Sterling Gold: Four commandments for finals football

After 23 rounds you would expect that within every NRL club there is an approach that is basically second nature to the players every time they take the field. At this stage of the year coaches would only need to be concerned with reinforcing the positives of what he expects from his team.

It has come as some surprise then to see a number of actions from players in the second half of the season that I would have thought would not need to be addressed at this crucial stage of the competition; a number of areas that are hurting teams' chances of success.

Here are four issues that several teams need to fix sooner rather than later.

1) Defusing bombs

The most obvious issue in recent weeks is that when any kick is put up, you don't let the ball bounce.

I've been dumbfounded by the number of teams who have treated high kicks like they were hand grenades and have literally backed away from them as they came back to earth.

On Sunday the Dragons almost paid the ultimate price on three occasions in the second half with bounces favouring the Roosters' chasers and very nearly resulting in tries.

So widespread was this practice by the reigning premiers in the second 40 minutes that it almost appeared to be a deliberate ploy. However a couple of magnificent takes by Jason Nightingale early in the contest showed that they certainly didn't enter the game with any such plan.

I can only assume it was more an indication of their wavering confidence, which in "Catch 22" fashion was only going to be deflated more by the Roosters taking advantage of such awful decision-making.

I know every coach with whom I was involved in my playing days was of the belief that if you were going to make a mistake you at least did so trying to do something positive.

The Dragons aren't the only side to have appeared shell-shocked under the high ball, and much of this seemed to coincide with the Bulldogs' back three having problems in this area starting back in round 17.

On that night against the Panthers, Canterbury conceded three tries from kicks in their 20-6 loss with the final one to Travis Burns coming directly from an uncontested bomb.

See Burns punish the hesitant Bulldogs in Round 17

It continued to be a problem over the ensuing weeks, with sides sniffing blood and especially targeting Ben Barba.

I was delighted to see his response on Monday night against Cronulla where the young man took control and stood tall in catching every kick that came his way. His body language radiated a confidence that said he was prepared to get belted but he was going to catch the ball at any cost.

Other teams should take note.

2) No-look passes

Again evident over the weekend was that unless you are Cooper Cronk, don't throw no-look passes.

Now I know Tigers fans will cry foul and say what about Benji Marshall and his magic efforts? What I say is that Benji gets them right sometimes (and they are spectacular when he does) whilst Cooper gets them right every time, as he did against the Gold Coast on Saturday.      

Cooper sends Billy Slater through for a try with a no-look pass

Quite simply, if a pass is delivered sweetly and at the right moment there is no need to be not looking at the intended receiver.

Hopefully Jarryd Hayne has learnt his lesson after a couple of howlers proved costly against Manly.

There was never any need for the Eels star not to be looking at Ryan Morgan with a dummy-half pass early in the second-half, which saw Steve Matai swoop and get the Eagles' comeback underway.

A wayward Hayne pass helps Steve Matai to a try

Later in the game, after establishing an overlap down the right touch-line, Jarryd again opted for the "no-looker" only to put it well out in front of Ben Smith and over the sideline.

This type of pass has really come into vogue in recent seasons but the amount that are being misdirected and especially thrown forward have shown how overused and unnecessary they have become.

Dummy-halves are especially susceptible to putting them illegally out in front, and we even saw the Warriors' James Maloney trying to be too deceptive and throw one forward after a scrum win against the Knights.

Watch Maloney's blunder against Newcastle

3) Shoulder charges

After some comical efforts in defence in recent games I'm sure some coaches will be laying down the law of "don't attempt shoulder charges".

Whilst we all love heavy contact and players trying to physically intimidate opponents, the shoulder charge is invariably unsuccessful.

The first priority when making any type of tackle is to stop both ball and ball-carrier, and this type of tackle generally achieves neither. In fact plenty of times the man carrying the ball will gain momentum by spinning off the charging defender and benefit by picking up extra metres.

A couple of efforts in recent rounds have been particularly poor with players missing the mark completely and flying at attacking players without making any contact. Whilst these have looked humorous, they have also put their side under pressure by taking a defender out of the line and forcing someone else to come in and finish off the tackle. That has a flow on effect through the rest of the defensive formation.

4) Charge-downs

Finally, speaking of low percentage plays, it should be a case of "don't charge down kicks".

Whilst it is imperative to put pressure on the kicker, it is very rare that any advantage is gained by deliberately playing at the football. It is usually a lot of effort for little result.

In fact the advantage more often than not goes to the kicking team, who generally will have a superior number of bodies present to clean up any deflections. This in turn gives them another set of six with the ball and adds to the defending team's workload.

Any consecutive sets in today's game are gold.

With finals football just around the corner, these four problem areas can be easily addressed as this is definitely not the time to be giving opposing teams any advantages. Matches are always won with the head as much as they are with the body.