A Saturday morning blog is not the usual fare over here, but last night’s Rabbitohs-Raiders match had a few things that stood out sufficiently to warrant comment.
The Rabbitohs are an evolving team, and are doing so almost as fast as that exploding aquaman guy in X-Men.
Their half back says he’s going to run more and he’s doing just that. His last three games have produced an average of almost six runs per match, which compares to a 3.3 average from rounds 1-12. The cherry on top was setting up Sam Burgess for the opening try. Top shelf strength and vision.
Further, they have finally fixed that regular 20-minute loss-of-focus period that threatened to haunt them in the finals (and sent it up the road by the looks). It really looks like a bad habit that has been consigned to the past. A new, positive habit has been ingrained by mid-season, which is what was required to be regarded as the real deal. The opposition aren’t being allowed to squeeze back into matches through laziness and complacency. In this sense, it’s a very Storm-like trait.
And they’re playing awfully ‘smart’. Of course, Michael Maguire (the Rabbitohs greatest signing) has to be commended for strategic guidance in large part, along with the coaching staff, but have a look at what was on offer last night:
- Short chips ahead of the opposition try line allow chasers to simply drag the catcher into goal with a minimum of fuss. This is a patience play, and expect to see repeat sets generated in this fashion through the finals.
It also avoids the possibility of a grubber kick hitting an opposition leg. The point is, you don’t when either is coming – if traffic is too thick, it’s the chip, if there’s space for a ground ball, then along the ground it goes! Or it’s the old-fashioned high ball, or …
- … or, it’s the type of sweeping backline movement that isn’t going to get you called back for obstruction in the finals’ matches. The face ball is back in, baby!
Watch the Nathan Merritt try again. It is a thing of beauty and purity.
- Early tackle count kicks are back in vogue and were used brilliantly. The element of surprise can be lost in the modern game as teams simply hit it up as they try to ‘get to their kick’, but the use of it last night made significant ground before the opposition wingers dropped back.
Of course, they only work if the kick-chase is up to the challenge (which it was), and are extremely useful in wet weather. More to the point, big forwards hate them because the kick-return is usually stifled, meaning they have more work to do to get back onside.
The Rabbitohs For & Against was in issue highlighted earlier in the season and, in large part, was due to the fact they hadn’t perfected putting teams away, combined with a tough draw. It began to improve materially with the Broncos match, and apart from the tight loss to the Sharks, hasn’t really looked back. After the first quarter of the season it didn’t appear as though the Bunnies would be in the top three or four on the For & Against, but we’re only halfway through and they’re setting the benchmark.
Finally, Greg Inglis’ involvement was quite striking after a mid week State of Origin match.
He was aggressive, urgent, and totally into the game. Think for a minute of the inspirational impact a performance like that has on a team. It was pretty clear last night. Replicate that sort of commitment for a few games in the finals and the long awaited premiership drought will be over.