A FEW weeks back I mentioned the folly of pushing young Kalyn Ponga too fast.
Thankfully, Queensland selectors agreed.
But the honeymoon period to which I referred, whereby Kalyn takes the ball deep into the defensive line to weave his magic with minimal consequences, is over. Cronulla’s Luke Lewis last week let the young prodigy know, in no uncertain terms, if he wanted to draw and pass or kick, deep into the line, there would be a price to pay.
I thought Lewis’s first-half hit was a tackle outside the rules (and the match-review panel agreed), which may have the effect of forcing Ponga to play deeper and as such, less effectively.
Now young Ponga has all sorts of tough under the bonnet, and for one so young can look after himself.
Maybe so, but I would like to have seen a few of his teammates exact some retribution. Next time, maybe.
Newcastle’s loss to Cronulla was a disappointment all-round.
As a new team evolves, it can sometimes be a case of one step forward and two back. This time it may have felt like three, as the fellas trooped off with their heads bowed.
You can bet it was a sombre scene in the dressing room. Thoughts of: “Where to from here?” may have crept into a few heads after exhausting most of the roster options at their disposal.
But that’s natural. A few beers and a good night’s sleep will need to have exorcised any demons, because there’s no time to mourn. The unpredictable Eels shape as both a challenge and opportunity to try again.
As to what went wrong last week, where does one start?
Defensive intent, technique and coordination are, for mine, where it starts and finishes.
But you can’t take much away from a Sharks outfit playing like finalists and chock full of experienced players.
The two teams were a study in contrasts. Confidence, skill and power against frustration, insecurity and confusion. Frustration after completing their sets at over 80 per cent yet still lagging across the park. Insecurity felt by every player fighting for waning pride and a first-grade jersey. And confusion defensively.
Nowhere else to look but internally. This group of blokes own this season, and the near future will be what they make of it. Redemption starts on Saturday. Knights by four.
* SITTING in an eastern Sydney pub late one night in a City Origin camp bonding session, I found myself (as you do these days, with the pros preferring to turn in early), on my own with coach Brad Fittler and a young rookie player.
One of the best experiences in rep camps is getting to know the players, their stories, insecurities and sometimes, their darkest fears.
Over time, the guard comes down and like, I guess, soldiers going into battle, we talk close and share like family.
And so we inquired of this young lad to tell us a little about himself. He knew Freddy and I, but we knew nothing about him. His family, influences, school life, etc. Knowledge that can sometimes be used to great effect for coaches in understanding temperament, attitude and intelligence. Factors that might reveal insights into how best to deploy the lad when it matters.
But this time the young bloke’s story was out on the edge. Honest, raw, his story spoke of pain, of heartbreak and abandonment. His formative years were as tough as it gets. As Freddy and I sat and listened in silence, tears welled in all our eyes as the tale sunk in.
Fast forward to next Wednesday night, that same lad is now debuting in a game he at times may not have believed he’d be alive to experience. But he’s pushed through and is climbing his mountain with renewed pride and confidence in his heart. Well done young man. You’ve earned it.
* THE respective Origin squads look close enough to the best available players from both states. The 11 rookies chosen by NSW might appear a liability but if channelled correctly, could be their strength. Why? Being the lone rookie has its pros and cons, but 10 brothers in the same boat could almost eliminate the risk. Indeed, with Freddy weaving his brand of Svengali it might just empower each to support the others and triumph.
Freddy’s squad is the future for the Blues, and he had staked his reputation and long-term tenure on getting it right. It’s now up to the players to ensure he’s repaid in spades.
If I sound a little excited, it’s because I am. That said, the installation of Rooster Latrell Mitchell and James Roberts in the centres appears our only potential weakness. Particularly when Mitchell is partnered with a winger in Tom Trbojevic, who may have last played there in the under-8s.
Not that they aren’t unbelievable players – they are. But not yet the complete package nor the tested combination in terms of defence. Compared to Will Chambers and Greg Inglis in this regard, they are babes in the woods.
That aside, we’ve gone for big minutes in most of the forwards with Reagan Campbell-Gillard an inspired selection.
The utility value of bench players Tyrone Peachey and Michael Morgan may well be crucial for both states.
Freddy would have agonised over Peachey against Wade Graham. Both are fantastic players, but NSW eventually decided Peachey’s value as relief hooker as well as being able to create something out of nothing with minimal risk in a host of positions was too important a commodity to leave out of the first rubber.
Only five sleeps now until we know whether Freddy is a genius, on the right track, or needs to give himself an uppercut.
One thing is for sure in my mind, this new breed is up to the challenge. Blues by 14.
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