NRL Referees: Anderson’s Messianic Status Downgraded to ‘Interested Party’

“Now, you listen here: ‘e’s not the Messiah, ‘e’s a very naughty boy! Now, go away!”

– Brian’s Mother, Life of Brian

Occam’s Razor (or Keep It Simple, Stupid): “ … a principle that favours the simplest explanation of a thing rather than the complex …”

Occam’s Razor For Dummies   

He referees for the players and the spectators rather than to a nit-picking  obsession with the small print of the law book.

– Spiro Zavos on rugby referee Craig Joubert

here ye, here ye ... this is how I see the obstruction rule ...
here ye, here ye … this is how I see the obstruction rule …

Daniel Anderson was supposed to be the Messiah of Rugby League Referees, delivering us a New Testament complete with the Gospels of Obstruction, Shoulder Charges, Grounding and Ruck Speed.

He was supposed to be the Neo of the NRL Matrix, but has become a glitch himself, even without the intervention of Agent David Smith.

Anderson’s credentials are impeccable. A host of Super League awards and triumphs were bookended with NRL Grand Final appearances, before being cruelly sacked from the Eels the year after guiding them to an unlikely Grand Final appearance. If the referees hadn’t incorrectly penalised the Eels that night instead of correctly ruling a Storm knock-on on the halfway line with a few minutes remaining, he might have ended up a Premiership coach.

There is no doubting his ability to analyse and exploit the rules of the game when coaching, but there is some question now about his ability to deliver the right outcomes from the other side of the divide.

Unfortunately what is coming out of the referee’s dugout is making less sense than Kim Jong Un on a bad hair day.

Already, the banning of the shoulder charge has revealed a judiciary in dire need of performance-enhancing drugs of their own. The spinelessness of the Fa’aoso suspension is matched only by the apparent disregard for head injury that the rule was meant to mitigate.

Dan Hunt ran into 3 Sharks employing the shoulder charge the other night and not a word was said by the commentariat (as directed …?). Perhaps the on-field referees and video gimp box in the sky thought they were watching Finding Nemo.

Last night, Danny Buderus collected Blake Ferguson who, truth be told, might need a whack around the chops himself just like an old TV set on the blink. The point is: if you’re going to have the law for the reasons stated, then actually do something when it occurs. It’s a mystery why this simple approach is being avoided.

When i try and eat myself by enveloping my head with my bottom lip, you can say Ricky is not happy!

When I try and eat myself by enveloping my head with my bottom lip, you can say Ricky is not happy!

Ricky Stuart had it right yesterday in stating why he hates the current obstruction interpretation. As did Ivan Cleary when he talked about players being forced to take dives to generate a penalty. Once again, bad decisions drag in the law of unintended consequences like a black hole and, like last year, rugby league’s 2013 talking points look like they will be centred on boneheaded rules interpretations rather than positives. 

If the Dr’s prescription was filled at the local NRL pharmacy way back in January, then perhaps we’d be talking about other things that need fixing, like why referees can’t see forward passes or advantage rules.

As recommended in January, this rule cannot be rules-based. That is, the interpretation simply cannot be that if there is a collision somewhere … anywhere … then a try must be disallowed.Taking Occam’s Razor out of the top draw, the rule needs only to identify if there has been an obstruction that has affected the play. That’s it.

How the modern obstruction rule is determined ...

How the modern obstruction rule is determined …

It doesn’t cover someone who makes a bad read (like Jamie Lyon on Chris Lawrence on Thursday night … and Jamie would admit that), and it doesn’t cover someone 3 light years away who is moving away from the direction of the ball. As it stands, anything referred to the video referee results in a ‘no try’ ruling irrespective of the distance from an incidental collision to the ball carrier. Conversely, referees who don’t consult the video referee tend to award a try.

By Anderson saying the video referees are getting it right is tantamount to saying the on-field referees are getting it horribly wrong (such as with a Knights try against the Tigers last week, as one example, or the Slater try against the Broncos on Friday as another). So where are the sackings? It’s high time the rules reflected the ‘spirit of the game’. There will always be errors when using discretion (just like the weekly forward passes and advantage rule), but I guarantee everyone will be happier with common sense.


Game of the Week – Bulldogs vs Rabbitohs – Charts to Whet Your Whistle

Happy Good Friday one and all, and congratulations Manly – the first 1600 metre game this year. Wow.

