Down the years we have had plenty of world class players in the 6 and 7 jerseys going right back to the 60s and 70s with the likes of John Holmes, Roger Millward and Alan Hardisty. Then in the 80s and 90s we had Andy Gregory, Shaun Edwards, Bobby Goulding and Garry Schofield. Even into the 00s we had some top halves in Sean Long and Iestyn Harris.
The thing is we haven’t produced players of this quality in the key positions for a while now and my take on it is that we are firstly scouting the wrong players, with only the big strong athletes getting a chance at professional clubs. There is now far too much emphasis on size and power and not enough on skill, natural ability and good old fashioned rugby brains. Too much time is spent in the gym with clubs wanting players looking like Mr Universe.
All those players mentioned above weren’t beasts in the gym, they couldn’t bench press huge amounts of weight or run the 100 metres in 10 seconds, but one thing they all had in common was an excellent Rugby brain and could spot opportunities in the blink of an eye. On top of this they could all see gaps other couldn’t and would regularly make tries by taking on the defence and creating opportunities for their team mates.
Now all we see is the same block plays every set of six, these players aren’t having to think for themselves because the thinking is being coached out of them or in other cases, the players just simply don’t have the ability to see these things anymore. This in my opinion is because of boring game plans and trying to minimize the errors or the players, restricting the opportunity for naturally gifted players to make their mark on the sport.
Let’s look at the current Super League clubs, there’s a few players that jump straight to mind who are currently struggling to break into the big time.
Jordan Lilley at Leeds has been knocking on the door for some time now and seems to be ready, he has all the technical ability needed to make an impression, his kicking and passing game is top notch with great situational awareness, as well as being a very good goal kicker. I believe the only reason he hasn’t broken through yet is because Brian McDermott is unsure if he has enough pace and is lacking physically, therefore may let them down defensively.
Declan Patton at Warrington is another fine example who has all the attributes but looks set to have another frustrating season with Warrington signing the Australian half back Tyrone Roberts. His kicking game is quality and has a great ability to spot a gap for others but is yet again held back because the coaching team don’t trust him.
Another lad I have high hopes for is young Danny Richardson at St Helens, I just hope he gets the opportunity to play and express himself.
Coaches are too quick to whip these guys off the field as soon as they shy away from the game plan and try something a bit different. All the players I mentioned above were unorthodox and mostly trusted by their coaches to play what they see, they weren’t scared to try things out of fear of being dragged off the field or being dropped for the following week.
To finish off, I’m sure we have the talent in this country but we need to let these young half-backs play heads up rugby and encourage them to try things. Also, as I mentioned right at the start, we need to get away from the stereotype; far too much emphasis at the moment is on size, speed and strength, when it needs to be on natural ability.