Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 11 2014

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from the eleventh round of the season, the first round to be impacted with byes.

On the cusp of Origin game one we look at surprising completion statistics which fired teams to wins and why a sacked coach might have been right about a player after all. Starting in Canberra with the Raiders. Playing North Queensland, the Green Machine were 12-point leaders at the break courtesy of a Jack Wighton try on the interval and with the game still in the balance the Raiders raced away to win by 30 points in the second half. Interestingly though Ricky Stuart’s outfit seemed to be doing their best to gift their opponents multiple chances to get back in the game by completing only 11 of their 20 second half sets (55%). The Cowboys fared little better completing only nine of their 15 sets (60%.) Their own profligacy ruined any chance of a comeback for Paul Green’s men despite Curtis Rona’s try early in the second stanza. Overall the poor handling also somewhat dispelled the myth of day games producing better spectacles.

During Neil Henry’s reign at 1300 Smiles Stadium it was often queried as to why the now-20 year-old Jason Taumalolo could not get a spot given the early promise the rampaging forward had shown. This had resulted in the boom player getting elevated to a New Zealand squad in 2012 but unable to nail down a spot under Henry’s tutelage. However the 2013 Tongan World Cup representative seems to have gotten more of a run under Green but he was well off his game defensively as the Cowboys were dispatched in the afore-mentioned 42-12 loss to Canberra. Taumalolo, missing 7 of the 25 tackles he attempted off the bench, will need to pick up his game against the Melbourne Storm in round 12.

Eighth-placed Brisbane’s Ben Hunt has become a key cog for the Broncos and one of the most improved halves in the competitions this season. Targeted when in defense Hunt was required to make 24 tackles and missed only one in their controversial two-point triumph over the Wests Tigers. So whilst the plaudits have come for the 24 year-old’s playmaking ability he has improved in that manner whilst also maintaining a high standard in defense, The Rockhampton product had also made 19 tackles in the week prior when Anthony Griffin’s side beat the Gold Coast by 14 points.

Ahead of round 12 it’s interesting to note that since the New Zealand Warriors last played at their ‘home’ ground of Mt Smart Stadium in the Auckland suburb of Penrose on August 31 2013 in addition to changing their own coach the Warriors have seen five other NRL clubs (Canberra, Cronulla, North Queensland, Parramatta, and St George Illawarra) either sack their coach or have them replaced.

Last week in Five Metre Gap we said the following “I’m sure (Benji) Marshall won’t by the last player to fall victim to Hayne’s quick thinking and given his sole training session with halves partner Gareth Widdop prior to the fixture one can expect marked improvement given the fortnight of training with St George Illawarra on the bye this weekend.” Unluckily for Marshall, and his teammates, the decision by the club to sack Steve Price as coach means any benefit they may have derived in spending a fortnight in preparing and game-planning for South Sydney with be negated by a week of upheaval at the joint-venture franchise.

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 10 2014

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from the tenth round of the season.

Firstly a tip of the hat to Ricky Stuart’s rant not only was the Canberra coach right in his referee criticism but he managed to drive more traffic to Five Metre Gap due to this blog’s placement on rugbyleaguehub.com to his fiery post-match press conference. So for that we are very thankful. Staying on the Raiders controversial loss to Penrith and the case of Jack Wighton is an interesting one. Wighton, 21, was expected to spend season 2014 as a key playmaker in the halves but after just short of a three month this experience appears to be on hold. The Orange native made 12 runs, had three tackles breaks and picked up on try assist playing on the Raiders right edge at centre as they were beaten 26-20 by Penrith in Canberra as Josh McCrone returned to the halves. With boom halfback Mitch Cornish named on the bench for round 11 (and centre Matt Allwood joining the Warriors at season’s end) it may seem the Wighton-to-the-halves project is temporarily shelved.

Was Benji Marshall all that bad in his return to the NRL? After his dalliance with the 15-man code Marshall returned to rugby league wearing the Red V as the Dragons were humbled 36-0 by Parramatta on Saturday afternoon. Marshall had one miss tackle and also threw an intercept which led to one of Jarryd Hayne’s two tries*. I’m sure Marshall won’t by the last player to fall victim to Hayne’s quick thinking and given his sole training session with halves partner Gareth Widdop prior to the fixture one can expect marked improvement given the fortnight of training with St George Illawarra on the bye this weekend.

