The GF Head to Head – the Middles


The GF Head to Head - the Middles

By Smithy

The Middles – these are two collections of the NRL’s toughest and meanest guys, some with subtle skills and footy smarts too.

The Roosters starters Waerea-Hargreaves, Moa and Nuuasala can really carry the ball. They could well lay the platform for their multi-talented teammates to execute their skills under less pressure, almost certainly guaranteeing a real shot at the title.

JWH has become the game’s most damaging hard yardage gainer. That rig is designed for demolition work and he loves it – the rig and the role!

Sam Moa would kill for that rig if he stopped to think about it. No-one has told him that he has no right to run that hard that often. Some of the Eagles more ruthless tacklers could do some damage to him if they decide to make him a target.

Frank-Paul (the wrecking ball) Nuuasala has a tremendous array of skills to go with those blockbusting runs of this trifecta but he had some very off days in the early part of his career. This season he has restricted himself to the “smashing the front door down” role these monstrous middles have been set

If Boyd Cordner gets a shot on the bench to play lock and some cover for second row he can bring so much to the table particularly break the line! His handling errors and lack of match practice might see him miss out. This is a very tough call for coach robo.

If Luke O’Donnell makes the 17 he adds old school toughness and mongrel, unfortunately errors and penalties also. Coach Robo loves old school and it’s certainly tempting to go with experience in GF’s.

So is winning form and combinations.  Should he make the bench Isaac Liu will bring incredible speed for a front rower. He can capitalise if the starters have the door nearly off its hinges. He is a great hole runner, supporting often on other big guys which is unusual at this level. Suspect tackling and big match inexperience might count against his selection for the bench.

Likewise rookie Dylan Napa will run supports as we saw when he broke the line off a lovely pre-line (forward) pass from SBW when he did a short stint at lock. Apart from that quality Napa is the opposite of his partners in the middle. He is slow but compensates with real physical toughness and passing skills, both pre-line and off loads. I feel his non selection on the bench might come as a result of the inexperience factor also. Tough calls!

Napa is technically the best old school tackler of them all. For one so young this is rare in the extreme. He would rather tackle than carry the ball which in the rocking horse manure category compared with modern day players!

The Roosters are tough to break down around the ruck which is still vital as it has always been in footy.  But these “middles” have added another factor to their defensive system in 2013. They are now nearly the best at working out from the middle throughout the 80 minutes. There is a real need for more than smashing the runners around the ruck only. To see a quality defence in today’s NRL, watch how hard and fast they work to the outside after the ball has gone past them to the edges.

If it comes back on the angle or turned back with an inside ball those middles end it there! If it goes all the way the sideline requiring scrambling tacklers to cover the backs of their edge teammates they will be there. This was a feature of the 4 nil victory over the eagles recently.

It’s bloody hard to score against a team (and bench) with these awesome physical qualities. It’s near impossible when they also have that attitude and confidence they have developed in season 2013.

So what about Manly’s mighty middles? There is a real mix in its make-up from the experienced front row warhorse Brent Kite who plays on against doctor’s orders to his starting partner Brenton Lawrence, a virtual unknown a couple of seasons ago. What a great opportunity he has created for himself with a cameos of enormous running quality while at the Titans. What an even better get for the Eagles to put this physical beast into such an experienced pack to spice it up.

In fact with Anthony Watmough (who wears #11 but plays lock and in the middle with a roaming visa) and Lawrence they have two of the quickest forwards and with great variety as Watmough can run laterally to ask very different questions of the D while Lawrence has such speed he can hit holes much earlier than almost any other middle and wider at times too.

And variety doesn’t come in any bigger package than George Rose off the bench! Jamie Buhrer is also unorthodox with such a high work rate and that also goes for David Gower, as a result of Richie Fa’aoso’s broken neck.

This variety in ball carriers may trouble the Roosters middles who are at their when best crunching other big bodies that run straight and hard as they do themselves. Footwork, speed and offloads will unsettle the Roosters and may cause them to cut their linespeed to cater for the variety. That in itself will be some sort of victory for the Eagles. The Roosters base so much of their game on physical intimidation with a rushing and bashing defence around the rucks especially when in the opposition’s half.

For many seasons under the Hasler/Toovey period this Eagles outfit has had a very intimidating defence themselves! They have been working so hard for so long they have great confidence and high standards to the point where they look as if a catastrophe has occurred when they stand in-goal having conceded a try!

While well “outsized” in this middle department I still would back Manly to measure up in aggression, intimidation and endurance.

A relative newcomer to the Eagles fraternity has added some variety and effectiveness to the Manly pack according to Brent Kite. The rap for assistant coach Brad Arthur seemed far more meaningful than the usual “arse-kissing” variety that we have all become accustomed to recently. Having met Arthur for the first time a few weeks ago I can see why Kite felt comfortable in praising his coach. I like the way Manly have added some smarts to their game by some variations in emphasis without losing their fundamentals especially versus some quality opponents and key attacking players.

As mentioned above I feel the pure size and quantity of Roosters big men to carry it and keep carrying it at Manly might swing the match in the direction of Bondi.

Manly’s footy smarts and variety in their middles swings it back to northern beaches.

This could be a very nasty physical battle with some smarts thrown in. My advice is: “Don’t get too close to the TV!”