Bennett’s shadow looms large as Dragons and Broncos lock horns


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But how quickly things change in the NRL. Bennett is now with the Rabbitohs, victors over the winless Dragons in round 2.

Anthony Seibold, Bennett’s predecessor at South Sydney, is in charge in Brisbane and, judging by improvements in the Broncos defence, is making a difference.

Whereas Bennett prefers a sliding defence, pushing the opposition attack to the sidelines, Seibold coaches a “jam ’em in the middle” style.

The Broncos have also adapted quickly in attack to NRL football boss, Graham Annesley’s, demand to reduce “dead time” in games.

Their “ball in play” average after two rounds is 57 minutes and eight seconds. That’s an improvement on last year’s NRL season average of 52 minutes and 51 seconds – over four more minutes where the ball is moving.

Cutting down on dead time: The Broncos are keeping the ball in play and reaping the benefits.Credit:AAP

The increase across the 16 games played, compared to last year, is only an extra one minute and 12 seconds of action.

This is a minimal rise but there have been seven wet weather affected matches this year – with consequent dropped ball and stoppages – compared to none for the same period last year.

Furthermore, there is another emerging trend which will appeal to the short attention span generation: “dead time” in games has decreased, that is, the minutes spent on penalties, injuries and video replays.

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The relevant statistic the NRL boffins have invented is BiP/ET% which would suggest it measures the blood pressure of an alien. However, it means Ball in Play as a percentage of Elapsed Time.

In 2018, games stretched to 94 minutes and 43 seconds and the ball was in play 55.8% of the time, compared to this year where games last an average 92 minutes and 49 seconds and BiP/ET% has risen to 58.2%.

So, with games being shorter and fans seeing more action, it’s no surprise penalties have plummeted. There have been 88 fewer penalties, compared to the same time last year. Furthermore, there have been 24 fewer penalty goal attempts. Last year, during the penalty blitz, teams chose to kick at goal, knowing more were to come. This year, teams take their chance on a try, aware they can’t rely on building their score via goals.

While the Broncos ball in play time is three minutes above the early 2019 average, the Dragons are nearly two minutes below it.

But it takes two to tango. The Dragons second game was against Bennett’s Rabbitohs who have recorded the lowest ball in play time – 49 minutes in round one and 51 minutes in round 2.

Now isn’t that typical of Old Man Winner – he hasn’t lost a game and is bucking the trend.

He’s even bought into the debate whether St George Illawarra captain, Gareth Widdop should be playing at No 6, one of two big discussion points this season. The Dragons have a fullback who should be playing five eighth and Newcastle, another of Bennett’s clubs, have a five eighth (Kayln Ponga) who should be playing fullback.

But back to tonight’s game. Hopefully it will get close to that glorious September Sunday afternoon last year when the Dragons recorded their greatest winning margin over the Broncos. My phone was off, the bar fridge full, joyfully alone and like a demented Joshua, I mentally drove the Dragons to the Promised Land.

This was the game where Korbin Sims played for Brisbane and had a shocker. Tonight he plays his first game for the Dragons. With Jack de Belin gone and Tyson Frizell injured, he probably can’t change much but should he monster the Broncos’ wrecking ball, Tevita Pangai Junior, it will be another Old Testament tale of redemption.

Watching his two premiership clubs from Sydney will be Bennett and, like missing teeth, his absence is always a presence.

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

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