Shute Shield discipline – What’s in a card?
With the regular season over and finals footy kicking-off this weekend, Behind the Ruck took the chance to look back across the 18 rounds that got us to this point, and wondered how a team’s discipline, or lack of it, affected it’s ladder position – if at all. While there are some anomalies, the results do seem to indicate a perhaps unsurprising trend that the poorer your team fares with the referee, the lower down the ladder they tend to finish.
But that in itself obviously opens up a whole host of possible avenues, such as whether a lower ranked team is more likely to concede penalties and be shown cards because they are having to defend more and are under greater pressure; or whether a team has set itself up to give away penalties when necessary, but in as calculated a way as possible so as not to push the officials too far down the path of further sanctions.
This certainly seems to be the case with Warringah. Their tally of just five yellow cards in 18 games puts them top of that particular ladder of discipline, in a season where they finished 3rd in the Shute Shield standings. But their actual penalty count is only the 7th lowest in the competition, a whole 42 more across the season than the best in that category, Southern Districts. Head coach Darren Coleman admits that it has been a clear area of focus for the Rats in 2017.
“Discipline is something we are very aware of and very conscious about, because the outcome of what happens when a guy is off the field for you is key,” he says. “I generally coach to concede as few penalties as possible, and I attempt to have players stop desperate situations without incurring a penalty.
“One of our KPI’s is to win the penalty count each game, obviously, we don’t achieve that every week and to see that we finished 7th in the overall count is a little disappointing. We also have a goal of under four ‘red’ penalties per game. I grade each infringement from red = blatant/stupid, down to ‘green = ref got it wrong, and I communicate with almost every ref in the week after the game to get clarity. But that is nothing different to what every coach does I imagine.
“Our real secret weapon is the ‘naughty corner’,” Coleman reveals. “At our review meetings on Monday nights, if you have given away a penalty in the game on the Saturday, it is replayed and the group decide whether it was justified and is bad play/discipline. If it was deemed to be a ‘red’ penalty and hurt the team, you move your seat up to the back corner of the room and watch the review session from there.
“This idea seems to be working, although lock Jack Tomkins has set up his own lounge chair there, so potentially for him, it’s the deterrent we were hoping for!”
On the basis that one red card equals two yellow, you can see that the top six teams in terms of their lack of punishment, pretty much mirrors the top six on the actual points ladder.
While in terms of penalties conceded, seven of the top eight on this list match the Shute Shield ladder, with Parramatta being the biggest anomaly, given they conceded the third-least amount of penalties behind Souths and Sydney University, but still finished 11th on the points ladder.
“Discipline has been a focus area for us this year,” confirms Two Blues head coach Paul Hardwick. “We identified that giving away penalties meant less time in possession – not earth shattering but a focus area nonetheless.
“Our referees do a thankless job and like all of us, players and coaches alike, can make mistakes. I believe that our discipline this year has been great but I also believe that the inconsistency of what warrants a yellow card certainly hurt us this year. While I don’t want to be the person with the whistle in the middle, I do believe that the more dominant side gets the rub of the green.”
“I don’t think you can draw too many conclusions because there are so many different ways of getting penalties,” offers Coleman. “I know that in Super Rugby, sometimes the best defensive teams actually had the worst disciplinary records because they were harder on the ball, and they were prepared to cough up a few penalties. Also, if you’re persistently under the pump, the ref is looking for reasons to penalise you.”
Which takes us to Penrith.
New to the Emus head coaching position this season, former Wallaby Julian Huxley has been putting in countless hours on and off the field since assuming the role, trying to eke out all the little one percenters from his new charges that could see them begin a slow climb away from the Shute Shield’s cellar. But of course, no matter how much time you spend at training on fitness, skills, game management and the mental aspects of the game, ill discipline can unravel all the good work you’ve been doing.
It stands to reason that you are better placed to be competitive in any game, against any opposition, if you can keep all 15 players on the park for the entire 80 minutes. And a side that has historically been known for testing the referee’s patience, has been working hard to improve an area of the game that can make such a difference. But a finally tally of 19 yellow cards, two reds, and an average of over 13 penalties conceded per game, does not make for pretty reading. However, it is a part of the Emus’ game that Huxley feels only requires some subtle tweaking.
“That’s the nature of the beast. If you don’t have kids that care, then you may as well not go out there, and it is a tightrope you’ve got to walk,” he says. “But now, some of our yellow cards are mostly down to laziness and poor technique – like a shoulder charge, or slow feet and you throw an arm out and catch someone high.
“We’re not a dirty side, we’re not a malicious side but we obviously quite enjoy the physicality – we rip in. It’s such a multi-faceted journey we’re on as a group, and these boys are only just beginning to realise that you don’t have to rush up and do a shoulder charge or any of that dirty stuff, because we’re good enough to hang in there, scramble and stop it somewhere else now.”
“We had Wests at 8-3 for 60 minutes at Concord Oval, but we got a yellow and a red, and ended up going down 42-13, so it doesn’t help,” adds second-row and assistant coach Liam Winton. “It’s another challenge but it’s improving. In the past, we certainly didn’t play with the restraint we have now, and I know the card situation doesn’t read well, but there has been a big shift in our discipline and in the way we’re approaching how we play the game.”
It might be time to introduce the ‘naughty chair’ at Nepean Rugby Park too…