Stats Insider: How to beat the NRL All Stars

The NRL All Stars side shapes up for this weekend’s clash against the Indigenous All Stars as overwhelming favourites – and rightfully so, considering the class they have across the park.<br><br>But despite what almost every league expert thinks, an upset Indigenous win is certainly possible – should Neil Henry’s men focus on the human frailties hidden beneath the exterior of the prestigious NRL side.<br><br>In a game of individuals such as this, every player has a weakness. It might not be big, it might not even be really noticeable, and it might only be exposed once in a match – but if the Indigenous players know about them and exploit them when the chance comes, they can take advantage.<br><br>So what are these weaknesses? Psst! Don’t tell all 16 NRL coaches, but here goes…<br><br><b>Luke Bailey: </b>‘Bull’ is a tough, no-nonsense prop who plays long minutes, makes great metres and tackles diligently. But he can be slow off the ground and consequently, can draw penalties often. The trick to putting pressure on Bailey is to force him to make two or three tackles in a row. When this happens, chances are a penalty or line break might be forthcoming. He is ineffective in defence 12 per cent of the time, generally when overworked or asked to move laterally.<br><br><b>Adam Blair:</b> Imposing Kiwi prop who lifted his game to another level last season. In the past Blair was good for the odd mistake due to a loose carry of the football, but last season he really tightened this up. Despite this, he will look to play his more aggressive offensive game, which includes one-handed carries and dicey offloads. The trick here is to get numbers around Blair, aim at the ball when tackling and be ready to pounce on a loose pass.<br><br><b>Matt Cooper:</b> A strong defensive centre. But offensively, he relies on quality ball from his inside men to make an impact. Cooper was shut down effectively last season by not being allowed on the outside of his man. He loves running the outside line and when defenders keep him on the inside, he is forced to try to beat them another way. With just three tries in 2009 and only seven line breaks (six were clean from quality ball, only one by busting through), this is one way to limit his effectiveness.<br><br><b>Robbie Farah: </b>Farah made 30 errors in 2009 and he will make some in this game. The Indigenous defenders can’t just rush him, as he is skilful enough to beat players with a pass or step or even a kick. But “bash” him as a unit and he may limit his involvement. It’s also a good idea to make him defend often to tire him out… he is a special for a ‘flop’ in defence when tired, which can draw a penalty.<br><br><b>Israel Folau:</b> He’s big and strong and can leap higher than anyone else in the NRL, so they shouldn’t bother trying to beat him in the air. The trick is to direct low kicks his way; he struggles at times to get low or to turn and chase and get down on a rolling ball. Another thing to be aware of is his reluctance to offload. This means a side can commit two players to a lot of tackles on him, with confidence he won’t look to promote the ball. <br><br><b>Kurt Gidley:</b> Last season Gidley made 38 errors – the second most by anyone in the NRL – so it could pay to put some pressure on the utility. When flustered he can sometimes execute poorly. If he is at fullback, bomb him hard.<br><br><b>Jarryd Hayne: </b>Another creative genius who makes a lot of mistakes (34 in 2009, 5th most in NRL) as he often goes for the big plays. The Indigenous side should not give him the ball in broken play, as he’ll kill them. Nor should they rush out of the line to tackle him, as he’ll beat them easily. The solution is to kick away from him and swarm him in numbers; eventually the ball will be knocked loose, or he’ll be forced into a poor pass.<br><b><br>Michael Jennings</b>: In attack he’s deadly… but he can be shown up defensively. Jennings is ineffective more than 20 per cent of the time in defence, so isolating him one-on-one is the key. <br><br><b>Darren Lockyer: </b>The Australian captain is a champion of the game – but it’s no secret he can be weak defensively when you target him repeatedly. He is ineffective 29 per cent of the time; giving the Indigenous runners almost a one-in-three chance of beating him. The Indigenous forwards should run at him all day.<br><br><b>Benji Marshall:</b> A loose carrier of the football. Marshall made 35 errors in 2009 and can be brittle defensively at times (ineffective 25 per cent in 2009) as he fails to wrap up the football. The Indigenous boys need to look to promote the football while running over the top of Marshall. He also loves to drift sideways, so he can be vulnerable to a big hit – providing defenders don’t get beaten by his sensational side-step.<br><br><b>Josh Morris: </b>Another potential place to shake up an error. Morris is another who is reluctant to offload the football (only seven last year), so defenders in numbers could rattle him.<br><br><b>Nate Myles:</b> He isn’t really feared defensively, as he misses 15 per cent of tackles, and he didn’t make a single line break all last year. Also, he rarely offloads. The brief here is to send the little men at him to step and jink their way past him.<br><br><b>Luke O’Donnell:</b> A potential hothead, O’Donnell can be baited into penalties when players get physical with him. While he loves the rough stuff, the referees often have an eye on him.<br><br><b>Billy Slater:</b> With 43 errors in 2009, Slater was the most error-prone player in the NRL. The plan should be to bomb him and send the troops… he’ll eventually drop one. Also, the Indigenous defenders should rush him when he chimes into a backline as a playmaker… he still isn’t totally comfortable distributing the ball. <br><br><b>Cameron Smith: </b>Clever and tough, Smith is almost flawless. But he is another player who can draw the referees’ attention penalty-wise. He’ll push the boundaries with the officials all day – not out of fatigue, more out of cunning. So perhaps the smart thing to do is to turn the “con” back on him: when tackled, linger close to him and possibly draw a hold-down penalty. After all, he has ‘form’ here…<br><br><b>Sam Burgess:</b> Burgess is a prop with the will of a halfback, so he’ll be prone to a mistake. Keen to pass post-line and step off both feet, Burgess is a handful. But in this environment he might give the Indigenous players scraps to dine on. Sniff around the back of his carries and an intercept could come.<br><br><b>David Shillington:</b> Loves an offload. They should stalk him and be ready to knock the loose arm or intercept the pass.<br><br><b>Anthony Tupou: </b>Ditto Shillington. Tupou stays out wide hoping to run at little guys and promote second phase. If the Indigenous pack can trust one defender to bring him down, they should have other players ready to snap up a loose pass.<br><b><br>Manu Vatuvei:</b> It’s simple – kick at him. Kick high, as he can’t jump well. Kick low, as he can’t pick up a rolling ball. Kick behind him, as he can’t turn and chase quickly. Just kick at him!<br><br><b>Anthony Watmough: </b>Niggle him: that’s the trick to getting at Watmough, who with 19 penalties last season is obviously a target of referees. He can also miss a lot of tackles and make plenty of errors when hassled.  <br><br><b>One last thing:</b> the Indigenous side should also focus on their own strength – their unpredictability. They should attack from turnovers and trust instincts. The attacking flair and toughness of the side should see them pose plenty of questions. <br>They might be behind the eight ball, but they can win this game. Plus, the pride in the group cannot be underestimated. You can guarantee they will be ready to play. <br><br>It should not be forgotten that an under-rated Queensland won the first Origin game when the New South Wales side underestimated the concept. If the NRL All Stars do the same, they, too, will be shocked.<br>