These little Form Tracker and stat charts are beginning to prove awfully useful. They’re not gospel, of course (pardon the seasonal pun), but they are informative nonetheless. Last night’s game went true to form, with the margin exceeding the prediction in the end.

Once again, the point is to analyse the form, then make your own adjustments based on who each team have played in prior weeks. Clearly, feasting on a diet of Raiders, Dragons and Warriors is going to give you a better profile than if you had the Cowboys’ draw of 2 Grand Finalists and a Wayne Bennett-coached Knights (who had just had their Tommy Haas kicked).

Here is is how the Form Tracker lines up tonight. The Bulldogs have played the Cowboys, Eels and Storm, while the Rabbitohs faced the Roosters, Sharks and Panthers. Even without a chart you would imagine the ‘Form’ would be on the Rabbitohs side. And so it is:Rabbitohs v Bulldogs

What the chart above says is that the Rabbitohs (in relation to the Bulldogs so far this year) have really put the foot down in the first half, opening up a sizeable lead, on average. From that point it’s a net negative – ie. taking the lead a little further before giving that last increase up, and more, in the last 20 minutes.

This might not be so bad given teh Bulldogs haven’t tended to do (relatively) well versus their opposition for most of the 2nd half. If they are in it with 10-minutes to go, though, they have shown an ability to find that extra thrust.

One thing working against them is a Rabbitohs team that is powerful and can be relentless when it wants to be, and earns above-average metresTotal Metres Difference:… Though the Bulldogs can mitigate it (so some degree) by controlling the ball and completing their sets in their usual disciplined way:Completion % vs Average

Expecting a Rabbitohs victory tonight, but a pretty close one. A try in it, perhaps. They need to beat the Bulldogs after 2 so-so performances. It’s the difference, I think, between them seeing themselves as a top 4 team, or a top 2. Here’s the telling factor:Tries v Average

Oh, and if you thought the Bunnies gave SBW a spray all night in the first round, I’d love to have a set of Sports Ears for when they get hold of Barba 🙂

Applying the Form Tracker to the Manly-Tigers clash

It should be easy to separate these teams, shouldn’t it? Manly are clearly the better team. They are big, nasty, aggressive and cut throat. And they have used these attributes to great effect, along with a pulsating attack that has the habit of producing bags of tries within a short space of time.’

The Tigers clearly have the potential to match the Manly attack, but their ‘D’ is nowhere near as effective. It has always been this way, but the fact remains that these two teams have a history of close matches with field goals a recurring feature.

I’ll be tipping Manly tonight, but Blutongue isn’t exactly Brookvale, and they have been beaten by the Tigers on the Central Coast before. So how are they travelling in relative terms so far this year?

The Manly Point Tracker shows how dominant they have been in the last half hour of matches. They don’t die wondering, and they have kept the opposition almost scoreless during that period. So if the Tigers are not ahead at the 50-min mark, it’s goodnight Irene!Manly Point Tracker

The Tigers have the exact opposite problem. While they can continue to score points late in the game, they tend to let in more!

Tigers Point Tracker

Pitting the form of both teams against each other produces the following comparison, suggesting a close call until midway through the 2nd half or thereabouts.Manly-Tigers Points Diff

Manly by 12-15 after coming off a loss last week.

Here are a couple of other noteworthy markers between the 2 teams, highlighting that if Manly are ‘on’, it might be a tough night for the Tigers:Tries Difference

Line Breaks Conceded 1

Tommy Gets the Shoulder Charge, Richie Gets a Warm Arm Around His

The Dr is getting a little tired of watching NRL officialdom bring the game into disrepute.

It has taken a Senate Committee and public complaints to water down the Waterhouse. He wasn’t born to put on the baggy green, or be a rugby league commentator, it seems. And it seems NRL management aren’t up to the task of making the types of decisions expected of grown-ups, either. I guess that’s what $50 mill gets you – advertising when you’re not supposed to be advertising.

Moving on …

Why do the NRL and commentators pussyfoot around the real issue – head contact – by obliviously discussing whether or not the shoulder charge should be banned, as it was again on NRL 360 last night. If the NRL had been tough on head contact in the first instance, the shoulder charge need not have been banned at all. Symptoms and causes appear to be synonyms at the NRL. The ineptitude is terrifying, and reframing the debate that skirts the real issue is appalling.

