I really missed being in the stands watching the Eels take on the Panthers. Though they are our western Sydney rivals, the Panthers are a very good football team and I was looking forward to watching them live to see if our boys could go with them.
I might detest the outright hypocrisy that Ivan Cleary continually demonstrates almost every time he opens his mouth, but I cannot hold that against a group of young men from Western Sydney who simply want to play good, entertaining and highly competitive football.
On top of missing the atmosphere at the ground, I had to choose between the commentary of Phil Gould or Michael Ennis. I selected Ennis.
Listening to Ennis commentate is akin to watching a person take the wrong cheat sheet into the exam who, even after realising their mistake, decides to use the notes anyway.
During three consecutive sets in the first half he made these comments.
Firstly, Parra are not posing any threat just getting to their kicks.
Then, when the Panthers were in the next set, passing wide and dropping the ball, Ennis chose to criticise them for not playing to the conditions when he said they needed to play simple football and just get to their kick.
Next set, Parra shifted the ball as he had previously called for and dropped it. Ennis then stated that Parra needed to play with patience.
Imagine what someone new to our sport would think if they heard that commentary. Ennis was a fantastic player and I think he does have a great footy mind. But just like our Eels mid-way through the season, he has improvement left in him with his commentary. His contradictions are extraordinary!
Parra fans have the right to hold whatever view on the game and team they want, but I’d like them to be smart. That comes from forming your own opinion, not one influenced by people who I doubt genuinely commentate. I doubt that these experts give their real views and are more likely towing the company line that enables the newspaper to be filled with pointless articles that generate clicks in the days when no footy is played.
I get annoyed when listening to really knowledgeable and smart ex footy players who take the easy option to jump on the bandwagon and shout trending opinions from the rooftop. They know better than most that what they are saying in commentary is rubbish. I expect it from tabloid journalists but not ex international players.
My thoughts on the match are based on what I witnessed. Parra showed that they can match the Panthers up front and that is crucial. I needed to see on Friday night that Parra could defend against the Panthers and I did.
I also think come September, on a dry track and with Mahoney back firing, Parra have a big chance to cause some upsets and make an impact. The Eels have the right balance in the forward pack to do it.
After watching the footy over the weekend and closely following trends over the past two months, I am more convinced than ever that this year’s premiership will be won by the team that can get into the top four with a fit, first choice, starting dummy half. In the Storm’s case, that extends to their second dummy half along with key forwards who can play big minutes and offload.
Most commentators follow the same script that the new rule interpretations have opened the game up for the small players like Walsh and Walker and have also given space to the speedy outside backs.
The rule interpretations have had an impact, but not in the way this script would tell you. The small, fast players and speedy backs might be the ones scoring the tries but that is not where the games are won and it does not explain why Melbourne have become so lethal, especially when you consider the absence of their small, quick fullback.
Before the six again rule, the game was influenced by control of the ruck. However, with the new rules, it’s gone a step further as dominance in the ruck decides almost every game. It is ironic that the rule that was designed to take away the dominance in the ruck has in fact doubled down and made it more important when it comes to victory.
The stats from this year prove it.
If a team has a lot of dummy half runs and keep their offloads high in a game, they win. If you get a referee that loves a six again, like Adam Gee or Grant Atkins, having good dummy half runners becomes the pathway to success.
The numbers from the NRL Match Centre website for the Eels, Roosters and the Storm show how true this is. It is amazing that the tallies for dummy half runs plus offloads almost perfectly aligns with the ladder positions of teams. I can only lament the fact that highly paid professional journalists and commentators don’t seek to be informed about such trends.
Let’s start with our Eels, examining three of our victories and three of our defeats (NB all of our game stats for dummy half runs and offloads all follow the same trend).
It is clear that Gutherson, Opacic and Mahoney are our main dummy half runners. They get us moving forward in the ruck. It is this, along with offloads, which creates the space for our outside backs.
In round 2 against the Storm, Parra had 12 dummy half runs and 10 offloads.
In round 3 against the Sharks, Parra again had 12 dummy half runs, this time with 15 offloads.
Finally, against the Roosters, Parra had 10 dummy half runs all up and 15 offloads.
Across these matches, all but two of the dummy half runs were shared by the same three players.
