Friday 11 September 2009

NRL Finals Scouting Reports: Matt Orford & Cooper Cronk

In just two hours, the first Qualifying Final of the 2009 NRL Finals Series kicks-off and two of the top halfbacks in the competition go head to head. Melbourne Storm halfback Cooper Cronk will line up opposite Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles halfback Matt Orford in a battle that will go a long way to determining the winner of what could be a sudden death semi final. Here are the scouting reports on Cronk and Orford heading into the game tonight (starts at 7:45pm on Channel Nine). Melbourne are the 4th Seed but like 5th Seed Manly, the loser of this game could be knocked out if two of the three teams seeded below them win, the Storm or Sea Eagles could be done for 2009. ================================================================================= COOPER CRONK Melbourne Storm Halfback Age: 25 NRL Games: 137 SCOUTING REPORT CARD Passing Creativity: 7.5 out of 10 Kicking Game: 8.5 out of 10 Game Breaking Ability: 7.5 out of 10 Defence: 6.5 out of 10 Organisational Skills: 9.0 out of 10 Scouting Report Summary: Cronk has played for Australia once in 2007, but because of the presence of Johnathan Thurston and Scott Prince - he is yet to represent Queensland at State of Origin level. His form during Melbourne's three straight Minor Premiership seasons was as good as any halfback in the game and despite a dip in his impact on the team's performance in 2009 - he's still one of the best organising halfbacks in Rugby League. Cronk started 2009 playing on both sides of the field and looked overstretched by Melbourne's struggles (they won only 3 from their first 7 games). The arrival of five-eighth Brett Finch from Parramatta freed up Cronk to focus on the right side and choose his times to run an attacking play on the left. While Cronk has failed to recapture his form of the 2006-2007-2008 Grand Final years, he is still very dangerous in the attacking 20m zone. Cronk has three pet plays. First he loves to pan wide (mainly on the left) one pass off the ruck and find Ryan Hoffman or the edge runner on a short lateral ball to try and expose a defender who hasn't closed the gap fast enough. He can however leave his pass a little too late, and forward passes are now creeping into that play. Secondly he loves the chip/cross kick to the corners for the likes of Steve Turner, the left side winger and Greg Inglis. His accuracy is normally excellent and he times the kicks well to allow his leaping outside men a good crack at the ball. Thirdly he loves to dummy and run close to the try line. He will fake to run the short pass play on the right side but he'll step off his right foot in the moment the defender's eyes are going to his potential hole runner. It doesn't work every time, but Cronk has surprising strength for his size and he can punish a lazy defender on the inside with this play. He has two other variation plays which he doesn't overplay. There's the chip kick back behind the line on the inside for a streaking Billy Slater or a cross kick inside his own half for Steve Turner to get Melbourne field position with the clock winding down and the Storm trailing. He is a stout defender who has a very low missed tackle count at the end of the season. His long kicking game is effective and tactically sound, making him an excellent primary kicking option for the Storm. His statistical numbers in attack are down in 2009 from 2008 but when it comes to Try Assists and Line Break Assists... the official stats are not always reliable and what qualifies as an 'key play' tends to fluctuate weekly. He can change games when he gets a free reign behind a rolling pack and has enough trick shots to create scoring opportunities, but his 2009 season has been a down year. The Storm need him to take over in this Finals Series for them to make a serious Premiership run. Scouting Report Card Grade: 39.0 out of 50. ================================================================================= MATT ORFORD Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles Halfback Age: 31 NRL Games: 228 SCOUTING REPORT CARD Passing Creativity: 7.5 out of 10 Kicking Game: 7.5 out of 10 Game Breaking Ability: 8.0 out of 10 Defence: 5.0 out of 10 Organisational Skills: 9.0 out of 10 Scouting Report Summary: Matt Orford finally served his critics some humble pie by leading the Sea Eagles to the 2008 NRL Premiership and although he is now 31 years old, he is still a difference maker in the NRL. His form has been up and down during 2009, but since Manly found their A-Game mid-season - Orford has been their best player alongside Anthony Watmough as the Sea Eagles claimed 5th spot on the ladder. Destined never to play State of Origin football, Orford may have to settle for a second premiership with the Sea Eagles to confirm his legacy as one of the finest halfbacks to play in the NRL since it was formed in 1998. Orford uses his short kicking game near the try line effectively. He can kick too often on occasion but that is because he likes to kick in behind the line to create repeat sets. He's not a great aerial kicker but he's good enough to create opportunities. His long kicking game is average and he's a bit of a popgun but again - the job gets done. Orford loves combining with Anthony Watmough on the left and the second rower running off his hip either via a short ball or a cut out behind a decoy runner is his pet play. When he shifts to the right the preferred option for Orford is to float behind a decoy one off the ruck and either hit Glenn Stewart directly or go behind him to find a flying Brett Stewart on an angled run towards the corner. Orford's combination with Watmough as a runner and Glenn Stewart as a edge ball player is a productive one for the Sea Eagles. Orford can run the ball, although he's not as nippy as he used to be around the ruck. But his first few steps are quick enough for him to either drag a defender across with him for a cut back ball to a forward up the middle or he'll try and skirt around the defender on the outside shoulder. Defensively Orford is poor. He tries hard and likes to jump into his tackles but he is a liability when the opposition can work him over during a game. Organisationally Orford is the undisputed general. He barks orders at everyone and most of the time, the Manly players listen. He's got a good rapport with regular hooker Matt Ballin and knows when to defer to Jamie Lyon, Glenn Stewart and Brett Stewart in attack. Making Orford a halfback that is capable of taking the Sea Eagles back to another Grand Final in 2009. Scouting Report Card Grade: 37.0 out of 50. ================================================================================= So that's how they stack up. Cronk has a Grade of 39.0 out of 50, edging Orford's 37.0 by 2.0 points. Tonight however, Orford will be playing behind a relatively healthy pack and the Storm aren't what they used to be in previous clashes between the two sides. Melbourne take on Manly tonight at Etihad Stadium. For more content on the game including a Video Preview click here. Just a note about the Scouting Report Card: These are categories applicable to halfbacks, so if for example Jarryd Hayne was only a 36.0 (he isn't but for arguments sake he is) that doesn't mean he's less of a player than Cronk and Orford. If there are players you would like profiled, please email, comment below or Twitter me.