On the Road: Resurrecting the dead
Craig Bellamy did not mention South Sydney or Wollongong to his players when they trailed Parramatta 18-0 in Monday Night Football.
“But I must say, when it got to 18-12 I was probably thinking of it,” Bellamy said after the Storm’s tumultuous 22-18 victory at Parramatta Stadium.
In living rugby league memory, there have not been back-to-back resurrections like we’ve seen over the last two days, the Rabbitohs back from 20-0, the Storm from 18-0. For the headline writers, the only pity is that it’s not Easter.
They are results which probably ended the Dragons’ minor premiership defence and handed that title to the Storm, a club torn asunder last year in a fashion unprecedented in living and dead memory.
“There’s five rounds to go,” said Bellamy, who reckoned the first-past-the-post title was “undervalued”.
“I know that sounds cautious or whatever but ... it’s still not in the bag and we’re not thinking along those lines.
“We’re able to hang in there during the tough times and hopefully the good times flow on from that.”
Exactly why teams like the Dragons and Eels “stop playing” – to use the vernacular – is a vexed question, especially if you coach them. But given two instances of this phenomenon have probably decided the destination of $100,000 and the JJ Giltinan Shield, it’s worth examining.
St George Illawarra’s Wayne Bennett gave his most candid media conference in years after the joint venture’s second consecutive loss (34-24) in similar circumstances on Sunday
“It just doesn’t mean enough to us right now,” he said. “That’s the hard part after winning a premiership, you have to want something.
“I personally can’t change it. The reason they’ve been successful here is because of their attitudes. The reason we’ve seen results like the past two weeks is the reverse of that.
“The only way we’d win right now would be to score a try right on fulltime and be in front because we just find a way to give another opportunity.
“It’s more than frustrating. It makes you angry and sick in the stomach but if they don’t want to do it out there...”
Captain Ben Hornby could only nod in agreement. He may have been as surprised as Bennett’s comments as those of us in the Fourth Estate were.
But when you’re in the position of Parramatta – beaten on or even after the bell repeatedly – there is no sense in saying you lack hunger. After all, it’s probably something a coach can only say publicly once in a season, the last card in the deck.
Coach Stephen Kearney and captain Nathan Hindmarsh insisted the opposite was the case.
“We didn’t really see it coming,” said Hindmarsh, whose second celebration of reaching 300 games finished with the same result.
“We had a bit of a mixed bunch tonight. With 20 minutes to go, some of us wanted to try and defend the lead – which against a side like Melbourne is quite hard to do.”
Hindmarsh was happy to dissect the capitulation phenomenon.
“Some of us tried to come up with a fancy play instead of sticking what did for 60 minutes to get us those 18 points,” he said.
“We’ve just got to all get on the same page and get back to what we do well – which in this case was attacking up their right edge.
“I’ve got big wraps on this team. I’ve said this a number of times already: in the past, I’ve been in teams where we haven’t been travelling that well, we’ve been losing games and there’ve been teams that have turned their toes up and haven’t turned up the following week.
“This team, we’re different. We’re not winning games but we’re not giving up. We’re not going out there cannon fodder.”
High scores and big swings in momentum just seem to be a feature of football late in the regular season, when motivation, fitness and concentration all swing wildly.
Justin Hodges on Friday described the next five weeks as “the end of a long season” and the finals as “the fun stuff”.
North Queensland centre Brent Tate was unimpressed with Saturday night’s 30-18 win over Penrith, the Cowboys warming up as the night went on just like the curious sub-tropical weather.
“I think we’re going OK but I think it would be foolish for us to think we’re going along great,” he told On The Road.
“We’re getting the job done but if we want to compete with those teams against us, we’ve definitely got to improve. We’ve still got Thursto (Johnathan Thurston) to come back but we’re a young team and we’re improving all the time.
“We’re still winning ugly and that’s a huge positive.”
The ugly may just inherit the earth. When you lead by 18 or 20 and lose, not matter what the reason, perspective is hard to come by and so might future results.
“It’s happen to us again,” said Parramatta winger Luke Burt shortly after the MNF siren, “I’m just speechless.”