Former New South Wales and Kangaroos hooker Benny Elias says NRL coaches are paying the price for playing stand-in No.9s following a spate of forward passes from dummy-half over the opening four rounds of the 2011 Telstra Premiership.
A total of 22 dummy-half forward passes have been detected across the 32 games contested so far this season, with temporary Newcastle hooker Matt Hilder – filling in for the injured Isaac De Gois – the primary culprit with three.
Warriors hooker Aaron Heremaia, the Gold Coast’s Riley Brown and St George Illawarra’s Nathan Fien have all been caught twice.
Elias conceded that errors of judgment early in the year were inevitable but insisted the excessive number of errors out of dummy-half this season were unforgivable.
“It’s an amazing statistic and at the end of the day it’s because most of those players aren’t normally at dummy-half controlling play,” he said.
“It’s easy to say that you can be flamboyant at No.9 – but that dummy-half is the focal point of the game. Whoever has got the ball, they’re in charge.
“That’s why I’ve always been a believer that the No.9 has to control that ruck at all times. That’s his property and his responsibility.
“He is a specialist – he isn’t a makeshift No.9 that usually plays at No.6.
“When I played that was my domain and I made sure I was at dummy-half at least four times out of six.
“That’s what you train Monday to Saturday for – to have that understanding, to get that timing right and to make sure you’re right by Sunday.
“To have that many forward passes already this year is unbelievable.”
Elias said it was always difficult for players to get their timing right at the start of the season but pointed to other factors as having contributed to the increased numbers. They include injuries at a number of clubs and the increased proliferation of coaches naming reserve hookers on the bench.
Referees coach Stuart Raper also suggested the better positioning of sideline officials this season made it easier for them to pick up forward passes.
“It’s something that was a bit of a bug-bear for a lot of people and it’s why we changed the positioning of the touch judges,” Raper said. “They’re in a better position to call it and it’s hard to argue with them.”
However, being a former coach at Cronulla himself, Raper admitted even he was surprised by the high number of forward passes out of dummy-half and said players needed to learn better discipline.
“If you’re an extra inch or two over the advantage line, how does that help you get through the hole?” he queried. “Why not be an inch further back?
“It’s a pure discipline thing. I can understand timing errors happen from time to time and I can understand fatigue… but it’s a frustrating thing to have the ball taken off you for an overplay from your dummy-half.”
Elias said it was only a matter of time before a dummy-half forward pass cost a side a crucial win.
“It’s such a basic error and it’s very frustrating – those plays can turn games,” he said.
“You’ll notice too that those plays are usually made in your own half, when a side is trying to get their big forwards on a roll.
“From that point of view, sides need to be far more conscious of what’s happening out there. For that extra yard, it could cost you 60 yards or a try – and prove to be a turning point in a game.
“It’s just giving away cheap possession. I would have thought commonsense would prevail.”
Forward pass culprits from dummy half in 2011
Matt Hilder (3)
Aaron Heremaia (2)
Riley Brown (2)
Nathan Fien (2)