Pagan breaks team rules

HARD BUSINESS: Denis Pagan, nutting out team tactics last week, has made himself a factor in this weekend's match. Photo: GETTY IMAGES  
Thursday, August 1

THE Kangaroos pride themselves on how they play for one another.

It is coach Denis Pagan's trump card that he has the players prepared to bleed for each other during a match.

The club before the individual is a major plank in his motivation, which makes his comments this week regarding his coaching tenure a little bewildering because they undermine that very premise.

You play for the club, you bleed for your teammates but Pagan is now divorcing emotion from his coaching decision, replacing it with cold hard business factors.

I wonder what sort of message that sends to the players. He demands one attitude from them but doesn't apply the same criteria to himself.

How he reconciles this, and gets the players on-side, will go a long way to determining the outcome of this weekend's match.

And what an important match for both clubs it is.

The manner of Geelong's loss on Sunday, its first in eight games, will have a major effect on the way the side prepares for the game.

The Cats had more than enough chances to win the game against Adelaide, but for their inability to kick easy goals when the Crows were on the ropes. They just couldn't deliver the knockout punch.

They've been on a roll now for a long time but with just five games remaining before the finals, another loss will have them back in the pack fighting for a spot in the final eight.

Coach Mark Thompson has been avoiding talking about the club's finals chances but I'm sure it will be on his mind now, with just two more wins needed to be assured of a place in the top eight. The benefits for this young team to play in a finals series would be enormous, even if it was only one or two games.

It would give the young players valuable experience and prepare them for what is shaping up a very bright future.

The game is a must-win for the Kangaroos. They are fighting for a top eight spot with a hungry pack of clubs.

At the start of the season, without the input of Wayne Carey, no one thought they would even be close to shaping the final eight.

But they were very disappointing against the Bulldogs last weekend, considering it was Anthony Stevens' 250th game. So much has been made of what he's had to go through this year and this team more than any other in the competition prides itself on the way it plays for each other.

Pagan is well versed in using such occasions to lift the team. But I think his comments this week over his coaching future will create some problems for the Kangaroos.

I don't think you can keep pumping a team up and appealing to their emotion to play for one and another and then say you don't know if you'll be there next year. Denis, I'm sure, would love to have his time over again this week.

All the above will be major factors in deciding the outcome of the game but, having said that, the Kangaroos have some very talented players.

They have four players in the top 10 kick getters in the AFL this season - Anthony Stevens, Brent Harvey, David King and the under-rated Adam Simpson. This suggests they still love to kick the ball rather than handball and with Saverio Rocca having another good year, and young Digby Morrell competing hard in the forward line, they've been able to kick winning scores.

It makes you wonder just how good they might have been if Wayne Carey was in the side. And I bet Denis does as well.

They have an interesting onball set-up, with Simpson and Stevens generally playing on attacking opponents who find plenty of the ball themselves.

These two really determine who they go to a bit and I think they'll go to a Peter Riccardi and David Clarke.

It's interesting because it means they start to dictate who they want to play on to exploit some of their opponents' weaknesses.

And even if the match-ups don't go the Kangaroos' way, Pagan is generally inclined to give his players time to get on top. He doesn't swing the changes quickly.

When Geelong is on its game it can be up and going early and the spark generally comes from players like Riccardi and Clarke.

Geelong can't afford for the Roos to dictate this early centre set-up but it will be hard not to.

I think the Cats will want Cameron Ling to go to Simpson or Stevens so it will be game of cat and mouse for the first 10-15 minutes.

The Cats have taken all before them the past two months but will have to find a little extra to get back on track. A top four finish is still achievable.

But as much as these match-ups will be important, I firmly believe the outcome of this game will be largely decided by how well the Kangaroos cope with the coaching controversy that has surrounded the club this week.

I reckon more than anything the coach has let his players down and he'll need to be at his brilliant best to lift them.