IN simpler times, Jack Gibson would say “kick it to the seagulls”. But as Cameron Smith will attest, these days the seagulls come to you – and more sophisticated measures are required.
“Jeez he put me off, he rattled me, the old seagull,” said Melbourne captain Smith after a feathered friend distracted him from making a first half conversion in his 250th game, the 38-6 win over Cronulla on Sunday night.
Since Origin I, it has become apparent that Gibson’s old tactic of kicking to the spaces and away from talent fullbacks like Smith’s club-mate Billy Slater is increasingly out of vogue.
Instead, halves are sending towering, spiralling bombs into the winter air, giving defenders time to arrive on the scene at the same time as the ball plummets towards the hapless custodian.
It’s no co-incidence that it’s a tactic the Sydney Roosters have perfected and that their halves, James Maloney and Mitchell Pearce, used it in NSW’s 14-6 Origin I success over Queensland.
“It’s something you don’t work on in a week,” Roosters coach Trent Robinson said, in reference to Origin camp.
“It’s something we’ve been working on and he (Pearce) has. The combination of kicks is an important one. You’ve got to have and arsenal of kicks but certain ones you go back to time after time.
“I think Mitchell used them wisely the other night along with James but also used other kicks well. Hopefully we can put them in similar positions (for the Roosters).”
Another Origin star, NSW and Canberra’s Blake Ferguson, was the beneficiary of a similar bomb from captain Terry Campese early in the Raiders’ 30-18 win over Brisbane on Monday night,
Ferguson flew high, regathered the kick and off-loaded to tryscorer Josh McCrone all in the one movement.
Not only can you circle a talented kick-returner with the long-range bomb launched from near halfway but you might even get the ball back – something that’s not possible with a clearing kick.
The coaches call it “hang time” – an American football term which ignores the basic fact of physics that you can’t make a ball hang anywhere without a hook.
It’s ‘what punters want’ in the NFL.
“Hang time? Most teams do it,” says Raiders coach David Furner.”If they get around the 40 or 50 metre mark, they are putting it up and getting some hang time.
“All sides have got some really good runners at the back and you try to start your defensive set off that way.
“If it’s fifth tackle and they’ve got their wingers and fullback back there, it’s very hard to find grass. That’s when you look at that sort of hang time.
“It depends on field position – how many metres you’ve made determines what kind of kick.
“We’ve got some guys like Campo there who can do it – sometimes it’s a way of gaining metres off the other team.”