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Analysis: Ben Te'o shows Leinster his explosive power in NRL finals

The 27-year-old was a central figure in the Rabbitoh’s win over the Roosters on Friday night.

Te'o makes a powerful carry for the Brisbane Broncos in 2010.
Te'o makes a powerful carry for the Brisbane Broncos in 2010.
Image: Andrew Cornaga

BEN TE’O RETURNED from a four-game ban on Friday night to help the South Sydney Rabbitohs into the NRL Grand Final after a 32-22 win over the Sydney Roosters.

In doing so, Te’o delivered a performance that demonstrated the impressive physical power Leinster have invested in for the next two years.

The 27-year-old had been sidelined in recent weeks after picking up a suspension for a dangerous tackle, but made up for that absence with what several rugby league experts have called his best display for the Rabbitohs since joining in 2013.

Te’o began the game on the interchange bench, but when Kyle Turner headed for a concussion test 15 minutes into the Preliminary Final against Sonny Bill Williams’ Roosters, Te’o entered the fray and put in an excellent 65-minute shift.

The Kiwi native carried for 106 metres over 12 possessions and racked up a tackle count of 24, many of those contributions startlingly dominant.

In contrast to the remainder of his performance, Te’o's first action after coming on was a negative one, as he conceded a penalty that gave a hint of the aggressive edge he brings to his game, one that can spill over at times.

Te'o Penalty

It’s a silly moment from a player amped up and desperate to make an impact, as he body slams the Roosters’ James Maloney into the ground. Good strength perhaps, but a needless action and one that allows the Roosters to pick up easy yardage.

Te’o's disciplinary record is far from spotless, with his recent four-game suspension for dangerous contact being the fourth time he has faced a NRL judiciary in the past two years alone.

As we will see, Te’o's sheer aggression levels are a major factor in his best actions, but there is a limit that Leinster head coach Matt O’Connor will be keen to see his new centre stay below.

Smash ‘em

After that initially negative involvement, Te’o channeled his aggression and power in a far more valuable way.

First Hit Te'o

His first hit of the game, above, saw the once-capped Samoan international smash Boyd Cordner, slamming a firm right shoulder into the Rooster lock’s chest, then driving up and through the contact.

It’s textbook stuff, and gives an indication as to the defensive power Te’o will bring to Leinster, whatever about the fact that he will need to learn the subtleties of defending in the centre in union.

Te’o came off the interchange bench in the 15th minute on Friday night with the Rabbitohs trailing 12-0 following a remarkable early blitz from the Roosters. And while it was obviously not an individual act, the 6ft 2ins centre’s impact was part of a complete turnaround, with the Rabbitohs beginning to utterly boss their rivals in the collisions.

Big Hit March Him Back

The GIF above provides a strong example of that, with Te’o playing a starring role. Michael Jennings carries for the Roosters, before Te’o [15] gets in a left-shoulder hit and wrap around his upper body.

Having the freakish Sam Burgess [who will join Bath after the NRL final] pile into the contact is, of course, a major aid, but Teo’s leg drive and thirst to send Jennings backwards is impressive.

As mentioned before, Te’o clocked a total of 24 tackles – missing two – for the Rabbitohs, many of them causing damage to the opposition carriers. His involvements played a major part in helping South Sydney go into the break at 12-12, having dominated the collisions in the second quarter of the game.

Truck it up

On the other side of the coin, Te’o was equally as important for the Rabbitohs as they wrestled momentum from the Roosters. His 12 possessions were nowhere near team-leading, but the 27-year-old made almost every carry count.

Second Carry Te'o

Above, we see Teo’s second possession in the game, and he makes good progress with ball in hand. There’s a sharp left-footed step to take him past Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, a strength in Teo’s armoury. He can burst off his right foot too, but appears to generate more forward momentum coming off his left.

This carry also provides a glimpse of Te’o's ability to get his hands free in the tackle, even though none of his teammates are on hand to take on offload on this occasion.

Second Carry Offload Chance

Winning the collision is perhaps the best way to make an offload favourable, and it looks likely that Matt O’Connor will look to use trail runners off Te’o when he settles in at Leinster. With his power into and through contact, there are going to be chances to offload.

