Ode to Half-Blaked Ideas

I can’t help watching the Blake Ferguson soap opera with a mixture of humour and concern.

Clearly there are issues concealed beneath the surface that are more complex than we can imagine, or maybe that’s being too ‘new age’, and in days gone by far more colourful expressions would have been used to describe his character.

Regardless, the fact that these issues are bubbling to the surface in such a crass, disrespectful, self-indulgent manner completely overshadow the abundance of natural talent that ranks him with the game’s greats when he is focused.

Seemingly lost on him is the fact that fans generally (and not necessarily Raiders or Sharks) want him to succeed. The want to support him in the same they wanted to support his mentor, but were driven away, and the rift never closed. Rugby league always wants to forgive … for anything, it seems. It’s one of the Dr’s golden rules, and it’s true!

They want to see his skills on show in the same way they want to see a chap by the name of Sonny Bill Williams make otherwise excellent players look like mere chumps when on the same field as him. I know I do.

Coming back to play against the Knights a couple of months ago was mesmerising, making a guy like Timana Tahu look slower than James Diaz.

However, the behaviour dished out in the past few weeks – feigning injury (IMO), no shows, not attending team matches, and culminating in going MIA and refusing to take calls from his employer – is a blue ribbon case of biting the hand that feeds you. I just don’t know where he gets the idea this is a good thing.

Fergo hangin with Brayson, or Grayson, or Bronxson, or Jayyyson ... let's just call him a Goodwin

Fergo hangin with Brayson, or Grayson, or Bronxson, or Jayyyson … let’s just call him a Goodwin

Consider that Blake Ferguson already has a get-out clause in his contract. He doesn’t need to go AWOL. He doesn’t need to break a contract, or even invent a case of ‘compassionate grounds’ in doing so. He’s free to go in a couple of weeks!

In this way, he is different to other ‘unexpected’ cases (such as Milford or Barba), simply because his leaving must have been in the Raiders’ contingency planning. I mean, surely … They’ve been looking to punt Furner for a while, and it is but a hop and a skip to the conclusion that Fergo might also leave. The unexpected cases are another issue and another blog, but chief among those issues is that teams prepare a roster based on a set number of players being available for a predetermined amount of time – and not shorter.

Most people in the real world would say that he has made a gross error of judgement (or his advice has been poor), and that honouring a contract, even playing the final few games in a team a team that apparently doesn’t want him there, says a whole lot more about ‘character’ than skipping town and responsibilities.

At this point, the ‘brand’ has been tarnished almost beyond repair, and the character vs contract equation might just rule him out of the NRL for a while. But we are a forgiving lot, and never forget it …

Given the needless fiasco unfolding currently, the NRL might well deregister him for a time, and they should. If good help is what he needs, then let’s move away from the old canard that ‘his therapy includes playing rugby league’.

In the meantime, let’s have a musical interlude – a reworking or REM’s ‘Drive’ – in honour of our absent friend. Take it away, Michael Stipe::

 

Smack, crack, check the tatts
I’m lookin’ over a few contracts, yolo

Hey kids, Canberra’s a hole
Friggin’ roundabouts are outta control!, baby

What if I hide? Don’t answer your call
Send a SWAT team, I’m 10 feet tall
Tick-tock, I’m-a …. what rhymes with tock?
Watch me hang, wit da man
Tho’  I’m not too fussed with his booze ban, baby

Hey you, let me cop a feel
Then I gonna slide in behind the wheel, yolo

Gonna find out what this pedal’s for
Driver’s licence is op-shun-al, baby

Ethics schmethics, take the piss
What? You sayin’ I didn’t need a release?
Rai-ders, Schmai-ders
Think I’ll drive, but first another bourbon
Where’s the other half of the Dorgeson?, baby

What’s that sign, what’s it say?
Speed limit huh! Don’t apply to me

Fergy, Fergy
Fergy, Fergy, Fergy
Fergy, Fergy in come free, baby

Team mates don’t like me, but can I can I do?
Think I need a club wit a bit more blue, baby

Smack, crack, hello six-pack!
Yo honey, you sure you don’t want a crack?, baby

I’m hot to trot and a bit of a tease
But can’t seem to find any good groupies, baby

Gettin’ pretty hungry for a pub food meal
I could murder a steak, or a piece of veal
Schnit-zel, Schnit-zel
Whan I’m finished wit dat gonna have a roast
Hear there are good’uns on the Central Coast, baby

Had a few too many, but don’t call a cab
Gimme the keys I’m breaking bad, baby

Hey, ho, Blake’s passing out, yo
But not before my favourite show, Spongebob, Spongebob, Spongebob

NRL 360 a bit retrograde?

The Dr didn’t particularly care for NRL 360 last night (is that allowed??).

