Further to that he plays 80 minutes at a rate that is not low in quantity but sadly not so in quality.

Tommy Leuluai would assist with this dummy half issue were he fit at present and also with some of Johnson’s deficiencies could be covered for the team too if he were at #6. In the meantime new recruit Chad Townsend fills the five-eighth spot with a solid workrate and reasonable kicking game. He is has gone to Warriors for opportunity to show that he can do what he has been unable to do at the Sharks. Hardly someone to count on when talking about an outstanding spine to lead this crew to top 4!

The final piece of the jigsaw is Englishman Sam Tomkins, the biggest recruit to any NRL club this season, perhaps? Certainly, in dollar terms if we are to believe the transfer figure Wigan received and then his salary on top! But price tag doesn’t always reflect delivery of the goods required at a level he has never been exposed to on a regular basis before.

Sam himself has been quoted in a tone of seeming annoyance, that he has done it before; that Super League is not rated as it should be by we Antipodeans; that his initial NRL match was proof in his own mind, that match versus Parra was just like a top 4 meeting in Super League.

Oh Sam! That standard of opposition was about as near to the bottom as you will ever face in the NRL. There is hardly a player at Parra at present who would force his way regularly into another NRL starting team, but they are working hard to improve that standard.

But also, oh poor judges, heaping expectation on this crew because of Tomkins “quality”! You and Sam may both be proven right yet; sadly I am thinking you will be right, that SL is not rated as it should be, but BY YOU not by others who feel it is not a good place to recruit million dollar unorthodox fullbacks.

If you are wrong you are very wrong with #1s!

If I am even half close to the mark on these guys in the Warriors spine they will need to make significant improvements to become play off material and they are capable, in some cases. They will need to spark plenty because Fisiiahi (speed), Vatuvei (size) and the overweight and out of favour Hurrell (speed and too much size) are unlikely to score enough tries without that spark.

Warriors scored a measly 77 last season in finishing 11th on the ladder with 11 wins and 13 losses. They really do need to find improvement in that department.

And what of their oft referred to “massive forward pack who play with great flare in attack”?  Rapira, Bukuya, Mannering, Henry, Friend, Lillyman and Matagi are all average size or less and Mateo who hasn’t played enough physically often enough, carries the skill tag only along with the outstanding Matulino. There are some promising rookie giants but surely we don’t expect them to carry this crew that far up the ladder.

Some of these are expectation issues which amount to people’s opinions, including mine.

What is not up for debate is the teams edge defences which both looked as if they did not understand what plan they were all using to cover the many situations they faced over the season. They ranked fourth worst with 91 team tries conceded in 2013. So far this season and it is very early days it still looks to be at least a topic for great discussion in their video sessions.

This club is a without doubt one of the potential powerhouses of the NRL. That does not mean this team of 2014 can be regarded so at this point. I would see it as a major success story for all concerned if they were to qualify for the playoff series this season.

P.S. the clairvoyant in me suggests that another couple of crystal balls might shatter again in coming weeks as those who fall in and out of love with wins and losses strike out madly when their predictions crash and burn. Just who has your team played so far and how much can you trust that as a form guide for the rest of the season?