ANDREW JOHNS NINE MSN COLUMN

Error-free is often entertainment-free

The hard-headed focus on completion rates and structured play by coaches right across the NRL is killing rugby league as a spectacle.When the most talented players in the game are taking a tackle or putting in a long kick instead of backing their instinct to step, swerve or throw a risky pass, then we are all missing out on one of the key ingredients that go into making rugby league the incredible spectacle that it is.I’ve walked away from watching some games this year because they have been too structured, lacked any imagination and were just plain boring.There has to be a balance between keeping the error rates down and freeing the stars to do what they do best.

It’s easy to take pot shots from the outside at a club likeParramatta, but only the players and coaching staff can find the answers to turn around a horror start to the season.Eels coach Steve Kearney is copping it from all quarters and with seven wins from 32 games at the helm it’s not hard to see why.Fans are suffering the most, having welcomed halfback saviour Chris Sandow to the club only to be left scratching their heads and questioning his real worth.Sandow spent last week in the NSW Cup and this week returns on the bench forParramatta’s clash with the Bulldogs.

The problem was always going to be the marriage ofKearney’s error-free safety-first Melbourne Storm style of coaching and the instinctive playing style of both Sandow and the other Eels superstar Jarryd Hayne.Hayne was quoted as saying that the reason the Eels were able to pile on 30 points in 13 minutes against West Tigers was that they were playing without fear of making a mistake.He also suggested that they could only continue to play that way if the coach allowed it.Parramattawill never get the best out of Hayne and Sandow if they continue to feel restricted.

This week the Eels take on Des Hasler’s Bulldogs who have had a tough couple of rounds – putting up a fight against Melbourne Storm, before narrowly losing to premiers Manly.There is always a danger of players taking the two points for granted when they come up against a struggling side after a tough run, but Hasler is too wise and experienced to let that happen.

Bulldogs fullback Ben Barba has continued his electrifying form and is one player that never seems to be harnessed by the expectations of his coach.He continues to score tries from long-range and his effort against the Sea Eagles last week was just incredible.It was refreshing to read that he values stopping a try higher than scoring one and is continuing to work on his defence.That’s a great attitude for a young bloke to have and he thoroughly deserves a bench spot forQueenslandin this year’s State ofOrigin.

New   South Walescould certainly do with a player or two like Barba in their squad, considering all the players who look like being unavailable.It was tragic for the Blues andNewcastleto lose Kurt Gidley for the season after dislocating his shoulder against Penrith.Poor Gids was in terrible pain for a couple of hours as the doctors battled to get his arm back into the shoulder socket.The problem was he has so much muscle mass around the joint that it was an almost impossible job.I think the Knights will really struggle to make a run at the finals without Gidley, and the Blues will really miss his versatility as well.

The dodgy Achilles tendon of Knights’ hooker Danny Buderus proved all the so-called experts wrong when it flared up again against the Panthers.It looks like Buderus will be out of the first State ofOriginwith the injury and the Blues hooking role will once again come down to a battle between Robbie Farah and Michael Ennis.New South Wales coachRicky Stuartreally has a big job ahead of him this year trying to stop the Queensland machine from notching a seventh successive series victory.He has been building up to this for some time and the current spate of injuries to key players is not going to help the cause.When Stuart does finally assemble the most talented New South Welshman available let’s hope he doesn’t tell the stars to forget their natural flair in order to play it safe.

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