Apologies if you enjoyed the show, but the novelty of the show I initially held high hopes for is wearing off rapidly. I think part of the reason is an already tired format, as well as the same guests on rotation, saying things that are barely (if at all) indistinguishable from what was said on their last visit.

Enough already. Spread your wings. Get some new opinions rather than those of ‘contracted staff’. Go on, fly closer to the sun, you can do it! The bar really does need to be raised. ‘Who’s going to have a better week Prince Harry or Scott Prince? ’ Who cares? And if I want breaking news, I can get it far earlier on Twitter, the internet, or any rolling sports news show.

But the biggest disappointment comes from the very same place as my initial excitement about the concept in the beginning. It promised to be an entertaining, informative show, something new on the block that lifted the veil on the opacity of the NRL (despite Paul Kent’s assertions last night that rugby league works best with transparency, as if it ever has been).

I longed for in-depth discussion and a solutions-based content and resolution. Instead, Einstein’s quote about insanity (doing the same thing and expecting different outcomes) springs more readily to mind than any ‘Eureka!’ moment.

On the (very) irregular occasion an NRL official is present, there doesn’t seem to be a hard edge to the questioning that demands a detailed or forward-thinking response, which is the only reason I can see that having such a person on the show makes any sense. It actually does make sense, because they are an important stakeholder in the game, just as the players, clubs, fans, broadcasters and other are. But viewers like myself also want to come away from the experience with a hint of strategy, direction or improvement, rather than the sick feeling from last night’s Chinese dinner.

Anyway, the show began innocently enough with interesting discourse from Mr Kent on the Sharks, but soon deteriorated into the similarities and differences between two shoulder charges as if it was a bar room conversation. I can do that at an actual bar – with beer. That’s what the Matty Johns show is for – bar room banter and Gordie defending Queenslanders against any charge.

As far as this show is concerned, it needs to be better than that. And the issue has always been head contact as droned on in this blog since inception, and correctly identified by Cam Smith last night.

What would have made this truly engaging?

A representative of one of the Match Review Committee, Competition Committee, Referees or NRL management might have been a start. Instead, it’s a bit ‘I think, you think’, and nobody gets anywhere.

In this way, we can either get an explanation from, or make a recommendation to (or in any other way grill, toast or skewer), a representative of one of these groups.

You can't handle the truth! Or can we ... ?

You can’t handle the truth! Or can we … ?

You want answers?! Damn straight. Because the current trajectory is the wrong one. That’s my opinion based on a lot of thought and evidence, but I’m always interested in hearing others.

Anyway, back to the show … Let’s make an example of the ‘360 second’ segment. The subjects covered, in order, were:

       NRL clubs

       The ‘wrestle’

       Post-match press conferences

       The battle for Western Sydney

       Reserve Grade

       Where is the game in 10 years?

       Grand Final ticket pricing

       The standard of Referees

Sorry? Eight highly topical issues (of varying importance) apparently deserved to be compressed into the narrow confines of six minutes of rigorous scrutiny and ‘bush analysis’ (not George W. Bush, though I can see the parallels)?

Is this what rugby league ‘analysis’ has become? Seriously? Maybe Tom Raudonikis should host the show. At least we won’t have to hear about ‘Uncle Wayne’ or George Burgess ad nauseum, and it could even spawn a segment that highlights every dumb decision made by a referee, player or officiaI called ‘That’s Raudonikis!’. Yep, that’s what we need …

I for one am tiring of listening to the same debate about the SAME issue each week of every season. I would prefer progress rather than provide evidence that the evolutionary process has met its match with rugby league and, in fact, it is going into reverse. Don’t they realise that compound interest is the 8th wonder of the world?! Progress on progress and pretty soon … you’re making real progress!

The NRL haven’t seen fit to make the changes necessary to really make great strides in propagating the game, though they are just starting to rev up the glacier. They need to understand that appeasing and engaging their existing constituents is a precursor to winning over new ones. Pick the low hanging fruit first (I’m aware I may have said that about a hundred times).

In the meantime, it is up to the commentariat to be a little more professional and focused, and sweep the fans (and NRL) into an era of change through the strength and sense of the argument. We’re not getting this in 45-second grabs, which makes you wonder what it is all about.

George Orwell worried about a world where information was hoarded and not dispensed to the oppressed masses. Aldous Huxley, on the other hand, preferred the idea that the masses could be lulled into a docile state by overloading them with information. I think NRL 360 is turning fans into zombies that walk around, mouths agape, spewing out whatever the catch-cry of any particular issue is, irrespective of their merits.

What would I prefer?

Each of those issues highlighted above should be the subject of an episode devoted solely to them. It’s that simple.

Mismanaged, ineffective, factionalised clubs? What a great episode that would be! Not to mention the opportunity for investigative journalism.

