Sonny Bill Williams is ranked third in the NRL for offloads in 2013
With NRL games being tight and tense affairs, with the emphasis on defence structures that keep points-scoring to a minimum, the offload is an effective way to create second-phase ball and create attacking opportunities against unstructured defences.
In 2013, when most coaches are working on teams getting numbers in the tackle and in an era of grappling and slow play-the-balls, the head clipboard-holders are realising more and more that the offload is their secret weapon.
Like a rediscovered treasure map that’s been buried for ages, some coaches are dusting off the strategy guidelines and encouraging their forwards to look for offloads whenever possible.
The reason? Offloads are a very good way to break up well-structured tackling lines, as they overcome group tackles, create gaps and tire opponents by forcing second efforts.
Sure, a poor offload is still a bad play – but a good offload is worth its weight in gold.
The offload ‘mania’ of the early ’90s was infectious and, like all crazes, it got out of control. Players ended up pushing their passes in their own territory, or passed to players under pressure. Eventually, the ‘offload bubble’ popped and offloads became a rarity, especially throughout the Super League age.
Nowadays most teams boast well-rounded players who are capable of offloading and often you find these players have a large physical presence with a high level of skill. Offloading the ball in the middle of the ruck or out on the edges is a major attribute when a team is in possession of the football. It can test and disrupt even the best defensive structures.
The late, great Artie Beetson, a big ball-playing forward, was renowned for his ability to slip a great pass while falling and pre-line pass to create opportunities for his team. Steve Roach, the tough Balmain, NSW and Australian prop of the ’80s, also made it look easy. While he will always be known for his toughness and willingness to cart the ball forward, no matter who was in front of him, we should also acknowledge the great pair of hands ‘Blocker’ had and his skill at being able to pop passes with three defenders hanging off him.
Forwards nowadays cannot just tuck the ball under their arms and make a hit-up. They need to be skilled and able to pass the ball, either pre-line or in the collision.
While there is only a slight positive correlation between offloads and winning games in 2013, some teams are close to unstoppable when their players are offloading the ball.
The Dragons’ four wins this season have come off the back of them convincingly winning the offloads count. The Titans are another team with many big players who are all capable of offloading the ball; they lead the NRL with 144 to date.
The Titans have three players – Dave Taylor, Greg Bird and Jamal Idris – among the 10 top players for offloading the ball.
Trent Merrin, one of the form forwards of the competition, leads the NRL for offloads with 27. He often ignites his Dragons team with scoring opportunities against well-structured defences. He uses some very good footwork and agility, combined with the ability to get the ball away in the tightest of circumstances.
Any team with Sonny Bill Williams in their ranks is going to be good. He is ranked third in the NRL for offloads and at times he and his Roosters teammates have been unstoppable. Williams is able to combine his extraordinary athletic skill and strength with his one-handed basketball grip on the ball, challenging opposition teams to stop him while he effortlessly pops balls for support runners. It’s a pleasure to watch when he is on song.
Delving deeper… rather than focus on which players are offloading and how successful their offloads have been, I have tried to establish a correlation between offloads and winning percentage.
Out of the 80 games played so far this season, there have been seven games during which each team made the same number of offloads. That leaves 73 games where one team had more than the other.
In 42 of these games (57.6 per cent) the team that made more offloads won. You can see the advantage.
The disclaimer is that offloading isn’t a strategy that all successful teams use. The Rabbitohs, who currently lead the competition, are ranked 14th for offloads.
Nevertheless, there’s a clear message here for some of the teams that are struggling in attack: give the offloads a bit more prominence, boys!