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In Year of the Pig, smartest of species bring home the bacon

OK, the Roosters are an exception, with Jake Friend having missed four of the opening seven rounds and now sidelined for a further three months at least, but Victor Radley is a superb substitute.

In any case, they have strike everywhere, with an experienced game manager in Cooper Cronk and the code’s best two backs in centre Latrell Mitchell and fullback James Tedesco.

Lightning quick: South Sydney's Damien Cook is one of the fastest hookers to have played the game.

Lightning quick: South Sydney’s Damien Cook is one of the fastest hookers to have played the game.Credit:AAP

The Cowboys also buck the trend. But hooker Jake Granville has had his time on the field cut from 80 minutes to only 34 against the Storm in round five.

Yet his coach, Paul Green, is a premiership winner, as are those in charge of the top teams – Melbourne’s Craig Bellamy, the Roosters’ Trent Robinson, South Sydney’s Wayne Bennett, Canberra’s Ricky Stuart and Manly’s Des Hasler.

The Dragons have a potential premiership winner in Paul McGregor but he also has James Graham, who, along with his fellow Englishman, the Rabbitohs’ Sam Burgess, are leaders. They epitomise physical courage and focused emotion, the twin pillars of leadership since the first Ice Age.

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Leadership is everything now. The Broncos are devoid of it: a young coach under extreme pressure, an out-of-form hooker, halves incapable of organising and a captain in Darius Boyd who is playing busted. If Cameron Smith was parachuted into Brisbane overnight, the Broncos would start winning games.

Consider Smith’s sacred numerology: he has played 391 games and won 279. Only 34 players have ever reached the 300 mark, but Smith is likely to join that illustrious club on wins alone. Yet he acknowledges the over-arching role of the coach.

Five-day turnarounds, plus travel, challenge the best of them, particularly with training loads. There is always the temptation to add another session, or extend it, in order to correct mistakes made in the previous match, or practise moves designed to exploit anticipated weaknesses in the forthcoming opponents.

Sometimes, as McGregor has found, it is better to simply have one captain’s run training session in short turnarounds. Yet it is the training sessions missed that have an impact in the rounds following the five-day turnaround. According to Champion Data, since 2000, 50.2 per cent of teams have won after a five-day break and 50.5 per cent have won in the round which followed the short turnaround.

However, up to round six, only 25 per cent of teams have won after five days but 83 per cent have won the round following the break.

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Wests Tigers’ Easter Monday debacle against the Eels is interesting. The Tigers had an erratic lead-in to the game, with a five-day break, followed by a six-day one, then a yawning 11 days before the Eels match.

By contrast, the Eels had a neat eight-day gap between each round from three to six. OK, we can partly dismiss the Tigers’ surrender due to the loss of their international hooker, Robbie Farah, with concussion early in the game.

Their premiership-winning coach, Michael Maguire, has a reputation as a hard taskmaster. Asked whether he flogged his team over the 11-day break, he said: “No, I didn’t. I took notice of the need to back off, knowing the accumulated effects of those three games with the short breaks. I definitely did not do any flogging sessions. Maybe I should have. It’s always trial and error.”

Roy Masters is a Sports Columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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