“The better the players, the better I coach,” is a famous quote from the great Wayne Bennett whose misfiring Broncos face the Knights this week.
After four rounds – I bet there is at least one former player who he would like to have playing halfback – and that’s Ben Hunt.
The changing economics and salary cap restrictions has impacted on a lot of clubs (including Brisbane) and Hunt was enticed to the Dragons on a huge salary – one that the Broncos were not prepared to match.
Instead, they invested a large chunk of their salary cap in Anthony Milford who combined brilliantly with Hunt in the lead up to the 2015 grand final.
The pressure is now squarely on Milford and Kodi Nikorima (and their coach) to improve the Broncos attack – which is averaging less than 15 points per game.
The other missing link is Darius Boyd – who is way down on confidence and not providing the same penetration on kick return or on their trademark sweep plays when they are in good field position.
With this in mind – Saturday night provides the Knights with a tremendous opportunity to bounce back with a win at Hunter Stadium after two mediocre performances on the road.
The Knights must control possession and field position to stop the Broncos from making easy metres to build their attacking game.
On the flip side, the Knights’ forwards must be more robust with their carries – as they did not have one forward who ran for over 100m against the Dragons last week.
Both coaches have called for better ball security – which is a good team indicator – but I am more interested in the mind set of each team as they should be desperate to register their 3rd win of the season.
Five things we have learned after Rd 4:
- There is as much pressure on Ricky Stuart in the Nation’s Capital as there is on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to turn his team around this week against the Bulldogs tonight in Canberra. A trademark Stuart spray after their “soft” effort against Manly and dumping Josh Papali to reserve grade might be the key to an improved performance. You can’t underestimate the loss of Josh Hodgson – their International hooker – who has been sidelined with an ACL.
- The stubbornness of the game’s administrators who continue to support the number of penalties being blown may change when the bosses at Channel 9 and Fox (who have paid $1 billion for the TV rights) reveal the ratings have dropped and people are switching off. Maybe the NRL should re-visit the success of Origin which is the game’s show piece – which has minimal penalties and the contest is usually decided by the players – not by the interfering officials.
- While on the subject of the administrators – the unfairness of the NRL draw has surfaced yet again as we see four teams playing each other twice in the first five weeks as the Tigers play the Storm and the Eels play the Panthers. It is ludicrous to think – that our game cannot be organised in a more equitable fashion than it has been for the last few years.
- The bookmakers have had to re-set the premiership market with the Dragons and the Warriors being wound in heavily from the start of the season. Both have the opportunity to extend their unbeaten runs to five games as they play the Rabbits and Cowboys respectively. Meanwhile, the Raiders and the Eels have blown out in the premiership market and it’s nearly unthinkable that they are a chance of extending their losing streaks to five games against the Dogs and the Panthers this week.
- The buys of the year are being talked about already with with Kalyn Ponga featuring heavily in the Dally M points at the Knights. James Maloney has made an immediate impact at the Panthers while Blake Green is being talked about as a five-eighth for NSW after his stunning start at the Warriors. Ben Hunt and James Graham have been sensational for the Dragons while Benji Marshall has found a new lease of life at the Tigers along with the hardworking Russell Packer.
My tips for this week:
Raiders, Sharks, Dragons, Storm, Warriors, Knights, Manly, Panthers