See how I left out ‘the wrestle’ out? Why talk about something that can be solved with one word – penalty?

Post-match press conferences? Get NRL management and a selection of coaches around the table for an episode. For ‘leaguies’, that would be compelling viewing. Let’s all find out what the purpose of the post-match presser is – from the horse’s mouth. Discover why coaches can’t actually make reasonable comment, when the media can make ludicrous and outrageous claims.

The battle for Western Sydney? Wow! Hit the streets and take the pulse of the average Joe footy supporter. Who do they follow? Why? What would make them like NRL more? He possibilities are almost endless.

Reserve Grade? – a history lesson is in order! Though I don’t agree with Mr Kent about having younger kids playing with grown men like in yesteryear. It would be more like young kids playing with slightly older kids, all built like Wollemi Pines. But let’s have a show about it!

Where is the game in 10 years? Let’s find out what fans and management want, and how they propose it. What’s their strategy for growth? How do they make it successful? Do they relocate? What groundwork have they done? Add teams? Make another division? Why and why not?

Grand Final ticketing? Well here’s room for an almighty barney, and let’s have an hour of it!. I don’t agree with means testing a ballot system so that 35 plebs can go and watch the game from the uppermost reaches of the stadium with a view akin to the orbiting international space station. What an atrocious idea. I would like to hear why the ‘working man’s game’ feels that it can cast monopoly pricing power over ‘the working man’, simply because ‘it can’. Hey, that’s what monopolies do, and why they aren’t great for society.

In fact, do they even have a pricing strategy? The Dr has one.

And then the referees … that will need a mini-series as opposed to … what … I don’t believe the question was even answered last night!

It’s a shame I miss this show with increasing frequency, but it’s a shame that I don’t miss it when I do. I’d like that to change.

And before I finish my rant, stop giving airtime to the same old malarkey about the Top 8. Yes, you can lose more games than you win and make the play-offs. What’s the problem? You probably won’t get very far into the play-offs, but that’s another matter.

Just relax and face the fact that the season is made up of two competitions – a long dress rehearsal to weed out the chaff, then a best-of-the-best finals series to anoint the ultimate champion team. Sit back and enjoy.

Round 24 Rubdown – Penalties, Scoring Distributions and much more

Because my blogging discipline rivals the Roosters on a good night, the Round 24 Rubdown will be an assortment of mini-blogs. Unfortunately we begin with refereeing – again – despite Todd Greenberg’s exhortations to focus on the football. But how can we, really?

A penalty for your thoughts

Geoff Toovey is absolutely correct when he insists an investigation should be made into the poor quality of refereeing this year. In fact, I would make it a full Gitmo-style interrogation and body search combined with a Mogatu-like brainwashing, starting with the rules sung to the tune of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Relax’ … Heck, they can even use my Primer! I wouldn’t rule out physical torture and police dogs, but if any of them show a liking to it, then we’ll have to pull out the big guns and subject them to Celine Dion for 24 hours to really break them down. If that doesn’t do it, there’s always Andre Rieu, or AM talkback radio.

One of the most troubling aspects of refereeing is the inconsistent and ill-defined role the video referee plays. Sometimes he pipes up in the on-field referee’s ear, sometimes he doesn’t. And when he does, the decision is often incorrect.

 Just look at some of the blunders when it’s a try-scoring situation. The video referee makes Mr Magoo look like a specialist long-range sniper. If the video referees aren’t in a hot tub with el cheapo champers and groupies shooting a rap video rather than watching the game, then there’s no excuse for some of the errors made. If they are, well, I’ll cut ‘em slack.

Henry Perenara was all at sea last night when trying to remember the spear tackle rule

Henry Perenara was all at sea last night when trying to remember the spear tackle rule

Last night there were penalties for non-strips, and knock-ons ruled for actual strips. There was also a fair try disallowed that would have seen a 26-18 scoreline with the Roosters coming home like a steam train (there was a special session convened on this exact example at the beginning of the year). Alas, the wrong decision was made, and the game petered out with air of predictability far too early when a grandstand finish beckoned. The game never had a chance with Klein and ‘Crazy Joe’ Perenara.

Call me Hazem one more time and you're in the  bin!

Call me Hazem one more time and you’re in the bin!

At issue here is referees (field and video) simply forgetting what the rules are. Whether it’s last night’s faux obstruction, or a player putting their hand over the touchline when getting up to play the ball (which is actually not out, but for which Parramatta were penalised this year), there appears to be no comprehension of what they are doing. With all the focus on shoulder charges this weekend, it’s really, really hard to keep an eye on spear tackles and players lifted past horizontal as they were last night …

Ex-refs boss Bill Harrigan called them on it collectively a week or so back, and you can see what happened. Stung by the criticism, referees then began a knee jerk-athon (pardon the pun) effort to ‘back themselves’, even when it was inappropriate to do so. For example, I saw what appeared to be a fair try to the Titans’ Kevin Gordon near full time which wasn’t even referred to the man in the hot tub, despite the naked eye (and replay … and hot tub!) having ‘try’ written all over it.

