PETER STERLING: Fatigue can make heroes of game’s toughest toilers


EGENDARY gridiron coach Vince Lombardi once said that “fatigue makes cowards of us all”.

It was a quote that as a young player I saw on display in any number of dressing sheds with the intent of motivating both mind and body.

Lombardi had a way with words like no other coach, demonstrating his understanding of what was required by people in any walk of life to attain success.

I understand the point that this saying is meant to convey, but it is the one utterance from the great man that I never quite agreed with.

In fact, I have always felt the exact opposite, that fatigue is actually an avenue to achieve great things.

Maybe it was reverse psychology on his behalf and that by challenging the individual with such an unsavoury proposition it would lead to a positive outcome from such adversity.

One of rugby league’s greatest attributes and attractions has always been its gladiatorial nature.

The appeal is in its physical and often brutal approach, but more importantly in the opportunity for a player to somehow find it within to compete when he is running on empty.

There is no greater sight in our game than an individual dragging himself off the ground to put himself next to a teammate despite being spent.

Which is why we need more fatigue in our game and the number of interchanges reduced next season.

This is an area that has created much talk and has already been the subject of changes, the most recent in 2008 when 12 interchanges were cut to 10.

I would like to see this drop to eight, if not six.

On Monday night Tigers prop Keith Galloway played 66 minutes in his side’s big win over the Eels, a contribution split into three separate involvements.

Now I know he was coming back from injury and this is not the normal way he would be used, but I don’t believe the game should help accommodate this.

I often recall Balmain great Wayne Pearce bemoaning that an opposition forward could have multiple shots at him in the course of a contest with rests in between.

Wayne will admit that he was not the most naturally gifted forward to play the game, so he earned his edge by work in the gym and pounding the road to establish supreme fitness.

He had every right to question why this should be nullified by opponents who hadn’t prepared so tirelessly and could rely on interchanges to maintain their performance.

With players now professional and training so much more, surely it is an anomaly that most forwards now average fewer playing minutes than ever before.

Last weekend, if we disregard hookers, of the 80 starting forwards only 15 played a full game.

Despite this low number, the entire Manly back row of Glenn Stewart, Anthony Watmough and Tony Williams went the duration, and their game against the Cowboys was the highest quality and most intense of all played in round 22.

Under the current system that is a credit to them, but it should be more the norm than the exception.

The other obvious advantage of having players spend more time on the paddock would be the boost given to the creative players in the game.

Their skills are being blunted by coming up against a brick wall.

Whenever they start to chip away at an opposing defence and are working towards creating a crack, a new brick is added in reinforcement.

This has had a detrimental effect on the development of ball players.

We should listen to the likes of Johnathan Thurston, who said last year that he wanted fewer interchanges to reduce wrestling in the ruck. If that was the only thing it achieved, it should be introduced yesterday.

The health of players is paramount, but I do not see problems in that area as a result of more game time across the board.

I have also read of concerns that the speed of the game would suffer if players were more tired.

I have never believed that a faster game is necessarily a better one.

It worried me that there was support for the trial rule in this year’s All Stars game where infringements were called “play on” but re-started the tackle count. It was like watching touch football and not the road we want to go down.

Fatigue can make cowards of some, but to others it presents an opportunity to overcome and prevail.

More along the lines of another Lombardi observation: “I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfilment in all he holds dear, is the moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle ...”

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