Big-minute middles the way of the future

We have seen a big increase this year in terms of ball-in-play time with a reduction in stoppages and consequent increase in fatigue and some teams seem to be dealing with it a bit better than others.

It's probably too early to draw any conclusions around whether this is the reason why teams like Canberra and Parramatta are exceeding expectations, or sides like the Warriors, Cowboys, Broncos and Panthers are underperforming.

But one thing it does highlight is the importance of having flexibility on your bench and middle forwards in your 17 who can play huge stints if required.

It's not just the forwards who need to be fitter and more athletic because fatigue plays such a huge role in decision making.

The faster and more continuous style this year pushes things back to the athlete. The fitter and more resilient you are the better your ability to concentrate through the whole match and the better you'll be through the course of a game.

Some guys have a lot of skill but fatigue sets in and their ability to execute goes out window so you need that athletic ability to continue to execute under high fatigue.

The ultimate expression of this is in Origin. The level of the game is faster, no-one makes mistakes, the hits are harder. Those guys in that arena, they're elite executors of plays, they have a high skill level but they are athletes at same time which is what's required to be the best of best.

Generally in club footy things are a bit slower and you can get away with not being as fit if you have enough skill and work hard in the key moments.

As far as that relates to individual clubs, it's too early to call for the Broncos who are still finding their way with a new coach. Canberra have become more mobile and their top players have high involvements through the game and execute well. With the guys they've brought in, particularly John Bateman, it looks like their fitness levels are up.

Parramatta are all young guys who can get through more work and recover a lot quicker and it's a case of enthusiasm as well but they were able to go from competing 60 minutes one week to 80 next week.

The bigger picture is that as guys have to do more on the field you'll start to see a bit of a gap between guys that can do that and guys that can't. As more and more minutes are required at more effort and intensity, you can no longer be a guy who becomes a liability if you have to play more than 30 minutes in a row.

Coaches will need to become more strategic with their benches and it's a huge advantage if you have a prop that can play those longer stints.

The Cowboys are missing Jason Taumalolo, Payne Haas will be a huge asset to Brisbane moving forward and we're regularly seeing players like Aiden Tolman, Junior Paulo and Alex Twal starting at prop and playing through to half-time or beyond.

That will become the benchmark and it will get to a stage where you have to be able to play 60 or 70 minutes as a front-rower; these other guys can do it and if you can't you'll be viewed as not up to standard.

Playing big minutes isn't just getting through big minutes, it's about being just as effective at the end as you are at the beginning.

You can leave anyone out there and they'll keep standing but it's not the same as having someone that's effective the entire time like a Victor Radley or Cameron Murray, or Payne Haas who was better at the end of his stint than the start. It's another good sign for the Broncos who have young energetic guys like David Fifita and Tevita Pangai jnr.

There's an interesting case at Manly, who are lucky with players like Jake Trbojevic, Marty Taupau and Addin Fonua-Blake. They can get big stints out of their starting middles but I wonder how long they can keep running with two hookers playing 40 minutes each.

Api Koroisau and Manase Faine are both fantastic players capable of playing 80 minutes but it could become a liability with high intensity games. If your forwards are doing a mountain of work, the hooker is going pretty good and can play 80 minutes, do you keep the other hooker on the bench the whole game and use the other change on a forward?

I don't see longevity in this path; they will have to pick one or get value out of the other playing a different position. Des Hasler probably knows deep down that's the case and wants to see how both go and once he has to make a decision on a full-time hooker he will.

It's all a constant balancing act for the coaching department and how they utilise their resources and benches. Changing one player, one interchange can have a massive impact on the whole make-up of the forward pack and bench.

If you bring guys in like Haas who can play lots of minutes and do the heavy stuff but you don't need to sub them off, that's a massive wildcard that covers you in so many other areas.