By STEVE MASCORD
OLD favourites South Sydney and St George Illawarra have been identified by rivals and their own players as the teams who have cunningly exploited the NRL’s new rules the best.
According to Sydney Roosters prop Sam Moa, Souths coach Michael Maguire has capitalised on the crackdown on gang-tackling, while Dragons winger Jason Nightingale says what was once a weakness for the joint venture – small forwards – has been transformed under the new rules to a strength.
The bunnies flogged premiers Sydney Roosters 28-8 at ANZ Stadium on Thursday while the Dragons topped 40 points for the first time in 111 matches, downing Wests Tigers 44-24 at the same venue on Sunday.
“When you play Souths, they’ve got a strike force across the field and they’ve got a really big pack,” Tongan star Moa explained to League Week.
“The rule changes enables quicker play and that kind of suits them but we’re playing of an even board and the same rules apply to us and we have to adapt.
“We didn’t connect very well in the middle, us forwards. We weren’t finishing off our tackles, that enabled their big forwards to get a quick play-the-ball. Issac Luke would jump out, he’d pass it to another big forward charging onto the ball.
“It seemed like we were on the back foot for a lot of the game.
“I felt that in the game, they were better than us at that part (holding up the attacker to halt momentum) but last year we came up with a pretty good formula. The boys will change, we have to adapt. We’ve got a pretty good defensive coach in Craig Fitzgibbon.
“He’s been teaching us a whole lot of techniques. It’s just down to us to apply them in the game and take them on board.
“There’s a bit of a shock but there’s a bit of positivity coming out of it because in some ways it was a bit of a kick up the arse that we needed. We won the World Club Challenge and we won the grand final…people keep writing off Souths but they trialled really well and they looked really good in the off-season.”
On page ?? of this week’s magazine, Wests Tigers coach Michael Potter says the new rule interpretations make it, literally, survival of the fittest – and Nightingale says the Dragons are pleased with the change in emphasis.
“That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for the big, powerful people,” says the New Zealand international. “I think Souths are a great example of that – they’re big monsters but obviously they’re fit as well but they’re used in the right way. They’re effective even though their fitness might not be as high as other forwards or teams.
“It’s advantagous to us; we’ve always prided ourselves on being a fit team. We’ve been bent back, we probably do have a smaller pack, a more mobile pack, so those rule interpretations will – I think – help us. We haven’t got an unfit guy in our squad. They can all run all day.
“But like I say, that doesn’t mean you can’t have powerhouses run all over you because there’s a place in the game for those people.
“It’s gotten really fast – that’s great for our game. It puts a lot more responsibility on your backs when you’re coming out of your own end because those forwards are getting extra tired.
“I really enjoyed playing – and watching the games over the weekend. There’ve been some great initiatives to clean the game up and I hope it stays like that.”
Brisbane are another team who believe they’re better off under the new regime. “The ruck has really sped up, which is pretty good for forwards like myself and Benny Hannant,” said prop Josh McGuire.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK