Coach's Box: Bennett really is 'clueless'
Dragons super coach Wayne Bennett has always been the master of controlling his media messages and leaves journalists - and opposition coaches - guessing as to what he really means.
He often uses the opportunity to give his players a message with little concern for what the media get out of it.
So last week’s post-match statements after their fourth straight loss in five games since the Origin series finished was vintage Bennett when he was quoted as saying he was “past concerned”, “somewhere in that state of got no idea” and that “I don’t have an answer”.
Again we have to guess. He’s been doing it for a long time. What does it mean? He hasn’t given much away, and he probably genuinely thinks that way. Three weeks ago he had a dig and said the players had lost a bit of desire. That was designed to get back to the players and everyone thought that would work.
But it didn’t and the losses continued to a point where they could drop out of the eight if they lose their remaining three games against the Storm, Warriors and Panthers. They are in fifth place with 29 points, just five points ahead of the 9th and 10th-placed Rabbitohs and Bulldogs.
So maybe he’s being really truthful and we are not aware of it - maybe he really doesn’t have a clue.
Certainly I don’t buy into the numerous theories being tossed up as to why the Dragons find themselves spiralling from the top of the ladder - just weeks after a betting agency paid up on all wagers for the Dragons to win the minor premiership.
One suggestion is they're in a heavy phase of training. Others include talk of player unrest over Mark Gasnier’s signing and retirement and players let go, and Bennett and Darius Boyd’s departure at season’s end.
From a coaching perspective I can’t see how any of these issues could - even if they were true - have such an impact to cause the Dragons’ form slide.
With regard to the heavy phase of training, I wouldn’t have thought they would change the formula they used last year. I’m sure the coaching staff haven’t tossed that play book in the rubbish bin and invented another one.
They know what was successful in 2010. When you are just two wins from your last 10 matches, most training sessions seem harder and team meetings go long. Similarly, a losing dressing room has a whale of woes that only surface when you are losing. Sometimes winning by two points can mask a few things.
From my experience coaching NRL teams, the suggestion that players going/staying is causing unrest and leading to poor performances on the field is way off the mark. The players would not blame Mark Gasnier for the club having to release the likes of Jeremy Smith and Neville Costigan for him to stay.
By and large players are comfortable with player movement, year in, year out. They have become good at looking after themselves. It’s a job. They are doing what is best for their family and themselves. After the games they are all pretty friendly with each other. They don’t hold grudges if a player moves somewhere else for money.
If I could put my finger on one thing, I would say that they have gone away from being really good defensively. They have lost some aura in defence possibly because those seasoned campaigners like Costigan and Smith are not there. Their style of play for a long time has been built on the back of defence and that ruggedness in defence is not there.
Other than that, I am with Wayne. I really don’t have a clue, but certainly, three weeks out from the finals, it is crunch time. Not only do you want to be winning - you want to be playing good football - so you go into the finals with some confidence. If they lose tonight they could drop to seventh on the ladder and with that goes their confidence - and they would start to get nervous.
But a win, even if it's only by two points, would be like winning by 40 and they would be feeling good about themselves. Confidence is something you can’t buy.
I think they can win the next three. It starts tonight. If I was Wayne Bennett I would have lightened things up for them this week and would have made the last training session yesterday a short one. I probably would have let them have a run around by themselves and had no involvement at all in the session.
I remember half-time of a match when Jack Gibson’s side was losing badly and all he said was the word discipline three times - nothing else - then he walked away. Sometimes less is better. You want to have them wanting more at the end of the session, so when they arrive the next day it’s game on.
My top eight prediction is: 1 Storm, 2 Sea Eagles, 3 Broncos, 4 Cowboys, 5 Wests Tigers, 6 Warriors, 7 Dragons, 8 Rabbitohs.