The Halftime Spray - Round 7

2014 is Cronulla's worst start to a season since 1969. Given their performance of the previous two seasons, you can't help but wonder why.

In the past few years they had become a team known for their ruthless aggression in defence above anything else. In 2014 they have lost their teeth and are leaking points far too easily.

Most notably is the immense change in defensive prowess on their right edge, most notably right edge defenders Todd Carney and Blake Ayshford.

At the same time last year, Carney had played the same number of games, all in the same position. The glaring difference is that in 2013 he had missed 8 tackles. In 2014 he has missed 28 tackles.

Carney's poor defence has seen play being directed at him more which has also seen right centre Blake Ayshford make 132 tackles, which is 47 more than Cronulla's right centres made at the same point in time last year.

Ayshford has missed 23 tackles, which is 12 more than Cronulla's right centres after 7 games last year.

Because Ayshford is trying to cover for Carney, he is being isolated in defence and players are running through him, if they haven't already run through Carney. Between these two they have made 57 of Cronulla's 174 missed tackles in 2014 (32.76%).

This is the Sharks' epic weakness. Prior to Carney returning to first grade in Round 3 this year, Ayshford had made 33 tackles and missed just 3. This alone shows that Ayshford's defence has suffered only since Carney returned to the side.

With so much traffic being run at Carney, he's lacking in energy when he gets to attack and this is evident by the fact that the Sharks have scored just 87 points so far this year (the next worst attacking side is Penrith who have scored 109 points).

If the Sharks are to right their ship and start performing to a much higher standard that everyone knows they are capable of, then it's quite clear that Carney needs to be moved in the defensive line, and I believe the best place is closer towards the middle around much stronger defenders. It will provide a number of benefits:

  • The right edge weakness in defence will be corrected
  • Ayshford's defence will improve
  • Attackers will have to run at strong defenders if they want to target Carney
  • Carney will be more confident and less tired, helping him and the team when attacking
  • Cronulla's defensive line will move more smoothly and effectively.

Carney's other issue is his decisions in defence. The same play can be run at him a few times every game and he will react differently every time, sometimes he'll rush up at the player in front of him, sometimes he'll run at the gap between the player passing the ball and the player he should be marking, sometimes he'll hold off and slide and sometimes he'll be in the defensive line but defending like a cover defender when he shouldn't be.

All of these issues cause his outside defender, Ayshford, to stay back which in turn leave's him flat footed and a target to run at. Because he isn't moving, he is easy to run through.

How Carney went from being capable in defence 12 months ago, to a confused weak defender is anybody's guess, but until he sort's out this issue, Cronulla will continue to languish at the end of the table.

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