Peter Sterling: Eels need to change their halves

Peter Sterling has cut up a video which visually demonstrates his reasons for change. CLICK HERE to launch this video for a greater understanding of his column.

After reading a newspaper on Sunday morning I assumed that at the post-match press conference following the Parramatta-Brisbane clash the night before Eels coach Daniel Anderson must have blamed star fullback Jarryd Hayne for the defeat.

The paper’s headline screamed “Hayne blamed for a club in crisis” and went on to describe the “extraordinary step of singling out his superstar for all the wrong reasons”.

I was taken aback and couldn’t wait to see the interview as I found it hard to believe that any coach would ever publically say that one of his players was responsible for any defeat.

Lo and behold... he didn’t.

The post-match conference went for seven minutes, of which 39 seconds were devoted to the Parramatta full-back.

The first 15 seconds was Daniel pointing out that his halves and indeed his fullback were “all learning” and he finished by saying that Jarryd “wasn’t good tonight” and “was off his game.”

The last 24 seconds was in response to a journalist’s question as to what he would he say to Hayne on the back of his performance. Anderson said it would be about playing the percentages and working hard for his teammates.  

Fortunately since then a supposed crisis meeting between coach, player manager and CEO has been averted after being deemed unnecessary.

The most telling statement that came out of that conference was actually the affirmation that the problem continued to be the team’s inability to score tries. Daniel spoke of crucial errors, not building pressure, other teams knowing what they were going to do and poor finishes to their sets.

After 16 rounds, the Eels have scored less tries than any other team. Adding to the frustration is that they are statistically the second best defensive outfit in the competition, and that would normally equate to sitting in the top four.

The area that obviously needs to be addressed then is the playmakers, and that is where in my opinion changes need to be made.

At the moment the best halfback in the club is rookie Tom Humble.

Despite having played just 268 minutes in the top grade - spread over five games - he has shown enough to indicate that he is a natural ball-player and delivers a beautifully weighted pass. Most importantly, he can take the ball to the line and that immediately forces the defence to make decisions.

CLICK HERE to see some of Humble's most effective plays so far this season.

Much of Parramatta’s attack has been attempted too far in front of the opposition, which allows defenders to slide and to cover players easily.

Tom started at five-eighth against the Broncos and, while he played some first receiver, I believe he should be there as much as possible with the basic instruction to take control off the back of a quick play-the-ball and/or against a retreating defence. Then simply play what is in front of him.

At the moment, the most dangerous five-eighth in the club is Kris Keating.

He came off the bench on the weekend and spent most of his time at dummy-half. I think that is a waste of his tremendous energy and evasiveness.

Kris has a particularly good in-and-away with his excellent speed off the mark enabling him to get outside his defender. This not only opens up individual opportunities but creates overlap numbers on his outside.

CLICK HERE to see the why Keating would be suited to the No.6 jersey.

The fact that he is a left foot kicker should also give that area of the game a desirable balance. Although I must say that I don’t understand why he continues to kick from the right side of the play-the-ball, which is more awkward for a left-footer, and much more prone to being pressured with his kicking leg closer to chasers.

The question then is what to do with Daniel Mortimer?

At the moment he is the best support player in the side and needs to be retained, but he is the one that I’d be using out of dummy-half. This would still afford the team his great eagerness to trail the ball-carrier.

Daniel is currently betwixt and between. He is not necessarily a long term five-eighth, but is still very much a 'work in progress' half-back. Unfortunately, the team’s predicament does not allow the luxury of immediately continuing that education.

As a ball player, he is involved in too many “nothing” plays in which he is catching and passing just for the sake of it. In these instances, he would be better off allowing his big men to hit the advantage line and follow.

One player who is particularly suffering is Feleti Mateo whose flair is being cramped by these unnecessary carries before he finally receives the ball.

A number of times against Brisbane he was turned back inside only to meet a wall of defenders who easily nullified his outstanding creative talent.

CLICK HERE to see instances where Mateo has not been given the service he requires.

A player like Feleti is much more dangerous hitting the ball at speed out on the fringe where he can either get one-on-one or between defenders and contort himself for those uncanny off-loads.  

Along with these positional changes, the big area that needs drastic improvement is the team’s kicking game which, against the Broncos, was dismal and went a long way in contributing to the blue and gold’s defeat.

With the new configuration, the bulk of the kicking would fall to Humble and Keating.

Their simple instructions would be to kick high from around the attacking 30 metre line and when kicking short, it is preferable to have the ball finish before the try-line than to have it roll dead. With those in mind the precision will come.