And so it seems that 11 rounds can be a long time in the NRL.
Let me refer back to a quote from my Round 1 “From The Stands” post.
“The pleasing moment was the beautiful try to seal the game. In isolation that try looks simple but it was set up in the previous 77 minutes. All day Dylan Brown went short to Lane but not this time. The team outsmarted them, with pure, well planned and patient football and it was wonderful to watch.”
Those words seem such a distant memory, and yet the horrors of 2018 are now seeming so vivid.
There was no patience, there was no discipline with the ball, there was no football smarts and of most concern, there was a distinct lack of team work.
Players were trying to win it alone, stepping outside their role to try the miracle pass or kick. Players were running one out with no threat of an offload or support play. Players were taking the easy options.
Fundamental errors, such as dropping a ball with no pressure on you, are unforgivable. Yet, it’s an easy fix – if you cannot get the fundamentals right, you don’t deserve to play first grade. Consecutive games in which a player makes basic errors under no pressure or fatigue is not acceptable.
To be clear, this is not me demanding a player’s demotion. In committing error upon error, week after week, the players are themselves demanding to be given a spell in reggies.
This last week has been a big step backwards. For everyone.
I’m on record in my support of BA, but he is not above criticism.
My main criticism of Brad last year was his team selection. In 2018 he picked a team based on the best footy players available, finding a spot for them in the team. We all remember quotes like ‘this or that player has to play’. It hurt us last year and it killed us last Thursday.
The most obvious example against the Panthers was Blake Ferguson.
Fergo is a quality winger and a decent centre. Even if he didn’t spill so much of the ball against the Panthers, even if he came up with the match winning miracle play, he is still a better winger than a centre. His strength is defusing bombs, making strong carries in set starts and finishing off tries, His skill set is not found in setting up outside men.
In rugby league, you should not weaken one position to try to strengthen another.
The reality is that this Ferguson selection weakened both.
However, the most inappropriate selection I observed from the stands was Will Smith.
Let’s consider how we’ve won games this year. We’ve won with our halves going to the line with the ball in hand, delivering late passes to our centres, Gutho or edge backrowers.
That is not Will Smith’s skill set.
Smith is a runner of the ball who plays off instinct. His style of game as a playmaker does not suit the attacking style we developed over summer and in the early rounds. To ask him to play a completely unnatural game is both unfair and unrealistic, and to put him into a structure that does not complement his style of play is illogical.
The outcome from the selection spoke for itself.
That edge looked lost. No one was on the same page because Will Smith was playing a style of game that did not suit those around him.
Obviously our best option is Dylan Brown but, of course, he is unavailable. So what of Jaeman Salmon?
It could be justifiably argued that at this point in their careers, Smith is a better footballer than Salmon. This may be true, but from the stands it is obvious that Salmon’s style as a playmaker is a better fit for our team structure. It may not be perfect, and it is certainly not as good as Dylan Brown, but it is a better fit.
It will be interesting to see how team selections play out in the coming weeks, but if BA keeps picking the best 17 footy players, and not the best players for each position and for the team’s structure, then I think we are in for a long season.
But there is a proviso, and it falls squarely on the players.
The players must step up in a big way, because even if team selections are spot on, winning can only be achieved if every player is prepared to play as a team, to play with discipline, to stick to a game plan and to trust that the structures and style developed all preseason will hold up.
Put simply, they cannot win without each other. They cannot win if they don’t commit to executing as a team.
From the stands on Thursday night I saw athletes playing football in a blue and gold jersey, but I did not see my team play. There were no combinations, and very little play that could be remotely associated with teamwork. Apart from “give the ball to Fergo”, there was no evidence of how they were trying to break the Panthers down.
We scored early by attacking the young Panthers winger and then left him alone for the rest of the game. It was dumb football.
Sitting behind the goal posts is a wonderful place to view the game. When things are going well, you can see the skill and work off the ball as the play unfolds.
But that same end on perspective from the stands also delivers some cold hard facts. And on Thursday night it looked like the players on the field thought they did not have to do a lot to beat the Panthers. You could see it in how they responded to dropped balls and errors.
By the time they woke up and realised that Penrith could actually beat them, in about the 72nd minute, it was too late.
The game was gone.
Gift wrapped and tagged –
“To the Riff,
with much love,
However, disappointed as I am, Friday will see my family and I return to those same stands.
You see, as supporters we all have a long term relationship with this club. So we keep paying our coin for memberships, we turn up at games – 16 thousand of us did that on a Thursday night after our team had lost consecutive matches on the road. That’s the type of genuine relationship most supporters have with the Eels.
Supporters are the 18th player in the team. We fronted in numbers on Thursday night. We committed to do our job. Could the same be said of the 17 out in the middle?
Across the pre-season, that word “relationships” got plenty of air time from the team. We heard much about building relationships as the way forward. It seemed that progress had been made.
Unfortunately, what looked like progress now has all the signs of a false dawn.
At its core, strong relationships are built on integrity, honesty and respect for one another. Therefore, it is up to these players and coaches to be real with each other. And it must begin now, not in another pre-season.
So let’s be honest.
There are some players that need to be dropped because they have let the team down. The mistakes in defence or attack are giving us no chance to win. If tough decisions are made off the field, the on field performances can only benefit.
Few of us can rationalise how a young player like Oregon Kafusi, who’s only been given limited game time, is being held accountable for a raft of errors being made when he’s not out there. Similarly, it’s difficult to justify that the team has improved without Jaemon Salmon.
Yet, these are the only two players who’ve paid the price for the defeats by the Storm and Cowboys. Many more players had a far greater hand in those defeats.
Our team leaders need to be both smart and real. The fans are not blind and quite frankly, the time for picking players who have featured in failing Eels teams for years is over. These players, talented as they may be, have had long enough to prove their worth and if they cannot do the job determined by the number they have on their back, put someone in who can.
We need our playmakers to take control and the others to get out of the way.
We need our props to go forward and to move up in defence.
We need our wingers to hold the ball and run hard.
In other words we need our players to do their job, fullfill the role so the team can function.
They need to be prepared to get in the arm wrestle, to get hurt.
They need be composed.
They need to make the tough run when the game has their lungs bursting.
They need to follow a game plan.
And most importantly, and there can be no compromising on this, they need to bring the right attitude.
From the stands, supporters like me see this as quite simple. We will only have a chance against the Rabbits if we pick our best available team, not our most talented 17 players. We don’t want players who can add an occasional grab for their highlights package. We need a team that will put the Blue and Gold in the best position to win games.
Over to you boys, especially our leaders. Find the team again, because going it alone as 17 individuals is not working. It never will.