Lachlan Ilias on how halfbacks actually play one-on-one football

A few weeks ago, after a win that sent St Helens to the top of the Super League, TV pundit Jon Wells asked Saints playmaker Jonny Lomax to tell him about a few games of their win over their rivals Warrington.

You can watch the entire clip below and suffice it to say, it went a bit further than the average Fox League analysis. Braith and Blocker it was not.

Lomax was able to detail the split-second decision-making needed to make the calculated odds bets that factor in defensive decision-making and the relative matchups of teammates and opponents.

What Lomax is talking about are numbers. Specifically, reading opponents’ movements in terms of the distribution of players versus ball play, whether those opponents are ‘true’ defenders or deterrents, and therefore where Saints should go with the ball.

It was a jaw-dropping insight, delivered by someone who had literally just walked off the field, into what was going through the mind of a halfback in the heat of battle.

Playing one-on-one requires having football in your head all the time. Anyone who has seen Lachlan Ilias play this year will know he has that skill in abundance.

I cornered him under the Accor stadium after Souths won over the Dragons last Saturday and asked him to tell me about what the Bunnies do in those situations.

Like Lomax, he did it with ease: in fact, he did it while eating a cup of hot fries.

“We have a pretty good system and we have form on both sides so we react to what the defense is doing,” Ilias explained.

“If they put numbers on my side, we will go to the left and vice versa. It’s in play: we count the numbers and we react well. There is a good structure on which we start.

The principle is the same whether you are in Souths or Saints but each team adapts according to its own strengths.

For most teams that part of the game is controlled by the half-back, but at Souths it’s a collaborative effort, as they have Cody Walker and Damien Cook, two of the NRL’s best improv players.

“It’s everyone (calling him),” Ilias said. “Me and Cody pick the numbers and Cooky plays the ball as well.

“It’s on all of us: I can tell Cooky if they have an extra number, so go left, or Cody might say the same on his end.”

“It’s all of us combined and working together as a team.

“Cookie has a license to race and he’s incredibly fast, so when he sees something he gets a priority call.

“We saw him do it (in the Dragons game) and break tackles and we scored our first try at the back.”

This is where the two ideological camps of “play what you see” and “block structured football” meet. The best way to play what you see is to know what you’re looking at and, in fact, what you’re playing with.

Ilias knows exactly where it fits in the system and what it can offer. A lot of that is because he learned from one of Adam Reynolds’ best.

One of the areas this plays out is in terms of line commitments, a key metric for halfbacks, and one that indicates how many questions they ask the defense.

Line commits are exactly what they sound like – how many times a player has committed the line – and Ilias is ranked fifth in the lineup for them.

In fact, if you take line commitments by possession, a measure of how often players take the ball off the line versus how many times they get it, Ilias jumps to third place – behind Reynolds. and his teammate, Cody Walker.

It’s a testament to the way the Souths are playing and how much they’ve supported their new man to pick up where the old one left off. Ilias excels not only at spotting where opportunity might lie, but also at playing the game that makes the most of it.

Credit: Fox League

Take the Bunnies’ third down: The halfback is only part of a move that goes through six pairs of hands, but it’s his that’s crucial.

Ilias takes the ball, draws in the defender and then weights the pass so that Keoan Koloamatangi is lined up with the outside shoulder of Dragons halfback Ben Hunt, a clear offset that ultimately results in an unassailable Souths lead.

“It (engaging the line) is part of my job,” Ilias said. “I try to dig in and give space to the boys outside. My job is to worry about what’s in front of me, dig in and hopefully give the ball from behind and create wide space.

“Line commitments are something Reyno has done so well for this club for years, and I tried to take that into account.”

When it works, it works big: just look at the pass that put Taane Milne to seal the game last week. Ilias took the Dragons by surprise, called the play and then executed it perfectly, doing enough to engage Junior Amone before slipping his teammate through the gap.

“It’s not even if we score, it’s just giving the ball in the corner,” he said. “It feels good to finish the game with this ball for the try, but it all depends on the process and the plans we have in place.

“I love it, I have such a good time there. The boys make me feel at home and I’m comfortable on the pitch. It’s a challenge on the pitch, but the boys make me feel at home. feel good.

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