Short and Sweets, July 31

31/07/2013

Short and Sweets, July 31

Hey did you get that stat that came up during Monday night footy? The one offering a comparison of Benji Marshall from last season to this. It was staggering in a few ways.

The measurements were of Marshall’s more positive side. Try assists and break assists are the telling numbers for all halves particularly someone of the creative style Benji has built his reputation on. Those numbers for 2013 were at one third of his previous rate. That is massive decline.

But the really staggering thing was that he had been offered a serious long term contract extension with mega numbers on it.

Add to that the role of the media in this. It took the Tigers new head coach and new management, after the departure of CEO Stephen Humphries, to pull this thing up. It was still rolling down the hill with the entire Wests club attached very firmly. A four season million dollar per year deal is a lot of attachment.

Prior to his current contract issues had you heard anyone on the Channel 9 commentary crew call Benji’s performances into question? Fox commentators? Yeah I think I heard a few veiled criticisms. Warren Ryan, with the old coach still flickering and still not playing favourites, has had the odd crack about his performances, and of Wests, on ABC Grandstand.

I don’t read a lot of papers so I can’t comment on their coverage but I reckon if anyone had been highly critical of someone with Benji’s status we ALL would have heard about it.

Compare the continual pursuit of Mitchell Pearce by some sections of the media! Admittedly he is no poster boy as Benji has almost always been but its on-field performance we are discussing here.

In fact, I have heard most comments of this kind from people who are footy fans that I meet daily at the shop or in the pub or at the airport – street-wise, footy analysts with no agendas.

I do find it staggering that most of the top end media types have watched and made NO COMMENT about his form when Benji was initially dropped from the Kiwi captaincy. It was deafening silence still as he remained the main man in a club that repeatedly spoke publicly about winning the comp even though the slide was obvious to all both for club and main man.

It’s partly why the Dally M award for player of the year doesn’t carry the prestige it should in sport in Australia. A media capable of such ignorance or favouritism lacks objectivity and therefor credibility.

Come on guys and ladies, be brave. It’s not personal if you criticise performance. Laud players for their deeds but don’t fall in love with them or extend them privileges when they no longer can do it because they work for you.

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It’s ironic too listening to those people who have been close to Benji and other admirers pointing out the effect he has had on kids. He has been a phenomenal influence, almost a fantasy footy player who youngsters loved to emulate down the park with their mates or even on Saturday mornings in their teams. A few even tried it in junior reps and higher.

At the same time there have been coaches at higher levels trying very hard to explain to their young halves just how difficult it is for team mates to play along-side a player with so much flamboyance.

Playing at or over the advantage line, square and straight at the opposition is a real discipline to be mastered by repetition in combinations with others.  The madly sideways and backwards method with runners coming back in the opposite direction is a powerful weapon as we have seen when Benji and Todd Carney use it effectively in teams coached to be “in sync” with it.

To most coaches the latter method of attack is gravy but the former is meat and potatoes.

For young players it looks and sounds like “Benji’s way” is more exciting and the other is boring. For coaches it’s been a battle to paint an enticing picture of the value to the team of the not-so-exciting skills that leads to smooth attacking team play.

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The nearest thing to Benji circa 2005 is Anthony Milford.

It will be interesting to watch the future development of Milford, currently doing tremendous things at full back for the Raiders. He has some of the “Benji way” about him but it appears to me, that at the same age Milford is way more comfortable with the heavy contact that goes with NRL ball players.

If my little birdie’s midnight tip that the young Queenslander has already agreed to return to Brisbane for season 2014, we will be watching him develop his skills in a Broncos jersey probably with #6 on his back. That will be an enormous “get” for the former giant club as I feel Milford has the “X factor” many young halves don’t – he is always willing to have a crack at the defensive line.

Quality development of the other team based play and experience will see A Milford as a player that any club can build their team around. It was described well by Coach Potter.

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 If this pans out the way it looks most will feel very sorry for the Raiders. On the face of it, rightly so as Canberra has given him the opportunity to get started on his footy career and won’t get to see the best part of him the way they planned – playing for them not against them!

But the Raiders are in a rare position to deal with this. To start with McCrone and Campese is potentially the halves combo to take care of business for the Greens’ progress into the short and long term future. They also have a tremendous bank of young talent to cover this loss despite the departure of half back Sam Williams, signed for Dragons 2014. If you haven’t seen him watch Mitch Cornish in Raiders NYC team – WOW. (Read more about how many young halves are preparing for NRL right now)

As an aside in this matter imagine the questions being asked of recruitment people at the Broncos. I am only guessing but I reckon the Broncos management will be excited by the capture of a terrific talent. They may not be so excited by the fact it has cost an enormous contract to regain him as a result of missing one in their own backyard just a few years ago.

Conversely the Raiders recruitment people can be pretty comfortable about their future even though they will also be disappointed at the loss or a rare talent.