Mentality defines Origin and Rabbitohs’ fortunes
I wanted to write about something today that gets omitted from the usual stories around teams and players, winning streaks and losing droughts.
That something is mentality, the importance of which has been highlighted a handful of times this week already.
There’s an old adage in rugby league that 80% of the players have a similar skill set. What separates these good solid first graders from the top 20% – our modern day superstars – is their mentality.
You’ll hear it referenced in passing at press conferences throughout the year. “Winning mentality” or on the flipside, “soft”, “flat” or something similar all refers to this same central idea.
The most obvious example this week comes from State of Origin. Queensland took out the game and are now on the cusp of their seventh straight series win.
It is an amazing feat, especially when you consider the ferocity, speed and intensity at which Origin is played. Both teams have outstanding players and both teams have pride and passion in bucketloads, despite what the press say about NSW’s lack of and Queensland’s inherent amount of.
But I wholeheartedly believe that at the moment the balance of power in State of Origin is swinging. And it’s swinging south. This is caused by mentality.
Over the past few seasons NSW have been destabilised by infighting, poor management and multiple line-up changes. Despite this, in some games, like Wednesday night and in last year’s series, they have been the better team and still been beaten.
Queensland will credit their spirit. I think that just serves to try and mystify something that can only be built up slowly. It is hard to define and express but I think it is their inherent belief that they can and will win.
Grossly oversimplifying, but it’s a bit like riding a bike – you just know how to do it without doubting yourself. In the arena of Origin footy with its pressure, fatigue and intensity, I think this mindset is the most powerful weapon you can have as a team.
But NSW are on the way to having it. Whereas a few years back they looked decidedly poor, since Sticky took over the coaching duties last year there has been a marked turnaround.
There is no better coach at lifting the intensity and belief of players. When you deal with Sticky you completely believe and are swamped by his passion and emotion. Guys like Hayne, Farah, Tamou, Jennings and Bird played out of their skins even though their form has been patchy this year.
Sticky is a master at this. When he believes in you, you have no choice but to believe in yourself. The Queenslanders would have noticed this slight shift yet still their beliefs remain unbroken. In the long run that works in the Blues favour.
Yet it is not something that can be turned around overnight. NSW are yet to know how to win a series. They don’t know how it feels and they are yet to have that stroke of luck that always seems to fall the way of great teams, something that will give them that extra bit of belief they need to turn effort into belief.
Yet you can see the pendulum shifting. The Blues have been the better team for the last three games but they have only won one. That will change soon enough, most likely on the back of a small stroke of luck.
Funnily enough, Souths find themselves in the exact same situation. They are so close.
Their attack can rip teams to shreds yet their defence drops off at crucial times, letting teams back into games. It’s an easy fix but hard to pull off. Defence is all about attitude and mentality. St George won a comp on the back of it and Melbourne with a team with less superstars than you think pride themselves on it.
Sometimes on the field you just know that you can defend your way out of any situation. It’s a great feeling to have because attack comes naturally while defence is always a work in progress.
When Souths ‘get’ this, they could become a force like Queensland or Melbourne. At the moment the Bunnies love the footy in their hands but can’t grind for 80 minutes.
Once they change that around and it snaps into place they will give this comp a run for its money.
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