Before JWH was sent off in Round 9, I had made mention that ‘some poor sod’ is going to sent off as a reaction to the hue and cry over Greg Inglis being repeatedly spear tackled (he’s top heavy, you know …) without so much as a sin bin.

You can’t make this up, but you can read ‘em like a book.

Penalty Distributions

I wish I had access to the data for the graphic produced on the Sterlo show last week. If you didn’t see it, it pinpointed the positions on the field where the most heavily penalised team in the competition, the Roosters, had given away their penalties. It was captivating (if you’re a ‘leaguie’) because it highlighted the trend of the opposition being given ‘piggy back penalties’. There weren’t many on their own line, interestingly, which means they have been severely disadvantaged by either ill-discipline, design, planet alignment, whatever.

I’d like to see the graphic of penalties ‘conceded’. In fact, I’d like to see it for every team. Can Fox NRL make that happen?

In lieu of such resources which tell a very compelling story, I have dived into penalty counts to see who’s who, and who gets what. Sure, it doesn’t tell you where on the field the penalties occur, but it does tell a story of sorts:Penalty Counts Won

The Sharks are coming 5th on the ladder after last night’s impressive win, so you might imagine they’ve won a few penalty counts. They’ve won or equalled 17 out of 22 – or 77%.

Or, if you’re the ABC, perhaps you think it’s an anomaly and they should be 2nd last with a performance like that. If you are that way inclined, then take a look at 2nd place – the Dragons, who actually are 2nd last on the ladder – have won or equalled 16 out of 22 penalty counts (73%). They must be building some pretty heavy duty pressure on the opposition.

It’s odd to me, if not the ABC, that the Roosters have won or equalled just 5 out of 22 penalty counts (less than 23%). I just don’t think they are anywhere near that bad (or worse than other teams).

Two other Top 4 teams (Manly and Rabbitohs) have almost squared the penalty count ledger at 45% and have suffered no real disadvantage (abstracting from where the penalties occur, and when), while the Storm have prevailed 68% of the time (15 out of 22).

High Fiving the Storm

Speaking of the Storm, I’ve never had much interest in the term ‘Big 3’ because I have such high regard for Ryan Hoffman’s defensive work and attacking thrust on the left edge in particular. I’ve always considered it a Big 4, as much an homage to the awesome caravan park chain as to his Hoffman’s magnificent contributions.

But there’s a new kid on the block, complete with a new set of Burgess-enhanced testicles – Will’s Chamber … er, Will Chambers. Given the focus on his genitalia, much like the Burgess’ infatuation with their own, perhaps the number five has more resonance than at first I even appreciated. He could be a lost Burgess brother!

In any case, his form has been nothing short of scintillating. He’s big, fast, and more elusive than Christopher Skase at midnight in a shop full of oxygen tanks. Watching him this year has just been breathtaking viewing.

Storm For & Against from Round 20

Just in case you hadn’t noticed all the other Storm-positive news (the Dr didn’t miss them), check out what’s happened to their For & Against. From Round 20, they moved from Top 4 laggard at +80, to 2nd at +235. That’s some rate of change!

Another way of looking at it is to say they’ve won by almost 40 points on average in their last four matches. Looking over the shoulder – much? Clearly they’ll hold down the play the ball and their hands will ‘become one’ with the ball in defence (like Sam Burgess … or Yoda), but whatever, they’re the team to beat.For and Against_Top 4

Is your team a 1st or 2nd half specialist?

The scale of the Storm’s wins of late, along with the noticeable and lacklustre starts by the Roosters, meant that I felt compelled to dig into the data.

Now, I like to do the actual data and stats justice, and make sensible claims. I’m not the ABC, in other words. For that reason, I can look at the chart below, see Parramatta being a first half specialist, and say, who really cares? They don’r score many points anyway, so we can put their percentages down to the the law of small numbers! We all know they’ve thrown in the tea towel in the 2nd half faster than Tony Montana.

I’m more interested in the top teams and contenders, especially in the closing rounds.Points Scored Ratio

As we close in on the finals, contenders such as the Broncos (until last week), Titans (as if) and Panthers have been fast starters. Clearly thery’ve been devouring the pre-match caffeine-laden goo with more gusto than most. The Sharkies and Manly have also been quick out of the blocks.

How strange it is to see the Roosters, Storm and Rabbitohs taking up the last four spots, followed by the Bulldogs. I’d love to see the ABC’s take on this, but it’s a strange development.