As an aside, there’s a reason head contact with these tackles has increased in my mind – players are so much bulkier and muscular, while head sizes, unless I’m seriously mistaken, and Bruce Willis’ Son’s melon in Die Hard 5 notwithstanding, have remained the same. The path of least resistance (read: injury) to the defender gravitates towards the head. It’s all part of the relatively predictable chain of events stemming from the amounts of interchanges allowed, which mean players are used in shorter, sharper bursts.

Consequently, they can afford to carry more weight, and the collisions do not diminish as the game unfolds. Endurance is no longer one of the attributes that rank highly. Americanising the game the game is not the answer, though the use of words like ‘offence’ and ‘D’ may mean that players and coaches would like it to. Rugby League is a game of constant movement with bodies in motion, not a set-piece-fest like NFL.

The weekend drama involving Richie Fa’aoso and Ashley Harrison resulted in a downgraded charge (as expected), and a mere 1wk suspension. Ashley Harrison was not only pole-axed by a late, illegal tackle resulting in concussion and brain trauma, but now will miss next week’s game because of it.

In short, ole Ash got 2 games, his attacker 1. As Peter Fitzsimons writes today in the SMH, it  should probably take him longer to get back on the field. 

Yes, the head clash was accidental. The point is that it was the result of a hit that was late (intentional), illegal (reckless), and careless. I had hoped the NRL would make a stand on illegality causing serious bodily harm. Alas …. Clearly the judiciary is weak-minded enough to fall for Jedi mind tricks by the legal defence, or even just shiny things in the distance.

The NRL has shown its spots on the shoulder charge absolutely and irrefutably. By refusing to suspend Billy Slater for an illegal shoulder charge resulting in concussion against the Cowboys, it is a manifestly saying ‘talk to the hand’, and ‘not our problem’. They are saying it is quite alright to engage in illegal play and cause serious injury, rules be damned. As mentioned in a previous blog, they are going to need a lot of cash in the kitty come class-action time. And if the NFL is any guide, it is not a low percentage event. They don’t betray any grasp of how serious this is.

The NRL is schizophrenic and inconsistent – and wrong, as usual. Having misdiagnosed the real problem – head contact – and banning the shoulder charge, they then ignore it when it actually causes serious harm. And then we have to endure a 20-minute discussion on NRL 360 about ‘duty of care’ when referencing the Slater/Klemmer bomb/kick. Didn’t seem to matter last night. Paul Kent mentioned there was no precedent to grade this tackle. It seems pretty opbvious this was the opportunity. Then, they droped the ball materially – again – with the Slater/Winterstein incident, so what can you really expect? They haven’t learned from this, the NFL lawsuits, anything.

Where the real duty of care resides is with the League, and that duty is to do everything possible within its means to protect its players from serious harm, especially the type of harm that has been proven to occur in later years. Everyone accepts the game is a tough contact sport. Head contact is not part of the modern game.

If the NRL Board, management and judiciary were in a publicly listed company … hang on a sec until I stop laughing at the thought this would ‘ever’ be a possibility … a good laugh is worth 10 minutes on the rowing machine the poster says … anyway, where was I? Oh, right, if they worked for a publicly listed company they would have been unceremoniously dumped at an extraordinary general meeting at the first opportunity. These clowns should be running US and European banks … oh, wait …


Outliers – Birth Months and Elite Sportspeople

Are birth months the be-all and end-all of predicting sporting success?

Recent conversations with parents about kids’ sporting teams and age groups got me thinking (again) about how large the gaps in development are between young kids. In turn, this had me circling back to the ‘relative age hypothesis’ (RAH), or the idea popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in his excellent book ‘Outliers’, that children with birth months in the first part of the year were more likely to be successful in sports (hockey, in his example). But is it always the case?

If you started and stopped your analysis at Bernard Tomic (October), the youngster who not only tanks but wears tank tops, then you might say the case is closed! Shahid Afridi might be a different case altogether because his birth date has a standard deviation of +/- 5yrs, but there’s only a 10% chance of that …

But think about it. The difference between a 5yr old and a 6yr old is 20%. That’s a massive difference, equating to a Yr 5 student pitting themself against a Yr 7. Or, a 14yr old trying to mix it with a (nearly) 17yr old. These comparisons highlight quite clearly that a January baby versus a December baby are going to be at very different stages of development in their formative years, even being in the same class at school.

