Playmaker’s Insight: Why new combinations struggle early on

Raiders veteran Sam Williams looks at why new spine combos take time to gel.

Playmaker's Insights

After an interesting first week both on and off the field, in this week’s article I will be focusing on newly formed spines, and why it can be difficult to quickly gel as a result of certain issues that can incur within new combinations.

There is plenty of attention that gets placed on halves and how their combination with players around them can impact the team, whether it be for better or worse. 

The SuperCoach impact is serious, take Shaun Johnson for example who averaged 47 points in his first nine games for the Sharks in 2019 that included one injury affected outing.

He would then go on to average over 80 in his final eight games.

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A similar thing happened at the beginning of 2018 when Cooper Cronk linked up with James Tedesco, Luke Keary and Jake Friend at the Roosters.

Their attack was clunky for the opening month or two, then they hit their straps and the rest is history.

We are experiencing it at the moment with George Williams coming into the equation in Canberra with Jack, Charnze and Hodgo.

Fortunately, we’ve had a promising start with our new spine which bodes well for the remainder of the year.

I think Round 1 looked really good, and although they didn’t link up on a lot of occasions, what they did do well was execute the plays that were in place and use the people directly around them.

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What is often overlooked when speaking about the spine and how they work together is the fact that the game has changed so much over the last 20 years.

There is less linking up then in previous eras, and with this comes a bigger emphasis on how playmakers combine with players on their edge.

With a large focus on defence these days, we need to execute perfectly to break down teams.

Therefore, the lines and precision of plays need to be implemented seamlessly and this itself can take time.

The tempo of how a halfback goes to the line varies from player to player.

Imagine going from playing outside someone like Ponga who can beat his man with mesmerising footwork at any time, to Kieran Foran who plays so fast and direct.

This is the sort of thing that can take time to build, and one that I’m sure many halves are trying to work out early in the season.

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The combination of Moses and Matterson is an example of two top quality players having a first NRL hit out together.

Moses struggled with just 32 points, while Matterson produced 62 points but without any attacking stats to his name.

Although weather didn’t help them against the Bulldogs, they will become more expansion after a month of football together.

On the other hand, Wighton and Whitehead hit the ground running on Friday night.

Jack scored 91 points, including two tries, while Whitehead managed 71 points with a try of his own.

Jack’s ability to break tackles becomes a major threat when someone as reliable as Elliott is hitting the correct space outside him every time and holding up defenders.

With Elliott attracting defenders, Jack has an opportunity to take on an isolated player one on one.

As I touched on last week, the first month of football can often be fairly safe and I think we saw this with the amount of tries scored from kicks.

Combinations will become sharper and this will translate to a prettier brand of rugby league in time, but the short kicking games of players becomes even more important early on.

Due to this, someone like Ash Taylor could really bounce back. I also expect a dry weekend of football at this stage, so don’t lose faith if players in key positions last weekend didn’t score well with some tough wet games.

Rugby league continues forward this weekend and so does SuperCoach, so enjoy your footy and let’s hope we don’t see too many delays in matches going ahead.

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