Is it perhaps a tapering tool? That is, does a more relaxed preparation avoid a fast start and help to keep a team from peaking too early? It’s a legitimate question, even if it is off base. I can see how it prepares teams for an arm wrestle and to revert to game plan early enough to really take control of a game. Maybe it’s just the old adage that you beat a team in the first 60 minutes, the points come later?

I’m open to novel suggestions, even coincidence!Points Scored Ratio Closing Rounds

Draw Strength and the Knights potentially slipping out of the 8

One of many jokes circulating following Greg Norman’s capitulation in the 1996 Masters went along the lines:

How do you find water in a desert?

Give Greg Norman a nine iron and a golf ball.

Now, that’s not to disparage the Shark, who is a golfing god, and there’s a plaque on the fairway at The Australian to mark where he hit a 3-wood over water to albatross a Par 5 to prove it. Like most plebs, I doubt I’ll see it because the bottom 99% are generally barred, but let’s move on and draw the analogy with a fading Knights. See how I got golf, draw and fade in there? That’s class. The Petaluma truly is my muse, and this blog is becoming more enjoyable as I go along.

BUT … are the Knights the 1996 Shark? I mean, how can you possibly miss the Top 8 from a more comfortable position than a video ref’s hot tub? They’ve had the easiest draw over the closing six rounds of all contenders, culminating in a Broncos/Eels finish, yet are at severe risk of missing out.

Here’s the draw strength as I see it, and then we’ll get back to the Knights:draw1

The strength of draw concept was outlined in an earlier blog, suffice it to say that a value of 2.5 for the Knights means that, over the final two rounds,  they are playing a team that is, on average, somewhere between the quality of the Dragons and Tigers, who are 2nd and 3rd last. As it stands, they’re actually playing the two teams either side of that. These clowns are no certainty for the finals, even with that draw, and could potentially miss them altogether if the Warriors and Cowboys win their last two matches! Can you believe it?

Boof Lehmann leaving his imprint on Australian cricket

From the Dr NRL London correspondent

We are lucky enough to have the coach of the Australian cricket team with us briefly before the 2nd day’s play at the Oval.

Dr NRL: Good morning, Boof. You must be thrilled with the performance yesterday?

Lehmann: What’d you call me? I was only 15 minutes late, you dork.

Dr NRL Boof …

Lehmann: Oh, right, right, sorry. I must have misheard. I’m a little sensitive this morning. Watto and I had a big one last night and I’m afraid I’m waiting for the Beroccas to kick in.

Dr NRL: I take it you enjoyed Shane’s innings just as much as he seemed to?

 

Well you followed through that time!

Well you followed through that time!

Lehmann: Sure. It’s nice to see him raise the bat out on the field for a change. He’s constantly doing it in the change rooms, and that’s fairly impressive in its own right, but getting it right on the field is another thing.

Matter of fact, I’m a little surprised myself. I’d always thought we brought him along on tours so the other boys could hang off his dregs in the local nightspots. You know, like Brendan Julian. There’s many an Australian cricketer who owes him, let me tell you.

And just when you think he can offer us no more, he goes out and blasts that guy from The Castle all over the park. Who knew?

Dr NRL: Well, he did it in style, didn’t he? I think his 100 came off 111 balls, when Chris Rogers had faced an even 100 for his 23 …

Lehmann: Yeah, well **** me Roman, what was all that about? He was going on about pitch up and down, good balls, taking the shine off the ball, doing his job … I mean, someone get me a violin. I told him he needs to be more like Steve Smith. See his first ball? That wild swing outside off stump? That’s what I’m talking about. Let those cheating bastards know that he isn’t there to **** spiders.

Anyhow, I made him listen to a good half hour of Anthrax on the headphones as penance, and that seemed to steer him in the right direction because he had three scotch and cokes in about five minutes after that.

Dr NRL: Speaking of cheating, your remarks about Stuart Broad have made headlines worldwide. Are you aware that the Australian team through the years has generally not walked voluntarily?

Lehmann: Sorry, you’re breaking up, I might have to go …

Dr NRL: I’m sitting right next to you …

Lehmann: Right … Yes, well … he is, so there.

Dr NRL: And Chappelli made some interesting remarks about the good and bad decisions evening out, so why walk?

Lehmann: Who cares what some Italian thinks? I mean, seriously. Do they even play the game? How could you with a macchiato in one hand and a bocce ball in the other? It’s pretty clear, anyone playing against us should walk if they nick the ball.

Dr NRL: Ok … so anyway, tell me, have you been able to make headway into aligning personalities within the team and increasing team harmony?

Lehmann: Oh mate, maaaate. At first I had no freakin’ idea. Mickey Arthur didn’t leave me with much. I felt like Elton John on the Muppet Show. The only idea worth keeping was to rotate the Ashes to a tour of Zimbabwe. Now that’s a series we could win. But we were already here.

