Tracking how well NRL teams win – and lose

Looking at the Round 16 NRL draw, I couldn’t help but think the Tigers were the weekly special, certain to rack up a 13+ victory over the Raiders on Saturday night.

They need to, right? They are well behind where they need to be in their Points Differential (-33). So, even though they have equal competition points to the Eels and Storm, they are still behind them by virtue of that inferior differential. Not that those two teams are doing well in this respect either, I should add. It could literally mean the difference between making, or missing, the Top 8 for the Tigers, and needs urgent attention.

The scene is set for them to post a big win against a club in turmoil, and who are playing the sort of uninspired football that validates their 3rd-last position. And if they can’t do it against the Raiders, one wonders who they can do it to.

But how likely is it? Of their seven wins this year, only two have been 13+ (a 30-point margin over the Titans in Round 2 and a 16-point win against Manly in Round 5 – both quite some time ago). The rest have averaged 5.8 points, or a median of just 3pts.

(I like the median with smaller data sets because it clips off the outliers and gives us a central tendency).

Below is the median win margin of all teams over the 2014 so far:Median Win

Hmm, maybe I’d better look deeper into this before splashing out on a 13+ ticket for this match – if I even end up going there at all, as now seems unlikely! With a median of 9pts, the Tigers and 13+ results don’t seem to fall into the expected category.

As for the Raiders, their average losing margin this year is 16.8pts, with a median of 13pts, but the last five matches are somewhat better (loss average 13pts and median 11pts – with a win thrown in). So far, the Tigers 13+ isn’t quite stacking up as I’d hoped, but all is not lost yet.

Over this period, the Tigers have had three clear losses to superior teams, but only beat the Sharks by 2pts and the Knights by 3pts. Yes, the bottom two teams.

Let’s add in for good measure the record at the poorly supported Campbelltown Stadium – a 12pt win against the Cowboys, who can’t even get interested south of the border, and a narrow loss to the Broncos.

Uggh … Tigers 13+ just doesn’t stack up for risk/reward. Even if the Tigers win by 30pts tonight, I won’t be upset about not having put on the 13+ bet. It leaves a little more to chance than I would like, and I’m not that lucky! And you’re not getting paid to take the risk (13+ at 2’s? Nah ah).

Maybe we can salvage something though. The two matches played at Campbelltown were relatively low-scoring – 20pts and 30pts respectively. With the Over/Under line at around 42-44 (depending on agency), perhaps there’s an angle. The median total points of all Tigers matches this year is 42pts, and 46pts for the Raiders. So, the Over/Under looks right from an historical numbers sense, but still a little high given form and venue.

Ranking the Win & Loss Margins

Parramatta’s collection of losses (the worst in the NRL) initially motivated me to look at the margins by which teams typically win and lose, but hadn’t done anything until prompted by this Tigers match and a desire to see if having a lash was worth it.

The Eels’ loss against the Tigers in Round 7 was bad enough considering their dominance that day, but following it up with a thumping at the hands of the Cowboys was a fortnight that (I thought at the time) set their Finals hopes back and may come back to haunt them. Then again, subsequent losses have been equally as bad! How bad?

Check out the following chart, highlighting just how poorly the Eels have performed when losing matches. It’s very unlike what you’d expect from a team clinging to 8th spot.Median Loss

Even if the Eels have the attack worthy of finalists, they don’t have the defence at this point. So, while I’d personally like to see some of their champ(Hayne) best in September, I’m not betting on it.

You can lump the Tigers into that category as well. In both cases, it doesn’t auger well for Finals football against the current Top 6, who demonstrate far greater resolve when behind on the scoreboard. Cultivating that sort of attitude becomes a habit, and teams can’t draw upon it when needed if they don’t have it.

The surprise packet in the chart above is clearly the enigmatic Cowboys. A median loss of just 4.5pts (and an average of just over 8pts)? Really? Well, onsider that five of their losses have been within a 1-5pt range. Throw in losses of 8pts and 12pts, and the only big (Origin-affected) loss was the 30pt drubbing by the Raiders. As far as loss records go, that’s pretty impressive. And it’s made me rethink their match against the Rabbitohs too!

The NRL Round 14 Rubdown – Stats, Contenders, the Origin Trade-off, and can Souths replace Sam?

Bulldogs Control Possession, but lose the Metres Game

It was only as recently as Round 10 where we analysed how teams perform on the scoreboard when confronted with disproportionate amounts of Possession. You will recall that the idea of Possession in terms of number of ball carries was jettisoned as unrepresentative in favour of Net Metres Gained (either positive or negative).

