Carting it up with

Playin? those Mind Games

As Rugby League fans we spend most of the off season reading websites, newspapers and magazines, soaking up what must be a thousand predictions. By the time we take in all of these opinions we are presented with certain proof why almost every team in the comp will win.

Of course most experts enjoy a bit of dooms-daying on the side and love to tell us, despite all the hard work and training, there are a bunch of teams that will be packing their bags for an early end of season trip come September. The pre-season ritual becomes a bit of a lottery, since the far majority of teams are covered in predictions, chances are someone will gets it right each year. Last year of course no-one predicted the Tiger?s victory, which suited the experts because no-one got bragging rights.

The start of the season then brings on a whole new round of speculation. New signings are scrutinised, previous seasons form is considered and, the easiest targets of all, coaches are set upon.

This is all a part of sporting culture and is just an extension of the debates occuring in every pub and loungeroom. It?s all harmless stuff, unless it enters the mind of a Rugby League player.

Last week the Knights were forced to withdraw their chief playmaker Andrew Johns from their clash with the Warriors. When it was announced one thought filled the minds of thousands of fans, officials and commentators: The Knights can?t win without Joey. Most people can?t remember when this concept became fact, but everyone understands that long term statistics demonstrate that the Knights are more likely to win when Joey?s on the field. Funnily enough though if last years form is any guide Johns? impact on the Knight?s success is not so strong. Johns played 16 games for the Knights last year for 8 wins and 8 losses. Knights fan will also remember that Joey missed large chunks of both of their premiership winning seasons.

While the stats don?t lie, the Knights don?t do themselves any favours when they take the field without their first choice halfback. Last weeks performance reeked of a team with no direction and little discipline, which makes me think it?s not only the fans who are reading the odd negative article.

A good coach will emphasise to his team that they should never read their own press. Players, as fan of the game themselves, no doubt read the occasional article. The Knights played last weeks game like they?d taken the words from every article about their reliance on Johns, and played it out on the field. In fact they played it to a fault, the team seemed to be at its most distressed when leading 10-0.

It?s obvious Michael Hagen faced a tougher challenge than the might of the Warriors last Sunday. It?s ironic that he had to convince his players that Joey Johns is not the difference between winning and losing. If he did try the Knights didn?t seem to listen, but their fans can hope they?ve learnt that anything?s possible with a bit of hard work and commitment.

And the return of A. Johns might help a bit too.