The secrets behind the Sydney Stars success

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By Henry Jacobs

After finishing last in the 2014 National Rugby Championship the Sydney Stars have undergone a remarkable turnaround to win its opening three games and sit second on the table ahead of round four.

With a rejuvenated coaching setup including Dan Parkes, David Lyons and Tim Davidson, Peter Playford’s side has benefitted from a fresh approach in 2015.

“We’ve got a lot more buy in this year, last year it was uncertain as to what the competition would hold and we had the same coaching staff as Sydney Uni – so there was no real roll in, there was just the same kind of play,” Playford said.

“This year we really wanted to freshen it up from a coaching point of view . . . the rules make the game so different – so our game plan is significantly different to what we played at Sydney Uni, none of the calls are the same, nothing really is the same as how we play the game.”

The Stars have averaged over 46 points a game in the opening rounds and are well in contention for a finals berth with only five matches remaining in the regular season.

However, with the ultimate purpose of the NRC in mind, Playford believes the development of his players is more important than victories.

“Results are irrelevant to me and I’ve said that to the boys the whole year, the only thing you can control in the result is your performance and I know it’s a cliche but if you get beaten by a better team you get beaten by a better team,” he said.

“If your performance is really good and you get beaten by a better team you continue to develop . . . it’s about continuing to believe in our games and our performances; based on the coaching structures and what we put in place we aim to get the result we want but it’s got to be executed.”

The Stars 45-24 victory over Perth Spirit, at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday, was achieved with only 33 per cent possession and an indicator of  the type of play the side has adopted this season.

The team’s game plan has been engineered to suit the unique style of the NRC and focuses on quality of ball rather than quantity.

“[About] 33 per cent possession is what we aim for, the statistic in this competition is the team that holds the ball the least wins, we want to make sure that we put pace and pressure on them and make them play,” Playford said.

“If you look at  the amount of times we kick and the small amount of time we have the ball we have scored 140 points, so we are getting more out of that percentage for holding the ball rather than when we used to have the ball for 50-60 per cent of the time and not be able to get points out of it because we weren’t playing at the right end of the field.”

Whilst it has proved a successful formula, the Stars still have a wealth of tricks up its sleeve.

As opposition teams have more opportunity to analyse his side’s play Playford is eager to avoid predictability.

“We’ve shown about 20 per cent of our game plan, we have a big focus on our game plan which continues to evolve,” Playford said.

“We’re happy with how we are progressing, but as we keep saying to the boys three wins doesn’t mean anything, we’ve got a tough run home.”

It hasn’t all been plain sailing for the Stars with a mounting injury toll leaving only 18 fully fit players, from the original 37 man squad, ahead Saturday’s game.

Captain David Hickey (hand) and lock Andrew Leota (neck) join a raft of experience on the sideline, leading to the addition two new players to the squad – which will be named on Friday.

“I’ve had to pull in some players from outside the squad which is always good, it’s about providing an opportunity for these players” Playford said.

“We have a lot of young guys and this year I’ve gone outside the walls of Uni to make sure that we’ve got players that are first grade and NRC standard, where last year we fell away in certain areas.”

The Stars fly to Tamworth to take on the NSW Country Eagles on Saturday before a short turnaround to face the Vikings in Canberra the following Thursday.