Why? Because the more relative metres made, the more pressure it puts on the the opposition defence, and the faster they fatigue. The result is lazy/tired inside defenders, reduced cross-field defensive cover, and usually, a greater likelihood of bent defensive lines. This is what the good ball-players are able to exploit, and it is usually telling on the scoreboard, though the better teams do have the ability to absorb a negative differential and still prevail.

The Bulldogs-Eels match highlighted this point brilliantly. The Bulldogs had 181 Runs to 146, meaning they controlled 55.4% of Possession. This is an unambiguously good thing, but the rubber screeches off the road when you don’t take advantage of it. With that much possession, the Bulldogs should have been able to overpower the Eels, particularly through their huge (and unchanged) forward pack.

This is why Metres are important – their total 1,457 metres gained translates to just 8 metres/run. This is well below the NRL average 8.6 metres/run. It looks even worse when compared to the Eels’ almost identical 1,452 metres at 9.9 metres/run (one of the highest readings all year of all teams).

In short, the Eels ran harder, were more effective and made more metres with every touch relative to the Bulldogs.  The very same analysis of the Bulldogs Points vs Metres in Round 10 was directly applicable to Round 14, and possibly a sign of things to come (again). When the Bulldogs have lost the Metres battle, they have lost the match (the exception being against the now-last Knights). And even with a Metres advantage of up to 200 metres, they have still struggled to put teams away.Bulldogs Scatter

The Bulldogs – Contenders or pretenders?

What the points made above show is that the Bulldogs need a lot more ball to be a threat in this competition, and this is going to be far more difficult to achieve in the Finals. So, they have some work to do.

The Bulldogs have been fortunate to escape with some narrow wins this year (5/7, or 71%), which is a good indicator of being able to win closely fought matches on one hand, but which are now the difference between them being 6th and out of the Top 8 altogether on the other.

The loss against Manly exposed the Bulldogs’ Achilles Heel – while their size can work in their favour, it can also work against them when the opposition is able to get on a roll (accumulating metres), and particularly on a soggy surface such as Brookvale that night. Fortunately for them, most grounds aren’t likely to be so heavy, but wet conditions might work better for the opposition generally.

There is also a depth problem, which all teams face during the Origin period. As much as coach Des Hasler tries to blame player absences for performances, he is probably better advised to deal with it the same way other coaches have – in silence and with resolve. Ranting about how unfair it is seems more likely to send the implicit message to the players that losing a match is somehow defensible because of the circumstances, which is exactly the opposite mindset of the one you want your team to have. A minor effect can go a long way in a competition as even as the NRL, where every edge counts. There was certainly no griping last year when the Bulldogs smashed an under-strength Storm!

In short, the media have over-hyped the Bulldogs’ chances, and are now acting as if a few losses are a surprise, or the harbinger of doom, when neither description is applicable. They will still be in the Finals, and can be a force if they can make some necessary amendments to their game plan.

Headline fatigue – who’s next?

This is an easy one – the Panthers.

Amidst the giddy euphoria and comparisons to the 2003 Premiers, the 2014 Panthers have now won five matches in a row. And the media won’t let you forget it! They are a solid, if not overly creative team, and their stats would surprise fans. Bottom half in Completions, Top 5 in Missed Tackle %, and so on. I thought they were running better on those metrics, so there you go …

Their five-match run has included the Knights, Raiders, Eels, Titans and Dragons. Apart from the 7th –placed Eels, this is essentially the bottom four of the NRL. Still, you can only beat who’s in front of you.

A far greater test lies after next week’s Bye, and includes the Warriors (away), an Origin- depleted Tigers (away), then the Broncos and Roosters (away). The month preceding the Finals also includes the Cowboys, Storm, Manly (away) and Warriors.

Put it this way – I think the Panthers will figure in the Finals and I picked them early for  5-8 position, but you could strike me down with a feather if they’re in the Top 4.

Are Origin Riches Feasting on Clubs’ Bottom Lines?

As Discord notes overnight, the congratulatory back-slapping that goes hand in hand with State of Origin revenues has another side – costs.

You can’t just look at revenues alone, especially for a game that sells itself to the point where the NRL has been able to ratchet ticket prices to the stratosphere. So, what are the costs, and who bears them?

A cursory glance at the crowds over the weekend would suggest that, while the NRL scoops the Origin pool, the clubs are left to subsist on far leaner pickings when a match goes from blockbuster to just bust. The Bulldogs were stiffed on crowd numbers on the weekend. Had both teams had their full complement of players, the crowd of 24,000 might have been 50% higher (as would the Rabbitohs-Tigers crowd of 20,000).

On the one hand, it doesn’t say a lot of positive things for NRL fans if they cannot attend their team’s match because both sides are missing a few representative players. Being a fan is an investment not to be abandoned lightly. Do you leave after 5 minutes if Jarryd Hayne gets injured? Clearly not. Nor was his absence, or that of the Bulldogs players, reason to miss what was a high-quality contest.

