Teams must improve their play-the-ball speed

Delpy Roar Pro

By Delpy, Delpy is a Roar Pro

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    Benji Marshall would be a hit in Super League. (AAP Image/Action Photographic, Renee McKay)

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    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?

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    The Crowd Says (22)

    • March 14th 2013 @ 7:31am
      oikee said | March 14th 2013 @ 7:31am | ! Report

      This is where players like James Segrearo at the Panthers will thrive. The play the ball is cleaner because of the new law introduced, no hand on the ball once the tackle is effected.
      The Tigers have got Robbie Farrah, one of the best fast ball players in the comp, they should be fine. I wrote off the last game, they had other things on their mind and it showed. That young forwards passing really upset them, and for good reason.

      Respecting the ball is a bigger problem, and the warriors have no respect whatsoever for the ball. To have that ball in your hands safely and get your kick away is vital.
      I also think we could add a extra tackle to the set. So instead of 5 tackles, make it six tackles. That will increase fatique.
      At the moment it is very good, but they keep talking about dropping interchanges, why dont they just add a extra tackle to the count.
      More tries will be scored as well having a extra tackle each set.

      • March 14th 2013 @ 11:38am
        Tony Archers Maroon Underwear said | March 14th 2013 @ 11:38am | ! Report

        Extra tackle to the count is a really interesting idea would be good to see it trialed in the All Stars game

        • March 14th 2013 @ 12:10pm
          oikee said | March 14th 2013 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

          Yes, it is a good idea, surely someone else has already thought about this idea. They increased the tackle count from 4 to 6 tackles i think, then why not 7.

          • March 14th 2013 @ 1:22pm
            Mals said | March 14th 2013 @ 1:22pm | ! Report

            Worth trialing Oikee. The only negative I see is we don’t the NRL resembling basketball with big high scores.

    • March 14th 2013 @ 7:45am
      Dean - Surry Hills said | March 14th 2013 @ 7:45am | ! Report

      I’d like to see the Cameron Smith tactic of continually turning a player sideways as their momentum comes to a stop, punished with a penalty.

      I’d like to see a stop clock utilised by the second referee so that all teams are given the same amount of time to take the opportunity of marking a tackled player before conceding a penalty.

      I’d also like the third man flop to be erased from the game. The Storm are the undeniable masters of this tactic. Piling up on top of their own players just as momentum from the player they have deliberately held up and turned sideways is about to cease.

      • Roar Pro

        March 14th 2013 @ 12:41pm
        Delpy said | March 14th 2013 @ 12:41pm | ! Report

        The pocket referee is there to monitor infringements in the ruck (supposedly). They won’t be taking their eyes off to check a stop clock. I think this goes too far.

        It’s more of a “”lean” than a “flop”, but I know exactly what you are talking about and I can’t stand it! It’s so obvious and yet never gets penalised. What’s the difference between “flopping” on a tackled player and leaning on your team mates who have made a tackle? It’s such a blatant ploy to slow down the play-the-ball that has seemingly gone unnoticed with the referees.

        • March 14th 2013 @ 1:10pm
          Dean - Surry Hills said | March 14th 2013 @ 1:10pm | ! Report

          Maybe a dedicated stop watch with an alarm which can be used where the pocket ref doesn’t need to take their eyes off the play.
          One press to start the countdown the moment a ref calls held – then a designated period of time before an alarm is activated should the ref not press his button again to indicate that defenders have allowed for a fair play the ball.

          • Roar Pro

            March 14th 2013 @ 2:48pm
            PuntPal said | March 14th 2013 @ 2:48pm | ! Report

            I actually think that is an awesome idea.

            The arbitrary nature of holding down penalties infuriates me. Sometimes it seems a referee just decides its time for a penalty, other times, its almost laughable that no penalty is being awarded.

            • Roar Pro

              March 14th 2013 @ 3:49pm
              Delpy said | March 14th 2013 @ 3:49pm | ! Report

              I assume there would be different time limits for different tackles (e.g, dominant, surrender, etc). Referees would also need to determine when an attacking player is actually holding down the tackler. If he holds the tackler down for a second, do we add a second to the time limit or void the limit altogether. Does this then give the tackler an unlimited time to lay there because he was originally held?

              It seems like a bit of a logistical nightmare to me.

    • Roar Rookie

      March 14th 2013 @ 8:42am
      Damn Straight said | March 14th 2013 @ 8:42am | ! Report

      Play the ball speed will always depend on the wrestling tolerance of the referee’s. Until there is an unambiguous rule change regarding the wrestling tactics, they will continue to be utilised by NRL clubs. More wrestling tolerance=slow play the balls.

      • March 14th 2013 @ 12:15pm
        oikee said | March 14th 2013 @ 12:15pm | ! Report

        Damm Straight, did you not watch any games on the weekend or the trail games. ?
        They have increased the play the ball speed to the maximun now, any faster and it will be touch football, and if it becomes touch i will go watch rugby.

        The refs penalise any hand on the ball. If you had been watching, you would have noticed the players get straight to their feet and play the ball. No hand is allowed while they get up and the refs penalise anything like that.
        It happened all weekend, and only a few players out of 8 games got penilised.
        Come on mate, keep up to speed.

