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globalrugbyleague - Sat, 17 Mar 2007 11:26:00 GMT
PARRAMATTA V NEW ZEALAND
Mt Smart Stadium
Saturday March 17
KO: 7:30pm (5:30pm AUST)

The Phantom today will foray into the minds of coaches Michael Hagan (Eels) and Ivan Cleary (New Zealand) for tonight’s trans-tasman clash.

I have dusted off the Phantom skintight suit, dispensed with the mask to gaze into my crystal ball of tactics for this NRL opening round.

This is a fascinating clash.

The first clash for all teams is hard to assess and a loss is certainly not the end of the world.

I prefer to make proper assessments after six to eight weeks of a premiership when you get a good gage on how teams are truly traveling.

NEW ZEALAND:

Strengths:

The Warriors have players who have extraordinary skill, are naturally born to do things with the footy in attack and have great size and power in their tackling.

Coaching wise Cleary found the ``right blend'' in his first season as coach in 2006.

The Warriors' go forward is paramount to their style, it's simple yet it works in the modern game of science where every minute details is scrutinised.

The ``go forward'' permits Grant Rovelli and Lance Hohaia to play either ``at, before or through the defensive line''.

This pair's footwork is designed to confound a retreating defence around the rucks. Hohaia while selected centre, I expect will float around the field, near the rucks early.

Weaknesses:

The Warriors' forwards are big, powerful men, but have a habit of tiring at the one time. Dummy-half runners like Mark Riddell and PJ Marsh are lethal at exploiting tired defenders.

PARRAMATTA:

Strengths:

The Eels' strength in this match could very much be the game plan new coach Michael Hagan incepts.

Hagan teams like to attack by aiming runners into space, rather than get wide passes to players who run into defenders.

Expect the Eels to run a lot of decoy runners on the edges of the field to concern the Warriors' ruck defenders.

Weaknesses:

The Eels' biggest weakness early this season will be their halves, Tim Smith and Brett Finch _ are both capable footballers but their combination might take time to gel.

While Finch is selected at five-eigfhth, Hagan will use him a lot as first receiver, especially late in tackle counts to grubber or chip kick.

Overall Tactics:

Ivan Cleary:

Ivan Cleary is astute, reserved and doesn't seem to get ruffled.

He likes his teams to march the ball forward from the forwards then let the halves ``have a look'' at play to least numbers of defenders on the field.

The Warriors have size and speed in their backs. Cleary likes the ``key players'' in his team not to be tackled much and play the ball _ rather running the play and ``standing tall.''

Michael Hagan:


Michael Hagan is very tactically clever, he ``talks with his players, not down to them.''

Hagan, as a skilled five-eighth and deep-thinker on the game, likes his halves to be creative and not just send a pass to a forward charging into the line where the play ends.

He likes the structured approach, but also ``add-lib'' style, where players, play to what they see in front of them.

Prediction:

I Like the Warriors in front of their home crowd first up. They will have a little too much size and enterprise in the forwards for the opposition yet the Eels will keep the score close, Warriors by 6.
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