It is amazing how many popular misconceptions can arise in regard to NRL teams in such a sort period of time when things aren’t exactly going to plan.
Already this season there has been a number of widely held views that have been presented as fact that are just patently wrong.
Let’s address a number of them before they can gather any more momentum.
1. Todd Payten can’t coach
After losing the first four matches by a combined score of 141 to 36 – an average loss of 35-9 – the knives were already out for Payten.
That was in spite of him taking over a Warriors side in Round 7 of 2020 and getting them to a tenth-place finish.
The team faced challenges such as being stuck in Australia and unable to play at home, having to borrow players from other clubs, losing a number of players who went home to their families and not having a great roster to start with.
They had every excuse to come last, yet under Payten’s leadership they notably improved across the board. The Warriors became a committed and dedicated side who made no excuses. There was very little doubt as to why.
Yet some people were questioning his tenure at the Cowboys come the end of Round 4 2021. There were rumblings from the players and Jason Taumalolo was out injured.
The wheels were off and maybe Payten didn’t have the dressing room.
Three straight wins later and how different things look. While their average score of a 30-24 win does point to some defensive issues, clearly something has started to click.
Three of their biggest names took no part in those wins either. Taumalolo was still injured, Michael Morgan retired and Josh McGuire was moved on.
Perhaps the improvement is due to the Cowboys players buying in to Payten and his methods. If they continue to then who knows what they can do, especially now with Taumalolo returning from injury.
Unless the results are diabolical going forward, it is time to put to bed the concept that Todd Payten can’t coach.
2. One player won’t make that much difference to Manly’s fortunes
Guilty as charged on this one. I thought that the Sea Eagles were going so badly that even the return of Tom Trbojevic wouldn’t really improve their fortunes.
While one man doesn’t make a team, he clearly makes a team a completely different beast.
Tommy Turbo has had a bad run with injuries over the last three seasons. That has limited him to just 21 games played.
When the middle child of John and Melissa has taken the field for his beloved Sea Eagles since Round 1 2019 they have boasted a 76 per cent win rate. Over the same period Manly only have a 47 per cent win rate overall, and without Tom Trbojevic the Sea Eagles win rate for that period plummets to 26.7 per cent.
Since Round 1 2019 to the end of Round 7 2021 the Sea Eagles average score per game is a 18.1-20.5 point loss. When Tom Trbojevic plays that average score over the same period is a 23.3-15.3 win.
Put simply, Manly is on average a ten point a match better team when he plays and win over 50 per cent more matches.
I think we can safely say that Tom Trbojevic’s impact on the Sea Eagles fortunes is immense.
3. Michael Maguire needs to be moved on at the Wests Tigers
It seems to be the flavour of the week to absolutely sink the slipper into the Wests Tigers. Once again we are all analysing all of the players they have ‘let go’ and how they are such a basket case.
Sure, sitting on one win from seven games to start 2021 is far from ideal. As well, there have been some diabolical hammerings handed out to them, right?
Well, actually their 40-6 Round 7 loss to Manly and their 40-6 loss to the Roosters in Round 2 have been their only two uncompetitive matches.
Sure, they haven’t looked like world beaters in the other four losses, but they weren’t that bad.
Yet all of a sudden the knives are out for coach Michael Maguire. The absolute worst thing the Campbelltown-based joint venture club could do right now is scapegoat their coach when it is so clear that their issues run so much deeper.
It has not been since 2011 that the Wests Tigers made the NRL finals. That’s almost a decade of football without September action.
You can stand back and say that’s all about poor management and poor coaching but you’d be wrong. The Wests Tigers haven’t really had a chance.
Their best players have been poached and they’ve been unable to attract and retain a good roster. While the management must take some blame for this, there have been destabilising players and the lure of huge money contracts as well.
Madge is just the bloke holding the baby right now. And his results aren’t any worse than they ever have been.
Since the start of the 2012 season to the end of Round 7 2021 the Wests Tigers have a 38.8 winning percentage, with an average game score of 18.8-24.1.
Maguire’s tenure has a 37.8 per cent win rate with a 20.2-23.7 average game score. While those numbers aren’t stellar, they also show that he isn’t the problem.
This talk that he’s ‘too intense’ is some of the biggest horseshit I’ve ever heard. The only relaxed coach I’ve ever seen is the one who just had Gatorade poured on him following a grand final triumph. And that relaxed demeanour doesn’t last long.
If Madge is intense it is because he has to be. He’s got one of the hardest jobs in the game. He needs total backing of the club and its supporters so a long term plan can be put in place.
Anything else is just changing deck chairs on the Titanic.
4. The Canberra Raiders’ attack is broken
This has not been an ideal start for the Canberra Raiders. Somehow still in the top eight after three straight losses, things don’t look to be running smoothly down in the nation’s capital.
There has been a bit of misfortune involved, with the loss of three players early in the game against the Warriors seeing them over run in the final moments.
Further, the loss of their fullback and resultant backline reshuffle against the rampant Panthers was not ideal.
However, the consecutive losses to the Eels and then the Cowboys were quite concerning, with the previously imposing Raiders looking less than cohesive or determined.
A lot of the discussion that has come out about what is going wrong has centred around their attack being broken. One common theory was that the Raiders hooker and captain Josh Hodgson overplaying his hand and not giving early ball to his halves.
That was causing the attack to stutter and not be able to score the necessary points to win.
This is utter tripe.
Ok, back in 2016 the Raiders made the preliminary final and were a fantastic attacking side, averaging 28.6 scored a game.
However, that prowess really dropped off in 2017 and 2018 where their average points scored a game dropped to 23 and they failed to make the finals.
The real problem was that, although they were still scoring lots of points, they were conceding almost as many. In each of those two failed seasons they lost eight games by six points or less. It was telling.
In 2019 there was a clear change in approach: defence first. In the last two seasons the Raiders’ average points scored a game has actually dropped to 22.
However, they’ve averaged just 15.5 points conceded a game. The result: a preliminary final appearance and a grand final appearance.
So far in 2021 the Raiders attack is slightly down on average at 19.6. However, their average points conceded has sky rocketed six points a game to 21.6.
While the results against the Panthers and the Eels would not be reversed if six fewer points had been conceded, the Warriors and Cowboys games become wins and the Raiders are sitting on five wins and two losses. And nobody is sounding the alarm at all.
The Raiders need to get back to basics and return to their miserly and committed defence and the ship should right itself.
And to all of those people sprouting that the root of the Raiders woes are to be found in a misfiring attack and that actions such as Josh Hodgson being dropped are the remedy, thanks for your advice.
It has been filed appropriately.