Souths coach Michael Maguire says possession is the key to winning the speed battle in the NRL in 2014. Copyright: Renee McKay/NRL Photos. Credit: NRL Photos/Renee McKay Copyright: NRL Photos/Renee McKay
Astute South Sydney coach Michael Maguire believes the seemingly ever-increasing speed of the game may have impacted his side in their recent three-game losing streak.
In a sport where speed trumps even the biggest, strongest and the most skilful of players, Maguire believes that the recent rules have quickened the game up to the point where possession is now truly the real key to winning games in the NRL.
"There's a lot of change in the speed of the game now with the quickening of the ruck and with things happening a little bit quicker, the focus [has shifted with] what you have to do with each play," Maguire said.
"The opportunities are starting to become greater with the speed of the game, so teams are pushing passes.
"If you don't have possession in a lot of the games that I've watched in the NRL now you tend to end up being the losing team. Whether that's the rules that have created that or the speed of the game, you can tell that the game's sped up so skill execution is a big thing."
Although they were last-start winners against the Dragons at the historic SCG with a 26-6 victory, the Rabbitohs still bumbled to 13 errors – something that Maguire realises will need to be a quickly fixed as the season progresses.
"We've had a lot of drop balls just in complete contact," Maguire pointed out. "We need to be an improved team each week [against the Panthers] – every team's coming at you and you're always getting hunted – it's a matter of making sure you turn up and do the little things, which I thought we did really well against St George.
"The boys' attitudes played a big part in... how we went through [the] week to get that performance and we've just got to take it forward. It was back to our game plan that we know we're capable of – we haven't actually been too far away from that but we probably haven't given ourselves the best opportunity at times in previous games."
In his third season of coaching the Rabbitohs, Maguire made enormous changes to his side leading into last weekend's game against the Dragons, headlined by the shift of John Sutton back to the five-eighth, yet the coach believes shifting the game plan back towards the fundamentals of the game was the reason they managed to secure victory.
"We needed to make sure we're focusing on the fundamentals of the game. That was probably our biggest drama for those past three weeks – if you're not hanging onto the ball, you're putting pressure on yourself and then you got to have to defend. Our defence in that three-week period wasn't up to Souths' standard," Maguire said.
"We need to make sure we're ready for each opposition each week – against St George [Illawarra] we were but probably prior to that we looked at things a little differently in how we went into games but now we're back on track.
"The players took that upon themselves – they got out and put their heads down and made sure that they improved themselves as a team. You saw that turnaround this week but it'll mean nothing if we don't go out and do it again."
With the Rabbitohs heading to Penrith on Friday night to take on the Panthers, Maguire is treading cautiously around his side's inevitable tough battle with, what he says, is a "very, very improved" Panthers team.
"We got to make sure we are right on our game. Obviously they have made a lot of changes there and they've brought players in and it's brought a lot of life to them," Maguire said.
"Right across the park they've really improved – they're playing an enthusiastic game of rugby league at the moment so we need to match that and obviously better that."