Anyhoot, after a case of Stella and a pack of durries I had a cacophany –

Dr NRL: Epiph –

Lehmann: It was like a massive light bulb went off inside my head that burned like a thousand suns.

Dr NRL: Wow, that sounds interesting. What was it?

Lehmann: I don’t know. I passed out on someone’s lawn and forgot.

That left me with bonding, and if anyone can bring people together, it’s me. My methods are watertight, or should I say, beertight. Beer is vastly under rated as a unifying force, and tried to distill it into this group.

My first move was simple, but pure genius – everyone has to call each other maaaate.

Dr NRL: Mate?

Lehmann: No – maaaate. It’s more personal and matey, with an air of mystery that generally invites a remark like “Well, what did you get up to last night hey, ayyyy?” Pretty soon, this subliminal messaging makes them think they actually are all mates. You can’t argue with results!

Then there are the regular games of Celebrity Heads. It caused a bit of friction at first because I’d always make Clarkey Watto, and Watto Clarkey. It took them until the end of the 3rd Test to work out the pattern, and they were always annoyed when they found out who it was.

The difference came when I told Clarkey he was Watto one night and to ask questions like “Do I have big muscles … Do I have a thick bat … Do I have a massive box?” and so on, then guess immediately it was Watto. It worked a treat. He was chuffed, and everyone became mates again.

Dr NRL: What about the nets, practice and all that?

Lehmann: Don’t be daft. Can I continue? You may learn something …

 

Ooh, hello there ...

Ooh, hello there …

The other night I took them out to Stringfellows for an ‘off-site’, specifically to workshop the DRS. I can tell you, there were plenty of reviews that night, and I think we even mastered hot spot. You’ve never seen Watto challenge the DRS as successfully as he did yesterday. Coincidence? I think not, and I put it down to some quality time with some delightful Russians we met there who seemed generally interested in all the talk of Members’ Ends, and were very happy for us to show them how the bowlers grip the ball. I like bringing cultures together.

 

Fine, be like that!

Fine, be like that!

Usually, though, we stay close to the hotel and get on the Colonel Klink at a nearby watering hole. This is where the special Vitamin B comes in handy. Inevitably, once you’ve had a few lagers the durries are never far behind. The secret is not buying a packet, but approaching good looking sheilas and offering them a dollar for one. It’s a good conversation starter for some of the ‘greener’ chaps, but just let me just say, they’ve been getting more bang for their buck if you catch my drift. A bit of nibbling outside of off stump, and so on.

There’s nothing better than getting the team together in the morning to swap a few stories, piece together how you got home … it’s a wonderful thing.

Dr NRL: Well, despite the weather today, I’m sure you need to get back to the team –

Lehmann: Looks shabby. Do you know if Stringfellows is open during the day?

Dr NRL: Nice chatting, I hope to catch up again soo –

Lehmann: Hey, come back, ayy! I’ve got more. Ayy!

Suspension of disbelief at the NRL – Or How Jeff Lima is like Goldman Sachs

Leverage!

For those not living under a rock, which would seem to cover most life forms with the exception of some mosses, invertebrates and referees, it is widely understood that financial leverage was one of the direct causes of the Global Financial Crisis. We could go on for hours about it, but probably not on a rugby league blog. Perhaps another time.

But the issue of leverage is causing the NRL a crisis all of its own, and it’s not just confined to the speed of the ruck.

The easiest way to explain leverage of any kind is to say it is the ability to get more bang for your buck.

So when Goldman Sachs is leveraged over 30 times more than its capital cushion ahead of the GFC, you can bet that:

a)      It is making some serious money on the basis of asset prices rising, having made only a minimal down payment (and borrowing the rest); and

b)      If those assets should begin to lose money (as they did), they would either be margin-called out of existence, or have to write down their assets’ value sufficiently to render the bank insolvent (which happened, but they were saved by the government).

As you can see, leverage can be good (hey, look at the value of my house go!), but it does have a dark side when the cycle moved into reverse.

Which is where Jeff ‘Goldmans’ Lima comes in, and the issue of leverage takes on one of its different connotations.

Jeff Llama wasn't talking to the media today ...

Jeff Llama wasn’t talking to the media today …

Now, Lima has had a poor track record with tackling technique, and you wouldn’t be out of order in suggesting some sinister undertones when forming an opinion about the intent of some of those tackles.

Heck! The NRL did just that in recent days, suspending him for a week for an attack on a ‘marquee’ player’s (well publicised) injured right knee.

But was it enough? That is to say, does the NRL actually appreciate what went down last Friday night? It doesn’t appear that they do, so let’s explain it briefly.

