Canberra Raiders assistant coach Matt Parish says cutting down the time of the NRL's best attacking players is key to curbing their influence.
They say the cream rises to the top and after three rounds of the NRL we are already seeing the best players in the game step up and show why they are part of the competition's elite.

So far this season we have seen the big-name players win games. Johnathan Thurston has been great, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk have kicked the winning field goals to steal victories and Souths showed last weekend what a different team they are when Greg Inglis isn’t there to dominate.

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So when you’re a player marking up on these superstars, just how do you do it?

I believe preparation plays a major part. Knowing that you’ve done the work in the video room and on the training paddock gives you the confidence to take in to the game, knowing you’ve left no stone unturned and know exactly what you need to do to try and neutralise the big threats.

During the week coaching staff will review videos of particular players and show their teams some clips on the types of plays they’re most likely looking to execute. 

There is always plenty of information coaches have on players and it varies depending on things like position on the field, speed of the play the ball, the time and space they have to work in and how close players like to take the ball to the line before deciding to run, pass or kick.

With all this information on hand, the players will then work with the coaches to derive a defensive structure or other structures that they will try to implement.

As coaches you need to school your players on the best the opposition has to offer, in an attempt to keep them quiet in matches. I have no doubt that sometimes we overload players with this information, which can make your player think he is about to mark Superman.

Some players want or need more information than others. Some crave all they can get, they want to know every detail - the way in which he comes at the line, the foot he likes to step off and even if he has any movements which give his next moves away.

It’s like a professional poker player looking for a ‘tell’ in his opponent, the sign of weakness where they can anticipate their next move.
Other players like to keep it basic - they prefer to know their own individual role and only the key ingredients in what the opposition star brings to the recipe. Giving this type of player too much information is dangerous, as they second-guess themselves and what they’ve worked on.

The secret is to show video and provide advice to individuals further to the team video sessions, to convince your players they can execute the job at hand.

The issue when you are marking big-time players like Thurston, Cronk, Sonny Bill Williams and Inglis as they attack is that you need to be committed defensively to the ball and the tackle. You need to get up hard and cut down their time to make good decisions. You need good contact - stick and execute the tackle.

Most importantly you need to do this consistently for the 80 minutes or they can make your team pay. The best players only need one chance, one chink in the armour and all of a sudden they create the brilliant play which puts them in control of the game.

The key to cutting down good playmakers like Robbie Farah, Cameron Smith, Thurston and Todd Carney is to pressure them into playing early. If there is a tired defender not moving up or one defender coming up sideways, these great playmakers have the ability to pick that defender out and come up with the right play to capitalise on it.

Cutting down their thinking time comes from pressure from the inside of the defensive line, but it can be a dangerous tactic if the defensive line is not working together and filling the spaces in the line. If you leave any gap, these guys will find it and quickly turn a ball runner back under into the hole. 

Of course, the best method of defence is to limit your opposition’s time with the ball and where you give it to them. If you can restrict the amount of good-ball opportunities you give these guys, you’re on the right track to keep them out of the game for longer periods.

To shut down the countless amount of talented fullbacks in the game at the moment, one tactic we are seeing more and more of is the midfield bomb. This minimises the time and space for these elusive runners to receive the ball.There is not a lot of contesting going on and by the time these players catch the ball there is not a lot of space for them to run.

Kicking the ball intentionally dead is not a tactic I believe is in the spirit of the game but it’s an option some teams use. The game has introduced the zero tackle from the 20m restart which is starting to see this tactic fall out of the coaching manual.

In the end, while it’s great to have a plan for stopping these superstars of our game, executing the plan is easier said than done!

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