Teams must improve their play-the-ball speed
Benji Marshall's contract dispute has similarities to the Dragons' and Tigers' handling of Tim Moltzen. (AAP Image/Action Photographic, Renee McKay)
Whenever I watch a game of rugby league, there is almost invariably a common factor – the winner is the team with the fastest play-the-ball.
So many teams seem to address slowing down the play-the-ball of the opposition, but it seems to be only the top sides that focus on their own speed in attack.
After having to wait an excruciating four days from the start of the season, the Wests Tigers finally kicked off their campaign on Monday night. And wasn’t it worth the wait!
Now, there were many reasons behind the Tigers’ woeful performance. Questionable team selection, a devastating week, poor preparation and tactics, stupid decisions, a well-oiled opposition, and many other factors all contributed to the loss.
But one thing that continually frustrates me with this side is how slow their play-the-ball seems.
All 16 NRL teams focus on slowing the play-the-ball of their opposition. Teams employ wrestling coaches and spend time every week practicing techniques like gang tackles to slow their opposition down.
It is fair to say that the top teams at the end of the year tend to be the best wrestlers, but I would also argue that they are the best at defending the wrestle.
Most of the Tigers’ games that I watch, I find myself complaining about the opposition lying on our players and getting away with it. However, there are many times where I cannot blame the opposition or the referees.
If the attacking players make no effort to create a quick play-the-ball, why should the defending players? The onus must be on the attacking side to seek a fast game, not the defence, that will never work.
I hate to pick on them, but far too often the Tigers appear to be too slow in attack. Apart from the first five minutes, the Knights dominated the ruck on Monday night. Their speed in the ruck had us on the back foot in defence. They made more yards-per-carry and, thus, had better field possession at the end of their sets.
Teams that can keep the opposition defence backpedalling, find gaps due to an unorganised line that has not had enough time to set itself. Players can also be sucked into making tackles before they return to an onside position which leads to penalties.
Penalties lead to repeat sets and repeat sets lead to tries.
Conversely, teams that are not able to speed up their play-the-ball, allow defences to set their line and increase their line speed.
Defences are then able to meet the attack before the advantage line and before the big forwards are able to gain momentum. With the camera angle often cutting off the defence, they appear to be miles offside, they are seemingly that quick.
Now, I understand that trying to play the ball too quickly can, and often does, lead to handling errors.
This is far worse than conceding a slow play-the-ball. But surely if a player can get to his feet quicker, he will have the luxury of waiting half a second before placing the ball on the ground.
I don’t want to see players carry on like Michael Hancock used to do for Brisbane, but I do want to see more urgency. At the very least they will draw a couple more penalties for holding.
It may not be the biggest problem at the Tigers right now, but it is one of the easier ones to fix.
What are your thoughts? Would you like to see players make a bigger effort to get to their feet quickly?
How important do you think it is to winning the game?