The phone rings….
“Hey mate, BA here. We’re a player down after Browny’s brain snap last Thursday. I’m interested in your take on our starting pack and bench.”
No, that call won’t be coming. But imagine if it did.
Every supporter is an amateur coach and selector, and that’s what makes rugby league great.
Everyone has an opinion.
Just for a moment, imagine that you are some sort of footy savant, a genius at understanding a team’s needs and what particular players provide. A secret society of NRL coaches know your talents as Jack Gibson reincarnated, but it’s a closely guarded secret and they don’t abuse your wisdom.
But now, it’s crunch time for the Eels and the call has come.
What do you recommend?
There’s a few factors at play that you’ll probably consider.
Blake Ferguson Returns
In this likely scenario, Fergo comes back onto the wing, with Taka shifting to the bench to take a forward role.
You then need to find a middle forward to take Brown’s place.
Is this Peni Terepo? He didn’t play on Thursday night but he produced a solid effort for Wenty in their victory over the third placed Dogs at Ringrose on Saturday.
But does Peni possess Brown’s defensive mobility? Can he play Brown’s minutes?
Perhaps there are other options.
Other Forward Options
It’s arguable that the bench has failed to produce the necessary impact over the last two weeks.
Is the time right for change?
Tepai is moving on to rugby union and has been given minimal game time. Would there be more value in playing either Oregon Kaufusi or debuting Stefano Utoikamanu?
It would be a big call to introduce less experienced players against Brisbane or Manly, with a finals match looming. Both Oregon and Stefano will have NRL careers, and both have been producing the goods for Wenty.
In yesterday’s Canterbury Cup match, Utoikamanu was a standout. He played 60 minutes, topped the tackle count with 44 and made 133 running metres (54 post contact), one line break, five tackle breaks, one offload as well as scoring a try.
Coming off the bench, Kaufusi played 51 minutes, ran for 94 metres (33 post contact), and made 26 tackles.
Would you take a punt with the young guns at this stage of the season?
Kaufusi hasn’t let the team down in his limited NRL appearances, and Utoikamanu looks like an NRL player in every Wenty match. They are the future. Is the future now?
Does a warhorse like Tim Mannah come back into calculations? His career could be coming to a close, but he has the NRL runs on the board. He also produced a stunning 189 running metres (69 post contact), 5 tackle breaks and two offloads yesterday.
Any of these options are probably more appropriate for replacing Tepai, not covering for Brown and his mobility in the middle.
Does the club have a suitable like for like during Brown’s absence?
Earlier in the season, pundits were calling for Reed Mahoney to be given a break. That was initially provided via the inclusion of Jaeman Salmon on the bench, and more recently, by Clint Gutherson slotting into dummy half in attack.
Though this time in a match has not proved costly to the team, the down side of using Gutherson is that it removes the fullback from our attacking shapes and makes the Eels attack less effective.
Is the time right to revisit using Salmon off the bench?
Last Saturday, Ray Stone returned from injury off the bench in Wenty’s clash with the Dogs. What was significant is that he played dummy half during his stints on the field yet still produced 81 running metres. If he pulls up fit and well, he could be a viable option for covering Mahoney.
Do you decide to have a bench spot for Stone? His aggression and mobility is similar to Brown, and he can cover for Mahoney. His selection would change the dynamic of the bench and he could remain on the field after deputising for Mahoney on either side of half time.
Both Manu Ma’u and Shaun Lane can play a middle role. Ma’u especially could cover for Brown’s mobility, but then the team would miss the impact of either he or Lane on the edge. It would go against the rule of never weakening one position to cover for another.
Were you to consider moving either to the middle, their role on the edge in the starting team could be taken by either Brad Takairangi or Marata Niukore. Both have experience there, though each seems to have found their best form in other roles.
Niukore in particular has brought the impact off the bench to the middle. Is it best to leave him there or could he be considered for a starting role to replace Brown?
Arthur is just over 24 hours away from naming his team. Let’s assume that Ferguson is returning.
If that call came for your input, what would be your starting pack and bench?
Do you decide to do more than simply replacing Brown?
Over to you.