We Roosters fans are an impatient lot. Many were calling for Trent Robinson’s head as recently as last week, and even this writer gave up on the Ferguson/fullback experiment after one game.
Yet many had already also given up on Jackson Hastings as a halfback. “He’s not first grade standard”. “He’s too arrogant”. “He doesn’t run the ball”. “A junkie is better at kicking the pills than him”. “Why’d we let go of Maloney when this kid isn’t half the player Jimmy is”.
No-one cared that he was battling a quad strain which kept him from kicking at his best, and certainly for goal — hence the early season rotation between Latrell Mitchell and Siosiua Taukeiaho. No-one gave a damn that he only just turned 20. They certainly didn’t care that he only just racked up a season’s worth of games just two weeks ago (he’s now played 25 games) and that of those games he has only started 12, largely coming off the bench as a hooker.
We were all guilty of it; heck, even this writer who counts himself as a true believer was arguing on Twitter that there was (to paraphrase) “plenty of bark in Jackson this year, but no bite”. Through five losses, we looked at every position and found every excuse for the poor start, and Jackson was among the supposed culprits.
Yet his last few games, on top of the six he started at halfback last year, have shown glimpses — if not full-blown flashes — of the potential the half has. He’s a huge thing for a half, at 6’1″ and 95 kgs, and has essentially all the tools there to not only be the serviceable halfback many thought he was incapable of through the five loss malaise, but a star capable of captaining the club and playing Origin.
What, you don’t believe me? How dare you accuse me of hyperbole!!
Fine, I’ll prove it to you with a breakdown of his game — and also the beard.
Short kicking game already among the best in the league?
In a competition that sports short kicking savants such as Adam Reynolds and Jonathan Thurston, Hastings is already showing that he’s on his way to joining that class with a brand of short-kicking all of his own.
Where Reynolds is the king of the grubber and positional stab kick and Thurston is the king of the short-kick-n-chase, this writer argues that Jackson holds the keys to a throne that could be his alone: the lob kick.
Other players pull off this play too, and the best exponents do it fairly well. But for Jacko, this play is as good as a pass. It’s a soft lob off the boot into any gap on the field, and so accurate is the play that it’s actually the better play than going through the hands or throwing the cutout.
Watch this play here. It’s a four-on-one, and the standard play here would be to get the man nearest him the pass and get it to go through the hands. But that man next to him is Sam Moa, and the attacking line was far too flat to guarantee the pass through the hands would result in a try. Instead, Jackson reads the play and sees how much space Tupou has to catch it. He then lobs the kick perfectly:
This may look familiar, because it is. You saw this last year in the first week of the finals, when all conventional wisdom suggested Jackson get the ball quickly to Blake Ferguson and let him draw and pass. Instead, Jacko came up with this:
It’s the rugby league equivalent of the alley-oop and always seems to hit his man on the chest. It’s as accurate as a pass and he is using it judiciously so far — he has the capability to read what the defence offers and make the play from there. He’s not prevented from passing… instead, the threat of that kick, in time, will have the defence in two minds about how to defend the overlap.
But it’s not just on breaks that he can pull this play off. He did it last week when he floated the kick between the fullback and centre, and thanks to a relentless chase this happened:
The Roosters haven’t had a short kicking game like this in the Robinson era — and possibly since just prior to the Brian Smith era either. To wit, this kick in Rd 26 last year from Jimmy, while it led to a try, was not the stabby, low trajectory type that Jacko calls a trademark but was about as good as the former short kicking game got:
The higher the kick, the higher the odds in the lottery. The low-trajectory stab of Jacko gives the defence less time to react and is far more accurate, at least for him.
He’s already on the way to perfecting that aspect of his game. While his long kicking game needs improvement — he isn’t as accurate with the bomb or the clearing punt as other halves, yet — the short kicking game will add another dimension to the Roosters attack that they’ve not had in recent years.
Exceptional defence for a half; years ahead of Maloney already.
Maloney was often criticised for his defence, perhaps unfairly. He did miss a ton of tackles but not through lack of effort, and even in the misses he got a piece of body onto the attacker, at the very least slowing their momentum.
But it was still substandard.
