In simpler times, Jack Gibson would say “kick it to the seagulls”. But as Cameron Smith will attest, these days the seagulls come to you – and more sophisticated measures are required.
“Jeez he put me off, he rattled me, the old seagull,” said Melbourne captain Smith after a feathered friend distracted him from making a first-half conversion in his 250th game, the 38-6 win over Cronulla on Sunday night.
Since Origin I, it has become apparent that Gibson’s old tactic of kicking to the spaces and away from talented fullbacks like Smith’s club-mate Billy Slater is increasingly out of vogue.
Instead, halves are sending towering, spiralling bombs into the winter air, giving defenders time to arrive on the scene at the same time as the ball plummets towards the hapless custodian.
It’s no co-incidence that it’s a tactic the Sydney Roosters have perfected and that their halves, James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce, used it in NSW’s 14-6 Origin I success over Queensland.
“It’s something you don’t work on in a week,” Roosters coach Trent Robinson said, in reference to Origin camp.
“It’s something we’ve been working on and he (Pearce) has. The combination of kicks is an important one. You’ve got to have an arsenal of kicks but certain ones you go back to time after time.
“I think Mitchell used them wisely the other night along with James but also used other kicks well. Hopefully we can put them in similar positions (for the Roosters).”
Another Origin star, NSW and Canberra’s Blake Ferguson, was the beneficiary of a similar bomb from captain Terry Campese early in the Raiders’ 30-18 win over Brisbane on Monday night.
Ferguson flew high, regathered the kick and off-loaded to try-scorer Josh McCrone all in the one movement.
Not only can you encircle a talented kick-returner with the long-range bomb launched from near halfway but you might even get the ball back – something that’s not possible with a clearing kick.
The coaches call it “hang time” – an American football term which ignores the basic fact of physics that you can’t make a ball hang anywhere without a hook.
It’s ‘what punters want’ in the NFL.
“Hang time? Most teams do it,” says Raiders coach David Furner. “If they get around the 40- or 50-metre mark, they are putting it up and getting some hang time.
“All sides have got some really good runners at the back and you try to start your defensive set off that way.
“If it’s fifth tackle and they’ve got their wingers and fullback back there, it’s very hard to find grass. That’s when you look at that sort of hang time.
“It depends on field position – how many metres you’ve made determines what kind of kick.
“We’ve got some guys like Campo there who can do it – sometimes it’s a way of gaining metres off the other team.”
Furner says the old clearing kick is not dead, though. “It depends what tackle. If you’re kicking on fourth and their catchers back, can you find grass?
“Teams are very good defensively. You’ve got to find ways to get out of your end and make the metres up.”
As a result, the seagulls are getting less ball than rugby union wingers.
BEST OF ROUND 13: The Warriors beating Manly in a fashion they are not hitherto this year known for – by grinding it out.
WORST OF ROUND 13: Cronulla’s inability to handle absolutely anything Cooper Cronk did in the first half on Sunday night. If he’d gift-wrapped a Steeden and handed it to them, they would probably still have dropped it.
WEIRDEST OF ROUND 13: Cameron Smith being put off by a seagull as he lined up a conversion attempt.
WHAT I SAW: Reece Robinson drop the ‘F’ bomb on radio at fulltime in Monday Night Football – and Anthony Griffin apologise profusely not long afterwards when he did the same in a media conference.
QUOTE OF ROUND 13: “I’m off them” – Blake Ferguson re pineapple Cruisers.