Grand Master Helio Gracie also escaped this obvious chicken wing on Cameron Smith ...

Grand Master Helio Gracie also escaped this obvious chicken wing on Cameron Smith …

Players are so well versed in wrestling moves these days, particularly Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, that they now want to enter the MMA ranks upon retirement! It has become as rugby league as Gatorade, vaso, deep heat and “been doin’ it all day!!”.  

It is a tremendous sport, and has been singled out by coaches because of the results that subtle use of leverage on opposition ball carriers can produce. In some ways it can be undetectable, a minor shift of weight here and there is sometimes all you need to immobilise someone. It helps when there is a twist of a joint involved.

Then there are the completely visible, and some would say, dead give-aways, like the chicken wing, scorpion and crusher.

Jeff Lima’s attack on Anthony Watmough’s knee was a bit of both – a touch of subterfuge mixed with something almost as extravagant as peter Sellers’ death scene to open The Party.

Most commentary has focused on his blatant twist ‘n turn when holding Watmough’s ankle. Lima almost looked like he’d been stung by a scorpion himself, or had produced an explosion from his nether regions of such force that it catapulted him into the air. That’s bad enough in my opinion, and anyone who has suffered medial damage would have winced as I did.

However, the movement before this was just as damaging, but well concealed as it turns out (though not to those who know what they’re looking at). Lima used the head and neck to bore into the knee area of Watmough, while pulling the ankle in the opposite direction prior to the twist. Watmough’s initial reaction  of “Hello hello, what’s going on ‘ere?” quickly developed into a range of expletives.

So when Lima:

a)      Appears to drive through the knee while holding the ankle; and

b)      Follows up with a twist that makes David Mamet look like a plodder

You can argue on the balance of probabilities that our resident rugby league junk bond trader is up to no good.

The single week suspension therefore makes no sense. It is tempting to call it a joke, but really, it’s just sad. He’s effectively been bailed out Goldmans-style!

The NRL is continually presented opportunities to act on its oft-stated claim of cleaning the game up and protecting players. While it made some strides in this direction (and I applaud them for doing so), the response overall has been inadequate and misguided.

If the idea is to retain the top talent, it needs to go beyond simple marquee payments. After all, a marquee isn’t much value sitting on the sideline because he has been successfully targeted for kneecapping, neutering or good old-fashioned Lamb-Hanley-style belting, either by premeditation or misadventure.

“Welfare is top of our list and top of the clubs’ list and I think it’s always something that is front of mind for us.”

David Smith

Prove it.

The game is awesome and athletic enough, and players tough and Warrior-like enough, to consign a lot of this rubbish to the dustbins of history.

Stats Wars: A Forelorn Hope (the ABC’s war on facts)

Most rugby league articles these days can be categorised as simple diatribes, lacking any real analysis and objectivity. And God forbid a solution is offered. No, it is seen as best to harp on about the same thing (like ‘diving’) on a yearly basis. It’s madness. It’s rugby league.

It’s even worse when statistics are used to arrive at a conclusion, when the use of those statistics in the analysis is so irretrievably wrong.

Statistics are an important feature of modern life and sport. They can mean everything, or they can mean nothing. Wielding any set of numbers to support a case relies on careful consideration of causation, correlation and so on.

If you can’t support the conclusion with the full data set (only by cherry picking, and even then, not doing a very good job), it’s called having an agenda. Politicians and polemicists have mastered this technique, as you no doubt have witnessed throughout the election campaign so far.

This brings me to an ABC article that I came across over the weekend, which is another in a litany of poor thought processes, and conclusions borne of dubious analysis, particularly the misapplication of causation. It is proof that numbers and journalism do not always mix.

It was so poor and objectionable that I had to stew on it for a day just to make sure I hadn’t missed something of seminal importance and brilliant insight … And to let the Grant Burge Shiraz wear off.

Now that it has (mostly), I find my initial reaction to be unchanged. 

I’m actually glad I saw it because I had been planning to delve into why it is that the Roosters are so heavily penalised after updating this chart:penalties difference actual

You can see the discrepancy for yourself. It is an embarrassment to the NRL.

What it is implicitly saying is that the Roosters (and, to a lesser extent, Manly) are so poor at building pressure that they cannot earn penalties from offside or ruck infringements (I’ve been to live games of both, and I can attest to this being untrue). And yet, the Dragons and Cowboys are just so darned good at it!

Given the Roosters and Manly are at the top of the ladder, the evidence suggests they can, in fact, do so. Look at the data on relative tries scored to see just how unsuccessful these teams are:Tries Difference 1

They’re just woeful, right? Or maybe they’re just lucky?

