Why Rabbitohs vs Roosters is really Bunnies vs Dummies
Brian Smith is a very good coach. No, he’s not an all-time great coach, you have to win titles to be one of those, and he’s had his chances (I’m looking at you, Parramatta 2001). But he is one of the better coaches to have plied his trade in the NRL.
Which means three things: either he’s lost his players. Or his players are dumb. Or he’s lost his players and they are dumb.
I choose option number three.
In anticipation of this round’s local derby between the two inner city (one of which now plays 613 miles from the inner city) foundation clubs, I thought I’d venture a closer glance at what’s happening in Chook and Bunny land.
It’s hard to believe it, let alone say it out loud: Souths are good. They’re going to make the semis. Enormous credit must be given to Michael Maguire. He’s devised a structure which doesn’t require dominant halves, because Souths don’t have any.
Adam Reynolds is having an excellent year, because he’s staying within himself. Right now, he’s Mitchell Pearce-lite: quality kicker, ball distributor, not much of a threat running the footy. Add brilliant goalkicking and you have a good result for the Bunnies.
Then there’s John Sutton. He’s like the schlubby character actor in action movies who dodges all the bullets, helps nobody, and ends up poking his head out of the rubble at the end, cracking one-liners as the credits roll. He was there all the time, but when the important stuff started to happen he calmly hid under a desk until the dust settled. The man plays rugby league like he’s on a construction site. Except construction workers experience more physical contact on an average work day.
Maguire punctures the opposition defensive line with his two main weapons: Dave Taylor on the right and Greg Inglis anywhere he likes.
But the man at the controls is Isaac Luke. His dominance at dummy half begins the Bunnies’ attacking vacuum, sucking in opposition defenders. A venomous short passing game among the forwards continues the process before Souths begin to spread to the edges. To beat them, teams must lock Luke down and stop Burgess, Crocker and Taylor from advancing beyond the initial tackle and releasing the ball.
Souths are a half or five-eighth short of being an upper-echelon team, joining the Storm, Manly, Brisbane and Canterbury in that class. But they can beat any of those teams if everything works perfectly (the Cowboys, Warriors and Wests Tigers also fit that mould).
The Roosters present a different challenge. One must find a way to sit back and let them destroy themselves.
Brian Smith is a very good…no, hang on, I’ve already said that. So, we now know that his players have tiny brains and those brains have already decided not to listen to Brian Smith, who is a very good coach.
If the Roosters pack could harness its size and aggression in an efficient way, they’d be hard to stop. Tasi, Masoe, Hargreaves, Guerra, etc are the reason this team has won games: they’ve been able to roll down the field and get teams going backwards.
The problem is, this doesn’t always happen and when it doesn’t, the Roosters don’t have the creative players who can re-ignite a stagnating attack. There’s no effective dummy half, the fullback can no longer punch holes in the opposition and the halves are tradesmanlike, with Mitchell Pearce keeping the NSW No.7 jersey lukewarm until an elite halfback comes along.
The one thing this team needs, until it can find a top-tier half, hooker, fullback and ballplaying backrower, is ironfisted discipline and resolve. Instead, the only contest they can count on winning every week is ‘penalties given’.
Tautau Moga, pronounced ‘Moa’ by those idiotic Warriors commentators who sound like they’re speaking a combination of Spanish and Arabic when they say the Maori players’ names (Matulino and Ropati are my two favourites), will be a dominant three-quarter but he’s not there yet.
Shaun Kenny-Dowall’s haircut is awesome.
Anthony Minichello, one of the best fullbacks of the modern era, will do his best work finding a cure for arthritis off the bench next year. He’ll have plenty of time to think.
Yet this game is impossible to pick. I’m going with the Bunnies but the Roosters fluked it in round one and fought hard against Cronulla on Monday night. They’ll miss Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, as will anyone who enjoys slapstick comedy. But they’re a chance nonetheless.
And Brian Smith is a very good coach.
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