Are the Bunnies too reliant on Greg Inglis?
Are the Storm too reliant on Cameron Smith?
With players of that quality, it simply comes with the territory.
Housing genuine superstars within your playing roster achieves a couple of noteworthy things.
First, there is the obvious benefit of their impact within any game in general, and particularly at the pivotal moments where they really earn their reputations and pay packets. Watching Inglis, for example, thrust into the line like an exocet missile is something of great rugby league beauty, and is often the difference between winning and losing matches.
Secondly, their presence lifts the players around them. In a sense, their presence is a natural performance enhancer.
Their absence, therefore, is also a bit of a downer, no matter how good the rest of the playing roster is. In the finals, this could mean the difference between playing an extra game or dressing up like a nurse.
Last night’s Rabbitohs-Dragons match was a case in point. The Rabbitohs, a superb team without doubt, were nowhere near as threatening and electrifying without the presence of Greg Inglis, and a workman-like performance wasn’t enough to subdue the 15th placed Dragons.
What teams are best equipped to handle the loss of key players?
Sticking with the Top 4 for now, the Rabbitohs are in serious trouble without Inglis and Reynolds. Lose one or both, and invitations to invoke 1989 are made.
Inglis’ presence is like Darth Vader to the opposition, who are much happier when he’s on the sideline! As for Reynolds, his absence in the major semi final last year underscored his value. On this latter point, the Rabbitohs could do a lot worse than trial an understudy half back during upcoming games, just in case that hammy decides it has another surprise.
The Storm becomes almost irrelevant in the finals without Cameron Smith. Losing Cronk, or Slater in particular, would be catastrophic losses, but cast your mind back to what happened when Cameron Smith wasn’t present at a Grand Final.
The Roosters and Manly seem best equipped to handle the loss of a key player because they are not as reliant on a single individual (or duo). The Roosters have had hardly any use of Sonny Bill Williams’ skills in the last two matches and have prevailed by a total 76-0. If one of the halves is out, Mortimer or SBW can fill in and completely disrupt the opposition game plan. Mortimer can even fill in for Jakey Friend in the worst case scenario that he is injured, and I say worst case because he is playing out of his skin and is an integral part of the Roosters’ success.
As for Manly, they are simply a team of thoroughbred footballers. They all seem to have a variety of skills, and possess a maniacal lust for winning. The absence of Daly Cherry-Evans during Origin hampered them only slightly, and like SBW, Jamie Lyon assumed more responsibility with direction and as play maker.
What is a safe buffer these days in the NRL? And how even is the competition?
As the Rabbitohs proved last night, even the top –placed side isn’t safe with an understated performance and a two try buffer with 10 minutes to go. Even against the 15th placed team!
Athletic ability and speed in the modern NRL are so ubiquitous that a momentary lapse of focus can result in an abrupt change to the scoreboard, and all of a sudden events are moving too quickly to reboot the defensive structure.
The Roosters had a similar lead against the Bulldogs a few weeks ago, and almost let the game slip. Never mind that it was an Origin-depleted round and that they had previously beaten the Doggies 38-0. No-one truly believes they will account for the Sharks by 40 points again in a month. It’s all about the team’s attitude on the day.
The next time someone bemoans how uneven the NRL competition is just because the Eels got thumped again, take a note from the Dr and tell them they’re in la-la land. There are always going to be standouts (like the Bulldogs and Storm last year), and taking one or two important players out of most teams brings them back to the field in a mighty hurry. Quadruple that for the teams that are rebuilding.
Once you account for the game changers like Inglis, Smith and Barba et al, the difference between most teams in the NRL is preparation and coaching .
Size and athletic ability are almost a wash these days. But give some of these behemoths a few skills drills (are you listening , Brenton Lawrence?), a bit of structure (but not too much, hey, Matt Elliot?), on top of a well –tapered preparation, and success is not going to be far away.
Referees on report
Mose Masoe, take a bow. You have just put the referees on report like the Dr did so many months ago (1, 2, 3, 4). I’ve been waiting for it. The performances are schizophrenic, their grasp of the rules is less than tenuous, and they keep making preventable, game changing mistakes on a weekly basis. According to Einstein, this is madness. According to most NRL fans, it’s just ludicrous.
Nobody is quite sure how Dean Whare was adjudged to have scored a fair try, but it does recall visions of the 2010 Grand Final where Brett Morris was at least a foot out of play without being called.
The problem is that this type of thing isn’t a one-off. What are they doing up there? Making music hot tub hip hop music videos? They’re certainly not paying any attention to the game.
Ticket Prices and crowds
The NRL say they have been underselling their game as an explanation for doubling Grand Final ticket prices. I say they are behaving as monopolistic rent seekers.
Not content to rake in a billion dollars for the broadcast rights deal, they feel it is fair to charge a family of four $1,380 to attend the Grand Final (against $580 last year). Just imagine if we have the two clowns who refereed the 2nd Origin match, where the match is effectively over after 20 minutes because of abject incompetence. Is that fair? What can soften the blow to the hip pocket? The cold chips at inflated prices? Maybe the 4km-long line for a beer?
More than doubling tickets behind the goal posts is bad enough, but we’re talking ANZ Stadium here, not the SFS, where the fans are actually closer to the game as opposed to the next suburb.
Economic theory says that a monopoly (or even a duopoly, oligopoly or cartel) can decide unilaterally (or collectively) what to charge its customers without fear (filled the tank lately?). As long as the customers are sold a story that is effective enough, it seems they will part with their hard earned cash.
Apple has made this abundantly clear, just in case anyone was wondering. As the late Steve Jobs said, don’t give people what they need, give them what they didn’t know they needed. And price accordingly.
With an economy that is increasingly looking shaky and greater numbers of underemployed people, I regard the price hike as a cynical cash grab that might have two effects. The first is a fall in demand for Grand Final tickets in subsequent years (which the NRL may try to offset by lowering them, but raising semi final tickets).
The second is that fans will save money for the Grand Final splash, but attend less NRL matches.
If only they would consider some common sense such as that which the Dr peddles from time to time.
Mathematics and the Top 8
We’re at the point of the season where we can start putting a hard line through teams for the finals.
Nobody believes teams like the Tigers and Eels can make the finals a in a pink fit anyway, but mathematically they can. Actually, the Eels are ten-toes-up already.
But after this week, assuming the Top 8 requires a minimum 30 points, the rest of the bottom 5 that include the Broncos, Cowboys, Dragons and Tigers will be planning Mad Monday with more vigour than they study their game plans, assured that they cannot make the finals. This is the point where things happen like crowd interest wanes even further than the attendance numbers already suggest, and Benji is cut loose early.
Outside the Top 4, positions 5 through 11 are just 2pts apart and anything is possible. It will be a few more weeks yet before mathematics completely rules out the next contender.
When we see a logjam like this, For and Against points are crucial, and any team could well rue a win in Golden Point where they are not allowed to convert a try … what a joke that is.