When young Rugby League players get the chance to ask their NRL heroes for advice on improving their game, there is one fundamental thing that the top playmakers will always advise:
Hold the ball in both hands.
This can seem like such a simple and inconsequential thing, yet it can make the difference between an exciting try, and a wasted opportunity.
It seems almost counter-intuitive at first. When a player receives the ball from a teammate, the natural response is to tuck it safely under their arm. After all, this is the classic image of a Rugby League footballer: full flight, legs pounding with the ball under one arm and the other out-stretched to fend off any would-be tacklers. Keeping one arm free is arguably the biggest reason why most players favour a one-armed carry. Another reason is ball security. When you find yourself under a dog-pile of defenders, you are far less likely to drop the ball if it is nestled safely close to your chest.
However, there is one major disadvantage of this style of attack that can hamper any good attacking play: The defenders know what you are thinking. By placing the ball under your arm, you are telling the defence what you are doing next. The defenders know that you are making a run for it, and this makes it easier for them to stop you. They can fully commit to tackling you, comfortable in the knowledge that you won't be passing the ball.
Carrying the ball in both hands has the opposite effect because it makes the defenders have to guess what you will do next. By keeping both hands on the ball, you can pass it to the player either side of you, or throw a long pass to a winger in full flight; you could try and kick the ball to anywhere on the field you please; you could throw a dummy pass and attempt to fool the opposition. The options are practically limitless. Then, once you hit the gap, tuck that ball under your arm and head for the try line.
This technique is used by all the top playmakers in the NRL, from Andrew Johns to Jonathan Thurston, because it makes it harder for the opposition to stop them. If a defender rushes up to make a tackle, they risk creating a gap in the defence that the playmaker can exploit. It is also used by some of the top forwards like Corey Parker so that they can offload the ball during a tackle to earn their team more metres.
By making this simple adjustment to your game, you can keep the defence in two minds and create more opportunities on the field for your team.