Parra Too – Simple is Out


Source: Sportal
Source: Sportal

Parra too! No more SIMPLICITY please

As Mark Gasnier walked across ANZ Stadium doing his best Gus Gould at State of Origin impersonation, I decided to do something about this stuff we are being fed at almost every NRL match.

The former Dragons star had been given the job of informing us of WHAT we were about to see as the Rabbits met the Raiders at SFS. It was, you know, the usual stuff; some of the WHAT, WHY and HOW for both teams and of course tip us the winner.

“Gaz” focussed only on Souths and started, “What an afternoon it is, perfect for footy and I hope that’s not to the detriment of South Sydney and I say that because SIMPLICITY IS THEIR FRIEND (AAAAAAGGGHHHH). They need to get back to what they do best. That’s a game plan based around field position, keep it simple, kick long and play down the other end” or words to that effect.

He finished by telling us that “Canberra would try hard but Souths would win and win well by keeping it simple”. I tipped Souths too but not by doing any of that stuff he suggested!

On Friday night we heard commentary and Roosters coach at half time, emphasise the need for possession and field position. We know from those half time comments and from watching them regularly that Mark Gasnier would have been proud of their SIMPLICITY goal.

Here are some REALstats from that Friday game where we know a team (a very, very good team) set out to play the way that “Gaz” said would be Rabbits friend on Sunday.  Yet they were beaten, YES BOTH RABBITS and ROOSTERS. Roosters only narrowly on points but emphatically in the area they sought to win it:

                           Roosters                                                                                                             Manly

1ST half     2nd half     Total          Errors Conceding Possession     1st half       2nd half     Total                              3       +      9           12                                                                                        5        +       5              10                                                                                     Position Play Finished

             10      +        12                 22                           1-20m                                     14       +       12                  26                    

             30      +        43                 73                          21-50m                                     30       +        30             60

            26       +        19                45                          51-80m                                     32       +        28             60

            11       +        12             23                             81-100m                                    27       +        37             64 

        86/77      +      87/86   173/163           Total Passes/Total Plays     197/103 +   109/124     306/227


This preview that Mark G offered us made me wonder if he had ever considered the numbers from a game like this. Is he aware that teams that have players with skills who are prepared to use them can win football games by using them?

If he had some proof of the need for the Rabbits to change their focus to win he didn’t elaborate. Certainly in their loss the previous week, what evidence could he have shown us that Souths were playing complicated (or non-simple football)? Was it just his impression or gut feel or was it REAL? If so briefly explain it, please.


And here is the stat that could change the way your team could play too WITHOUT TAKING GREATER RISK.

ROUND 4 Roosters Errors Conceding Possession

               1st half          type                                                      2nd half                          type

  1. 1.       Pearce          1 (contact/grip/ptb)                    1.RTS to Mini             2 (poor skill level)
  2. 2.       Moa              1                                                        2. Maloney                       2
  3. 3.       Evans            1                                                          3. Pearce                         3 (decision)

                                    4. Minichiello             2

                                    5. Jennings                     1

                                    6. Pearce/FPN            3

                                    7. Pearce                          3

                                    8. Jennings/Tupou     2

                                    9. SKD                                  2

This analysis table shows that of the errors conceding possession made by Roosters, just 3 were made by players wrongly assessing the situation, making a decision that led to the loss of possession (type 3 – 3).

The others were result of poor skills in catching or passing or poor reactions (type 2 – 5) or caused by heavy contact or poor grip on the ball (type 1 – 4).

Manly’s errors were: type 1 – 5; type 2 – 2; type 3 – 3.

I can share with you that after years of looking at REALstats this is approximately how they look on a regular basis for almost every team.

The type with most occurrences is type 1! most weeks.

Here are the real facts of WHAT, HOW and WHY errors occur (or more correctly, ERRORS CONCEDING POSSESSION) and it does have to do with keeping things simple!  The reverse applies, the activity described by the experts as simple, running hard, going forward without passing, is in fact the most error (ECP) ridden activity in our sport..

Revealing aren’t they. Why are we continually hearing footy experts telling us that playing low risk style footy is the key to retaining possession and that is the key to winning – completing sets and kicking it down the other end? That theory falls down at the first stage – retaining possession by NOT passing does not deliver.

What is simple is that these numbers make sense!

Is it easier to pass and catch with no defender pressuring you or to run hard into as many as three or four guys hitting you from differing angles while carrying the ball trying to break through that blockade?

If that task is completed and you at least retain possession you now need to get down and then up to play the ball being bumped, squeezed, pulled while holding onto the footy, place it without over balancing and get it back to the waiting dummy half in some sort of neat and tidy form.

From a coaching perspective it makes little sense to base a plan of POSSESSION and FIELD POSITION for the team if individuals can’t hold onto the ball in an efficient manner. To mangle an old example it’s like going to a gunfight without bullets.

Direction with education and repetition increases the likelihood of the player retaining POSSESSION. This is specific coaching that really should take place in every programme. It addresses that most worrying stat for teams that think the POSSESSION, NO ERRORS, FIELD POSITION battle is the only or best way to play footy – type 1 errors undo that percentage style of attack.

The team thinking it will minimise errors by playing it tight and tough makes as many and often more errors than the team playing sensible, not so simple footy.

Why does this almost League wide focus fail so often?

2 reasons:

  • it’s not easy protecting possession at the collision wrestle and play the ball when other teams can hit you so hard in multiple numbers
  • moving the ball can get your team forward particularly if the opposition is over-trying to stop you coming through the middle


The REALstats achieved by Manly shows it is achievable.

As it turned out Ricky Stuart and his team came with a very smart but different plan to Manly’s.  The Raiders offered great defensive pressure because they knew what their more fancied opponents were likely to do – they have been doing it for 2 plus seasons now.

And then Canberra played some very smart attack and a kicking game based on HOW to beat Souths. The players clearly appeared to have been shown WHY these plans would work, believed it and set out to complete it with intelligence, toughness and passion.

I would not describe it as SIMPLE but it appeared very well understood by all Raiders and well within their skill set and footy awareness levels; very smart coaching.

Did you manage to watch the Eels crack the egg for their first away win since Nathan Hindmarsh started primary school or something? You will have seen another unfancied team “playing some footy” on early plays in their sets and doing it at their own end or at least well before they got in that 81-100m zone.

Congrats to them and their coaches on the WAY they are attacking matches with skill and positive attitude. Turns out its winning footy!