In all three games most Parra fans commented that we stayed patient and wore down our opposition. These stats show that we held the ball and made the opposition players in the middle of the field accountable. Opposition middle forwards were made to make repeated tackles and therefore they could not shift early to help their outside men and in turn this opened up space for our ball players and classy outside backs.
Crucially, Parramatta’s defeats highlight the result when the exact opposite curs and demonstrate how crucial dummy half running is for our team.
Against Manly Parra had 5 dummy half runs. Tom T had 5 dummy half runs by himself.
Against the Rabbitohs we had 4 dummy half runs and 13 offloads whilst they had 12 dummy half runs and 9 offloads.
Against Penrith, Parra had 5 dummy half runs and 18 offloads.
This demonstrates that for the Eels to win, running from dummy half is crucial. Therefore getting Mahoney back, keeping him fresh and firing, will be so very important for us having a shot in the Finals.
It is also why I desperately hope that BA does not go back to having four forwards on the bench. We need a capable replacement for Mahoney who can either cover an injury or give him a rest in games. In my view you can not play the current game against a good team without a top-class dummy half.
But to comment on a trend in the game it has to go beyond Parra. So, let’s look at the Roosters.
In round 1 they thrashed a Turboless Manly. Both Friend and Keary were playing. The Roosters had 11 dummy half runs and 8 offloads. Manly had 3 dummy half runs and 8 offloads.
In their Round 6 defeat against Melbourne, they had just 5 dummy half runs and 7 offloads. Watching Melbourne from this game will blow your mind.
Victory against the Dragons in round 7, without Friend and Keary, had them making 13 dummy half runs and 16 offloads.
In the past round loss to the Storm they had 8 dummy half runs (four coming in the first 15 minutes) and 7 offloads.
The stats for the Roosters read exactly the same as the Eels. Get 10-13 dummy half runs a game you will most likely win. Get over that and you are almost guaranteed to win.
But this is just two teams – what about other clubs?
If, like me, you have been wondering how the Storm keep staying at the top I think it has everything to do with the absolute football intelligence in their coaching and recruitment staff. They must see the trends before they start and position themselves to take the ultimate advantage of new rules or new interpretations. You may despise them, like I do, but I must applaud their ability to stay one step ahead of everyone else.
In the off season they told Brandon Smith he could leave, now he is staying. They are going to have two expensive dummy halves on their roster.
Why would they do that, especially as they are normally so consistent with managing the salary cap and letting players go?
Have a look the numbers from this sample of Storm games listed below. I reckon it exemplifies why the new rules have made the gap between the top and bottom teams so big. I have included their two losses to demonstrate how well the Eels and Panthers has to play to achieve their wins.
Rd 1 Victory against the Rabbitohs, 13 dummy half runs
Rd 2 Defeat to the Eels, 21 dummy half runs.
Rd 3 Defeat to the Panthers, 14 dummy half runs
Rd 6 Victory against the Roosters, 24 dummy half runs (16 between the two dummy halves)
Rd 9 Victory against the Rabbitohs, 15 dummy half runs
Rd 11 Victory against the Raiders, 22 dummy half runs (Grant did not play)
Rd 15 against the Tigers, 13 dummy half runs
I could literally put up every game for the Storm. They utilise multiple players across the field who realise the importance of dummy half running.
They also know when to stay in the middle as they understand that they will either get a repeat set call or a quick play the ball because the opposition is too afraid of giving away a repeat set.
If they get the repeat set they will tire the opposition out and the big forwards will score, if they get a quick play the ball they shift it quickly to their speedy outside backs and they score.
No wonder they decided to keep Brandon Smith and are being ultra conservative with Harry Grant and his injuries.
With these new rules a team with both Harry Grant and Brandon Smith controlling the ruck and running from dummy half is going to be exceptionally hard to beat.
As I see it, the only teams that will beat them in finals footy will be those who also employ smart dummy half running.
Therefore, the Panthers need to keep Api fit, the Rabbitohs need to keep Cook fit and we need to keep Reed fit. In fact, judge Parra’s attack when Mahoney is fit.
On a side note, it is interesting that Tom Turbo runs more from dummy half than any other fullback, making up the runs Manly miss from having a genuine running dummy half.
In this new version of rugby league created by Mr V’landys and the NRL suit-wearers, the dummy half has arguably become the most valuable commodity.
The numbers prove it.