On the other hand, losing drawcards is more likely to affect the marginal fans, so crowds are affected at some level.

So, does then NRL engage in any fiscal equalisation to offset this effect? It doesn’t appear so, but it should.

Is Bennett just defraying criticism, or is he a tackle short of a full set?

Is it treasonous to wonder if Wayne Bennett is the full quid? After all, he is Rugby League Royalty! Or is he just a master at deflecting headlines and blame away from his own failings, or those of his players, team or club?

It seems he managed to completely ignore the carnage arising from Origin 1, which not only resulted in significant injuries to both sides, but also lower level injuries and exhaustion that rendered half the Origin field unavailable for the following NRL round. His solution was to recommend playing Origin again the following week. Then again the week after. Blimey, talk about burnout!

The teams fielded for Game 2 would have been patchwork at best. And goodness knows what the attrition rate would be for the 3rd game. As far as player welfare goes, it’s counterproductive. Half-fit players would be inclined to play the 2nd match not only for the occasion, but for the 30,000 schmackers on offer too. It really is an appalling idea, 2nd only to Bill Harrigan’s splitting of Origin to start/middle/end of season matches.

Now he decides that his team has been wronged by a raised forearm by a ball-runner. If his belly-aching leads the NRL to do something about this increasing feature in general, then that would be a commendable outcome. The trend has been quite evident. Then again, we still have lifting tackles being dealt with on a softly-softly basis after a career-ending spinal earlier in the year, so there’s no real reason for confidence in the NRL on that score.

The Jared Warea-Hargeaves incident (a divisive, but soft target if ever there was one) he refers to was mild on the scale of what I have seen so far this year given the low initial contact. There have been literally scores of unreported and unpenalised incidents so far this season. He may, for example, like to explain this:Gidley

Was he not in attendance at the prior week’s match against the Tigers? Raised forearms, elbows, what-have-you, were de rigeur for the entirety of that match. And the head-hunting tactics of the Knights was extraordinary, so much so that I even felt the need to comment specifically about it last week. You could argue that JWH was probably expecting the same treatment!

So, Bennett’s attention to the practice will be a net positive if the NRL places a referee directive on such contact. They have shown no inclination to do so thus far, and are unlikely to do so, in my opinion. Even if they were to do so, the JWH incident would probably still be regarded as low-level.

How on earth can the Rabbitohs replace Sam Burgess?

Steve CooganOne can only hope, whether you’re a South Sydney fan or just an NRL fan, that heaven and earth is being moved to keep Sam Burgess at Redfern. If the Wallabies-France Rubgy Test on Saturday night is any indication, Sam might be feeling the pangs of regret already. The ‘marquee’ allowance recently announced by the NRL is another consideration that wasn’t in place when he announced his defection.

If you’re South Sydney, though, how do you replace a guy who averages 20 Runs and 2.4 Offloads per match, while making an average 174 metres per match. That’s equal with Josh Mansour, a winger who makes most of his metres on kick returns, and more than all other fullbacks and wingers. James Graham puts in an average 154 metres himself, but then you’re back to the back three players. Pretty awesome stuff.

Think about how valuable his contribution is for just a moment. For Souths, it’s the equivalent to the Roosters playing, and losing, the 2004 Grand Final without the workhorse efforts of Luke Ricketson.

It is the equivalent of the Melbourne Storm playing, and losing, the 2008 Grand Final without the leadership and tactical direction of Cameron Smith.

But for Souths, it’s every – single – week.

How are they going to replace him? I honestly don’t know.

The NRL Round 13 Rubdown Part 2 – The Jibbed and Jab Knights

The Jibbed …

As if the Knights’ off-field tribulations weren’t enough, to the point where the NRL is now forced to shepherd the beleaguered club back to health.

But the opportunity to arrest a trail of five successive losses on the field that began with the Broncos back in Round 7 was lost this weekend, simply because of the NRL’s poor review of the time-wasting rules at the beginning of the year.

As a result, Newcastle were forced to decline an attempt at goal with just minutes on the clock when a late try against the Tigers brought them to within three points. Their only option from this point was to score a try with just a couple of minutes on the clock.

The issue is that Newcastle were denied other vital scoring options to win the match. Had the clock stopped upon the awarding of the try and resumed at kick off (as recommended many times, including here and in the depths of pre-season 2013 here), then the Knights would have had the option of kicking the conversion to draw within a point.

From there, they could have:

a) made their way downfield to draw level with a field goal and force extra time;

b) forced a penalty and kicked a penalty goal to win the match; or

c) even scored that elusive try, which would have been difficult, let’s be honest, but far less of a challenge than if it were the Knights’ only option.

