WHEN Nathan Rollinson told his under 13 St Pat's Blue league tag side about his plans for their defensive set up in 2021, they thought he was a little bit crazy.
But they still listened to their coach, did what he asked and it carried them all the way to the first grand final qualifier before the Group 10 Junior Rugby League season was abandoned due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
They won their last four games of the regular season to finish third in the minor premiership then beat what Rollinson labelled a "pretty red hot Panthers side" in the first week of finals.
"It's disappointing we didn't get to finish the finals because I think we found real consistency towards the end of the season. It took us a little while to build the girls' skills and confidence, but every win that we had, it was our best performance," Rollinson said.
"CYMS, they were the undefeated competition leaders, but I reckon we were on track to give them their first loss in that grand final qualifier.
"After that semi where they beat Panthers they were pumped, they were just so excited. They've got such a good camaraderie and mateship in that team."
While Rollinson was known as a Bathurst Panther during his playing days, when his daughter Amali wanted to start playing league tag it with St Pat's.
That led to Rollinson taking on a coaching role and though it was at a club he once considered a fierce rival, getting to see a group of young talents develop meant he's found the role to be rewarding.
"It's good to give back a bit, I played footy for a long time so it's good to give some of that knowledge back to the younger generation. It makes it all worthwhile," he said.
"It was a fantastic season and I was really impressed with the girls' effort, they improved each week, their skills became more polished as the season progressed not only with passing and catching, but also their understanding of league tag."
That understanding involved the young Saints adapting to an unfamiliar defensive pattern.
It took some time, but once things clicked opposition teams found it very hard to score against Rollinson's side.
"League tag is a game of it's own, it requires some real subtle adjustments in how you structure the team in attack and defence to make sure you have got the best chance of stopping tries and in scoring attack," he said.
"So I don't coach league tag the same way I coach league, there are specific things that you do differently. The basic skill set is the same, but the little things make all the difference.
"They started to catch on to my game planning, I use a different defensive structure, I used a very tight and condensed defensive pattern.
"It requires the team to have a really high level of fitness because they've got to stay tight and shift with the ball ... but with that model it means we can get numbers on the ball carrier and put a lot of pressure on playmakers.
"That really helps to shut down all the attacking plays of teams."
A slide defence was not the only change Rollinson made, but his players trusted his decisions and it helped them to reach the grand final qualifier.
"I also play with three fullbacks, so even if teams are good enough or lucky enough to get past that first line of defence we have, they've got three more defenders to beat. We call them our safety team," he said.
"A lot of times teams, if they make those breaks, they don't have support players and then we have three fullbacks there, boom, ready to swoop on them.
"As I said it took them awhile to adjust, but by the end of the season they'd worked it out."
ST PAT'S UNDER 13 BLUE: Amali Rollinson, Sophie Dunbar, Tilly Hancock, Evie Scott, Lily Duffy, Alex Clark, Jasmine Mitchell, Lexi Cowan, Lottie Turner, Olivia Bendal, Abbey Woods, Tatem Hurst, Maddy Kupkee, Sienna Longmuir-Pearce, Jade Woods, Millie Famularo.
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