Saturday 16 March 2013

NRL 2013: Is Nathan Fien really the problem for the Dragons? | #2ndTackle #Setof6

2nd TACKLE: Soward, not Fien, is the one not pulling his weight.
Round 2 Set of 6 and @NRLTweet Player of the Year Votes

2013 NRL Premiership

By W D Nicolson - March 16, 2013

Is Jamie Soward the biggest obstacle to points for the Dragons?
This is a new feature on - every week we will post a Set of 6 Tackles that form a Complete Set by the end of the Round. It also features Votes from Round 2 of The @NRLTweet Player of the Year Awards. Let us know what you think @NRLTweet


Jamie Soward needs to change...
Or the Dragons must move on.

(Why can't Parramatta make the playoffs? ... Read our 1st Tackle of Round 2 below for more on the fallout from Round 2.)

Entering 2013, St George Illawarra Dragons coach Steve Price was under pressure to keep his job. After just two rounds, and two defeats, the pressure on Price has doubled if not tripled.

While no one expected the Dragons to go down to Melbourne and beat the Storm in Round 1, they were expected to give a better account for themselves at home against the Broncos.

They didn't.

Not through a lack of possession or field position, in fact the first half was all Dragons... yet at halftime the score was only 6-all and the Broncos had just finished the half down to 12 men with Justin Hodges in the sin bin.

All off-season Price had declared that Nathan Fien would be his halfback and partner incumbent five-eighth Jamie Soward in the halves. And despite the fact Fien had spent the bulk of his last few years as a hooking utility, Price decided a veteran combination was the best way forward for a team that struggled to score points last year with a similarly veteran pair in the 6 and 7 in Soward and Ben Hornby.

Now it must be added that in spot halves duty in the last couple of years - Fien has looked good, or more accurately - creative.

In 5 games in 2011 at five-eighth and halfback, Fien and the Dragons went 2-3 - beating the Sea Eagles and Sharks, while losing to the Titans, Knights and Raiders. In 2012 - he played all 4 of his games in the halves... at five-eighth and the Dragons only won once... but it was against Melbourne.

Those statistics aren't overwhelming but clearly Fien's performances in the halves were enough to convince Price that Fien was his first choice halfback for 2013.

But what St George Illawarra fans want to know is why the club signed young halfback Josh Drinkwater from Manly's Under 20s side, if he wasn't going to get a good crack at the #7 in the pre-season?

Although Drinkwater is an unknown quantity - as many young players can thrive in the NYC and then find the NRL an entirely different proposition - for loyal Red V supporters, the fact Price came out and publically declared Fien was getting the job as the pre-season kicked off, kind of ticked them off.

They'd seen the Dragons under the post-Wayne Bennett regime and the lack of creativity (not that it was sky-high under Bennett) was alarming. Now the club makes a bold purchase of a kid who didn't have a problem on that front in the NYC and he doesn't get a chance to beat out a 31 year old halfback turned hooker turned halfback again?

As legitimate as a beef that may be, this piece is not about Fien or Drinkwater.

It's about the inability of Jamie Soward to create for anyone but himself.

@NRLTweet Player of the Year - Round 2 Voting
8 - B Hannant, 3 - T Merrin, 2 - C Norman, 1 - M Gillett.
Voters | M Tsialis @mtsialis and A McMurray @adrmcm

Now that's about as strongly worded criticism as I like to go here on but the evidence just keeps mounting against Soward with every game the Dragons struggle in.

I recognise that Soward has won a premiership and played State of Origin but he's at his 'best' kicking long and using his footwork and speed to turn half opportunities into breaks/points. The latter of which requires someone else to be doing the creating.

When the Dragons were playing great football - Darius Boyd was the chief playmaker when it came to creating tryscoring opportunities and Soward kicked, kicked and kicked some more.

Apart from his kicking game - which isn't what it once was - Soward must keep it simple and just feed his edge backrower or centre/winger QUICKLY.

That was Hornby's job on the left for the Dragons, and giving way to Boyd when he needed to.

The worse thing Soward can do is hold the ball too long, because he is a human hand-brake on momentum when he doesn't take the simple option. And it happened a lot against the Broncos in the 22-6 loss... a lot.

Yet if you watch any other player do something selfish in attack - Soward comes down on them like a tonne of bricks and berates them verbally and physically.

If you aren't walking the walk and doing the job your team desperately needs from a chief playmaker, then hammering others for not doing theirs is hardly the greatest leadership from a now senior player on the roster.

Soward won't get the chop just yet (Fien will be the scapegoat if there is one in Round 3), but if you dig up recent quotes from Soward to get an indication of what his focus was entering 2013... a new contract... somewhere.

