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Talking Tactics: Round 5

Matt Parish, Canberra Raiders Assistant Coach NRL.com Fri, Apr 04, 2014 - 12:30 PM

Canberra Raiders Assistant Coach Matt Parish says the 80-minute forward has become an essential part of any NRL team with the increased speed of the game in 2014. Copyright: Col Whelan/NRL Photos

With the game becoming quicker and quicker in 2014, forwards that can play 80 minutes without being interchanged have become almost essential.

With new ruck interruptions quickening the play the ball area, there is an average of 133 play the balls per game per team, which is around a 10 per cent increase on previous seasons - meaning teams are making more tackles.

Fatigue is a massive factor in our game and coaches will often aim attack at tiring players so they can create quick play the balls, looking for line breaks that lead to scoring opportunities.

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With the game at an all-time speed, players like Sam Burgess, Anthony Watmough and Corey Parker - who all played 80 minutes previously - have been interchanged in all their games so far this season.

Every team must have at least one forward in their pack that has the ultimate stamina to last the distance, in order for teams to interchange their big forwards that provide impact off the bench, or bring on the darting utility to lift the tempo of the game.

Storm hooker Cameron Smith is arguably one of the best players in the game and is worth every cent of the dollars the Storm paid for him. Smith signed a new four-year deal earlier last month and so far this season he has once again proved his immense value by his performances.

His 80-minute week-in-week-out efforts are highlighted by him being on the field for crucial moments and he’s one of the main go-to men when the game is on the line.

In Round 1 against Manly he kicked a field goal to get them home in golden point and against the Knights two weeks ago he scored a late try to seal the game for the Storm. The Test captain scooted out of dummy half and slipped through a gap in the Newcastle defence to push the lead out to eight points with a little over 10 minutes remaining.

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His NSW Origin nemesis Robbie Farah is as important to the Tigers as Smith is for the Storm. Much of the Tigers’ attack revolves around the crafty No.9, who despite being targeted by opposition packs in defence is able to create plenty of attacking opportunities for his side.

South Sydney’s Isaac Luke is a player who regularly runs 100-plus metres a week for his team on the back of his big steamrolling forward pack. Last season Luke was replaced throughout the game with Nathan Peats but he’s now able to punch out 80 minutes every week, enabling coach Michael Maguire to carry an extra front rower like Tom Burgess on his bench to maintain the go-forward through the middle of the park.

There’s no doubt the Rabbitohs miss Luke when he’s out injured and will look at ways of covering for him while he’s on the sideline. Already last weekend we saw John Sutton spend some time at dummy half.

Other hookers that play the duration include tradesman-like players such as Bulldogs skipper Michael Ennis and the ever-reliable Nathan Friend for the Warriors.

Other teams rely upon their edge back-rowers to go the distance. The Knights need tough man Beau Scott to play the duration of the game, while the Roosters rely upon Origin 2013 debutant Boyd Cordner to go the distance.

Penrith, who boast one of the biggest packs in the NRL, have two hookers in Kevin Kingston and the dynamic James Segyaro, so they use Kiwi recruit Elijah Taylor to soak up the tackles and go the distance for their interchange rotation to work.

Some teams like Manly have the luxury of two players playing 80 minutes, with the very reliable Matt Ballin and skilful Glenn Stewart regularly playing the entire game unless injured during the match.

The Titans also have this advantage, with Origin back-rowers Greg Bird and Ashley Harrison regularly carving out 80 minutes.

Coaches this season need to balance these 80-minute players with the right amount of big men to maximise impact and get the best out of them in their short bursts on the field.

As the game gets quicker I’m tipping we’ll see more work done on team fitness in the pre-season as we see players trim down and tone up for more minutes on the field. 

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