After 14 games in 2014 (before 26 Rounds took a two year break and stopped statting) Maloney was averaging 19.15 tackles per game with 1.86 of those one-on-one… but averaged 3.46 misses a game (roughly the same as his 2013 average of 3.45, but that came in a year in which he had fewer total attempts and averaged just 16:45 tackles per game).
But Jacko never misses, and for his position and age is already outstanding in that regard.
He’s averaging 17.17 tackles a match through six games this year with 1.83 of those per game one-on-one… and just 0.83 misses. Remember, this is a year in which the defence is a shambles. Granted, teams are going the other way and exploiting the right-edge defence, but that has to be due in part to Hasting’s defence which has shored up a previous hole created by Jimmy’s sub-standard defence.
And that’s the sneaky tidbit of the season: once Mitchell Pearce and JWH return, they’ll help shore up the right edge (it’ll still be a work in progress, but better than what it is) and the defence has a whole has the potential to be even stronger than when the Roosters were at their zenith defensively.
Is his running game actually missing?
It’s a strange question to ask after a game in which he ran it just twice…but the stats for the season tell a different story.
In the first two rounds, it was missing (despite having 10 runs in round one versus Souths — his two runs last week actually had more purpose and impact). He was playing hot potato with the ball and kicking every other possession, running only through necessity, but a lot of that can be put down to his quad injury that only came good ahead of the Warriors clash in round five.
He’s averaging, through six games, 5.17 runs a match with 43 running metres a game, with 1.17 tackle busts and 0.17 line breaks. Yes, he doesn’t make a ton of impact in the form of line breaks, offloads or tackle busts and he’s averaging a fairly pedestrian 23 percent VARR.
But how does that compare to the player he was earmarked to replace in James Maloney?
Through 14 games in 2014 the BBQ averaged 4.85 runs, 46.77 running metres a match, 1.54 tackle busts and 0.38 line breaks and averaged a much lower VARR at just 14 per cent because he had more errors in his game than Hastings has now (1.31 for Maloney, just 0.67 for Hastings).
Not a ton of distance between them, is there?
Yes, Maloney has a greater impact — he’s also got 160-odd games under his belt whereas Hastings has just 25 and spent just 12 of those starting, and four of those starts battling a quad strain that prevented him from kicking goals.
That aspect of his game will improve — but it’s a canard to say he doesn’t run it at all.
Dat beard tho.
Look, I know it’s fantastic that at the age of 20 you can grow a beard that makes you look like you could fight alongside William Wallace. I know 30-year-olds that cant get past the bum fluff stage. And it IS powerful: it’d scare the crap out of kids on Halloween and the occasional grandparent.
But like Kumar once said in Harold and Kumar when his dad was disappointed in him for not being a doctor despite all his potential:
“Just because I’m hung like a horse doesn’t mean I have to do porn”.
Take Kumar’s advice. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you actually have to do it.
Because that thing is ruining beards for the rest of us.
There’s a reason men grow beards: they’re lazy. That’s what beards were once known for, after all. They were the haven of Bikies, Santa and Vagrants. But suddenly the beard became trendy. It gave the lazy in us a reason to celebrate: the Gods had finally decided to give us some sunshine for a freakin’ change, putting us at the front of the cool queue for the first time in our excruciatingly sad lives.
Beards and beard-havers were finally “in” to the point that hipsters started transplanting hair from other areas to tape/glue to their faces. No, I’m serious: that actually happened.
Going further, wannabe hipsters were paying nearly $8500 in the US for beard transplants that made their beards “less patchy”.
But they did it for fashion. And Jackson, your beard may be ruining the beard as a fashion statement for everyone, reverting it once again in appearance to the haven of the lazy and the destitute.
Yours has gone too far and needs to be chopped. Or at the very least, groomed. It looks like a strip of industrial-strength Velcro. It’s thicker than a front rower. It looks like it could scrub year-old grease from a rusty barbecue.
This is not good for us beard-needers.
Heck, if this fashion goes out, you’re ensuring plastic surgeons aren’t robbing these vain douchebags in New York of nearly nine grand to fill in the blanks on their face that testosterone can’t.
This is bigger than you. It’s the economy at stake now.
We know you can grow one, and we’re proud of you for it. Much like your short kicking game, everyone knows you have the ability.
But at the very least groom it, for the good of humanity.