"That's the competitive side of me. Japanese rugby appeals on that side -- that you want to win and prove you're a winner. I want to prove I am a winner," Soward told The Australian at the start of March.

"That's the appeal of challenging myself somewhere else. My fiancee is well aware of the situation and what is going on. She likes sushi.

"You have to think about your future."

Okay Dragons fans... how do YOU read that quote?

Doesn't sound like a guy with his focus on adjusting his game to benefit the team does it?

But this isn't meant to be an anti-Soward piece - the kid can play when the spirit moves him and it's not like I haven't seen him fit in with good teams before - his challenge now is to fit into a team that is struggling, by changing his game to help his team.

Not just himself.

And one final point on Fien, something I noticed last night was that when Fien saw the half chances in attack he was basically too slow of foot to make the clear break. It shows that he's got more vision than Soward but is held back by the fact he is a former half who has lost his spark from too many years at hooker.

As for Soward - time to readjust your game for the good of the team... or you'll be the one playing NSW Cup for the Illawarra Cutters sooner rather than later.

Speaking of the 'Steelers' and the clearest alternative in the halves, everyone can watch Drinkwater at 1pm today for Illawarra v Canterbury on Fox Sports 1.

As a result I'm tipping all time high ratings for NSW Cup, thanks to Dragons fans alone.

Warrick D. Nicolson

Is Soward really the problem at the Dragons? 
Please comment below or reply on Twitter.

There will be more Tackles from Round 2's Set of 6 over the course of the next few days. 

A tip of the hat to the SMH's 'Set of 6' and Andy Wilson's 'Set of 6' for the name, as Complete Set just doesn't roll off the tongue quite as well, and well call it flattery that you've already used it.

Round 2 - Six points that emerged from a four day footy week.
FIRST TACKLE - Parramatta can't make the playoffs...
See article here...
SECOND TACKLE - Soward is the problem, not Fien.
See article above.
To be added
For The Postman's analysis of each game for Round 2, with our NRL Dream Team and NRL Super Coach tips for players you need to consider/ignore from each side - click here.

To be added
To be added
To be added
@NRLTweet Player of the Year Award
Round 2 Votes

As regular readers of and followers of @NRLTweet know - we run The @NRLTweet Player of the Year Awards each season (starting in 2010) and they return once again for 2013 with another group of excellent Rugby League judges.

You can follow the Votes live after each game via this Hashtag #NRLTweetPOTY

One of the reasons we set this up is the Dally M Award lacks the kind of objectivity that a true player of the year award really should have, and while we aren't claiming our system is perfect - it is judged on what happens on the field with reputations and bias left by the wayside.

This is how the votes went in Round 2.

@NRLTweet Player of the Year - Round 2 Voting
PAR 16-20 CBY
8 - J Jackson, 3 - C Sandow, 2 - J Morris, 1 - J Reynolds.
Voters | W Nicolson @NRLTweet and M Spillane @Devonhead
STI 6-22 BRI
8 - B Hannant, 3 - T Merrin, 2 - C Norman, 1 - M Gillett.
Voters | M Tsialis @mtsialis and A McMurray @adrmcm
Voters | B Jones @benwah87 and B Hoese @gunnermcdagget
Voters | M Spillane @devonhead and M Trodden @trods2906
Voters | M Vickers @mercurialmattyv and G Delaney @gregdelaney84
Voters | Justin Davies @dragonpunk12 and A McMurray @adrmcm
Voters | M Trodden @trods2906 and M Duncan @mrpeninsula
Voters | W Nicolson @nrltweet and N Wilbow @parramatters

Round 1 Leaderboard (Full update after completion of Round 2):
8 - C Cronk, C Sandow, S Burgess, J Thurston, P Gallen
6 - J Segeyaro, A Uate, D Gagai
5 - S Matai
4 - D Cherry-Evans, G Inglis, T Carney

You can follow the Votes live after each game via this Hashtag #NRLTweetPOTY

Share your thoughts on the footy so far by commenting below or replying on Twitter.

The NRL Injury List is updated regularly during each week of the season, making it an invaluable Fantasy and Tipping Tool alongside our Weekly NRL Previews once again.

Remember if you want game-specific Late Mail every week, then check out our Round Previews Every Wednesday and they are updated with all the very latest Late Mail on Friday.

If we are missing any players on this list - please comment below, reply on Twitter or email this address.
Who will take Ben Barba's mantle as champion in the 2013 @NRLTweet Player of the Year Awards?

The Prestigious Award returns for a 4th season in 2013.

Remember you can track all the votes each week after each match in 2013 via the Twitter hashtag #nrltweetpoty