The NRL’s own site summarised the new rules around conversions and the last five minutes of matches thus:

“Stop the clock: During the last five minutes of a match, the clock will stop following a conversion or penalty kick at goal until play restarts at halfway. The interpretation change will add excitement during close matches, provide consistency across matches and reduce potential time-wasting.

Goal-kicking time limit: The referee will call time-off at approximately 1min 20sec following the scoring of a try. Fines will still apply to clubs when a player takes longer than 1min 40sec to take a conversion.”

I asked at the time, and will ask again – what is the point of wasting not only the initial 1min 20sec after a try (recall that’s almost 10 minutes of game-time based on the average 7.2 tries per match), but then the trudge back to the kick off (applying the first 75 minutes)?

And what’s the point about making a big deal of the last five minutes of a match where time-wasting is rife, by merely stopping the clock after the conversion?

It didn’t make sense then, it doesn’t now, and we now have an example of its shortcomings.

The Jab

While the Knights were somewhat jibbed on one side of the coin, the other side was a little uglier, and they received more than their fair share of luck.

The Tigers will admit themselves that they are far from the biggest or best, or even the most intimidating packs in the NRL. Their edge has been enthusiasm and skill, with an aim to matching the opposition and allowing a free-flowing style centred around their spine to get he job done. I may get some pushback on this, but an objective view of their roster relative to other teams seems to lead inevitably to this conclusion.

The Knights’ forwards, on the other hand, aren’t quite as fast (or fit), but are big and aggressive. Their game plan against the Tigers was therefore also pretty clear – to defeat them in the middle by being hyper-aggressive, and hope their backline could capitalise. With a pack boasting Scott, Smith, Snowden, Fa’alogo, Mason et al, they already have a predisposition toward aggression.

Whether it was by specific instruction or exuberance of some other nature, their tactics verged on head-hunting, and forearms and elbows were on broad display all match. In particular, props Fa’alogo and Snowden can count themselves absurdly lucky to escape they way they did.

Fa’alogo appeared to engage in what I would call a cheap shot on Liam Fulton that, because of the way he entered the tackle, enabled some sort of plausible denial. The MRC were far too soft on this, and the result is another unlucky concussion for Fulton.

Snowden is luckier again, facing just two weeks on the sidelines for two separate charges. The clobbering he gave Bodene Thompson from behind, eyes fixed on target and fists clenched would indicate to me (at least) that a Grade 1 Careless Tackle was far too lenient, to the point of incompetence. It looked very much intentional to me, though I would have been mollified by a Reckless Grading. It makes an awful amount of difference as you can see below.

Gradings

The game has proved it can survive and thrive without punching, but the NRL Match Review Committee and Judiciary (in general) have not yet moved to the next level of penalising blatant foul play. Let’s hope they give players engaging in exactly what they deserve as opposed to the wet lettuce-flogging they are receiving now.

 

The NRL Round 13 Rubdown Part 1 – Making Sense of the Ladder

Making Sense of the NRL Ladder During Origin

The 2014 NRL ladder has tended to reflect the tightness of the competition and the unusual run of surprises by being almost unrecognisable from one week to the next. Nothing has changed as we look at the current ladder, but that is about to change.

Highlighting the ladder volatility, it wasn’t long ago that the Titans were still on top of the ladder, before falling to 3rd, and then out of the Top 8 altogether. The writing was on the wall early given their lack of relative point-scoring ability, and below shows the progress to this point:Net Points per match

In the context of a close competition and then losing their halves pairing for a period of time (upon whom they rely so heavily), their fall from grace has been quite predictable by most.

After Round 6 that I surmised they only needed to win seven or so games from that point (then on 10 points and yet to receive their two Byes) to make the Finals. They were never going to remain as dominant as those first six rounds (due to a favourable early season draw), but it is somewhat disturbing that they still need to win about as many games from Round 14 onward to make the Finals as they did after Round 6.

The anti-Titans, the Panthers, began the season by alternating wins and losses for eight rounds. They were struggling to get their nose into the Top 8, and the 5-year plan was under fire in many quarters. They are the polar opposite to the Titans, benefiting from the tight knot of teams sitting on similar competition points after a string of just four consecutive wins. As a result, they now sit atop the NRL ladder. The comparison with the Titans in terms of points differential is quite striking:Panthers v Titans For and Against

The Top 8 now has a fair bit of solidity to it for the first time this season, by which I mean its constituents should become more predictable, and less susceptible to chop and change. Certainly, we don’t have the unsustainable position of a team leading with a negative points differential. Quite the opposite in fact. The Top 8 is now spearheaded by a Top 6 with robust differentials, with no clear standout now that the Bulldogs have joined the rest of the teams in having had a comfortable loss (two consecutively, in fact).

