What constitutes a slump? And how do teams get out of them?
North Queensland, St George Illawarra and Brisbane are three teams of which much is expected in our competition each year. Over the three weeks in the lead-up to Round 5, they had just three victories between them.
All had wins over the weekend, relieving scrutiny and pressure on their coaches and players. After all, it’s four years since a side with a 1-4 record has made the finals, let alone pushed higher to the decider.
“It’s more of a confidence thing,” Broncos hooker Andrew McCullough tells NRL.com in the wake of a boosting 32-12 win over Gold Coast. “Obviously, we’ve been copping it in the paper. It’s all part of the Broncos standard which is probably a good thing. It just comes with the territory.
“But we’re going along alright.”
Criticism can be used as a motivator, McCullough says. It’s down to the individual.
“You can go either way with that,” he continues. “Hook (coach Anthony Griffin) is always on us about how good you’re going and how bad you’re going. You just believe what they (coaching staff) have to say. If they say something, you listen.”
The big area where the Broncos have improved?
“Just composure... We’ve got to back ourselves,” he says. “The games we lost... the Roosters put 50 on Parra, they beat us 8-0. Manly? We let ourselves down after leading that game. Melbourne... we went well there.
“So we’re not going as bad as people think.”
North Queensland coach Neil Henry said after the 30-0 shut-out of Penrith on Saturday that it was a little early in the year to have “must-win” games – but added the Cowboys were at the point of “please, please win”.
“I wouldn’t say it was a good way (to win) but there’s points on the board, a clean sheet and that’s pleasing,” said centre Brent Tate.
“Sometimes you’ve got to win them like that to kick-start you.
“I just thought our ball control at times is still really letting us down. We put a lot of pressure on them defensively. We’re still a little off with our attack – but that will come.
“If we toss ball control like that up against good teams... you can’t hold them out no matter how good your defence is.”
Tate doesn’t know why his men have hit an early season wall. “You can’t explain that sort of thing, it just happens,” he says.
“The feeling I have is that we need to improve. I think that’s the feeling across the board.”
For whatever reason, Dragons coach Steve Price bore the brunt his team’s winless opening three weeks. That turned around against Sydney neighbours Cronulla in Round 4 and the revival continued against Steel City rivals Newcastle last Sunday.
At Sharks Stadium, says five-eighth Jamie Soward, “we were under the pump and needed to come out and stand up for ourselves.
“This week, we had to build on it. We didn’t want to let the top eight get away from us and be 1-4. It was nice to come out and put in a performance like that.
“The first half, 95 per cent completions – that’s how you win games.”
For the Dragons, emerging from a slump has been a matter of clearing their minds of how a set of six is supposed to finish and concentrating on what’s happening right now.
“I don’t think we’re more fluent – I think we have defended better,” Soward observes. “They (Newcastle) scored 16 points. It’s hard when you’re letting in 30.”
The Cowboys, Dragons and Broncos have all had their critics this year. But being a critic is a thankless job – because the team you’re criticising always wins eventually!
BEST OF ROUND 5: The first 60 minutes of Monday Night Football. Wests Tigers took it to Melbourne – and how!
WORST OF ROUND 5: Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan's exasperation at the effects of the ASADA investigation on his team.
WEIRDEST OF ROUND 5: Wisecracking Sharks skipper Paul Gallen to ride a motorcycle naked. Enough said.
CLEVEREST OF ROUND 5: The try Newcastle almost scored on Sunday at WIN Jubilee Oval.
WHAT I SAW: Comeback Cowboy Robert Lui hobbling over to do a media all-in on Saturday night, only to be intercepted and stopped by coach Neil Henry.
QUOTE OF THE WEEKEND: “I don't get off on it.” – Steve Price on beating Wayne Bennett; he’s now 3-0 against his former boss.