Up Front with Tony Butterfield


FUMING: Canberra coach Ricky Stuart wears his heart on his sleeve and reacted accordingly after his team’s fourth straight loss.RICKYStuart’s boys are playing their grand finals early this year. After fourstraight losses, the coach who wears his heart on his sleeve has declared his players “soft”.

To underline his point in last week’s press conference he used the “S”word 10 times. A veritable spear to the heart of any proud footballing unit, a reaction well understood and aimed by the experienced coach, its very utterance would have promoted muchsoul searching this week.

Some may say it’sa tad early in proceedings to pull out the “S”word (like, nowhere much to go after that), but a season-killing fivestraight losses was beckoningif something drastic wasn’t done.

Of course, by the time most read this, the game will have been played and won or lost. Let’s just hope either way coach Stuart keeps his cool. There’s always next week.

* THEWarriors surely are pretenders? No, you say? Joint leaders of the competition by smashing one of the title favourites, the Roosters. Even without superstar halfback Shaun Johnson, they prevailed comfortably. In a canter. Impressive. As isthe threeaway wins they’ve notched already.

I’ve previously noted their leaner physiques, evidence of a well-mapped and executed pre-season diet and fitness regime.

What seems less attributed in discussions around success becomes apparent afterevery try –when players come togetherin a huddle. Ina pre-determined fashion the leaders dissect what just happened, how they can capitalise, followed by what looks like controlled deep breathing.

Simple stuff that seems to be working for them. Not every player’s cup of tea, mind you, but aproductive and so far effective use of precious seconds.

Going further, it seems indicative of a stronger mental, if not spiritual, mindset instilled by progressive coachSteve Kearney.

Accused (not undeservedly) over the years of lacking the physical and forensic mindset of the great teams, Kearney’s squad of 2018 arelooking to change that perception. I’m a fan.

* NOmiracle cures right now for the Knights. A two-game winning streak that summoned up tempered hopes for locals has turned into two losses going into a match-up against perennial performersthe Broncos tomorrow night. Coach Brown would have taken few positives out of the past fortnight, other than it all starts afresh, Monday.

Poor ball control is the headline story for Brown, as is the defensive venom lost when his troops experience possession deficit. Juxtaposed, the Dragons, and the Roosters before them ran on fresh legs. Indeed, The Dragons were, with their tail up, described by Mitch Pearce post-game as looking like “supermen”, such are the invigorating effects of more than one’s fair share of the ball.

The loss of Connor Watson, compounded by the early loss (for the season) of Tautau Moga, required a unanticipated shuffle on the reshuffle. Combined in time as it was, with a clutch of unforced errors, you could have excused Dragons coachPaul McGregora wry smile.

I suspect Brown’s menu will be simple on Saturday. Bring enthusiasm. Plenty of it. Build time in possession. Hang onto the bloody ball, kick long, chase like greyhounds and defend like your season depends on it. On every play for every second.

Of course, the Broncos will have some say in how successfully any Knights plan is executed. None more so than head coach Wayne Bennett.

Like him or not, he doesn’t much care. But he respects this town and its footy team, which should ensure a cracker of a game.

Knights by two.

* BEATINGa fighting retreat in league is sometimes the only option available. But honourable or not, once you can go no further, once your tryline is at your feet, it’s all about surviving the onslaught. Fight or fail –where failure in the professional game is, at least notionally, not an option.

Thereforeit should come as no surprise the vast bulk of penalties are conceded defending one’s own red zone. In “the cage”, as contemporary wordsmiths have coined the area from the tryline to the 10 metres.

Crafted into an art forma decade ago by the Roosters, the tactic of deliberately conceding or at least testing the match officials has become entrenched –as demonstrated so poetically last weekend by the Warriors.

With the firsthalf almost over and the Roosters building pressure, the Warriors concededfour penalties in quick succession inside “the cage”.

As a result, the frustrated home team finished with a measly twopenalty-goal points rather than the sixthey needed and probably earned.

As the leather patch brigade is wont to chortle,100 per cent, rolled-gold, cynical play. And so it is. Bordering on cheating, its impact can often cost games. Butthem’s the rules and it saved fourpoints, would be Steve Kearney’ssummation.

When games are tight and a penalty stoppage gifts a breather, a regroup, and a chance to thwart your adversary at the moment of their triumph,what else are players expected to do?

Like a lot of the rules that were bent out of shape through long-term neglect and fiddling, the current rules only allow, at worst, a sin-bin for a professional foul. Small potatoes in big games.

So what to do? Should we descend to farce like cricket, whereby an otherwise misdemeanour indiscretion might selectively threaten careers and livelihoods, all to make a public point?

That would induce the average consumer to perceive the cricket brand and its future consumption with increased ‘integrity’. Now, I’m not sure that has been the outcome, butwhy not a 12-month ban and a public humiliation forthe next serial offender whotransgresses in ‘’the cage’’, and costs a team a winning try? Yes? No? Utter nonsense.

Whatever approach, this element of the game may prove to be an intractable blockage in the big fightback currently waged by refs to retake control of the game. Look out for pore penalties. More sin-bins. Who’ll crack first?

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