SMITHY: The eternal challenge of picking the best team

Brian Smith Columnist

By Brian Smith, Brian Smith is a Roar Expert


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    Former Sydney Roosters coach Brian Smith is off to the Super League - and not a moment too soon for the Wildcats. AAP Image/Dean Lewins

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    It’s not easy selecting teams. I’ve been doing it for a very long time and I can tell you it’s one of the things that I don’t have to do in 2013 that I am very pleased about.

    Let me say that a little differently.

    Picking a team is actually easy, but picking a team that you believe is THE best for this week’s match is much tougher.

    Picking the best team for this week but also being aware of next week’s and next year’s best interest of the player team and club often becomes very very difficult.

    Explaining to all who feel they deserve to know why and how you arrived at that decision is in a whole new ball park and it’s not just a matter of being honest about it that causes the heartache.

    Listening to the rotation cricket debate in recent times has created some smiles for this relaxed coach.

    Responses from those with vested interests or rose coloured glasses about the good old days go along party lines with those in footy, I reckon.

    Whilst we all have our preferences on what we look for in a player in our sport, it never ceases to amaze me that even great minds on the games we love struggle to move with the new demands of it as it inevitably becomes more professional and competitive.

    Still they know more than the coaches or selectors, in cricket’s case.

    Without being in the dressing rooms, without being at all the training and practice sessions, and without meeting and discussing in depth with doctors, physios and coaching staff. And, most notably, without the input of the players themselves.

    Out goes the need for knowledge from the medical crew of the niggle that’s become just a little worse, meaning your gun youngster can’t train at all this week but might be right by game day.

    “That’s ok, just play him, toughen him up. Oh, so if he plays on with this type of injury, he could miss six to eight weeks, or at worst, it could limit his ability to be able to develop his full strength or speed potential because of permanent restriction. You just stuffed up the career potential of our most promising player”!

    Or what about the need that the coaches and players have decided is vital for rapid form improvement.

    Number one priority is building combinations at training and player X can’t train for the week but his understudy can.

    It’s not about who is the best player, it’s about building what the team feels is the most necessary to win this game and get the season on track.

    If that player X is Cameron Smith, it may well be a different selection come game time.

    But again, these are calls from those with the most information, not fans or former greats who played with a broken leg in 1969 but don’t understand the demands of today’s game.

    The heat caused from rotation policy is just a little trickier.

    If rotation means that player X has played and trained consecutive days, weeks, or months, but does not have an injury, then this is where more guess work – or as we coaches like to call it, gut feel – cuts in.

    The scientists will provide numbers about volumes and intensity and total loads which may clarify or confuse. In the end for the coach, it becomes a matter of “is player X with that extra load likely to perform better this week than a fresher player Y”.

    This is a minefield at times, with no correct answer until what I used to call “quarter to five decisions” when footy was played with a 3 o’clock kick off.

    You guessed it: the decisions were a lot easier at a quarter to five when it’s all over.

    Sometimes a coach or selector just has a gut feel that even he can’t verbalise with accuracy at the time. That’s when you just have to be strong, make the call and live with it.

    Otherwise you join those quarter to five experts outside the coaches box who think they all have the answers.

    Brian Smith joins The Roar as a regular NRL columnist in 2013. This is his first column for the site. Smithy is a former player with St. George and South Sydney and first grade coach at Illawarra, St. George Dragons, Bradford Bulls, Parramatta, the Knights and the Sydney Roosters. He is currently an assistant coach to Jake White at the Brumbies.

    Brian Smith
    Brian Smith

    Brian Smith is a former player with St. George and South Sydney and first grade coach at Illawarra, St. George Dragons, Bradford Bulls, Parramatta, the Knights and the Roosters. He has taken teams to the NRL Grand Final on four occasions. He is a weekly columnist on The Roar, but to read more of his writing on rugby league, check out his website, Smithy Speaks.

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    The Crowd Says (27)

    • January 22nd 2013 @ 4:24am
      Johnno said | January 22nd 2013 @ 4:24am | ! Report

      One big problem now with selecting, is information overload and a lack of transparency.

      In this new age of so many assistant specialist coaches, sports medicine staff, selectors, big funding sponsors, private owners with big dollars demanding success, demanding fans , it must be hard for a 1st grad coach in any sport ,to get any authority, autonomy, centralisation, and the power to have the final say and get the team he wants.

      -So many vested to be managed, just who actually gets the final say in team selection,, is a never ending minefield initself, as the portfolio of chiefs if you like has increased, and not enough soldiers. More power to the head coach i say if i managed a team or owned a sport team, let the head coach live and die by the sword, and take full responsibility. Then give them full responsibility.

      I have always wanted the coach to be the head of the selection panel too. And just have a few selection advisors that’s it.

      Alex Ferguson seems to get the team he wants, Guss Hiddink was given a lot of authority to pick the team exactly who he wanted.

      And that’s the type of culture if i was a coach or an administrator i would want to be part of that team. Where the head coach gets final say, and doesn’t have to many advisors. Maybe 3 max from all sections with vested interests in the team.

