BROWNIE: Epic month ahead in the race for the eight
Ben Barba attacks. AAP Image/Action Photographics, Renee McKay
I was saying to a friend in England the other day that four or five weeks ago, no one would have predicted that either Newcastle or the Gold Coast would be chances of making the eight this year.
Their form at the time simply didn’t justify it.
But now look at them.
It just shows how fiercely contested this season has been.
At Newcastle, the team probably struggled a bit initially adapting to the way coach Bennett does things. It obviously took Wayne a while to get the players to buy into his vision.
But once his culture was implemented, and soon after big Willie joined the club and Darius Boyd’s form turned around, the Knights have looked like world-beaters.
Similarly, the Titans struggled for a while before Scott Prince’s form picked up. And the team hasn’t looked back since. They’re looking more dangerous each week.
Both sides are right in contention for play-off spots, alongside a raft of other clubs all clinging to the hope of sneaking into the eight.
My old team, the Dragons, had a great win last week against Melbourne. The players are really putting in, which reflects a good culture at the club.
Meanwhile, the Warriors have been a bit of a disapointment this season, and needing to win 5 from 5, they’re real longshots now.
The big thing for them all year has the issues around their defense. Blowing 18 point margins in their past two games suggests that they have a way to go yet.
Still, their side is stacked with talented young players, so next season they’ll be all the stronger for the ups and downs of 2012.
At the other end of the ladder, the Bulldogs are going great at the moment.
Watching from afar, there are two distinct lessons to be learned about the way Dessie coaches his sides.
One is that he is at the very top of the tree in terms of sports science. He invests a lot making sure the right people and the best technology is at the club to ensure that his better players are staying on the field longer than other teams.
And then there’s his innate ability to make full use of his players’ natural attributes. You’ll notice that Dessie’s players only do what best suits them on the field.
This might seem basic, but it’s not.
If you’re not a natural ballplayer, then Dessie won’t force that on you. Your best attribute might be support play. Good. Your role will then be to support the ballplayers.
You can be 110kg+ and be a great ballplayer in Dessie’s teams, if that’s where your talents lie.
Look at guys like Kasiano and James Graham. Both these blokes play like halves, even though they’re built like tanks
Dessie has his halves run off and support these ballplayers.
It’s a simple approach, but the Bulldogs do it better than anyone.
Having said that, the Bulldgs are far from being over the line this season. They’re relying a lot on the brilliance of Ben Barba right now.
Come semi-final time, the other sides will really test his metal. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles the pressure.