Positions seven and eight still have a negative differential, which is not unusual. So, while there will always be some jostling for positions at this back end, the cream is beginning to rise to the top, where it should stay.

That said, the Byes are needlessly muddying the true make up of the Top 8 in particular, and it won’t be until the Bye rounds have been completed that we will have a clearer picture. Notwithstanding the fact that teams facing Byes should probably not receive any points at all (they didn’t win a match), we can cut through the noise by adjusting for them.

One way of looking at this, while also paying the Cowboys their due (a massive positive points differential given their current 11th placing) is to look at the table through the lens of that differential, and you can see clearly how the current placings change:Alternative Ladder_For and AgainstThe make up of the Top 8 certainly has a different flavour when you look at it this way, most poignantly the elevation of the Cowboys from 11th to 5th. However, the obvious drawback lay over on the far right of the table – the Cowboys – despite a couple of big wins inflating their differential, they are still a few wins away from the top teams, and that’s where the rubber hits the road.

A better way to look at it is to simply take the two points awarded for Byes out of the equation to avoid the optical illusion.

For example, the Storm have had a Bye and have already received their two points for effectively doing nothing, while the Cowboys haven’t. Given those two points are guaranteed, equilibrating the two teams to reflect a single Bye each places the Cowboys 9th – easily.

Likewise, the Roosters and Rabbitohs are really in 1st and 2nd position once all the Byes are allocated (both have not had one yet). Here is how the table looks in reality, and highlights why Byes probably shouldn’t have two points attached to them:Alternative Ladder_Bye AdjustmentInterestingly, while there is some movement at the upper end of the ladder once these adjustments are made, the final six places remains unchanged.

Even more startling is that one of those teams is the Melbourne Storm, who are out of the Top 8 for the first time at the halfway mark of the season over the Bellamy era.

The NRL Round 12 Rubdown – and the Origin of Bad Ideas

The NRL Round 12 Rubdown – The Origin of Bad Ideas

The NRL lurched aimlessly into its 2nd week of Origin-weakened matches, and despite fans being able to enjoy six games this week as opposed to last week’s five, the return of some Origin players didn’t quite raise the quality.

In short, it was a one-way slaughterhouse. No game was really close at any stage, and the half-time margins ranged from 10-18 points with an average of 15 points.

The Panthers/Eels promised so much, yet in the end, it was a bit like Hugh Hefner struggling to find his little blue pill. It was a massive let-down, and not just the game itself where the Eels were comprehensively pumped. The sorer point, to my bug-like eyes anyway, was the fact that the NRL failed to breathe life into somewhat of a rarity – the Panthers and Eels clashing in the context of a Top 4 showdown. Given the theatre of the battle for Sydney’s west that we’ve heard so much about in recent years, you’d have thought the NRL would have been all over this like Phil Mickelson with a good stock tip. Anyway, that was dealt with in the last blog, so let’s just say the whole event, from pre-match to the match itself (unfortunately), required the jaws of life by the end just to scrape by. Disappointing.

The Roosters/Raiders seemed to be background noise, the Roosters doing what they needed to do before having a second-half-siesta. Daniel Tupou accepted two gift tries that even Darius Boyd would have scored, but his second half effort Folau-ing through the air underscored why he was selected for Origin in the first place.

Melbourne was typical Melbourne sans Big 3 – stoic, but ineffective. The Cowboys were typical Cowboys with Thurston in the side – entertaining and highly effective. Once again, the result was never in doubt. If I’m the Storm, this is what I’m concerned about:

For and Against Comparison

While the Storm sit on 14 points and two wins from top spot, they sit 9th by virtue of a Bye and their For & Against. Contrast that performance to their conquerors on Saturday night. The Cowboys are effectively on 14 points themselves because they are yet to have the gift 2 points provided by the Bye, but have a net positive For & Against of 71 points – ie. In reality, they are well within the Top 8 when you adjust for the Bye.

The Broncos invoked memories of their first meeting with Manly back in 1988 – completely dominating and outplaying the Sea Eagles, who looked listless and directionless. The absence of chief playmaker Daly Cherry Evans was no doubt a catalyst for their self destruction, but when you see Matt Gillett outrun a jogging Jorge Taufua over the length of the field, you really want to have a look under the hood to see what’s going on … Further, you have to wonder about his readiness for Origin …

The Warriors comfortably beat the Knights, who showed that their internal tribulations have depleted their resolve. The Knights fail to finish halves well, and this is where they were beaten again this weekend. They are out of the habit of hanging in and closing out halves, and it will take some time to rediscover making the right choices under pressure and fatigue (see Mullen’s chip kick as one example). But 2014 doesn’t quite have that time left for them – goodnight.

