Titans' trust in Alby's instincts
When Albert Kelly bolted out of the defensive line and left a gaping corridor for Tinirau Arona to stroll through and score the Sharks' first try of the night in Round 1, there was never any doubt that he would try his luck again.
He can't help it; it's in his blood.
With the Sharks on the attack just 16 minutes later, Kelly once again raced off the line with eyes only for the football but on this occasion he came up trumps, taking an intercept and racing 90 metres to put the Titans in front on the stroke of half-time.
And you can bet if an opportunity presents itself in any manner or form against the Wests Tigers at Cbus Super Stadium on Sunday, Kelly won't waste a moment before pulling the trigger.
"He went for one and lost and went for one and scored a try so he's 50/50 at the moment. If it gets any worse I'm sure we'll let him know," says veteran Luke Bailey, himself fond of a quick tap from time to time.
A try, try assist and 231 running metres stamped Kelly as one of the players of Round 1 and reinforced his coach's the belief that with Kelly in the team, there is going to be more good than bad.
"That's the way he plays the game, he's very instinctive, and you don't want to take a lot of that out of him," says Titans coach John Cartwright.
"You learn with experience when it's on and when it's not on. The time that the Sharks scored, he ran the gauntlet and he got caught out and the following time he came up with a good play. With experience you learn when's right and when's wrong but it's very hard to change a player with such natural instincts like Albert has."
It's not that other coaches haven't tried. A freak schoolboy talent who was lured from Parramatta to the Sharks, Kelly's precocious talent was only ever inhibited by his own ill-discipline and both the Sharks and Knights reluctantly let him go.
He found a home – and himself – on the Gold Coast and a coach that entrusted him to make more good decisions than bad, both on and off the field.
“A few times over the years I’ve been told not to play instinctive football but I feel it is a strength for me," Kelly tells NRL.com
"I grew up with no structure and that’s me but you have to also work to the team structure as well. You have to have a plan behind you, so it’s all about finding the right balance.
“My pop told me years ago that you can play all the structured football you want and score plenty of tries but when it comes to instinctive football it’s pretty much in your blood and you have to go with your gut feeling.
"I definitely went with a gut feeling then (when scoring the intercept try) and it came off."
In the modern game of structure, defensive patterns and subtle variations on seemingly the same set play, players who sing from their own hymn sheet are often frowned upon. Chris Sandow's instinctive brand of football seems to have no place at Parramatta while Johnathan Thurston is regarded as the best player in the game because while he plays what he sees, very rarely does he pull the wrong rein.
As a schoolboy the game-plan was simply to get the ball to Alby and let him do his thing but the 22-year-old recognises that to succeed in the NRL and build a lengthy career at the top he always has to be conscious of his individual tendencies along with team necessities.
"It took time and practice; coming into the top grade the coaches obviously want you to run certain plays and you practice 4-5 times a week, and that is the balance you have to find," Kelly admits. "You will always have that instinctive feeling inside you but you have to find it at the right time and I tuck it into the back pocket here and there and sometimes I use it and it will come off but at times it won’t.
"But that’s what makes it interesting to watch."
Not to mention interesting for his teammates who are beginning to recognise his idiosyncrasies and trust that he is a good man to follow.
"It's honestly more of a feel thing to be honest. Just an instinct thing and knowing what his instincts are and going with it," said Titans fullback William Zillman, the try-scorer of the match-winner last week that came from following a Kelly grubber kick.
"It's really handy to play more and more games with him so you can pick up on his game style.
"He's that lethal it's always a good thing, especially me being a fullback, to be around him because you never know what might happen.
"I've played all last year and trained a whole pre-season with him now so I've picked up on his game-plan now and hopefully he knows mine as well so that probably allows us to work together a little bit better than at the start of last year."
But as much as his teammates are endeavouring to read his thoughts and movements better, Kelly is also appreciative of the fact that he needs to complement the work being done by the 12 other Titans players he shares the field with.
It will always be an internal battle between the boy who played footy purely by feel and the man trying to fit into an NRL team but deep down – like his pop told him all those years ago – he knows his instinctive football skills can be the different between winning and losing.
“It’s hard to teach natural instinct, it’s like you can’t coach speed," Kelly said. "Instinctive football can win you games and to have it can be a bonus for the team but I know I have to balance that and try to pick the right moment.”