What a mixed bag I witnessed from the stands last Friday night. From the praiseworthy to the deeply concerning, the balance unfortunately fell into debit and the result was another loss.
Firstly, it’s important to praise the resilience, pride and determination displayed by most of our players against the Rabbitohs. The effort was present, they played some really good skillful footy, and they showed me that there is much to be hopeful about because they showed me unequivocally that they care about this team, our club and us fans. Thank you to those players.
I noted and admired the work of Nathan Brown, Tim Mannah, Manu Mau and Daniel Alvaro. I really enjoyed the energy and discipline brought to the game by Peni Terepo. I like the fact that young players are being given chances to improve, become better and more consistent.
Importantly I was able to walk away from the game content that my team, especially our much criticised pack, did not give up and showed some pride in the jersey.
I make no demands of our coaches or management because ultimately I have no control over decisions that are made and nor should I. I am no expert, I have no knowledge of what events are transpiring behind closed doors.
However, the question I asked myself while watching the game and the question that dominated the office lunch room discussion on Friday was, “You cannot repeatedly defend that poorly, what is going on?”
Given where the defensive errors were occurring, it follows that one can legitimately ask about when elite players need to be dropped or rested from first grade.
In recent weeks it was a question answered by shifting Corey Norman to fullback. His form in the halves was impacting the form of others around him, so a change was made. The same could now be asked of other players, and in particular, Michael Jennings.
This post is not meant as a Michael Jennings witch hunt. I am legitimately concerned about what is happening to such a gifted player.
What I witnessed on Thursday night was not okay for any experienced, talented and professional athlete. Worse still it was not an isolated incident. His errors have continued game after game, errors that have had an impact on the Eels fortunes in matches.
Make no mistake, Michael Jennings in form is a no brainer selection. He’s like a Rolls Royce in the backline – a sleek speed machine that only needs the slightest opportunity and he’ll be in open pastures.
The 2018 version is nothing like the Jenko we’ve all come to know. The simplest aspects of the game, especially handling, have become a challenge. His defence, often touted as the best in the game, is now fragile.
This version of Michael Jennings seems devoid of confidence, both in himself and in those around him. His decisions appear flawed, his focus seems completely at sea.
It can be validly argued that there are no options beyond selecting him in first grade. Looking through the Wenty line up, nobody deserves a call up.
But can anybody honestly say that his current form is helping the team? Just as importantly, is his continued selection doing him any favours?
What would we do if Jennings had been injured in this last game? We would have to come up with a solution. I would argue that he is currently playing injured. His confidence is torn and his focus is ruptured. He needs time to rehabilitate for his long term good and for the good of the team. He has a contract option in his favour for next year. At this rate, long term damage is being done.
Of course, this is just my opinion. I am not privy to all the facts. The players and coaches will have an understanding of why these things are happening and how or even if they can be rectified. They understand the player, his psyche, and what will work best for him. Nonetheless, there is a problem and it’s difficult to see how you can find a solution without making some type of change. Even if it’s a positional change – as will probably happen with other players when Moses returns – we need a solution.
A spell in ISP is not the end of the line. Current Origin players such as Damien Cook, Latrell Mitchell and Josh Addo-Carr weathered form fluctuations and spent time, significant time, in the lower grades as a result. They found their way back onto the road to elite football. The last thing our Eels team and Michael Jennings needs is a road block. In my opinion, his continued selection as a first grade centre, right now, is just that.
Before finishing this post, let’s not use this as an opportunity to bag an out of form player. When you play a single first grade game you’ve achieved more than most people who’ve ever laced up a boot. When you clock up 250 first grade games, you’re in the special category. But it doesn’t make you exempt from selection debate.
So, let’s consider any responses from this perspective – do we have options to an out of form star and would it benefit Jenko (or any elite player) to find his form in ISP?