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Different styles create perfect mix for finale

Top Dogs … Krisnan Inu crashes over for Canterbury's first try against South Sydney on Saturday night. Bulldogs coach Des Hasler has created an attacking style of football that has taken the game to a new level.

Top Dogs … Krisnan Inu crashes over for Canterbury's first try against South Sydney on Saturday night. Bulldogs coach Des Hasler has created an attacking style of football that has taken the game to a new level. Photo: Brendan Esposito

The two best teams following the 26 home-and-away rounds of the premiership have safely negotiated the treacherous waters of semi-final football to make their way to the big show on NRL grand final day.

The thing I like about these two teams is that they are different; and in their own way, quite unique.

The Storm

They were far too good for Manly on Friday night. The Sea Eagles produced one of the worst finals performances I can remember. It was horrible. But then again, we said the same thing about South Sydney three weeks ago when they succumbed meekly in the first week of the finals. The common denominator for both teams was they were playing Melbourne.

Coincidence? I think not. Forget salary cap dramas and all the negative connotations that go with them; the Storm, under the leadership of coach Craig Bellamy, have been the No.1 club in the NRL for the past seven seasons.

You know you are the best around when just about every other team in the competition tries to duplicate what you do. Often copied, but rarely reproduced, the Storm's style of football has withstood this most stringent test of time.

Melbourne's military-like, mechanical, meticulous and clinical form of rugby league excellence, not only wins a lot of games; it stands up under pressure; it teaches individuals within the team to stand up under pressure; it makes good players of average players; great players of good players; it turns great players into champions. Basically, it produces championship teams.

Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater have been with the coach the longest. It's no coincidence this is the best playmaker combination in the world; maybe even in history. But even these champion individuals will tell you they are nothing without the people and the systems around them.

The thing that seems to set the Storm apart from most other clubs is that every player who goes to play for them, young or old, buys into the Melbourne program. It's a culture, an attitude, a lifestyle, a way of life. It's got nothing to do with how much you pay them. Just because you pay a footballer more money, it won't make him a better player. It has more to do with the time and energy Bellamy invests in their character, their personality, their skills and technique.

They don't do things by half. Close enough is nowhere near good enough. They do things the same way, the right way, the Melbourne Storm way, every time.

The Bulldogs

No coach has confronted the Storm in big games more than Bulldogs mentor Des Hasler. He knows them inside out. So much so that Hasler has learnt that trying to copy them usually results in consistently running second to them.

It's no surprise then that Hasler has created a new and unique style of football for the Bulldogs. There's an old saying: "If you want to predict the future, you need to create it.'' Hasler has blown up many of the conventional rugby league theories of the past and produced a manner of attacking football that has taken the game to a new dimension.

I guarantee you that much of the Bulldogs' style of ball movement will be copied by every other coach in the NRL during this off-season's training camps; with the probable exception of Bellamy, of course.

Hasler realised that tackling techniques, gang-tackling, wrestling and grappling were threatening to paralyse modern-day football. To counter the dominance of well-drilled defences, Hasler created a style of attack that uses his forwards as the chief playmakers; and his halves simply as a link between the team's big men in the middle of the field and the athletic flyers down the edges.

The forwards no longer engage in a ''head-down-bum-up, ball-tucked-under-the-arm'' battle to make tough metres over the advantage line in the hope this will create time and space for their halves in which to operate. Instead, they line up side by side, with strategically placed width, in a constant rush of chain-passing that brings the whole team into motion on just about every play.

It's quite unique and extremely effective. It's a system that grew in expertise and confidence as the season progressed. It will certainly test the Storm's defensive philosophy, which relies heavily on three-man tackling techniques to strangle opponents and slow down their opponent's attacking momentum.

Whilst attack shouldn't be a problem for the Bulldogs, Hasler will need to address a few of his side's defensive deficiencies that were given a work over by the bigger South Sydney players during Saturday night's contest.

The Rabbitohs put up a real fight and had the minor premiers on the back foot for most of the first 35 minutes. Had they not lost their halfback Adam Reynolds just before half-time, things would have been a lot closer in the run to the winning post.

The productivity Souths enjoyed during this good period of the game will not be lost on Bellamy. He will dissect the Bulldogs' defensive line, isolate the players he needs to attack, and work them over until they crack.

Hasler will know they are coming. He will steel his men for the challenge. I love this stuff.

Conclusion

The fortnight's break leading into last weekend's preliminary finals proved highly beneficial to both clubs and presents them with the perfect preparation going into the title decider.

Both the Storm and Bulldogs had the result well in hand a long way from full-time and were able to enjoy the final minutes of their respective matches stress-free and high on life. It's a wonderful feeling knowing you'll be there on the last day of the season playing for the right to hold up that trophy and head off on a victory lap with your teammates. This is why we play this great game.

With both clubs so well versed in the madness and mayhem that comes with grand final week, one can only assume the teams will be at their peak for the big occasion.

I doubt either side can expect their opponent to lose this grand final. You'll have to come ready to win it for yourself. It's an even-money bet for mine. Good luck to both teams.

12 comments so far

  • Great piece Gus.
    Interesting the Bulldogs played a hybrid game on Saturday night with the big shifts but also a heavy reliance on tight running from Tolman and James Graham. They will be absolutely pivotal again.
    Like all big games he who holds the ball wins.

