2020 NRL Round 04 - Victor Radley on Thomas Flegler. Brisbane Broncos v Sydney Roosters, Suncorp Stadium, 2020-06-04. Digital image by Scott Davis � NRL Photos
2020 NRL Round 04 - Victor Radley on Thomas Flegler. Brisbane Broncos v Sydney Roosters, Suncorp Stadium, 2020-06-04. Digital image by Scott Davis � NRL Photos

Why NRL was right to take an axe to the wrestle

I can't believe some people are complaining that the new six-to-go rule is causing more blowout scores.

If Peter V'landys needs any reassurance why the NRL is better without the ugly wrestle, he won't get better than this from one of the game's greatest one-on-one tacklers, Trevor "The Axe" Gillmeister.

Kevvie Walters brought his old mate into the conversation last weekend after Victor Radley 's crunching shot on young Broncos powerhouse Thomas Flegler.

In Fox Sports commentary, Walters remembered: "Well, that's straight out of Bunny Reilly's defensive book from 50 years ago at the Roosters … Trevor Gillmeister as well. I know Bunny had a lot to do with Gilly's tackling technique. Well, that's nearly perfect from Radley."

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So I called to get Gilly's take on what he thinks of the footy since it's resumed.

"Mate, I am loving watching," Gillmeister said.

"I reckon it has been a great move, this six to go. It has put a lot of unpredictability back into the game. And I am getting a lot of comments off old mates of mine, and some of my plumbers and sparkies and ex-players. They are just saying, 'this is gold'."

We started out talking about how Gilly learnt his tackling technique from his father Ron in the backyard, where he would practise every afternoon against his brother Brian.

Gilly explained how his old man taught them to get power through footwork and timing, and why it was crucial to stand with one leg in front of the other, like a boxer.

"You look at any bloke that gets a bad head knock, if you don't split your feet, and you have them side-by-side, that's how you get knocked out," Gilly said.

Then we chatted about when he came down from Queensland to the Roosters, and how Arthur Beetson gave him his nickname given his similar stature and tackling technique to the legendary hard man from the 1970s.

"Actually I think we were in the toilets," Gillmeister laughed about the night out at Easts Leagues.

Radley is one of rugby league’s new hit men. Digital image by Scott Davis/NRL Photos.
Radley is one of rugby league’s new hit men. Digital image by Scott Davis/NRL Photos.

"We'd had a couple of beers, me and Bunny, after a game. And we were standing there talking to each other and laughing. Arthur looked over and said: 'Look at you two idiots. The Axe Mark I and Axe Mark II."

But as the conversation turned to the modern game, Gilly offered insightful comments about why it was better since it returned.

While most of the focus has been on the fact there are more tries, linebreaks and
less-structured play, the other noticeable change is more one-on-one tackles being rewarded.

And it is the direct result of more fatigue and less wrestling manoeuvres.

Gilly also told me it has restored some of his lost faith. He spent eight years as John Cartwright's defence coach at Gold Coast, but it got to the point one day when he was ready to quit.

"Down at Melbourne you can't see a lot of it on the TV, what goes on," he said.

"I am talking out of school. But they were doing some f***ing shitty things. Chesting blokes and spinning them around. They were diving in kidneys and shit like that.

"I said to Carty the next day, I said, 'Listen, mate, if I've got to teach that shit, mate, I'm out Carty'.

"He went, 'Na, na, na … we won't be doing that'. And we didn't. I didn't like it. But that was the game."

One-on-one tackle used to be the order of the day.
One-on-one tackle used to be the order of the day.

 

Gilly wasn't out to pick a fight with the Storm - he was just being brutally honest.

But this is where the game let itself down for too long. Because no one at head office was brave enough to call it for what it was through fear of upsetting the wrong people.

"I don't blame the clubs that were doing the wrestling and the holding because the game let them do it," Gilly said.

"Mate, a little bloke like Preston Campbell, he was such a good, low tackler. He would chop them down all the time.

"(But) as soon as they hit the ground, he had to get out of the way. It was embarrassing."

There was no reward for the one-on-one shot. So for basically 15 years the NRL tried to sweep it under the carpet. Even last year when Shane Richardson came out with his spray after a Storm game, they tried to put a choker hold on the conversation at NRL headquarters.

But what Gilly's saying is that it wasn't a myth, it was the ugly reality. And finally we've done something to fix it. What we're seeing now is how good the game can look without the wrestle.

Jake Trbojevic has a classic tackling technique. Picture by Phil Hillyard.
Jake Trbojevic has a classic tackling technique. Picture by Phil Hillyard.

I certainly can't remember rounds of footy in a long time like the last two, where you were suddenly back cheering one-on-one shots almost as regularly as tries being scored, instead
of getting frustrated by go-slow tactics and boring block plays.

Like the tackles we saw from Radley, Jake Trbojevic, Jesse Ramien and stacks of others.

Like Kevvie said, it does make you think back to the days of Bunny and Gilly. Throw in Steve Folkes, David "Cement" Gillespie, Terry Randall and Ronnie "Rambo" Gibbs. We basically had a generation of players who learnt how to wrestle instead of tackle.

Gilly even recalled working with Mal Meninga and the Australian team and thinking how many players at that level didn't really know how to tackle.

Perhaps the greatest shame is that it also filtered down through the junior system, where kids who played in the middle, especially, were discouraged from making one-on-one tackles.

Now this new rule will hopefully turn the tide.

Even if it means a few more blowout scores for the short term, surely it's worth it.

KNIGHTS LOCK IN YOUNG GUNS

Newcastle have put Kalyn Ponga under lock and key, with the flying fullback's new deal imminent.

Lucky for the Knights they've also locked away Bradman Best until the end of 2022 because word has it one extremely influential club is already making discreet inquiries about when the young centre comes off contract.

Best certainly hasn't taken long to show it's not only his name that is made of the right stuff. Along with having the biggest legs to come out of Newcastle since Adam MacDougall, they reckon his attitude is what will really set him apart.

Last November, Best took out the award for the team's best trainer after the first week back, an amazing effort for an 18-year-old during pre-season up against a battle-hardened group of NRL players.

He then gave Adam O'Brien no alternative but to pick him after the COVID-19 shutdown following his recovery from foot surgery.

Despite not playing since Newcastle's last game of last year, Best has now bagged try-scoring doubles in consecutive games. What a talent.

They don’t make them much bigger than Bradman Best. Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images.
They don’t make them much bigger than Bradman Best. Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images.

BOARD SHOULD BE FEELING HEAT

For all the pressure on St George Illawarra for giving Paul McGregor a two-year contract extension last year, that pressure should be directed towards Broncos management who gave Anthony Seibold a five-year deal.

Seibold is under fire for his decisions to let go of so much experience, which has put unfair pressure on the struggling younger players.

Yet what Seibold is also highlighting is his own inexperience, which points to why he was not ready to take on the NRL's toughest coaching gig.

He is following Wayne Bennett, Anthony Griffin and Ivan Henjak, who were all cut loose by the same management. As Jack Gibson would say, winning starts in the front office.

Originally published as Why NRL was right to take an axe to the wrestle


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