1st and 2nd half performance

Nor is time on the Dragons’ side. As you can see from the chart below, the early 18-0 lead was good by the Rabbitohs’ standards, and was unlikely to be threatened at any stage given the way both teams perform in the 2nd half (which you can also see in the table above). It feels strange to think back just a few years when the shoe was completely on the opposite foot for these two teams.

Rabbitohs v Dragons For and Against Comparison

The Origin of Bad Ideas – When to play Origin

Given the relative lack of competition over Round 12, the NRL needs to appreciate is that State of Origin doesn’t just weaken the rounds prior to each Origin game where representatives are unavailable for their clubs. It weakens the next round too, though the media emphasis has been on the former.

We’ve now had one of each in Rounds 11 and 12. And, not coincidentally, the average 2wk margin per match is the highest it has been all year (the last two rounds averaging a margin of 20.3 points) :

Rolling 2 week average margin

Ideas to mitigate the disruption caused by Origin were highlighted around this point last year. One of those ideas, moving Origin to Monday night, remains my favourite.

Why? Well ask yourself this: forgetting about turnaround times or any other variable, if Monday Night Football were Wednesday Night Football, would it be any more or less popular as a viewing slot? I don’t think it would make any difference whatsoever given both are school nights, so to speak.

Yet, we still seem to be discussing the living-dead ideas such as a 3-week NRL hiatus to accommodate Origin, when it is Origin that feeds off the NRL, not the reverse. This model has been popularised by some media and players without, it seems, too much thought, and seems to have only one realistic positive – it removes the free ride enjoyed by teams without Origin representatives (like the Panthers and Warriors this year).

On the flipside, it is outweighed by several negatives.

NRL CEO David Smith is correct, in my view, in slaying this zombie corpse, and this article reads like a long face palm, unwittingly ruling out the idea of shutting down the NRL for three consecutive matches for the very reasons it is championed:

THE battered and bruised players want the NRL shut down during State of Origin, but league boss Dave Smith has categorically ruled out a change to the controversial format.

Melbourne and NSW Blues forward Ryan Hoffman along with Storm and Queensland skipper Cameron Smith agree it is time to play the series as three stand-alone fixtures over three consecutive weeks.

Hoffman pointed to the big injury list from last week’s Origin opener in Brisbane as proof of the increasing toll the series takes on its combatants.”

Remind me again why that suggests playing the same match the very week after such carnage, and then again the week after that, is a great idea? If player welfare is the concern, this isn’t the way to achieve it. It will almost certainly mean that prominent players either miss the 2nd and/or 3rd match given the short recovery period, or play with a needle, risking further damage that will ultimately affect their club team. This is definitely a case of being careful what you wish for.

Some say it is negligent not to employ this model because of player welfare concerns. As outlined above, that is an internally inconsistent argument. If we are going to talk about negligence and player welfare, I would prefer to begin with dangerous tackles.

Second, is a mid-season holiday for players a great idea? I can only imagine it invites a significant possibility of even more disreputable headlines than we already generate in this little subset of the sporting cosmos. I don’t see how that could be avoided.

Third, a month between club games (because that’s what it would be) is too much for the fans who, as much as they enjoy State of Origin, just want to watch their team, and whose team might not have any Origin representatives anyway. It would become a bit of a dead period as a result, not to mention the idea of giving other sports free reign over that period.

But the grand daddy of all considerations, as always, is the money aspect. The broadcast deal stitched together by the NRL and its network affiliates doesn’t countenance the idea of even less rugby league (read: less prime-time advertising space), and there is no way they would consider a dead period such as this. Single matches separated by weeks? Not going to happen.

The good thing is, it doesn’t need to, which is why the Monday night Origin has appeal. Read the linked article above, but in short, it goes like this:

  • State of Origin is played fortnightly on a Monday;
  • It shortens the Origin-affected period to five weeks (from Game 1 through Game 3);
  • Origin players are available the weekend prior (no Monday Night Football) to the following Monday night’s Origin – ie. more than a full week of rest and recovery for Origin);
  • State of Origin on Monday night crowns a full weekend of NRL (without Origin representatives), and with a guaranteed audience that only origin can bring (which cannot be said of normal Monday Night Football);
  • Barring injury, Origin players are available for their club teams the next weekend (no Friday Night Football), which can be spread over the Saturday and Sunday, and over times that can be shared by Fox and Channel 9. As a last resort, and an olive branch of compromise, Friday Night Football could be retained if the children running the show cannot engage themselves in adult fashion (it would still be better than backing up on Friday or Saturday after a Wednesday night game).

The Origin of Bad Ideas 2 – Where to play State of Origin

As much as I can praise the NRL’s idea of closing the door to the consecutive weekend State of Origin model, I can’t quite bring myself to say the same about its periodic forays into Melbourne.

