Consistency the key to pleasing NRL coaches and fans

There's nothing we love more in NRL than to prematurely christen a new superstar. Last week the Broncos faced the Cowboys in the second round, after losing their first game of the year against the Storm.

The Cowboys had beaten the Dragons in their first game with Jason Taumalolo receiving plenty of praise for his incredible performance. Broncos forward Tevita Pangai Junior took it upon himself to match Taumalolo's contribution and nullify his impact on the game.

Pangai darted around the field like a man possessed, scoring a try, setting up another and launching himself into tackles, including one hit which saw Taumalolo leave the field injured. It was a performance seemingly out of nowhere, which had people checking his eligibility for State of Origin honours.

New Broncos coach Anthony Seibold was cautious in his post-match praise of Pangai, referring to that elusive quality that all coaches seek from their players -- consistency.

"The challenge for him is to be consistent and back that up week in, week out," Seibold said.

"I just want to see him reach his potential. There are some outstanding forwards in the competition... but certainly Tevita has potential.

"I don't want to overstate where Tevita is at. He's just got to be consistent."

Fast forward to a steamy Thursday night in Brisbane. The Broncos hosted the out-of-sorts Dragons to start the third round and were expected to get the better of them. Big things were expected of Pangai and the rest of the Broncos forwards, but Seibold was left disappointed by the effort.

"Physically the Dragons won that contest and we got what we deserved in the end there," Seibold said.

"We had a lot of young guys who probably got a lot of pats on the back after last week's game but the NRL has a real habit of bringing you back down to earth.

Pangai didn't have a bad game against the Dragons, in fact he ran for the most metres of any of the Broncos, made 30 tackles and played for an exhausting 70 minutes. He did give away a crucial penalty, left a gap that Cameron McInnes raced through for the Dragons first try and simply wasn't as influential as he had been the week before. If the Broncos had won, maybe his coach wouldn't have been as critical.

And therein lies the boon player conundrum, at least for fans of the game.

Professional rugby league players work hard to reach the heights of playing in the NRL. Once they make it, they need to work even harder to stay there. A rugby league career is relatively short, painfully brutal and can end in an instant through a crippling injury.

It is hard to criticise any athlete that is good enough to make a living out of playing this game. It just becomes incredibly frustrating to us mere mortal fans when we see a player under-delivering on their natural talent through a perceived lack of effort.

In recent years we've had Cronulla prop Andrew Fifita admit that he put in extra effort during particular games and coasted during others. We've had the New Zealand Warriors look like world beaters one week for a milestone game, before putting in a completely lacklustre performance the following week. We've seen Jarryd Hayne return to the game and underperform for the Eels, before stringing together some brilliant performances towards the end of the year.

Former Bulldogs forward Tony Williams was a hulk of a man, capable of completely destroying opposition defences, yet frustratingly ineffective most weeks. It was noted by fans that his best efforts always seem to come in the final year of his contract.

There are a lot of hidden reasons that might contribute to a player under-performing. Most players are carrying some kind of niggling injury at some point in the season. Players can also be targeted by opponents, when they are seen as key to a team's chances of winning. There are off-field issues that can play a part in a player's mental state going into a game. Poor performances are not always the result of a lack of effort, but they can certainly look that way to fans.

It all comes down to perception. The hard-working fans, who dip into their pockets to watch their team play each week, expect the players to give it their all every single game. After all the preparation and hard work at training, the players only have that 80 minutes under the spotlight. They don't have to win every game, but nothing riles a fan like a performance lacking heart.

As Seibold concluded on Thursday.

"We will have to learn from that."