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Title bout preview a knockout

Discussion in 'Rugby League Forum' started by Berkeley_Eagle, Aug 10, 2008.

  1. Berkeley_Eagle

    Berkeley_Eagle Current Status: 24/7 Manly Fan 2016 Tipping Competitor

    +2,097 / 13
    Title bout preview a knockout

    Phil Gould | August 10, 2008

    Friday night's Battle Royale between league heavy-weights Manly and Melbourne taught us a lot about this year's race for the premiership.

    Firstly, it showed me that the Sea Eagles and Storm are clearly the two best teams in this competition. Before this match, I had both teams on top of the other contenders, but probably not with the same dominance they enjoyed last season.

    In 2007, these sides separated themselves from the pack at a very early stage of the season and a grand final confrontation was obvious from as early as April. This year, though, a few teams appeared to have made ground on the front-runners and I felt one of them might challenge for a place in the title decider.

    That was before Manly and Melbourne raised the stakes on Friday night. Other clubs watching this match will know they have some improving to do if they want to beat these two teams to the finish line.

    Quite frankly, the intensity and physical brutality produced over the full 80 minutes of this struggle was well beyond the capability of other teams in the premiership.

    The skill and persistency of the attacking football from both sides was also highly impressive. However, the ability and courage of both teams to continually repel each other's attacking raids were outstanding. These factors set these two teams apart from the rest.

    Other teams might be able to match this intensity for a while, but they're incapable of going the distance.

    Melbourne still deserve favouritism for the title. No other team could have walked away from Brookvale Oval with a victory given the circumstances.

    Manly played great football in front of their big home crowd. They had all the possession at the vital times in the game, and particularly in the dying stages of a closely fought contest, when the fatigue factor is at its worst.

    The Sea Eagles threw everything they had at their opponents but the Storm refused to buckle under a tremendous defensive workload. It typified their fighting spirit and champion qualities. This is a very resilient football team with an unshakeable resolve. They simply refused to give up and, despite the nail-biting finish, appeared remarkably calm.

    But Manly served notice to the Storm that they're in for a premiership fight. This match was so important for their credibility and I thought they passed the test with flying colours.

    I also loved the way they changed their style of defence and really attacked the Melbourne playmakers to cut down their thinking and execution time. In previous weeks, they've stood back and offered too much latitude to their opposition.

    Predictably, the Manly forwards were very aggressive in the early stages, sending a clear message to the Storm that they weren't going to be pushed around. I liked that part of their game. If anything, they came out of the softening-up period on top - in itself, no easy task against a Storm forward pack that bats all the way down the order.

    The Manly attack looked confused in the early stages of the game. They have not yet learned to play smart while playing with the big-match emotion that dominates the opening stages of games like these.

    The Storm players, on the other hand, were able to compete in the early slather-and-whack confrontations, but quickly settled into their attacking routine when they were in offensive positions.

    This is how they blew Manly away in the opening stages of last year's grand final to lead 10-0 and set up the foundations of their victory. Such composure under fire also produced the first try of this game, to veteran Matt Geyer. It was a perfectly constructed set piece that left the Manly inside defence in tatters.

    Manly, on the other hand, looked awkward in possession and at one stage I feared they would never settle into their natural attacking routines. However, when they squeezed over for a soft try to back-rower Glenn Hall to level the scores, their whole body language changed and so too did the quality of their football.

    The fact that the scoreboard plays such a significant part in their psyche is something coach Des Hasler needs to work on.

    Hasler also needs to work on his halfback. I admire Matt Orford as a player. He's a talented, competitive and courageous little bugger who more than holds his own in the big man's world of NRL football. However, his fifth-tackle options in big games leave a lot to be desired. Time and time again on Friday night he relieved the pressure on Melbourne with poor options.

    I would like to know what's going through his head when the referee raises the arm to indicate "use it or lose it". More often than not, Orford loses it.

    I can only put this down to confusion. I reckon if you could get him to be completely honest, he would reveal he has so many things going through his head on the fifth tackle that time runs out and he provides a rushed response.

    He had the chance to grind the Storm into the Brookvale turf on Friday night, but he repeatedly let them off the hook.

    If he gets this part of his game right, Manly can win this competition.

    Their performance on Friday night will give them renewed confidence that they have narrowed the gap on the defending premiers. After the long summer months of pre-season training following their grand final misery last September, they must now surely feel redemption is within their grasp.

    Everything else is in place. They have the fitness, strength, toughness, skill and the resolve in defence. They just need to add the finishing touches. It's one thing to be tough and committed; it's another thing to divorce your thoughts from the emotion of the situation and play smart when it counts. In big games, this counts on every play, every minute, for the full 80 minutes.

    The Storm have the advantage in this regard at the moment. It may well be the only advantage they now hold over their most respected rivals.

    If Manly can find the answer to this important riddle, they're a real chance of winning next time these two teams meet, and they will meet again - we all know where, and we all know when.
    Source: The Sun-Herald

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