We now have to live with next year’s second match being played at the MCG, as outlined by the NRL yesterday, but it doesn’t mean it’s a good decision.

CEO David Smith noted that:

“… anyone who saw last week’s Origin game will realise Melbourne has secured the best sporting event in Australia…”

Yes, well, except the fans of the teams actually playing the match, who will now be unable to attend.

I had this quaint notion that State of Origin was a NSW vs Queensland event, and that it therefore made complete sense to play the games in those States where the passion is highest, and where the game is more meaningful.

Has the NRL perhaps forgotten the roots of State of Origin, forged in the furnace of resentment over the many years where Queensland players were denied the opportunity to represent their State, but instead don a Sky Blue jersey to effectively give a country team a good hiding?

The sentiment that began in 1980 seems to have been pushed to the side because the MCG can hold more people and generate more ticketing revenue. It wasn’t that long ago that Jeff Kennett was public enemy no.1 for ring-fencing the best sporting events in the land, and now the NRL gives it away?

Forget the fact that the MCG is so large as to render the live viewing experience a complete anti-climax (been there, done that), but this short-term decision undermines the very fabric of State of Origin. Over time it will hasten its demise as a special event between two passionate States. Who knows, maybe it can be diluted even further by taking it to another country to showcase a game they cannot participate in! This is why we have international football, and why that should be nurtured independently.

If the NRL truly believe State of Origin is the best sporting product Australia has to offer, it won’t turn its back on the fans by pimping it to other interstate or international venues.

The Origin of Bad Ideas – Who to play Origin?

One piece of advice I have always remembered is the idea of first, do no harm. For my sins, that was listening to the droll monotones of the Governor of the Reserve Bank in the context of monetary policy, but it applies to every major decision when you think about it.

So, when surveying the casualty ward arising from the first State of Origin, and the forced team changes as a result, I lean back on this motto as a first principle of selection – that is, don’t weaken more positions than you need to, or you undermine the whole structure of the team.

Taking arguably the best fullback in the game at present (Jarryd Hayne) and shunting him into right centre?

Madness.

Taking the best centre in the game (Greg Inglis) and pushing him into the unfamiliar territory of 5/8?

Madness.

I have a bee in my bonnet as it is about picking left side players to play right side in important matches, let alone different positions altogether. Jarryd Hayne is more than a fullback. He is a ball-playing runner who almost plays like an extra 5/8 and centre combined. His thrusts into the backline cannot be underestimated, and it was precisely that involvement that led to a NSW victory last week. And for those advocating he play wing, can you give any less involvement? Give yourself an uppercut.

Further, his defence isn’t exactly his strength, and he is not the person to be marking Greg Inglis (if Queensland keep a grip on their sanity and leave him in the centres). So why weaken his contribution, particularly in attack, while bringing in an inferior fullback? That’s two positions under a cloud of uncertainty and unnecessary.

Still, NSW have a right side centre and winger to replace, which is no mean feat. I think we can rule out Josh Dugan given the Laurie Daley culture washing over the Blues this year, and we can rule in Will Hopoate. As poor as his game was on Friday, Daley’s loyalty will see him on that right side. The question is where.

To me, the best combination will be derived from three players – two to start, the other being either a squad member or bench player. And those three are Hopoate, Mansour and Wighton. Mansour is solid, tough, busy, tenacious and takes great pride in his performance. Wighton is big, fast, skilful, and unlucky not to have been chosen already.

The only way Beau Scott should be selected at right centre, as some have proposed, is if NSW actually want to lose and go to a decider in Queensland. He is an impeccable defender, but lacks the pace required of a centre, particularly marking noted speedsters with good fends. His contribution inside Josh Morris was instrumental in keeping the Queensland left had side somewhat contained, and he was involved also in the final match-saving tackle. He needs to play exactly the same role in Game 2.

As for the Queenslanders, there is no need to weaken 5/8 by taking the best in the business (Johnathan Thurston) out of the position. The production line of top-quality halves in Queensland is such that they have a ready-made replacement for Cooper Cronk and DCE – and it’s not Thurston.

The Broncos’ Ben Hunt has demonstrated he has the ball-playing skills and precocious talent to hold his own in the Origin arena, and would fit seamlessly into the team, without getting in the way of Thurston. I’ve watched him closely, and  think it’s a no-brainer.

This leaves Inglis at his destructive best in the centres, while making space at the back for Anthony Milford. The Queensland team, in this sense, is hardly weakened at all. But they can weaken it if they want …

What would all NSW fans want to see for Game 2?

Without question, the NSW would be a stronger, more intimidating presence were Jamie Lyon to finally relent on his representative retirement and play. In many ways, I would call it NSW’s Alfie Langer moment, and with a similar effect on the outcome of the match.

