Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Warriors need to take the fifth

Shaun Johnson believes the Warriors must work on building pressure. Photo / Getty Images
Shaun Johnson believes the Warriors must work on building pressure. Photo / Getty Images

Warriors coach Matt Elliott described it as the difference in the agonising loss to the Rabbitohs last week while Shaun Johnson says it is a priority "work-on" for the team's playmakers.

We are talking about fifth tackle options. While the Warriors have made great strides over the last two weeks with ball in hand, what happens at the end of each set remains a major concern for the Mt Smart hierarchy.

The options have often been poor over the past fortnight and rarely profitable, failing to build pressure and score points.

"Our last plays and Souths' last plays ended up being the difference in the game [last week]," says Elliott. "We are not at the level that we need to be in that area. We are feeling pretty good about the five plays before it but our last play options need to be practised more."

"The [fifth tackle plays] have been a bit up and down," admits Johnson. "More often than not, we have been finishing them pretty poorly."

"Our kicks have been a little bit wayward," says hooker Nathan Friend.

"The guys at the centre of it all are doing their best to improve. If they are a metre short, it's a 20 metre tap, unfortunately. As we saw last weekend, we didn't put it on the spot and they got a length of the field try." In fact, the Rabbitohs scored two long-range tries directly from Warriors' fifth tackle plays.

Equally damaging was the failure in the second half to force repeat sets and maximise territorial gains.

"It is something we have addressed," says Johnson.

"Building pressure and getting those repeat sets is something we need to focus on."

According to the halfback, there are several keys to an optimal fifth tackle play: "The set-up is important, you need a good play-the-ball and want to be in a good part of the field," explains Johnson.

"Then you have to be clear in what you want to do. You can't be in two minds, not sure, and feel rushed. For me personally, the best plays have come when I have been clear and on the front foot."

League has evolved since 1972, when the six-tackle rule was introduced.

In the 1980s, the default options at the end of a set were bombs into the in-goal (mastered by Warren Ryan's Canterbury side) or grubber kicks with the same intention.

In the last few years, the high kick to the wings has become the vogue, as well as short kicks of different varieties. As with many other areas of the game, Melbourne are seen as masters of this art.

Aside from Cooper Cronk, who can land a kick on a postage stamp, they also have the adept left foot and vision of Cameron Smith and the underrated boot of Gareth Widdop. Added to that, Billy Slater is the best chaser in the game and the rest of the side run the plays with military precision.

It creates a perfect, ahem, Storm, as nobody on the opposition knows what they might do while everyone on their team does.

"Their shape just opens up holes," observes Johnson. "They are a pretty structured side and you don't know if they are going to run it or kick it on the last. They have always got a run option - you have got to be up for that; you can't just sit back and wait for that kick."

"A kick is only as good as its chase," says former Kiwis and Warriors halfback Stacey Jones.

"If you look at teams like Melbourne and Manly, they have guys who chase kicks really hard. When it comes to the fifth tackle, everybody knows their role."

Jones, who works as a junior development officer with the Warriors, says the ideal situation is a variety of options: "A halfback needs to have a good arsenal of kicks," says Jones.

"But it is also good to have a variety of options there - otherwise the halfback is an easy target ."

Jones points to the Warriors side of 2001 and 2002, where Ivan Cleary, PJ Marsh and the left-footed Motu Tony provided alternatives to the 'Little General' on the fifth tackle.

Elliott has pedigree in this area. In 2010 his Penrith side set new standards, scoring over half of their 111 tries (the most in the NRL that year) from kicks as they finished the season second on the ladder.

"It's not rocket science," says Elliott, "but it is not just about having a good kick. It's letting guys know what the target is so they can show up there and compete for the ball.

"At Penrith we had good structure, Luke Walsh knew what all his options were and we had alternative kickers as well.

"Teams like Melbourne and Souths have years behind them in terms of practice and drills with the same key people in place and we had that chance at Penrith.

"What I have learned about this team [the Warriors] is that the more you practice, the better you get," adds Elliott.

"It's not just about the kickers. Sometimes what's happening is that the last play arrives and we are saying, 'Oh, what are we going to do now'. We have got two good kickers and it's about setting up the play before."

- Herald on Sunday

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