        • Roar Rookie

          March 14th 2013 @ 12:40pm
          Damn Straight said | March 14th 2013 @ 12:40pm | ! Report

          Keep up to speed? Haha, that’s a good one oiks. 🙂
          I must say, that at this very early stage of the season, the refereeing seems to have improved markedly. Daniel Anderson is a much better person for handling the media than Harragon used to. The refs seem more composed, and there hasn’t been many bad calls. The obstruction rule seems to still be creating confusion however…that Sandow try that was disallowed was a try as far as I am concerned.
          Let us hold our breath and see if they can consistently keep it up. I’ll be watching how the refs handle teams known for being wrestle-happy over the rest of the season.

    • March 14th 2013 @ 10:42am
      Dr NRL said | March 14th 2013 @ 10:42am | ! Report

      Delpy, the Tigers were very low on energy. While there may have ben extraneous reasons for that, it didn’ help to have less than 40% of the ball. Having looked at the stats though, it seems that the Tigers’ neutral and fast play-the-ball numbers were similar, it’s just that they had half the Knights’ ball.

      The Knights were punishing and aggressive in defence, making it difficult to get roll on. They denied the Tigers space and, along with Manly, were the best at closing down the opposition’s space.

      And get this,the halves for the Knights ran the ball 11 times vs the Tigers’ 5. Clearly Benji needs to improve …

      • Roar Pro

        March 14th 2013 @ 12:50pm
        Delpy said | March 14th 2013 @ 12:50pm | ! Report

        Agreed, Dr, they played similarly after Robbie lost his mother last year. I think both games can be excused (once the rage settles). This is more of a pet-hate that I’ve had with them for a while.

        The Knights were good. However, they had a lot more time to get their breath with so much possession.

        Wouldn’t having twice the possession equate to the halves having twice the amount of touches for the halves? That being said, Benji must improve on his performance from Monday and 2012.

    • Roar Pro

      March 14th 2013 @ 11:24am
      PuntPal said | March 14th 2013 @ 11:24am | ! Report

      NRL Stats keeps figures on play the ball speed. This is something I watch very closely and you are right to identify it as a crucial issue.

      In the Knights v Wests game, there is nothing too sugnificant in terms of Slow and Fast Play the balls.

      Knights had 13 fast play the balls against 9 fast play the balls for Tigers. Knights had 10 slow play the balls against the Tigers only having 5…

      But I am not pointing this out to shoot you down, as sometimes their collection of this stat is grossly inaccurate.

      What I found more amazing was simply the weight of possession.

      The Knights had 155 play the balls v the Tigers only having 88.

      So in this game, it was more about possession than the speed of the play the ball, according to the stats.

      I actually think the best way to counter the wrestle is to offload the ball more and force the defence to make 1 on 1 tackles more.

      • Roar Guru

        March 14th 2013 @ 11:36am
        Adam Scroggy said | March 14th 2013 @ 11:36am | ! Report

        PuntPal,

        That’s interesting about NRL stats keeping figures on play-the-ball speed. How do you access a stat like that? I’ve never seen it on their website.

        • March 14th 2013 @ 12:06pm
          Harry M said | March 14th 2013 @ 12:06pm | ! Report

          Again every year they are going to crack down but every year it lasts a week and then we return to normal – I watched the Storm last week and they were business as usual about lying over the player but by no means are they on their own although Roy Masters subtle defence of the tactic suggests that they benefit from it.

          http://www.smh.com.au/rugby-league/league-news/the-good-and-bad-bits-of-ref-chiefs-new-rules-20130306-2flm8.html

        • March 14th 2013 @ 12:26pm
          Pomoz said | March 14th 2013 @ 12:26pm | ! Report

          Its on the team stats page on NRL Stats.

          • Roar Guru

            March 14th 2013 @ 2:32pm
            Adam Scroggy said | March 14th 2013 @ 2:32pm | ! Report

            So it is — I was looking at individual player stats. Cheers mate.

            • Roar Pro

              March 14th 2013 @ 2:49pm
              PuntPal said | March 14th 2013 @ 2:49pm | ! Report

              I wish they also kept is under player stats, as it would be great to know which players are getting a roll on and which ones are being turtled

      • March 14th 2013 @ 12:22pm
        oikee said | March 14th 2013 @ 12:22pm | ! Report

        Yes, and as i mentioned in my very first post above, ball control or respect for the ball as i said above, is more important.

        The hand in the ruck, or in other words. Putting your hand on the ball to slow down the player getting up to his feet has been policed.

        The refs have been penalising this, and if you watch closely, no player is allowed to get up and put his hand on the ball while your trying to get up and play the ball.
        That was the rule change this year. If you read the rules you would have seen this introduced.
        Yes Puntpal, your stat’s have confirmed this, plus the fact we dont have the dreaded benifit of the dought rule anymore.
        Daniel Anderson has really done a amazing job.
        I called for Harragons head all last year, look at the results, outstanding as Noddy would say.

      • Roar Pro

        March 14th 2013 @ 12:56pm
        Delpy said | March 14th 2013 @ 12:56pm | ! Report

        Interesting, I was also unaware that they kept this stat. I’ll be on the lookout for it now. It’s very surprising that, on average, the Tigers actually had more fast play-the-balls than the Knights.

        Everytime a Tigers’ player looks to offload, I cringe. There is definitely a place for it, but I am wary of the handling errors that it can lead to.

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