In a later carry, below, we get another fine example of Te’o's left-footed step, again making the contact come on his own terms. This time he slides inside the drifting Jake Friend and powers over the advantage line.

Left Foot Step Again

Te’o weighs in at around the 105kg mark [over 16 and a half stone], and is an excellent athlete. His out-and-out explosive power is probably something that Leinster don’t have in their midfield ranks at present.

As well as a fine burst of acceleration and good top-end sprinting speed, Te’o is extremely dynamic in the upper body. We get a brief glimpse of that in the GIF below, as the Roosters’ Maloney attempts to wrap him high in the tackle.

Upper Body Power

Again, this power is going to make Te’o a fascinating proposition for a Leinster team that certainly needs strong ball carriers in the coming months with Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien both in injury trouble.

Te’o's dynamism up top makes the high shot a dangerous tactic, while his meaty thighs and hamstrings ensure that tackling him around the legs is no easy task either. If Leinster can use him in the right way, he will be a gainline merchant for them.

Game changer

As we have already pointed out, Te’o's entry into the Preliminary Final on Friday helped swing the momentum back in the Rabbitoh’s favour after a disastrous opening quarter.

Back at 12-12 for the start of the second half, Te’o then scored a try early in the 43rd minute that ensured that momentum shift was wholly and, as it turned out, irretrievably in South Sydney’s favour.

Try Time 43 mins

Te’o's power is clearly on show as he takes the inside pass, breaks the tackle of Cordner and then gives the unfortunate Friend a piggyback over the tryline.

This is the type of direct, aggressive line Leinster will look for Te’o to run, whether that is from the 12 slot or a little wider at 13, where he would be afforded more of a one-on-one situation should the players inside him hold the defence sufficiently.

The superb Burgess is the man to deliver the assist on this occasion for the Rabbitohs, and Te’o finishes off a clever play. The soon-to-be Leinster midfielder runs a straight-up line at first, then crucially arcs away from Friend just before the contact is initiated.

Try Time 43 mins 2

The Rabbitohs do superbly to set up Te’o for a run at the line from 10 metres out, from where he’s hard to stop, perhaps providing something of a template for Leinster. While we’re not suggesting this is the exact mini-play O’Connor’s men should use, the underlying principles are clear.

Te’o is essentially running in a straight line, allowing him to get up to top speed. Burgess, always a serious threat to the D, runs right to the gainline, dragging Cordner away from Te’o and opening that space. Out the back, the sublime Greg Inglis [yellow circle below] is running an outside arc, again drawing attention away from Te’o.

Try Time 43 mins 3

The combined effect is to leave Te’o with enough space to do his damage. It’s also noticeable that the Rabbitohs carry out this play one pass out from the first receiver, the exact area where Leinster will look to use their new signing.

A different code

For all of Te’o's physical abilities, he faces a major challenge in switching codes over the next two years. While rugby league and rugby union do have many similarities, there are also stark differences between the codes.

Te’o did play union in his formative years, but this will be his first time being professionally contracted in the 15-man code.

Defending in the centre in union is a particularly difficult task, although the fact that O’Connor played both union and league, as well as coached in both, should help Te’o in that regard.

Learning new structures, patterns, game plans and techniques will test the 27-year-old greatly. The fact that Te’o passed the ball just once against the Roosters [and awkwardly at that] highlights one particular technical area that will need much attention.

The breakdown is another, even if Te’o's power will help him in that regard. Interestingly, the Queensland State of Origin rep. has been living with Burgess recently, with the 25-year-old set to join Bath in the English Premiership soon.

Asked by the Sydney Morning Herald whether the pair have been studying and discussing union in preparation for their upcoming moves, Te’o gave a hint as to the extent of the conversion that awaits.

A little bit,” said Te’o. “We don’t really have much of an idea of what we’re talking about, so I don’t know if it’s a very constructive conversation.”

Lots of learning lies ahead for Te’o it seems, and there will surely be teething problems. That said, in what is essentially now a collision sport, the ability to smash ball carriers in the tackle and run over the top of defenders should not be underestimated.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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