After such a long time, you wonder what could possibly persuade him to accept a personal invitation from the NSW coach. I’m sure everyone recalls why he made his decision in the first place. So, does he have more to lose than gain? Or does he leave a positive legacy of being the right man at the right time?

He is a prince of centres, and a player Queensland would genuinely fear – fast, furious, and a never-say-die attitude, not to mention an unparalleled ability to put his winger into space. He single-handedly launched the Wolfman’s career!

Off you go Laurie, I’m sure you know where he lives …

 

What to make of the NRL’s Western Derby?

Not much has been said about the sporting battle for Sydney’s west lately. Possibly because that A-League is over and the Wanderers have failed to deliver a trophy again (though the two Finals are fairly impressive). Perhaps it’s because the GWS Giants are failing to engage the area with sub-standard performances.

For whatever reason, the story of the year is the success of its western representatives after so many years in the collective wilderness. This was the reason AFL and Soccer were supposedly making inroads into Rugby league, right? And yet, the NRL has spectacularly failed to recognise, the celebrate and promote this fortuitous state of events.

From the NRL-leading Bulldogs to the Top 8-orbiting Tigers, greater inner and western Sydney is on a tear. Tonight we have the 3rd-placed Panthers at home to the in-form, and 4th-placed, Eels. It’s a westie extravaganza out Penrith way, and if I had the time, and the great man was playing, I’d have packed a solid lunch and taken the journey out there myself. Like the rich & famous feasting on ice cream topped with gold shavings, there’s something magnificent about those resplendent deep blue Eels jerseys, especially tinged with the scent of success!

Neither are my teams, but the Dr seems to recognise what the NRL doesn’t – this is an event that happens … when ..? Ever? When have these two teams been up in the Top 4 side-by-side? The NRL’s top brass should be there tonight, to a man, floating in on a promotion that would make you dizzy. Anyhoot …

Parramatta come to Sportingbet Stadium with a record that contradicts their two consecutive wooden spoons, and general poor standard of play since the 2009 Grand Final. They have been competitive even in their worst years, twice being edged by the Panthers by a point, and even winning the late 2010 match.

The 2014 incarnation of the Eels is something quite different altogether, and would rate themselves a tremendous chance of dominating a rather uninspiring Panthers in a similar way to Round 4 this year (32-16). Who would have thought that at this stage of the season, Parramatta would be the top point-scorer per match, lead line breaks, and head the list for tries scored too?

Points Scored per matchBoasting a 23.9-point average score is offset, however, by a second worst Missed Tackle Percentage, allowing the opposition to score 22.7 points themselves. Look who’s below them on this score, and you’re looking at the representatives of the bottom four:

Points Conceded per match

The result is that both Parramatta and the Panthers sit right next to each other when it comes to ‘net’ points per match, and have reached that point in markedly different ways. The Panthers have mixed a pedestrian attack with defence good enough to reach 3rd, but with a For & Against of only +23 points. The distribution of their wins and losses lay within 38 points. [update: after a 38-12 thumping tonight, it’s hard to call the Panthers’ attack pedestrian now!]

The Eels, on the other hand, have mixed big wins with large losses, and a spread of points of 88 points.

In any case, the accumulation of For & Against throughout both their seasons up until now suggests this one might be harder to pick than a broken nose:

Panthers vs EelsUnfortunately for all of us (but not Penrith), Jarryd Hayne will be resting a hamstring that is dogier than a 3am kebab, and has a history of popping under fatigue. It’s in NSW’s interests for Origin Mark II, but the Eels might miss his incursions into the backline.

An intriguing statistic mentioned today (by Fox) that the Eels have won just 3 matches from the last 23 without Jarryd Hayne becomes less intriguing by the minute when you consider their winning record has been abysmal up until this year – even with him.

Jarryd Hayne is a rare talent, and a rare beast. I say that because it seems as if he plays even better when Parramatta play well, rather than the reverse. The addition of quality players to the roster, including Peats and Origin-bound Hopoate, mean that the Eels can count on getting the best out of him more often than not. It also suggests they will be more than competitive tonight.

Their trump card, if it comes down to the wire, is that the Panthers tend to perform poorly into the end of matches – pretty much from the 50th minute, on average:

Panthers Point TrackerThe ace in the Panthers’ hand though, is that they have played six 6-point or less matches this year and won four of them – and they wield field-goal exponents that are probably the best (as a combination) in the NRL (Walsh & Soward).

The Eels have played three, winning just one. That’s not to say they can’t win a close one. Of course they can. Just that the odds are against them.

Panthers at home are a tough proposition, and I’m sure the pokie music from Panthers will be turned up loud to distract Sandow. But I think they can do it, led by a backline that is scintillating even without the Hayne Plane.