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A deep dive into why Anthony Griffin should be embarrassed about his team list

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Roar Pro
3rd May, 2023
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Strange team lists are not that unusual in the NRL. Injuries can wreak havoc on teams from week to week, and representative commitments can hit even the healthiest of clubs, causing strange reshuffles.

What is more unusual are large-scale changes that remain unexplained through external causes like the two mentioned above.

Anthony Griffin is an unusual coach, to say the least. Before the Dragons, he coached two quite well-performing clubs in the Broncos and the Panthers.

However, even while he was there (and especially during his exodus from the foot of the mountains), there was a lot of talk about players and other members of staff being unhappy.

Those who can remember back to his Panther days (which seem like a lifetime ago as the black cats now sit on top of back-to-back premierships) will recall rumours about the team performing well despite his coaching, not because of it.

The feeling seemed to be that the Panthers would start games following Hooks’ conservative style of football, fall behind and then ditch the gameplan and win with a miraculous comeback. Considering the amount of come-from-behind wins they did have and Hook’s acrimonious departure just before the finals, it would appear that there was some fire behind all the smoke.

SUNSHINE COAST, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 12: Dragons coach Anthony Griffin chats with Warriors coach Nathan Brown before the round one NRL match between the New Zealand Warriors and the St George Illawarra Dragons at Sunshine Coast Stadium, on March 12, 2022, in Sunshine Coast, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Anthony Griffin. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

At his third and potentially last coaching gig, Anthony Griffin has produced perhaps the most embarrassing team list in his career.

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From top to bottom, the team list is beyond frustrating, and a lot of the core issues of this week’s drama at the Dragons are not being discussed at length. Here is a deep dive into why this week’s team list is so utterly poor.

The headline act

Of course, the most attention has to be given to the dropping of Zac Lomax. Lomax is one of the Dragons’ highest earners and has pulled off some truly incredible plays (both incredibly good and bad) during his time at the club.

While his goal-kicking woes are no secret this year, you would be hard-pressed to look at the Dragons and identify him as the weak link. He isn’t that fast, but he is a big frame, firm in defence and versatile in attack, although he is down on confidence.

What is truly annoying, however, is that Lomax has seemingly been trapped in a cage of someone else’s making. At the start of this season, he was swapped from his favoured right edge to the left. He was also given kicking lessons by Daryl Halligan, where it was suggested he switch from a higher kicking tee (that he has used his whole career) to a much shorter one.

Sure, he is a hot and cold player who has mostly been on the cooler side of that spectrum this year, but that seems to be at least in part down to coaching decisions outside of his control.

Zac Lomax of the Dragons warms up

(Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

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Hook’s retirement home

While a lot could and is being said about Lomax, what is not noticed by most is the continued appearance of Moses Mbye and Ben Murdoch-Masila on Dragons team lists.

What makes the ongoing presence of Moses Mbye even more puzzling is the axing of promising young gun Jacob Liddle. While he has not been a world beater, by any possible metric you want to look at, Jacob has outperformed Moses whenever given a chance.

Jacob averages 24 tackles a game, Moses just 20, Jacob runs for around 55 metres a game, Moses a measly 28, Jacob has two tries, an assist, a couple of linebreaks and line break assists, Moses has one try assist, one linebreak and one linebreak assist.

That’s a lot of numbers that all point to Jacob being far more reliable than Moses, but even with intangible metrics like his service from dummy half and positioning, Jacob is just leagues in front.

Murdoch-Masila has, thankfully, been demoted from starting second rower to a bench position, but even then, one wonders why he is still there for just one stint a game when young gun Toby Couchman has been dropped.

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Suffice it to say, without boring you with even more numbers, Toby has also been better than Murdoch-Masila and is far younger.

Hook’s insistence on keeping players in the team who are well past it over the ones who should be considered the future of the club is maddening.

A hammer in the works

As mentioned in my previous article about clubs persisting with unwanted players, Junior Amone still being welcome around the team not only fails to make sense from an ethical standpoint but purely from his own statistics it is one that does not add up.

Amone may be a talented player who is being held back by the coach’s playstyle, but by that same logic, it would stand to reason Hook would choose to start Sullivan and at least see if he fits better. His deficiencies in both attack and defence are far worse than Lomax’s.

An accidental stroke of genius

Due to injuries, suspension and maybe just sheer luck, Hook finally named Jack De Belin at lock and moved Jack Bird to the second row three weeks ago when they took on the Raiders.

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De Belin averages more tackles, more metres and is a far better link man when playing at lock than when he had been used in a prop or interchange role.

Last week in an otherwise putrid performance from the team, Jack De Belin made 43 tackles, missed none, broke four tackles, ran for 178 metres and played the full 80 minutes.

Those are elite numbers, and Jack Bird’s own figures were not that significantly impacted either, so it seemed like Hook had finally realised that De Belin played at lock for almost a decade before Griffin started coaching the club.

Alas, with this week’s team list, Jack Bird is back at lock, De Belin is named at prop, and Billy Burns appears for his first game of the year for some inexplicable reason.

Jack Bird is perfectly serviceable at lock and has sparks of genius, but he also can get into his own head at times and cause issues for the club with unforced errors and missed tackles.

With Jack De Belin at lock, you know exactly what you are getting and can plan around it to perfection. Why would you weaken the second row with a virtual rookie when all it would take is to move Michael Molo up from the bench to start at prop, as he has multiple times this year?

What was the point of starting Jaiyden Hunt last week in the second row only to swap him out with another newbie?

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Understanding the context

One thing you must keep in mind when reading through these changes is that Hook knows what effect his dropping of certain players will have both in the media and the team.

He knew it would be the focus of the news on team list Tuesday and that it would annoy Lomax, Liddle and potentially many others within the team.

A great coach rewards good performances, is clear with their players about his expectations and sets them up to succeed.

Dropping Lomax after changing around both his position on the field and his kicking style, while knowing it would be headline news and another distraction, is embarrassing, to say the least.

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If reports are to be believed, he wouldn’t even tell Lomax or Liddle why they lost their spot, nor did he front up to any media. There is no other read into the situation other than it being a desperate move by a coach about to exit the club looking for a reason he can blame his failure on.

The Dragons are in a big hole no matter where they go from here. They may even end up beating the Tigers and a few other teams to avoid last place this year, but it certainly does look dire.

The season is well and truly a wash for them, and if they can get out of it with a new coach, no wooden spoon and a bit less dead weight on their roster next year, then that should be considered a major win.

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