Cooper Cronk provides direction for the Roosters.
Cooper Cronk provides direction for the Roosters.

Parker: Playing smart key in semi-finals

THERE are two types of rugby league players; those who play above the neck and those who play below the neck and this weekend we'll see both.

Players who play below the neck rely on their brute strength, blinding speed or ultra-aggression to beat their opponent.

Players who play above the neck rely on their rugby league IQ, their ability to deliver a game plan and knowing what play to run at what time.

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Cooper Cronk's performance in last year's grand final is the perfect example of a player playing above-the-neck football.

Cronk didn't take a run or make a tackle in last year's decider but his impact on the game was second to none.

Cronk knew where the Roosters needed to be and when they needed to be there and he orchestrated the Roosters' win like a conductor orchestrating a symphony.

Cameron Smith is another who plays above-the-neck footy. He has the ability to think quick and play slow.

Cameron Smith weaves his magic in the middle for Melbourne.
Cameron Smith weaves his magic in the middle for Melbourne. SCOTT BARBOUR

Smith's rugby league IQ is akin to walking onto the field with a crystal ball in his hands.

He has a knack of knowing what the opposition defence is going to do before they do and an even greater ability to make the opposition defensive line do what he wants them to do.

What appears to be a simple run down the short side or an early kick to a corner in the first minute of the game is all part of Smith's plan for the match-winning play in the 79th minute of the game.

Josh Hodgson plays that roll for the Raiders. Like Smith, he's one of the great thinkers in the game and his game management is crucial to the Raiders' chances.

Like Smith, Hodgson knows when it's time to speed up the game with a run out of dummy-half and he knows when it's time to slow it down with a kick to the corner.

If the Rabbitohs are going to cause an upset over the Raiders then they need Adam Reynolds to play above-the-neck footy.

Adam Reynolds will need to steer the way for the Rabbitohs.
Adam Reynolds will need to steer the way for the Rabbitohs. DAN HIMBRECHTS

Reynold's form may have slipped over the past month, but he showed last week why his kicking game is one of the best in the competition.

The Sea Eagles came out of the blocks flying and had the Rabbitohs on the back foot until Reynolds kicked a 40-20 which led to the Rabbitohs first try.

So who are the below-the-neck players this weekend and what role do they play?

Latrell Mitchell is a classic example.

Mitchell doesn't care if he's taking a hit-up off his own line or is attacking the opponent's line, he always wants to beat the man in front of him and he can do that with a fend, a bit of sleek footwork or by using his blistering speed.

Latrell Mitchell relies on his physical approach.
Latrell Mitchell relies on his physical approach. DAN HIMBRECHTS

Damien Cook is another below-the-neck footballer. It doesn't matter if it's tackle one or six, if Cook gets a quick play the ball or spots a lazy marker he's off to the races and his teammates go with him.

Cameron Munster and Ryan Papenhuyzen play the same role for the Storm.

Where Smith is plotting and scheming, Munster and Papenhuyzen are like coiled springs ready to get the ball in their hands at any time and run at a million miles an hour.

So who wins the battle?

Friday night's clash between the Raiders and Rabbitohs is going to be one for the ages, put simply there's too many hot heads in this clash for something not to happen.

Josh Hodgson holds the key for the Raiders.
Josh Hodgson holds the key for the Raiders. MICK TSIKAS

With Sam Burgess, John Bateman and Corey Horsburgh on the field you can guarantee there will be fireworks, but when it comes down to the crunch I think Hodgson's ability to control the game out of dummy-half will see the Raiders qualify for the first grand final since 1994.

The Roosters v Storm game really is a flip of the coin.

The loss of Jared Warea-Hargraves is a big one for the Roosters but I don't think it's a critical one. The Storm aren't the type of team who will run over you through the middle.

For the Roosters to win they need Cronk to play above-the-neck football and Luke Keary to play below-the-neck football.

The Roosters know how to beat the Storm and if they stick to the formula that's worked for them in past they'll get the job done.

News Corp Australia


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