Tony Butterfield: Newcastle Knights legend says Cronulla Sharks match requires forwards at their best

HARD YARDS: The Panthers dominated the battle up front with Newcastle, who will need to improve on Saturday against Cronulla. Picture: Getty Images
HARD YARDS: The Panthers dominated the battle up front with Newcastle, who will need to improve on Saturday against Cronulla. Picture: Getty Images

I’ll open up this week on my early favourite to win the comp. Watching the mighty Melbourne Storm juggernaut demoralise a rebounding Tigers outfit last week, more particularly, the way they went about it, was evidence enough they are the team to beat. After losing last year’s grand final by a whisker, love them or loathe, you’ve gotta admire their culture of “whatever it takes”.

With Billy Slater looking more at home with every run, and head tactician Cameron Smith only getting sharper, the Storm will only get better.

* IT’S good to hear trainers will be able to communicate with the doctor on the sidelines when assessing an injured player. Communicating with the bench on the state of an injured player should have been the case long ago. But the head-knock phenomena seems to have forced NRL’s hand.

That said, I’m not quite sure what the trainer and doctor will talk about that the trainer is not already trained to manage in the bulk of cases. But it is no doubt a welcomed spread of responsibility from the poor old trainer, in circumstances where assessments on the field are the first line of aid response.

* I WROTE two weeks ago about the Knights’ tendency to back off in defence in response to short-side raids. A bad habit at any level and normally attributed to lack of talk, fast play-the-balls and immature combinations. It’s also a cultural thing within the squad and needs to be eliminated.

The Panthers’ key playmakers, like all on-field generals, go to school through the week watching footage of bad habits and weaknesses. In this regard they didn’t miss the chink in the Knights’ armour around captain Trent Hodkinson and rookie five-eighth Brock Lamb. Both record high tackle counts every week but also can come up with crucial misses.

It’s understandable, given they are relatively small blokes (as is hooker Danny Levi) and naturally attract ball-runners like flies to a barbecue. But it has to be fixed and tackling a little lower might help.

The above assessment aside, things would have been a sight better for our boys if they had hung onto the ball and thrown some organised shape at the opposition. But you have days like that.

Which brings us to Shark Park on Saturday night against the reigning premiers. Taking on an international pack of forwards will be the test the Knights have dreamed about over the off-season.

Whether they can be in it at the end will be determined by our forwards upsetting the stars from the Shire. Rock-solid, effective defence will be of primary importance, aside from the assumed, at least, 50 per cent of the ball.

* TALKING about tackling a little lower, on this, the 30th anniversary of our foundation season, I have cause to recall one of the best exponents of low tackling I’ve ever been fortunate enough to witness.

Mick McKiernan was a tough, if unassuming, back-rower from the north-coast hamlet of Smithtown during the Knights’ inaugural season or two. Quite tall but otherwise a bit of a stringbean. But size isn’t so important if your technique is sound. Hitting amidships, nobody escaped his attention in bringing down the biggest and baddest the game could throw at us in those heady days. “Rowdy” was a bit like Trevor Gillmeister, only better. I’d love to see more of it.

* A SIGN of the times in last Sunday’s paper where a soccer dad was being forced to “irrevocably’’ hand over control of his personal details contained in the FFA’s database – or he couldn’t coach this year. His objections are as a volunteer he has never had to do it before and, because the FFA had the “worldwide” right to distribute, at its discretion, his personal details to corporate sponsors and unnamed third parties, there were real privacy concerns.

The FFA responded that it didn’t negotiate its terms with individuals, leaving the soccer dad feeling he was “bullied into giving my rights away”.

Which got me thinking ... if these onerous terms exist in junior soccer, what did that look like in league?

My research indicates little difference. While the terms and conditions and privacy provisions refer to numerous examples of where a junior or senior participant can choose to not consent to the distribution of their personal details, the NRL registration form hasn’t made provision for such a box to be selected. Simply, like soccer, I gather, if you don’t agree to unfettered dispersion, to parts unknown, you don’t get registered.

Like most of us who book hotels, air flights or buy online, we rarely consider the legal ramifications or the preservation of our individual rights to privacy. A phenomena of the post-modern “look at me’’ world maybe, and the very Australian attitude of “she’ll be right”, but it’s a slippery slope society has allowed that is getting out of control.

Many out there couldn’t care less where their information ends up or what unsolicited approaches they receive, but there are those who do and sport shouldn’t be able to hold a parent or player hostage like it can at the moment.

* GREAT to see the Knights’ women’s team strutting their moves in their first exhibition game in the Shire this weekend. Good luck to the pioneering players and all their connections. I’m sure all league fans wish them all the best and their fledgling competition can go from strength the strength. Go the Knights.

Also big congrats to Sione Mata’utia on his 50th game tomorrow and the likely debut of the local but well-travelled Anthony Tupou. He will finally get to play with the team he admired all those years ago.

* I HOPE all parents with kids in sport enjoyed last weekend? Because it may be rare to find any free time for a while now the junior comps are starting this weekend, weather permitting.

We have AFL, soccer and league in our house, all at different venues and different training nights. Still, they’re our kids, so let’s enjoy the season and the achievements and lessons our kids will gather along the way.