The GF Head to Head – Fullbacks
These guys are two of the great warriors of the NRL. Similarities end there.
Anthony Minichiello is in this GF, and in footy at NRL level, as a result of his desire and discipline.
I have rarely seen and worked with a player displaying such physical resilience and mental toughness. He is truly a leader by example when it comes to training and playing. “When the going gets tough the tough get going” could have been coined about Mini.
His support play has been a feature of his game since the beginning of his tumultuous career. His loss of speed means he can’t convert to tries as he once could but his threat on “inside trails” is nevertheless a real weapon for him and his team.
Unlike his direct opponent and many other NRL fullbacks, Mini is an integral part of the team’s escape from yardage. Those tough carries to start the roll take plenty of physical qualities and willingness to front up when the going is often really tough.
I am glad to see (or not see) Mitchell Pearce no longer uses the inside pass to him as he once favoured. Mini is not great on the pressured pass catch when timing is required. Too many errors occurred for this to be “a go to play”.
I want to indicate to you just how different the skills required for footy are in the NRL. As a result of thousands of hours of practice Mini is an outstanding catcher of bombs – or any high ball. He is not without error, but no-one is in today’s footy with the vast array of kicks catching kicks.
What sometimes astounds me is that very few opposing teams recognise how strong he is on high kicks and yet not nearly so efficient on “ground balls”. Why keep bombing and not exploit the grubber kick?
Mini’s other concern in the GF will be the finishing power of Manly’s outside backs. That loss of pace that all players of his experience suffer might be the difference. The speed of those guys and the change of direction footwork they possess will require great defensive support for the skipper. Putting in the big ones to cover breaks will leave him prone to being stepped on the inside.
But if it comes down to courage and toughness, which grand finals often do, every Rooster will know their captain will lead the way so they should do likewise!
Brett Stewart will go down in NRL history as a record breaking try scorer. One of the truly nominated match winners! A poacher who rarely misses a support opportunity Stewart is “the cake icer”.
He converts dominance into points usually by great combinations especially with his brother Glenn or Daly Cherry Evans. Capable of the precise timing to complete those combos on the outside perimeter of the field is his trademark but so too is the basic of inside trail support on anyone who offers a short pass if they crack the line to get their hands free. This reflects great concentration and footy awareness.
But he also rates alongside Mini and other great competitors of Rugby League. Not all the tough guys play in the forwards.
He may not have “the body” of Minichiello but he lacks no toughness in the clutch situations. If required to push hard to catch an inside ball near the try-line he most certainly will even if JWH or SBW will meet his catch of that ball with a shuddering hit.
His incredible body awareness will often ensure that he scores anyway!
In todays footy of lead runners and sweeps around the back, few are better than Stewart.
Again his awareness even before he catches the ball is real quality. Whether it’s the catch and pass under pressure or the incisive carry in space made available is uncanny.
He is great on all kicked ball situations and a tough competitor in defensive situations. He is capable of “playing chicken” with the ball carrier when faced with 2 on 1 situations forcing them to make another decision if they want to set up a try.
I would suggest his defensive organisation and positioning on the goal line could be improved but he maybe following coaching instructions there.
Perhaps his body or specifically his hamstrings have let him down over the long haul in NRL footy too.
No matter which team you support in this GF you will be very proud of your team’s #1 and rightly so. Both of these guys have stood the test of time and love the big occasion.
For the rest of us watching the GF, we can admire both these tremendous footy players enforcing their talents and desires on the match in such different ways.