Coach bristles at suggestion about ‘loyal’ star
Parramatta coach Brad Arthur has leapt to the defence of grand final winger Waqa Blake, and said he won’t be making any late changes to the backline before kick-off on Sunday.
Blake is set to line up on the wing against Penrith despite the certainty of an aerial assault coming his way at Accor Stadium.
It was only three weeks earlier when Blake dropped three Nathan Cleary bomb kicks in the qualifying final, as the Panthers trounced the Eels 27-8.
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Statistics from Champion Data, first published in the Sydney Morning Herald, reveal Blake is the fourth worst ranked player in the NRL for defusing high kicks.
The worst is Penrith’s pocket rocket winger Brian To’o, who catches only 50 per cent of opposition bombs he has faced this year. Blake is also ahead of Matt Dufty and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, but no one else.
Nevertheless, Arthur bristled at the suggestion he could move Blake to centre and play Bailey Simonsson on the wing this weekend.
“I know last time we played these guys (Penrith) Waqa had some difficulties under the high ball, but you don’t tip blokes out on the back of one game,” Arthur told media on Thursday.
“He’s very loyal to our team, and we’ve got to show the loyalty in return.
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“Waqa’s talent is his ability to finish off tries. He’s a big strong body, carries the ball well out of the back field.
“We want to leave him there (on the wing). Gutho (fullback Clint Gutherson) has done a good job to help him out there with some positional play, and some of that comes back on us coaches.”
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Simonsson is a winger but is playing in the centres to cover the injury to Tom Opacic.
Blake has played much of NRL career in the centres, but his defence has been criticised heavily at times when in that position.
League legend Brad Fittler knows what the Eels will be saying to Blake ahead of Sunday.
“I think they’re pretty much saying, ‘Waqa, you’ve just got to catch it’,” Fittler told Wide World of Sports’ Freddy and the Eighth.
Fellow great Andrew Johns believes the onus is on Blake’s Parramatta teammates to help the winger out.
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He wants the Eels to put pressure on Cleary’s kicks, and then get back to help Blake clean up the ball.
“There’s one spot in particular where Nathan nails those floating bombs, and it’s from the right-hand side of the field about 20 metres in,” Johns told Freddy and the Eighth.
“It’s not the responsibility of Waqa, it’s the responsibility of the (Eels defenders running out of the defensive line). They’ve got to harass (Cleary), give him no time.
“If the ball comes down to a certain area, if you’re not confident (then) don’t catch it. It’s the responsibility of both centres to get back… in behind the ball.
“If you’re not confident, don’t catch it, and then get players around the ball.”
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