After a stuttering start to the year the fifth-placed Melbourne Storm registered their first double-digit triumph of the season and did it in typical fashion as they ran-out 27-14 winners over South Sydney on Friday evening. Melbourne kept the Rabbitohs scoreless for the final 30 minutes of the fixture and also completed 16 of 18 sets in the second half as the former protégé Michael Maguire was ’out-Bellamy-ed’ but the former mentor – Craig Bellamy the Storm coach. Some have written off Melbourne this season, however if the Victorian outfit keep pace with the top four during the Origin period anything is possible.

Much has been made of Shaun Johnson’s failure to look to his inside as teammates were calling for the ball before the New Zealand halfback was hauled down and bundled into touch by a brilliant Josh Morris tackle late in the Warrior’s 16-12 loss in Hamilton. However whilst that error can be somewhat forgiven as he thought he had to momentum what might not be forgiven so easily by coach Andrew McFadden was the 23 year-old getting tackled with the ball on the last tackle in the subsequent attacking set. Johnson has been guilty of this before in season 2014 and whilst confidence in attack is important the Kiwi halfback can’t help his team if he is rising from the play the ball out of position.

Aidan Guerra, the only looming change for the Maroons in Origin game one, has certainly earnt his spot with an astonishing work rate in his last two games. The Roosters lock has made 80 tackles in the last two games combined and also pitched in with 18 runs and a try assist for good measure. He ran nine teams in each of the last two matches, one a convincing loss at the hands of North Queensland and the other a 24-point thumping of the Wests Tigers. This was all whilst averaging 56 minutes per match.

*denotes – Thanks to Geoff who points out it was indeed Corey Norman and not Jarryd Hayne who benefitted from a wayward Benji Marshall pass to race away and score.

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 9 2014

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from the ninth weekend of the season.

So Mitchell Pearce, the incumbent New South Wales halfback, will be missing this weekend for the Sydney Roosters due to off-field indiscretions. What impact will this have as the Roosters travel to North Queensland? Not a lot if we look at the recent efforts of his partner in the halves, and NSW teammate, James Maloney. Maloney had five try assists to Pearce’s none over the course of the Roosters last two matches which were both victories. There was a similar tackle bust count of three for Pearce and two for the former Ourimbah junior. Whilst Maloney created plenty that’s not to say the 25 year-old hasn’t done his fair share of direction for the star-studded pack and reigning premiers but the loss should be minimal against the Cowboys on Saturday night in Townsville given these statistics. In addition to all of the above the player replacing Pearce in the halves, Sonny Bill Williams, has a fair record in the sport.

Plenty of talk since the St George Illawarra Dragons signed Benji Marshall after his short-lived stint in rugby union has centred on his possible defensive liabilities. After suffering a 32-point loss to the Bulldogs after a 20-point defeat to the Roosters Steve Price’s team have one key focus against the Eels on Saturday. Whilst defence was never Marshall’s strong point one would think he would hardly be able to improve greatly, or be considered significantly a fault, for any change if we look at the last two matches for the joint-venture side. Against Canterbury Joel Thompson and Bronson Harrison missed three tackles each but playmaker Gareth Widdop ‘topped’ the statistic with six misses. That stat isn’t unusual for a playmaker, Johnathan Thurston often misses that amount, but if your teammate is also missing that amount it can be very concerning. A fortnight earlier the Dragon’s misses were more spread around the team, but even more profligate. Trent Merrin missed six tackles and five others players each missed three or more. Interestingly, halfbacks Sam Williams (one v Bulldogs) and Michael Witt (two v Roosters) weren’t as inadequate in that regard so read into that what you will given Marshall is set to play number 7.

Speaking of the Bulldogs versus Dragons game one Tim Lafai try was a good and a bad example of the Dragons recent efforts in defence. Facing a huge overlap two passes before the 44th minute and third try for Lafai the Red V defence was able to scramble to rectify the numbers disadvantage but NSW origin hopeful Josh Dugan mistimed his attempt at cover whilst centre Gerard Beale, who was also going high with his tackle, slipped off as Lafai stepped back inside to score having beaten Widdop two paces earlier. Scrambling defence is good but you need to be thinking about where you will end up in attempting to make the tackle.

For once the Warriors aren’t facing the Five Metre Gap blowtorch in defence with an interesting occurrence in their comprehensive win over Canberra on Saturday. Prior to the first try it wasn’t as if the Warriors out-paced, or even greatly out-thought, Canberra for Ben Matulino’s four-pointer. Captain Simon Mannering was rolled onto his back in the tackle, managed to spill the ball up in the air before quickly re-gathering it and then playing the ball to acting half Nathan Friend. Despite this delay and optimum time to reset on their line Matt Allwood and Terry Campese were still deceived by the simple lead-up play before the big backrower crashed over to open the Warriors nine-try romp.