    Commenter
    Raidermark
    Date and time
    September 24, 2012, 9:33AM
    • Gus,
      please watch the (channel 9 commentary) subjectively and hopefully you will realise retrospectively you ruined the TV experience for Bulldogs supporters. Your entire commentary was based on Souths' perspective. Thankfully we'll have the Fox replay recorded to re-live this semi final run for us (in years to come) if we do go all way.

      Commenter
      Terry
      Date and time
      September 24, 2012, 9:34AM
      • The same was true of the Canberra versus Souths semi. The commentary gears it way too much towards one team winning (Souths in this case).

        And can they please stop with the advertising for gambling. It is so utterly, utterly painful to sit through.

        Commenter
        GuybrushThreepwood
        Location
        Brisbane
        Date and time
        September 24, 2012, 8:23PM
    • Great summary Gus. Always the best insights into the game. Have to take issue with one point though. You say money does not make a fotballer play better. That is probably true but it might make him leave. Storm lost players when they had to play by the same rules everyone else does. Certainly they got players and built a team they would not have been able to but for their indifference to the rules we all play by. Their dynsaty continues because they got the critical mass of the best players $3.9 m over the cap can buy. The confidence and winning feeling has already been paid for to say nothing of the fact they have simply paid the dollars to keep the best of their cashed up foray into the market That means 'salary cap cheating is still front and centre of every thing thay do. Going to be a great game though.

      Commenter
      Bob
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      September 24, 2012, 2:24PM
      • Bob, please! Breaching the salary cap is ingrained in the NRL with on average over a third of the compitition breaching the cap every year over the past 12 years. Every team has been guilty of breaching the cap over that time. Yes, what the Storm did was extreme, but have you forgotten about the Dogs in 2002. The only difference was that the Dogs were caught after only 3 years and that they weren’t successful during that period, they were on track to have exceeded the Storm’s breaches. Don’t throw stones mate.

        Commenter
        sXtz
        Date and time
        September 24, 2012, 4:22PM
    • sXtz, you are kidding! Anyone with knowledge knows that the Storm breached the cap by over 10 times the average breach. They ceased to exist from the record books 2007-2010. Craig Bellamy has won NOTHING except a minor premiership last year. Sorry Gus but you cannot call the Storm the best team of the last 7 years if they didn't exist. They should have been banned for another 5 years too but of course they were owned by News Ltd so that was never going to happen. Bob is correct when saying that their winning culture has origins in cheating and that label will never leave them. They also created the greatest slur on the modern game, the WRESTLE! Sure doesn't look like Rugby League to me. Melbourne Storm stand for everything wrong with the game.

      Commenter
      Chappo10
      Date and time
      September 24, 2012, 5:41PM
      • Chappo10 I think you need to calm yourself down. I totally agree with you that the Storm breach was huge, but it is comparable to the Dogs breach of 2002: Storm breach was $3.78million over five years ($1.7million over first three years); Dogs breach was $2 million over three years. The mere fact that your agreement is that it was 10x the average breach proves my point, that the competition accepts that breaches are normal business. If you accept that this is normal you are asking for trouble, though I admit the clubs seem to be improving over the last 2 years. You also can’t change history - the Storm have been stript of their titles, but the games result can’t be changed just like incorrect ref calls can’t be changed. The results stand.
        Wrestling is a slur on the game, but the Storm bringing wrestling into the game is stretching the truth? Matt Johns has said himself that they included wrestling training when he was going around with the Knights. The Storm have just been more proficient at it. “The four best wrestling teams are the four final teams” was said on Fox last week and is very true.

        Commenter
        sXtz
        Date and time
        September 27, 2012, 11:55AM
    • the bunnies had the bulldogs on toast for the 1st 35min...haslers 'new' gameplan would have come unstuck had reynolds stayed on in my opinion...hard running forwards that create time and space will always create havoc no matter what....yes, the dogs like to go out wide early, but with morris, barba and perret available who wouldn't?? i think hasler is a gr8 coach and deserves all the accolades he gets...but wow, has he got a good playing roster or what??? barba, morris, graham, ennis, eastwood, pritchard, kasiano...will i go on??? the fact that he didnt have the pedigree in the halves forced him to try something different...and it has worked a treat...i wish other coaches would try different things...it would give the game a whole refreshing dimension!!

      Commenter
      wallygee
      Location
      glenhaven
      Date and time
      September 25, 2012, 9:53AM
      • @wallygee - "...has he got a good playing roster or what??? barba, morris, graham, ennis, eastwood, pritchard, kasiano...will i go on?" Here's some names for you: Inglis, Taylor, Burgess x2, Merritt, Luke, Asotasi, Crocker...

        Blaming Souths' loss on Adam Reynolds' injury is a joke when you compare the playing rosters.

        Commenter
        crybbe666
        Location
        NSW
        Date and time
        September 25, 2012, 3:43PM
      • crybbe666 ill be rootin for the doggies v melbourne dont you worry about that! the good thing about doggies is that with their gameplan, the loss of their half isnt as big a problem as compared to bunnies...oh yeah and half the players you mentioned are ready to go out to pasture in 2014...theyre gettin long in the tooth...ill swap you merritt for morris,asotasi for graham, crocker for eastwood, barba for inglis and taylor for kasiano? you reckon you'd still be going as well??mmmmm

        Commenter
        wallygee
        Date and time
        September 26, 2012, 12:00AM

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