How has your week been Eels fans? Are you hanging in there?
I, like I’m sure the rest of you, have been on the end of a barrage of questions about our performance against Manly last week.
Whether it was a simple as a “What happened?” or whether it was a more personal, full-blown dress-down from opposition fans, I’m sure we heard it all – and one thing is for sure – it seems like everyone wants to re-commit to the ‘Parramatta are wooden-spoon material’ narrative.
Worse yet, as an Eels supporter, we get baited, as though we’re somehow accountable or answerable to what happens/ed – but the fact is, that’s rugby league.
If you’re off for even a minute or two in the National Rugby League competition, the consequences could be detrimental to the course of that match, and even your season. However, the flipside to that is, if you’re on for those periods, it could just be the play that sets up that match or your season.
Coaches are aware of this, and none more so than our own Brad Arthur – he refers to them as “effort areas”. Similarly, Cowboys premiership-winning coach, Paul Green, has been doing the same in recent times – but just what are effort areas in the context of rugby league?
Well given the unpredictable nature of the greatest game of all – such as the bounce of a ball, mother nature or just ridiculously, unstoppable freakish play from an opposition player – many things in rugby league can in fact, be controlled.
When we talk about those things that can be controlled, we are referring to “Effort Areas”
This include things such as line speed – the speed in which the defensive line moves up together to shut down the opposition; kick-chase – similarly moving up in a line together following a kick to limit the metres a kick returner makes; tackling in numbers – getting multiple players around the ball carrier to shutdown the play & prevent second-phase play; running in numbers – supporting the ball carrier when we’re in possession so that they not only have a passing option, but so the oppositions defensive players don’t have the opportunity to gang-tackle our ball-carrier.
Why are these things called effort areas? Because they’re largely attitude-driven. The most competitive teams do this, do this well and do this regularly. It’s something we in previous years had used to build our reputation, but have largely moved away from in the last one-and-a-half games.
Take a look at the Wests Tigers in their opening three-games of the 2018 season. Here’s a side (and club) that has largely been known for being defensively poor over the course of their history, adopting an “outscore the opposition” mantra, even if it means winning 40-38. They were not focused on their “effort areas”. However, over the course of one off-season they’ve addressed a large part of that. Now some of this has come through recruiting, some of it through the re-training, recalibration and re-focussing of their playing squad on their line speed, contact and kick chase., but it’s happened.
To date they have been playing patient footy with the ball in hand, and they back themselves defensively to hold their opposition out. Even though they lost last night, they kept the Broncos try-less – an incredible feat – and have only conceded two tries across three NRL games for 2-wins, 1-loss against three teams from the 2017 top-four!
So, what does that mean for us? Back to basics Eels fans.
When you’re on the end of an old-fashioned thrashing (and let’s face it – it was – we were very, very poor with a team that only a few months ago was a top-four NRL side in a position to challenge for the 2017 premiership) your performance isn’t the result of suddenly not knowing how to play. Your performance is the result of your attitude not being good enough, and as I said earlier, only a few minutes off the pace in the NRL can cost you – we were off the whole game – and moving forward, that’s just not acceptable.
Normally I would spend the next part of this article going into detail about individual players, the threats they pose to our defensive line and what we need to do in order to handle them to put ourselves in the best position for victory, but tonight is not about the Cronulla players or any other team that we may have been playing. Tonight, is about ourselves.
We have to put in a performance that shows we have addressed our effort areas, and I have no doubt that we will take steps forward on this front. It may not be enough for victory this evening, particularly against a Cronulla side with a determined forward pack that will also be trying to avoid an 0-3 start to the season, but it will be the measure of our performance.
Attitude wins games in the long run, but tonight, we have to win the attitude battle, and as fans, it’s our job to both support and help inspire this within our team. We know they can do it, they know they can do it. Now it’s just time to do it.
N.B: I’d love to know how a player like Trent Hodkinson, who wasn’t listed in the original 21-man squad, has been allowed to take his place in the Sharks side tonight. It seems to defeat the purpose of naming the 21-man squad every Tuesday, does it not? For Brian Canavan to say “a rigorous process was applied in ensuring the right outcome was reached” when he was asked to comment on Hodkinson’s inclusion, in my mind, simply isn’t enough.
As supporters, we support – and that includes the governing body – but we can only support when context is provided. A better explanation was required on this particular front.
How can you expect supporters to accept this outcome when it’s not further explained? What process has to be applied and outcomes met for this to take place?
By all means Cronulla, or another team (including our own) have every right to make these applications and to subsequently achieve these outcomes when they don’t have a player in the 21-man squad to replace someone who has succumbed to an injury like Matt Moylan did – we just want to know what those processes were and what criteria has to be met for a decision to be greenlit, and alternatively, what criteria has not been met when a request is knocked back?
It creates congruency, sets a precedent and engages the fans by communicating with and to them. Rugby league supporters are the NRL’s number one stakeholder and we should be treating them as such. This is by no means an attack on Brian, the NRL, Trent Hodkinson, the Sharks or anyone else – and I hope that it is not received in this way, I’m sure they have their perfectly acceptable reasons for reaching this outcome – all that we ask is that there is transparency and clear communication about the processes that exist behind these decisions.
All images courtesy of the Parramatta Eels, NRL.com and Getty Images.