Ignore history, just blow them away: Brian Smith on the tactics Eels must adopt to upset Panthers
Few men know more about coaching Parramatta than Brian Smith. He has coached the Eels more times than anyone else in their history, with 243 games between 1997 and 2006, including the 2001 Grand Final appearance and two minor premierships.
Brad Arthur may well overtake him next year – this Grand Final will be his 230th game in charge – and Smith was sure that the man in the blue and gold hot seat would be relaxed ahead of the biggest game of his career.
“He’ll feel confident,” said Smith. They’ve had a pretty hard run to home so he’ll be hoping that he can get them in a nice physical point. They’ll do a bit of work by Wednesday or Thursday, but then they’ll taper back off again.
“I think the physical bit is obvious. People talk about mental for big games, but even the average human can’t be expected to be at their mental peak if, physically, they’re not up near their peak. Hit that bit first early on and deal with the mental bit later in the week.
“I think when you play against a team that’s in their third Grand Final in a row and has had such a brilliant win/loss ratio, sometimes that becomes a case of ‘how do we beat this guys?’
“But he’ll have a fair line on that anyway, because they beat them twice earlier in the year. They didn’t win in the playoff game, but they were well in that game for a period.
“There might be something in those performances that make him confident and able to reassure. They might not need to do a whole heap of gameplanning, because they might know already what they need to do.”
Last week’s performance, in which Parramatta were losing until late against the Cowboys and underwent a significant game plan shift at half time, was indicative of how they could adapt to ingame situations. Their previous ability to expose the Panthers, too, could be a source of confidence.
“The teams that win most have multiple ways of winning,” explains Smith. “In today’s world, you need to find ways to win in different situations as they arise.
“You have to have a multi approach. It might only be that you’re very good at one aspect that suits what your opponent’s strength or weakness is.
“If they know what that is, he might have a cosy week this week because there might not be a lot that he has to do to get the team ready to play.
“In essence, all the good teams can impose their will on an opposition more times than not, otherwise they wouldn’t be there.”
Smith has seen a preview of how hard it is to beat a side like Penrith: his son, Rohan Smith, is head coach at Leeds Rhinos, who went down 24-12 to St Helens in the Super League Grand Final.Saints are team with a style similar to the Panthers and who are in a similar phase of dominance, having won their fourth consecutive title last weekend.
“The way the Panthers win – like St Helens – is based on the physical, but also that they don’t need to absolutely blow you away,” he said. “They’re happy to keep doing it and doing it until the last ten minutes if necessary.”
“Parra have gotten better at that this year, but over the last few years where they have been a force but not made it, I feel that was that their weakness.
“They did well when they blew others away, where they bullied the other teams into submission and could be leading by a big margin at half time, rather than Penrith’s way of being at them and at them until they wear them down.
“The St Helens capability was the same. Leeds couldn’t do it, they had to rely on waiting and tiring the opposition down.
“They weren’t ever beating them in the yardage battle and the territorial battle, but they could win because they could string passes together, find weaknesses and put on a good play to go score, and then score again and again.
“That’s the same question with Penrith for Parramatta. Do they do something clearly different or do the same thing very well over and over again?”
“Leeds didn’t have the sense of timing, because when you’re chasing 12 points in a Grand Final, there’s only a very good play or not good enough. You have to find those plays.
“You have to do these things on play two, because if you go one more, most often they’ll push you sideways and you’ll have to battle to get out of your own end. There’s a lot of risk-taking, but that’s what underdogs have to put up with.”
Whatever the tactics are, Smith was adamant that Brad Arthur would be steering well clear of the weight of history in his pre-match interactions with the players.
“History doesn’t mean a thing to those guys,” he said. “I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but the people who get ahead in any role, whether coaches, rookie kids or veteran players, don’t live in yesterday. You can’t get ahead and you don’t last.
“All that stuff if for you and me, for fans and media people, it’s all part of the mill. But that stuff – if it even got a mention I’d be absolutely astonished. By either team: Penrith won’t be counting on experience from last year either. You just have to do the thing on the day.