The question of how to manage performance and expectations in the lead up to the finals was highlighted by the reactions to Melbourne Storm’s loss to Manly last week.
Storm’s 11-game winning streak ended at AAMI Park against the Sea Eagles in a golden point thriller. On Friday night, Storm smashed the Broncos 40-4.
After resting the bulk of their Origin players the week before there was a high expectation that, with close to Melbourne’s best team on the field, they would continue their momentum into the finals.
Undoubtedly Manly produced an outstanding team performance to get the biscuits off the boot of Cherry-Evens in the 85th minute.
However, to those who have tracked the Melbourne form line there was a noticeable lack of energy and intensity around key areas of their game.
Was that due to complacency or an attitude of “we just need to show up to win” because of their position on the competition ladder?
The very short answer to that is an emphatic “NO”. Check Friday night’s scoreline again.
Sitting six points clear on top of the competition, Craig Bellamy understands there is an opportunity six weeks out from the semi-finals to put some solid work into his playing group in preparation to have them peaking at the end of September and the first week of October.
The practice of periodising player physical load is something that every club does during an NRL season, however as we get to this stage of the year teams need to adapt their preparation workloads based on the players they have available.
This is also balanced with where they sit on the ladder.
Storm’s high performance staff will be under instruction to come up with a formula that will have the playing group peaking at the end of September.
This is done by increasing the amount of high resistance training in the gym, doing more contact work in the wrestling room and spending more time on the training field working on speed and endurance.
The outcome of this will be immediately a small dip in the physical and mental energy the Storm has available on game day.
The upside is that about two weeks out from the top eight being decided, Bellamy will back off the preparation load significantly and freshen his team up running into the most important part of the season.
Believe me, it is no fluke that the Storm consistently go deep into the finals.
Equally the Roosters and the Rabbits are going through the same process, albeit they have had to rest some players due to injury, which can be a blessing in disguise.
Having Sam Burgess jumping out of his skin at this stage of the season certainly won’t hurt the Rabbits in the semis, while the Roosters would prefer to Waerea-Hargraves, Taukeiaho and Cordner available.
Trent Robinson has already rested his Origin players and will be taking the same approach of putting extra work into the entire playing group.
Tigers, Broncos, Panthers, Knights and Sharks do not share this luxury, as they are in a fight for every point they can get between now and round 25.
Without doubt one of these teams will get on a roll in this period and enter the semis full of confidence – but the downside is they will not be in a position to build to a climax as they need to deliver peek performance right now.
This is one of the major reasons why we haven’t seen a team from outside the top four win the Grand Final.
To win the prize the final preparation starts now, not a week out from the big show.
Former St George player Matthew Elliott coached Canberra, Penrith and New Zealand Warriors in the NRL