If this little June baby Dr was familiar with the RAH at age 4 ½, he wouldn’t have played sport at all. My sporting ability and fate were already sealed, according to the theory. I may as well have hopped on the roof with a Bacardi breezer and a dole check (or a pineapple donut and Chocolate Moove back in the day).

Thank goodness it’s not the ‘iron rule’ as described by Malcolm Gladwell. And I did relatively well at a range of sports to prove that a mid-year baby need not succumb to a meaningless statistic.

Think of where The Storm might be without their Big 3 (Cronk a December baby, with Slater and Smith late June). Wally Lewis and Sam Burgess, both outright champions, seem to have coped with being a December baby too, much like Tiger Woods. And the athlete of all athletes, Sonny Bill Williams was an August baby, as was the 8 out of 10 on the Morley-scale Paul Gallen.

So is the relative age hypothesis just a recognition of percentage differences in development that is substantial at young ages, but which fades with time and actually reverses? It seems that way.

It turns out that it is all a matter of framing (what isn’t?). A bit like John Howard many years ago setting the Republic Referendum question as including the ‘type’ of Republic model as well. If he had just asked ‘Do You Want a Republic?’, there’s no doubt the answer would have been Yes, and then we could have determined the actual model over time. Similarly, how is success defined in terms of the RAH?

If making a major junior team is the definition, then yes, the RAH does a pretty good job. Remember, we’re talking about young children where time gaps are more significant than in later years. Consistent with this fact is that the teams Gladwell analysed in his book showed a very different, and lower, birth month advantage just 3yrs later.

But if the definition of success is making the NHL (or NRL for that matter), the RAH is diminished in a major way. It even reverses at the elite levels as another study has shown. And that makes sense too – the older fellas giving way to those entering the prime of their careers in terms of age and experience.

Layman science is seductive and engaging. It’s certainly easy and fun to absorb. In fact, it’s not just layman science that is so intriguing. It’s any subject, really, where a perceived authority figure outlines (usually one side of) a case, makes some suggestions based on a set of data, and reaches a conclusion that sounds plausible.

But, like food, it’s always best to check the labelling and ask a few questions.

Anyway, this is just a quick break in transmission to keep me occupied now that NRL 360 is over.

Normal service resumes tomorrow with a barrage of ‘non-spun’ statistics for the Manly-Tigers clash, and the game of the week, Bulldogs- Rabbitohs.

A-League and Riots: I Wonder Why I Wanderer

Wanderers fans I’ve met have been so passionate that it’s difficult to believe this is their very first season in the A-League. The fervour of their support base is normally associated with a team with a rich history and deep roots.

WanderersI have to admit I found the expressions of support uplifting, and a sign that the Wanderers phenomenon had transcended the divide traditional between football codes. I even enjoy watching them,along with ADP!

Adding the romantic notion that they could win the League at their first attempt, they have captured the imagination of sports fans to the point where they are a serious rival for other codes.

For the NRL, it is no longer a case of obsessing about AFL and the increasing nationalisation of the sport. The Wanderers now loom front and centre, and have been doing so for some time now.

For the AFL, they just want to get the A-League season over and done with so someone will talk about them. In the meantime, they’ll talk about Buddy Franklin.

But what is the nature of that support? Is it the opportunity to finally be able to support a team that represents a greater western area of Sydney? Everyone loves to be part of a club, or group, of like-minded individuals for many reasons which include enjoyment, comfort, self esteem and many others. This permeates every facet of our lives, from sport to religion to social groups and book clubs.

Source: Daily Telegraph

Source: Daily Telegraph

From the supporters I’ve met, there is no doubt genuine supporters make up a significant part of the Wanderers supporter base. But is there more to it? Is it just another excuse for people (mostly young men) to riot inside the perceived cocoon of safety offered by a large group?

Perhaps the Einstein College researchers have the answer when they pursue the idea that thousands of headers per year amongst amateur soccer players are likely to have suffered some sort of ‘mild traumatic brain injury and cognitive impairment’. The University of Texas-based study reaches a similar conclusion, suggesting ‘even subconcussive blows in soccer can result in cognitive function changes that are consistent with mild traumatic brain injury of the frontal lobes.’

Watching the video of the most recent incident certainly points in that general direction, and makes you wonder why other sports don’t seem to be interrupted so regularly by riotous, antisocial behaviour.

The NRL has its share of boofheads without question. But I like the idea that opposing jerseys can be worn by spectators within close proximity without anyone wondering if they’re in some sort of physical danger merely because they support a football team.