Welcome to the inaugural edition of “Sixties Mind-Trip”.
In any week, there’s a mixed bag of moments in the NRL which captures the interest or the outrage of punters. Often times I’ll quickly tweet on the topic. On other occasions, when warranted, I’ll put it under “The Spotlight”.
But in the stream of consciousness that drifts through the mind of Sixties (look out, I’m referring to myself in the third person), those vehicles are not always “right on”.
And so “Sixties Mind-Trip” emerges from the TCT womb to collate my recent cognitive meanderings.
Let the journey begin, man.
What a Trip!
It’s incredible to think that we’ve reached the final round of the 2020 regular season.
Back in March, when COVID-19 began wreaking havoc on the world, and inevitably on the Australian community and our way of life, it seemed most unlikely that the NRL would be able to stage a viable and valid competition this year.
Yet, here we are, thanks to the tenacity and leadership of Peter V’landys and the sacrifices of people within their respective bubbles.
Amidst a barrage of questionably motivated criticism (I’m pointing at you Peter Fitzsimmons), the NRL was the leader in the return of professional sport in Australia.
It’s not just rugby league fans who should be grateful.
The Eels Finals Campaign Begins Now
It’s said that finals footy is a whole new ball game. No longer are there 16 teams competing to progress, it’s eight. And the reality is that each of those eight teams only need to win between three and four games to take the title.
Instead of planning to manage an entire season of matches, the preparation becomes more focussed. And though coaches and players will utter the cliche of “one week at a time” during the season, it’s this time of year when that truly applies.
For the Parramatta Eels, I don’t view this weekend as the final Premiership round. As far as I’m concerned, this Saturday marks the first week of the finals. Just like a final, the consequence is immediate.
The result from this one match literally places a grading on the previous 19 rounds.
A victory presents Parra with the reward of a second chance the following week, or even better, the fast track to a grand final qualifier. The Eels have completed the hard yards and deserve a Top 4 placing, yet it is this one clash that cements that outcome.
Defeat at the hands of the Tigers loses a chunk of what they’ve worked towards since November last year. Should the Raiders win as expected, a loss places the Eels into sudden death football the following week.
Accordingly, the preparation and attitude of the team must be the equivalent of a finals campaign.
Would any Top 4 team enter the first week of the finals without giving their all? Would they be thinking, “we can lose this week and still get one more chance?“
It’s a captain obvious answer. Consider this Parramatta’s first week of finals footy.
Good teams thrive on the pressure that comes with that territory. In those clubs, each one of the 17 knows and understands their role, they trust and communicate with the players around them, and the non-negotiable – they keep their faith in the processes.
These mindset KPIs underpin every aspect of the match. Whether it’s attack or defence, whether it’s straightening an attack or numbering up in defence, whether it’s structured or unstructured play, if it’s not right in their heads, what’s produced is less likely to be good enough.
The Eels need to be good enough.
A “Stickying” Point
For all of my admiration of the NRL and Peter V’landys, one aspect which has not improved during 2020 has been consistency and transparency.
Case in point, Ricky Stuart’s conduct during and after the Raiders victory over the Warriors.
In a moment of rage following an unfavourable decision, footage was captured of Stuart hurling a water bottle from the coach’s box into the stand.
The reaction from journalist James Hooper spoke volumes about the disconnect between some of the media and the average fan.
“People say he threw a water bottle, it was plastic, it didn’t hit anybody, there was nobody in the crowd in front of him so I’m not sure what the outrage there could be about.”
Should any spectator be stupid enough to throw a projectile at the footy or any sports event, you can guarantee that the “I didn’t hit anyone” rationalisation would not wash when consequences were being handed down.
Worse still, Stuart is a figurehead in the game, an NRL coach, a representative of his club and the code. Dare I say it, he’s a role model.
Where is the consequence? Where is the explanation for the lack of consequence? What happened to transparency?
Not satisfied with venting his rage with the bottle throwing tantrum, Stuart then doubled down by taking aim at the match official in his presser.
“I don’t need to say anything more about it, but…”
Yes, that not saying anything turned into saying plenty as he unloaded on the inequity of the penalties and how the sin bin decision was incorrect.
Did his comments question the integrity of the officials? The media and the NRL obviously decided that they didn’t because he’s been given a free pass on comments like this:
“I don’t think it went both ways in terms of what we were being penalised for…..When you see the opposition do exactly the same thing, i expect the penalty to be there too.”
I don’t think it went both ways….
Isn’t that suggesting that only one team was being penalised? Ivan Cleary was rightly fined for stating that Canberra was managed back into their game against his Penrith team.
Finally, we have Mr Annesley’ response to Stuart’s tirade – “I’ve got nothing to say publicly about Ricky’s views. Ricky and I will talk and we’ll sort that out.”
Phil Rothfield elaborated on this on NRL360, “Ricky did the right thing, he rang him (Annesley) today, early this morning, and they’ve agreed to have a bite to eat and some lunch at the end of the season.”
Transparency, thy name is NRL. (Please add requisite sarcastic tone)
(Edit – A couple of hours after this post was published, the NRL issued a suspended $10000 fine to Stuart for his bottle throwing and comments. They’ve basically said that they have served him with a good-behaviour bond. Is this a free pass? This is basically saying “don’t do it again or else!” Or does the punishment fit the crime? Does every coach get or deserve a warning for such conduct? Feel free to comment in the replies)
Junior Doesn’t Front Jury
It’s difficult to criticise Junior Paulo and the Eels for not contesting the ridiculous “dangerous contact – other” charge.
The injury to Fifita was unfortunate but to find fault with the defender was absurd in the extreme. To quote BA, it wasn’t even worthy of a penalty.
But the Eels would have been reflecting on past trips to the judiciary which rarely result in a favourable outcome.
In his Monday briefing, Annesley presented a sequence of similar incidents from the past three seasons by way of highlighting the danger of such tackles. I’m not sure that a judiciary defence is able to use footage of equivalent tackles in their evidence, but this montage was certainly being presented as justification of the charge if not the guilt.
What chance would the Eels have had in defending Paulo?
Annesley’s presentation included what were obviously a couple of deliberate hip drops onto lower legs, but there were also what were surely a couple of accidental injuries to players.
Would any of these tackles be reviewed were there not injuries?
Players beware! It’s obvious that the Match Review Committee will put any tackle that results in injury under the microscope. If you lean the wrong way or your body turns as a result of momentum in such a tackle, expect a suspension.
That’s if there’s any consistency. There’s no doubt that many accidental injuries will be labelled as deliberate hip drops and deliberate acts will escape scrutiny.
Will players now stay down when their lower leg feels trapped? I probably shouldn’t open that can of worms.
And as for Junior, I’m more convinced than ever that he didn’t belong in any such montage. His guilty plea means he’ll now carry 75 points into the end of season games.
Don’t fart mate or you’ll be suspended.