Whilst sides do their best to focus on winning matches the Gold Coast Titans have a surprising 157 points in total for season 2014 after nine games. Only second-last Newcastle (134) and bottom side Cronulla (135) have scored less with even misfiring Canberra in third-last having scored more points, 162. John Cartwright’s team still has a minus 13 for-and-against. Seventh-placed Wests Tigers with -14 are next in that regard. How long can the men from the sunshine state keep this statistical anomaly up whilst still occupying such a lofty spot on the ladder?

Five Metre Gap – Rugby League Representative Weekend May 2014

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the top flight rugby league action in Australia you may have missed from the representative weekend.

This weekend we take a slightly different tack with some points given we don’t have the same volume of matches to choose from but Five Metre Gap has found plenty from the five representative games staged on Australian soil.

Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney was rounded lambasted and then applauded, even though his team lost 30-18, in an odd take from the ‘what have you done for me lately’ crowd as 2013 World Cup winners Australia triumphed 30-18 over New Zeland on Friday night in Sydney. We said on this blog New Zealand’s exclusion of bench players like Frank-Paul Nuuausala was a risk and that his replacements would need to deliver. That they did in spades, as the whole 17 did for well over an hour. Last play options again cruelled New Zealand but coupled with more experience this side, with the addition of Kieran Foran and Issac Luke for the Four Nations, offers an exciting prospect.

Prior to the Kangaroos triumph a rare rugby league Triple Crown was capped at Allianz Stadium as the Women’s All Stars overcame their Indigenous counterparts 24-0. In doing so it completed the treble for Heather Ballinger, Ali Brigginshaw, Steph Hancock, Renae Kunst, Tahnee Norris, and Deanna Turner who also featured in Queensland’s winning interstate challenge (aka. women’s origin) side and Australia’s World Cup-winning squad in 2013. It could arguably be dubbed a four-legged celebration for playmaker Brigginshaw and backrower Norris given they were named in the World Dream Team following the Jillaroos triumph over New Zealand at the famed Headlingley venue last July, which ended the Kiwi’s 13-year strangehold on the crown.

Penrith hosted the Under 20s Origin fixture which offered a great lead-up to the test match between Fiji and Samoa. The value of the match offers something interesting for NRL coaches in my view, take Jake Mamo for example. The Newcastle winger has not been selected for round nine in the NRL but Wayne Bennett would have derived plenty of benefit for seeing the Gosford-born speedster scoring three tires, working with elite players of his same age and different ones to which he trains with day-in day-out at the Knights. It may have even confirmed Mamo’s spot as the next-in-line on the flank for the Hunter Valley side after his recent stint in first grade.

As was perhaps noted by other people but which I first saw suggested from Fox Sports stats guru Aaron Wallace the Fiji Samoa test match proved that a contest with value, I.e. the chance to join the Four Nations, can see and enthralling rugby league international doesn’t have to involve one of the ‘big three.’ It proved that the Four Nations on it’s own isn’t enough to capitalise on the success, financial and otherwise, of last year’s World Cup. Wallace suggested a Pacific Nations Cup (featuring Cook Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Tonga) running in conjunction with the Four Nations should be staged. I would even go a step further and offer up a one-up one-down promotion-relegation for the subsequent tournament which will continue to give meaning and build a narrative around international rugby league. Perhaps even by giving players a further match (and by design a pathway) to focus their attention on may mean players like Anthony Milford don’t elect to play for an under 20 side on the same night. If it means a player like Milford, who would clearly have added to the Samoan side despite their handy win, extends his test career before a possible run at a tier 1 nation so be it but the Pacific Nations Cup is worth exploring in a long-term format.

Moving inland to Dubbo and Daniel Tupou put forward a positive case for NSW selection despite the fact there are experienced Blues players ‘waiting in the wings’ (pardon the pun.) With minimal margins in recent Origin matches NSW needs to find a point of difference and one try per game plucked out of the air over a languishing Darius Boyd or Billy Slater could provide the required margin for New South Wales. With one wing jersey going to have the name Morris laminated on it already the Roosters and City Origin flyer seems a good variety for Blues coach Laurie Daley to have.