Sterling Gold: Playing the angles
With rugby league defences so well organised and structured, it is an ongoing process to evolve attacking strategies to break them down.
Obviously all sides have their own pet plays that are called upon but which can also become predictable, especially with the multitude of video homework that is done.
The fact that the majority of players attack and defend in their own "corridors" can also make things easier to read. For example, how often have you seen a so-called left centre or second-rower cause problems down the right hand side of the field?
One area that all sides are paying special attention to is the "line running" of their players. In other words, how their ball receiver can catch a defensive line out by which path he elects to take.
The Tigers' Gareth Ellis made something of an art form of this last season with how he would hit back towards the passer at speed and catch the defence by surprise. Most of his half dozen tries came in this fashion.
On Sunday we saw a move of classic deception by the Roosters' Mitch Aubusson.
Ten metres out from the Sea Eagles' try-line, he began a straight run shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow back-rower Nate Myles. With Mitchell Pearce as first receiver, Aubusson waited as long as possible before changing direction to his right and in-between Keiran Foran and Tony Williams.
His half-back then hit him with a perfect pass to allow him to race over almost untouched. The bemused look on the faces of both Manly defenders was a tell-tale sign that they were completely bamboozled by the play.
Definitely crossing without a hand being laid upon him was Brisbane's Matt Gillett against Canberra in the national capital on Friday night.
He too benefitted from a late alteration to his line but unlike Aubusson it was back towards his half-back.
Also from close range, Peter Wallace drifted across field looking for support. Gillett was actually positioned clearly outside of his defender Josh McCrone but after a neat left-foot step he took the pass well inside of the Raiders five-eighth and into a yawning gap, with Bronson Harrison unable to make up the necessary ground in cover.
This particular move will continue to become more prevalent because it takes advantage of how players have been conditioned to defend throughout their careers.
They are used to having play going across them, and subsequently mind and body are invariably prepared to make the tackle with the shoulder closest to the sideline to which play is headed.
To react to somebody coming back against the grain from outside-in is very difficult because the body position must change to stop the inside shoulder from being the "weaker" one and thus more vulnerable. Not easy to do in a split-second, especially when trying to cope with a big man coming at speed.
In his first game for the Bulldogs, Frank Pritchard produced a signature run to score against the Tigers.
After a run-around from dummy-half, hooker Michael Ennis was able to find big Frank spearing back inside Liam Fulton and giving Chris Heighington no chance to close him down.
The same applied to Frank-Paul Nuuausala in round one for the Roosters against the Rabbits. Just before half-time he came like an express train back at the play-the-ball and to the inside shoulder of a couple of Souths defenders who were steamrolled on their own line.
Such plays are also enhanced by having other bodies in motion. In fact decoy runners often do not get the credit they deserve in the role they played in opening up a hole for a teammate.
Sika Manu scored for Melbourne against the Gold Coast over the weekend with a run similar to that of the two previously mentioned Franks.
While this was always going to have the Titans' Luke Capewell in trouble, he was also distracted by the sweeping run out the back by Billy Slater, who's presence certainly made Manu's job easier.
Even more evident was the role played by Jason Schirnack in Chris Lawrence's first try against the Warriors.
Lawrence was positioned in behind Benji Marshall to sweep left off his shoulder but opposing centre Joel Moon was in good position to handle the angle of the attack.
However Schirnack went towards the posts as a decoy and Moon actually stopped and propped in case he was given the ball by Marshall. Once you put a defender back on his heels he is ready to be beaten and Lawrence was able to catch the ball on his outside and fully capitalise.
Lachlan Coote received similar help in crossing against the Eels in Friday's western derby.
Luke Walsh went to the line to draw Daniel Mortimer with Coote tucked in behind him in a very similar set-up to Marshall and Lawrence. On the outside Adrian Purtell maintained his straight line of support which committed Paul Whatuira. This stretched the Parramatta defensive line and the Panthers' young fullback was able to appear late off the shoulder of Walsh to slice through the inviting gap that had been created.
Rugby League has often been likened to an arm wrestle and a game of chess and both are apt descriptions. Firstly you must take up the challenge and become part of the contest; success however will come as a result of how intelligently you move your pieces.