This is something I knocked up last year. I thought with the season upon us it might be worth another airing. What are your thoughts? Sometime in 1996 or 1998, when Manly were in their full pomp, I remember reading an excellent article by Roy Masters about ManlyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s defensive structure. This was at a time when we were averaging less than 10 points per game, or less than two tries per game, a statistic that any of the top four sides in 2004 would envy. It was certainly a far cry from the 30+ that weÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢re conceding this year! ManlyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s defensive line was considered close to impregnable. However, Masters didnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t describe this line as a wall. From memory he described it as a piece of string that was held tight across the field at all times. He used this analogy because he noticed that the Manly line was ALWAYS straight. The string didnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t stretch right across the field, 13 men was not enough to do that. With Matthew Ridge in behind the line and barking constant instruction, this piece of string held its shape. As the offensive team spread the ball one way or the other, the string would shift left or right in reaction to the direction the ball was taking. Attacking players were always met with one thing, a straight line, even in broken play, and a line that always had men inside and out, covering the inside ball. However, when the offensive team entered the attacking 15 metre zone the piece of string became a piece of elastic. The defensive line would stretch across the field to prevent the long pass or kick. The rationale was that the defence was able to come off the line quicker and the opposing players were closer together. With the lesser impact of offence and defence the players could stand a little wider and, whilst keeping the straight line, could cut down the players in front of them. It was a strategy that served us well during those years. Obviously times change, rules are changed to negate dominant teams and new strategies are developed. The Roosters won a premiership in 2002 with a bruising, rushing defence, aimed at cutting down the time and options to the ball player and swamping the other team, slowing them down. Obviously a coach needs to decide on a defensive structure that suits the abilities of his team. Whilst many sides have adapted this approach not all of them have. ThereÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s teams still using variants of the ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã…Â“slideÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬? approach that Manly made famous in the 1990s and the Up and In of Canterbury fame from the 80s. Given ManlyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s defensive shortcomings this year, last night I watched the game against the Knights with particular attention to our own defensive line. IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢m not an expert, and IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢m sure thereÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ll be many that will disagree with me, but here are some observations that I came up with, and some conclusions as to what that meant for our side. We certainly donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t seem to be implementing the rush defence of the Roosters. We seem to be taking a couple of steps forward towards the attacking line, then hesitating and beginning a drift towards the ball carrier or the direction the ball is taking. This is fine, itÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s reminiscent of our slide defence of the 90s, though the few steps forward probably gives recognition to the rush system. It is when the line sets and starts to drift that the some of our problems begin. What seemed to be lacking to me was individual discipline and trust in the next player in the line. As we start the drift, there are one or two players that seem over eager to get to the ball and are coming out of the line to make the big hit. Watmough is particularly guilty of this and I suspect Harris before he was injured. This is creating a jagged line and too many one-on-one situations. It means that weÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢re vulnerable to a number of scenarios: 1. The man coming out of the line trying for the big hit is isolated. There is strength in numbers. Some of our guys are too small to be taking on opposing forwards in this way. WeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢re either getting bumped off (hence the mis-tackles) or the attacker takes the hit, spins and gives the offload to a man running at a retreating defensive line; or 2. An opposing ball player sees the man out of the line and is taking the step sideways and putting support players through the gap created by the jagged defence. Without the discipline of our men holding a straight line weÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢re giving opposition attacks too many gaps to exploit and too many one-on-one situations. This leads to line breaks or, when weÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢re close to our line, too many easy passages to the line. How often have you watched a game and become frustrated with the ease oppositions players steamroll over our try line? ItÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s because some of our players are rushing and some of them are sliding and gaps are appearing everywhere. Other problems with our defence lie in the lack of numbers in the tackle. We tend to slide and stop the man. However, the slide seems to happen, one or maybe two players commit to the tackle and the rest start to retreat. If those two men donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t get a ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã…Â“dominantÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬? the opposition are tending to get up very quickly, meaning the next player is running at a retreating defensive line. This creates a vicious circle. WeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢re on our heels giving up easy metres. Then the player gets to us, often one-on-one, gets the quick play the ball and we start again. What happens here is one of three things: 1. The men in the tackle realise they need to slow things down. They donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t have a dominant tackle so they lie on the player and give a cheap penalty ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ hence the high number of penalties weÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢ve conceded; or 2. One of our players loses patience with the retreating line and comes in early giving the offside penalty; or 3. One of our players rushes at the offence and leaves a gap in the defensive line to be exploited. I think you get the drift! The fact that our players are in ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã…Â“two mindsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬? in defence is causing trouble. Some are sliding, some are rushing, some are mixing it up. The other big problem is how lazy our marker defence is. We leave a gap behind them, expecting them to fill it. However, when weÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢re lying in the play the ball or retreating slowly, back turned, runners are getting in behind us and finding space. Sometimes you see the markers standing in place, the man in front indicating with his arm which way heÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s going to go, so the man behind can go the other way. This is good. It needs to happen on every play and we have to be quick enough in defence to get out of the tackle, into marker with arms pointed. Watch how well Kite does this for the Dragons. How can it be fixed? I think part of the solution may lie in a couple of our better victories against better quality sides early in the season. The win against the Dragons is the best example. We had the bye beforehand and thereÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢d been a lot of talk that we had the least dominant tackles in the NRL. I contend that the players went out against the Dragons with only two things on their minds ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ getting to the ball carrier quickly and committing 3 or more tacklers to the impact to affect the dominant tackle. This meant two things were happening: 1. The players were generally of one mind ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ get up fast and close on the ball carrier. They did this TOGETHER, meaning there were fewer gaps in the line; and 2. Committing multiple men to the tackle meant that the offence was slowed. We pulled off a good victory and kept one of the hottest attacking sides in the NRL to ten points. What does this mean? Our defence will improve if our players move together in the line. It doesnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t matter if we slide or rush, what we must guard against is players unilaterally doing one whilst the rest of the team are doing the other. The relative inexperience of many of our players means that they arenÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t playing as a unit and they are tending to go one out too much. A hard head like Kennedy will help by improving communication along the line, but I think weÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢d dearly love Stewart to develop into a Ridge like player and be calling the slide or rush and shoving players into the gaps to plug the holes. With experience some of our players will get the knack of displaying patience, holding a straight line and becoming disciplined enough to resist the urge to rush up out of the lines by themselves. Players that canÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t master this after a decent period of time might need to be shown the door. At the moment IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢m wondering if the best thing the coach could be doing is sending the players out there with two simple instructions: 1. Hold as one line, donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢t rush up faster than the men on either side; and 2. After initial impact, get as many players into the tackle as possible. ThatÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â„Â¢s keeping it simple. If the players are struggling to get their breath after twenty minutes of committing numbers to the tackle then we will need to seriously evaluate our fitness, as Ricky Stuart suggested we might have to in Round Two. Those are my thoughts. What do you all reckon?