Forwards have become robots

WHERE have all the ball-playing forwards gone?

In an era where mistakes must be kept at a minimum and field position is paramount, forwards have lost the ability to off-load; they have become robots. Ball security has taken over from skill and players are reluctant to pop a pass.

Arthur Beetson was renowned for his off-loading ability and there has only been a sprinkling of players since who pass under pressure.

It’s interesting to watch the modern game and how front-rowers tuck the ball under their wing.

In the past, most teams had a ball-playing forward in the pack who took the line on, attracted defenders and off-loaded to a team-mate backing up.

Beetson, Cronulla’s Gavin Miller and, in more recent times, Sonny Bill Williams (I promised myself I’d never mention his name again) and Anthony Tupou could slip a pass out the back and with great effect. Looking at the NSW and Queensland teams for tonight’s clash there is a notable absence of prop-forwards blessed with off-loading ability. Petero Civoniceva, Matt Scott, Michael Weyman and Brett White would be lucky to pass the ball five times between them during 80 minutes of footy.

At a local level, ball-playing forwards are also a dying race which I find difficult to comprehend when defence in country rugby league is not as well organised or as technical as in the NRL.

Defence in the bush is certainly tough; just go and watch a local derby. The hits are enormous but just once in a while I would like to see a player with two or more defenders hanging on to them pop a pass to a nippy half or five-eighth.

The Ghosts have a forward pack which is the envy of most coaches in the NRRRL but looking at their stats there is not a lot happening in the ball-playing department. Not to say this is a negative but it tells me coaching methods have changed dramatically over the years.

Against Evans Head in round one, 10 forwards were used with a total eight off-loads in eighty minutes of football – five players failed to pass the ball at all. It was the same in rounds two and three, and against the Rhinos six forwards kept the pill tightly tucked under their arm.

The question is: Have the players enough talent to throw that magic pass or has the game become entrenched with a safety-first approach?

I’ve seen a few local games this season but am yet to witness a forward who frequently attracts defenders, off-loads the ball and in doing so disrupts the defensive pattern of opposition teams. That is with the exception of a front-rower languishing in reserve grade for the Rhinos.

Scott Kilduff continually takes on the line and nine out of 10 times slips the pass away. Kilduff – if fit – would walk into most first grade sides and what a bonus he would be with his trademark Arthur Beetson-style off-loads.

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