      And the owners , who have any common sense will stay out of football and technical matters, and let the head coach make those decisions.

    • January 22nd 2013 @ 8:12am
      oikee said | January 22nd 2013 @ 8:12am | ! Report

      Well you only have to look at the Blues Origin selections over the years to realise how important this can be, and how terribly wrong or pair-shaped it can all go. And like backsides, evenyone has a opinion of what players should be picked.
      Nice to see you at peace now Smithy, but dont go to far, Carty might be on holidays by xmas.

    • January 22nd 2013 @ 8:18am
      turbodewd said | January 22nd 2013 @ 8:18am | ! Report


      So picking your playing roster isn’t easy and there are many factors. Got it.

      • Roar Guru

        January 22nd 2013 @ 9:35am
        Adam Scroggy said | January 22nd 2013 @ 9:35am | ! Report


        He explained many of those factors in detail and provided insight that a lot of fans wouldn’t consider. I enjoyed the read.

        • January 22nd 2013 @ 11:06am
          turbodewd said | January 22nd 2013 @ 11:06am | ! Report

          Brian didnt give us a single example from his coaching history. He spoke in general terms. Its like writing a job application and saying youve got great skills in field Y and failing to list examples that prove it.

    • January 22nd 2013 @ 8:29am
      Mals said | January 22nd 2013 @ 8:29am | ! Report

      Thanks Smithy I enjoyed the read.

      I did a year of coaching when I was out for season with a snapped ACL & I can tell you for the first 5 or so games I thought coaching & selecting a team was easy. However, when some player injuries & a few consecutive losses occurred that was when the doubts started lol.

    • January 22nd 2013 @ 8:50am
      Pot Stirrer said | January 22nd 2013 @ 8:50am | ! Report

      Im prob one of those old school people i guess. I think certain aspects are over analized. I believe you have your best team picked at the start of the year after pre season training and trials. You dont weeken one position to strengthen another at any time. The only time you make changes is when players are injured or out of form. I dont believe in horses for courses when it comes to the footy field as your trying to build a TEAM. Team work will defeat individual brilliance over 80 minutes. Whilst im not a fan of either team i dont think Bennet or Bellamy or Hasler changed thier line up all last season unless someone wasnt available and they are considered the best coaches. KIS as they saying goes

      • January 22nd 2013 @ 9:16pm
        Anakin said | January 22nd 2013 @ 9:16pm | ! Report

        > i dont think Bennet or Bellamy or Hasler changed thier line up all last season unless someone wasnt available ..
        You dont recall Bellamy ever resting players at the back end of a season leading into finals when the storm had the minor premiership and/or their finals positions all sewn up? I do!!

        • January 23rd 2013 @ 8:08am
          Pot Stirrer said | January 23rd 2013 @ 8:08am | ! Report

          Anakin, What are you talking about. Its a little different to be resting players when your in the finals than getting the team right to win the competition which is what the article is about.

    • January 22nd 2013 @ 9:29am
      Godfrey said | January 22nd 2013 @ 9:29am | ! Report

      Selecting teams is a lot easier when the club is overflowing with internationals and Origin players as has been the case with premiership winning teams the Broncos and Storm have had. Decisions are a lot easier when the coach has more superstars at his disposal than his rivals.

      • January 22nd 2013 @ 11:07am
        turbodewd said | January 22nd 2013 @ 11:07am | ! Report

        Correct, now that is called stating the bleeding obvious. Sorry to be an a-hole about this, but every post on this thread is stating the bleeding obvious.

        • January 22nd 2013 @ 11:15am
          Mals said | January 22nd 2013 @ 11:15am | ! Report

          Instead of bashing other posters who don’t you enlighten us with your amazing rugby league intellect?

          • January 22nd 2013 @ 12:02pm
            turbodewd said | January 22nd 2013 @ 12:02pm | ! Report


            Im not really bashing others. Im not using overly emotive language, Im just calling a spade a spade. I even said ‘sorry to be an a-hole’. But I will call out boring threads. Gary Freeman and Nathan Brown have both posted very very unremarkable pieces on The Roar which are safe, state the obvious and dont ruffle any feathers.

            The day I see an NRL identity post a legitimate criticism citing evidence on The Roar is the day that I will eat my hat :^)

            • January 22nd 2013 @ 1:26pm
              eagleJack said | January 22nd 2013 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

              So a piece of journalism needs to “ruffle feathers” to be “legitimate”. Got it.

              Plenty of gossip rags around turbodewed which may be more to your liking.

              • January 22nd 2013 @ 1:47pm
                turbodewd said | January 22nd 2013 @ 1:47pm | ! Report

                I made a point that I think Brian’s article is low on examples and I stick by it. I have no doubt his next article will be more thought-provoking.

        • January 22nd 2013 @ 2:53pm
          josh said | January 22nd 2013 @ 2:53pm | ! Report

          No need to apologise for being an a-hole. It’s stating the obvious, we can see who posted the comment.

          • January 22nd 2013 @ 8:35pm
            Jeff Cook said | January 22nd 2013 @ 8:35pm | ! Report

            Wished i said it , thanks.