Notes From The Big Island, part 3

By Martin Wright

Day two of the NTLs is done and the competition is starting to take shape. Five games completed and the better teams have pulled away whilst the battle for the middle placings is hotting up. So far things seem to be going with the form book but day three could see a few upsets which might effect the make up of the semi-finalists.

I used to think that Australia was a country without a “national sport” (cricket, League, Union and Aussie Rules all supported equally). I have now discovered however that I was mistaken. Australia’s national sport is clearly gambling, with the vast majority of male conversation revolving around ‘Tipping’ and what the odds are. I think Australian man’s most prized possession is his smart phone as it enables him to track the odds, place bets and find out the results whilst on the move. I’m pretty sure I haven’t yet met an Australian man who isn’t part of a betting syndicate or at the very least a fantasy league of some sorts. Two distinct factions are also evident amongst this group – those who habitually back a Roughie (pays over $11 for a win) and those who like a Surey (pays under $2 for a win).  I’ve not yet decided if I am in the Roughie or Surey camp yet. Is it worth all the depressing losses just for that one big hit of excitement when your Roughie comes in or do you look to accumulate on the small Sureys but never get the big hit?

The Touch so far has been an education. The competition is very close with wins being earnt along very fine margins. So far the Broncos have won one, drawn one and lost three. They need two wins from the last two games in order to make it to the semi-finals. Not impossible, but the last game is against the reigning champions who are undefeated so far. All still to play for!

The differing characteristics of the teams and their firepower has been interesting to see. Playing against the Mavs the whole game is about Dylan Hennesy. His set up is right to left and without doubt he is a master at finishing 4vs3. Whether he sets up of a Quickie, Counties or a fire up, he has the ability to pick his pass so well that he is odds on to create a score each time. I’ve even see him run a 32 short (Rooster) or two. His trademark is to slow the game right down when he nears the line, wait until the defence adopts the position that he is looking for, take the touch and then beat them with sublime execution of a 4vs3. Everyone here knows his every move though and defences are primed to react to his threat. Despite this he still has great success with his tactic. The Broncos’ tactic was to give him the short side every time so that he couldn’t step back open and hit a 4vs3.  Each time he spurned the short side, stepped back long anyway and still hit the 4vs3.  Magical.

The Titans were exactly the opposite. They played with great speed, swept into the line and beat the Broncos with speed of execution and footwork. Whilst it looked a little frantic, they stretched the defence one way and then another before picking on the guy who was over committed and nailing the score. They have some very experienced players in that team who were experts at this.

Other teams pose differing threats. The Mets compete very hard in the ruck and win lots of penalties and turnovers in this area. Six turnovers on first touch killed the Broncos chances of winning that game. In all honesty, the Broncos were right with them and competed very well but you don’t get away with giving a team with that much class that much field position and possession. It just goes to show that there are many ways to win a game of Touch and that winning the midfield battle is often where the game is won and lost. Tomorrow sees the guys playing the defending champions in the Cowboys; I can’t wait to see what tactic they bring.

What is interesting is that there is a level of player out here who looks like a mere mortal and then there are the giants of the game. The vast majority of the 128 players in the mens Elite 8 competition aren’t stand out. They are just average guys. Yes they are quick, yes they handle very well and yes they read the game well but there are players who just stand about three feet taller than them. The Dylan Hennesys of this world, the Peter Normans and the George Palus. Guys who just look to have more time than anyone else out there, who seem to know what’s going to happen before the opposition think of it and who dominate everything that happens out on the field. I’ve no doubt that the “average” player would look like a giant back in the UK but it does make you wonder how the guys who are giants of the game out here get to be that good.

The relationship with the referees is interesting too. The ‘average’ player is very polite and behaves just as we would in the UK. Some calls don’t go their way and they might disagree with the ref but on the whole they focus on their job and try to control the things in their gift. The ‘giants’, however, seem to have a completely different relationship with the referees. They answer back, they argue, they play up and they blatantly cheat. Most of it goes un-penalised. On more than one occasion I have seen players taking the mickey out of the refs (not in a friendly way) and I have also seen refs pleading with the players to listen. I’m all for a bit of banter with a referee, especially if you’re acquaintances off the pitch but there is definitely a line and there are a lot of people here on the wrong side of it. All of this is alien to me and I’m not sure what to make of it yet. Maybe I’ll figure it out by the end of the week.

Plenty of Touch in this third blog but I will finish with a little anecdote. I have inadvertently discovered the second greatest insult you can give to an Australian man. We have been driving around all week in the Holden Pickup of the team manager. It is a very nice vehicle and thinking I would give him a compliment I told him: “I like your truck mate, I think the Ford Ranger is the nicest one around at the moment but this Holden is nice.”

Once again I got the look! It was like I’d just insulted his mother. It seems that Australian man is either a diehard Holden or a Ford man and that an almost tribal rivalry exists. Unfortunately it was the same man who I asked for a cup of tea last time and he is now pretty much convinced that I bat for the other team. “Nah mate, Fords are for Bogans!” he informed me. I’m not sure what else I can do to insult this man but tune in next time to find out.