The Cowboys, Bulldogs and Sea Eagles are yet to win a game, but to get themselves out of the mire they must adjust their playing styles, writes Matty Johns.
The Cowboys, Bulldogs and Sea Eagles are yet to win a game, but to get themselves out of the mire they must adjust their playing styles, writes Matty Johns.

Matty Johns: 'How NRL’s biggest losers can turn the tide'

As Bon Scott sang, "It's a long way to the top".

That's certainly the case for too many NRL sides. The huge gulf between the 'best' and the 'bottom' has the idea of expansion looking more and more problematic.

The salary cap was supposed to ensure unpredictability, but some of the top clubs are Phar Lap-odds this round.

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When you talk about the disparity and salary cap many scoff, alluding to 'sly deals', 'sombreros', etc, etc. But that's just a poor excuse for how many of the struggling clubs operate.

The best players play for the best clubs for less money, while the strugglers are forced to pay overs, and so the gap widens.

 

But let's focus on-field and while the Broncos scored their first victory in 259 days, going into round four, three clubs were yet to score a win this season.

Out of the three clubs, the Cowboys, Bulldogs and Manly, it's the Sea Eagles' struggles which probably surprise me the most, given they have one of the NRL's best halfbacks in Daly Cherry-Evans.

Sure a halfback is at the mercy of his forwards' ability to dominate, but the best No.7s are expected to at least keep their teams in the fight better than Manly have in 2021.

The Tom Trbojevic injury can't be used as the excuse continually, their roster is better than that, they have to adjust and find other ways to win.

Too often the loss of a team's central star sees the sides fortunes collapse, with players focusing on what they have lost rather than how they will adjust.

At Newcastle, in our 1997 season, we lost Andrew Johns in our last trial match with an ankle injury which ruled him out for the first nine rounds.

Joey was replaced by a young, relatively unknown halfback the Knights had signed from the London Broncos, Leo Dynevor.

Leo didn't play like Andrew Johns, Leo's football was purely instinctive. As a result, we adjusted our style, shelved a lot of structured sequences and played how Leo played best, fast, reactive rugby league.

We won six of those nine matches, without Leo and without our willingness to adjust around him, we don't win the premiership that season.

Owen Craigie is congratulated by Leo Dynevor after scoring for the Knights in 1997.
Owen Craigie is congratulated by Leo Dynevor after scoring for the Knights in 1997.

In writing this, the Sea Eagles are about to take on the competition favourites, Penrith, they simply cannot win unless they change the style of their football.

To state the obvious, the Bulldogs' loss to the Broncos was alarming, their football has deteriorated with each performance. In the second half you could really see them bottom out, their confidence with the football dropping off with every unsuccessful set.

Before a ball was kicked in 2021 I had hopes that the Bulldogs could push into a mid-table

position. In the back half of the last year, although not winning games, I saw significant improvement with their attack and some real promise in a number of the younger players.

With the roster strengthening and new coach Trent Barrett, I expected significant improvement, but so far it's been very disappointing.

I don't think all the talk around getting Matt Burton out of his Penrith contract helped. Young footballers' confidence can be fragile and Jake Averillo's self-belief must have sustained some damage reading about Burton daily.

The old saying is, 'winning starts with defence'.

I agree with that to a certain extent, but you derive most of your confidence from how good

you are with the football.

I watch some teams and get the feeling you could give them 65 per cent share of the possession and the scoreboard attendant would barely move a muscle.

The Bulldogs are battling to score points this season. Picture: Scott Davis/NRL Photos
The Bulldogs are battling to score points this season. Picture: Scott Davis/NRL Photos

It's hard to stay motivated defensively, knowing when you get the ball back you're not going to do much with it.

Canterbury desperately need to reconsider their attack formations, what they are doing isn't working. For instance, Nick Cotric, has been a marquee signing but has barely had an opportunity so far this season.

The Cowboys' season is on the cusp of getting very, very ugly.

No Jason Taumalolo, and now no Michael Morgan, cannot mask an underlying issue which coach Todd Payten is clearly struggling to work out.

After last Sunday's 44-8 hiding at the hands of the Titans, Josh Maguire delivered a sledge hammer assessment of his team's performance, using words like, "embarrassing" and "frustrating". Followed up by: "We have been saying the same f---ing thing, (sorry) the same shit for three years."

Like the Dogs, I expected significant improvement in North Queensland, a talented roster and a new coach.

The Cowboys have looked like an unhappy playing group for the past few seasons and a new voice and environment was expected to fix that, it hasn't.

I was shocked to see how devastated the players and coach were after the round two loss to the Dragons.

I like to see players hurt after a loss, but to see players with heads in hands like they had lost a finals match, after just two games, had me worried for their season. And last week's performance backed up that concern.

I don't know what's going on and I'm not sure they do.

 

 

Originally published as Matty Johns: How NRL's biggest losers can turn the tide



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