In any case, recent remarks by the NRL hierarchy don’t betray any concern whatsoever, preferring to erect smokescreens to hide the game’s deficiencies. No one is being fooled. Further, the view has been expressed that penalty counts don’t influence games. I’m guessing millions of league followers would disagree.

Anyhow, onto the article, where the question posed was whether the Roosters’ (and Manly’s) defensive success is an outcome of the high penalty counts recorded against them. Say what? They’re successful because they give the opposition far more possession through penalties?

It’s preposterous on its face, and akin to surmising that David Boon was a magnificent opening batsman because he drank an awful lot of beer.

If the writer is arguing that the Roosters (and Manly) have become better defenders by doing more of it, then sure, they’re getting an awful lot of practice! Or if giving the opposition extra use of the ball means they have to make more tackles, then duh, of course.

But is it the basis for their success, as posited by the ABC? It’s hard to imagine that it is. After all, you don’t score without the ball, meaning it’s far harder to win games, particularly in the modern era where penalties (or just mistakes) often lead to tries within a couple of sets.

The fact is that the Roosters and Manly have had to post superhuman defensive efforts because of the lopsided penalty counts against them. They are successful in spite of them, in other words. If it were any other way, they would not be well entrenched in the Top 4, and they would not be credible contenders for the Premiership. You do what you gotta to do.Missed Tackle PercentThe article goes on to say:

“Roosters coach Trent Robinson said recently he was concerned about his side’s high penalty count and that he intended to discuss it with referees boss Daniel Anderson.

Given his sides results it is hard to understand why Trent would be concerned. Anderson would probably tell Trent that the stats point out:

1. His side frequently is seen to hold down the tackled player;

2. His team is seen often to interfere with the play the ball; and

3. His players are frequently seen to be offside.

In short, it could be argued that the Roosters play a brand of football that consistently tries to slow down their opponents’ attack.”

Once again, an absurd assertion that implies the Roosters are more than happy to tire themselves out to slow down the opposition.

It strikes me that exhausting oneself tends to slow you down, and means that when you do actually have possession, you will be tired, on the back foot, ineffective, under increasing pressure and, more than likely, offside on the scoreboard.

The article has one thing right. James Maloney can hang on tighter than a Scotsman to his wallet at times, even when he really doesn’t need to. 

But the Roosters’ coach, along with little Toovs, might ask different questions:

1. Why do we not attract more penalties for the opposition holding us down in the same we are found guilty, when there is clear evidence of them doing so? Not to mention similar incidents in other games played over the same weekend?

2. Ditto, but with respect to interfering in the play the ball.

3. Why is it that we work hard to play the ball quickly and catch the opposition offside, yet are not rewarded for it? Please explain how it is different to the penalties blown against us? 

Asking in this way might be implicitly accusative, but not explicitly. These questions are designed to illicit detailed answers.

When I fail to see any major differences between teams in any particular match, it’s hard to understand penalty counts in favour of one team that are measured in multiples of two to three. 

Looking at net penalties as a ratio, the picture is not a lot prettier for the Roosters, though Manly are closer to the pack: Penalties Ratio For and Against

The article concludes, in true Yes, Prime Minister fashion:

“The stats show that Manly is not far behind the Roosters in all of these regards. You just need to look at the NRL ladder to see that there is no big downside for either team in conceding so many penalties.”

As Sir Humphrey might have put it when defining politicians’ logic:

“All cats have four legs. My dog has four legs. Therefore, my dog is a cat.”

And the evidence produced for such an embarrassing theory?

“The other sides in the top four – Melbourne and the Rabbitohs – score almost as many points as The Roosters. But both give away far fewer penalties and concede a fair few more points. A coincidence?

Sorry? What’s the coincidence here? Did it ever occur to our wayward and subjective writer that teams need to be demonstrably better to overcome the weight of penalties?

“The Storm in fact concede the second fewest penalties in the NRL after the Sharks. What reward – apart from a lower ladder position – do the Storm and the Sharks get for having such good discipline?”

So, he’s trying to make his penalties/ladder case based on teams coming first and third. I see ….

On this logic, the Roosters have been monumental underperformers. They should have been in the Grand Final for the last decade, along with Manly (or whichever team had achieved the feat of being penalised into near extinction).

Because, really, success in sport has very little to do with work ethic, talent and desire, does it?. Clearly the secret lays in erecting what most rational people would consider to be insurmountable barriers out of sheer bloodymindedness, then somehow overcoming them.

But like Demtel, there’s always more. We are then treated to what can only be interpreted as designed to prod referees into penalising these two teams further:

“In spite of these two teams appalling rate of penalties conceded, neither has had a player sin binned in 2013.”

No, though (the Roosters’) Jared Warea-Hargreave managed to be the only player sent from the field for an act that was preceded and followed by far graver incidents. And the Melbourne Storm continue to be shepherded through the competition by referees who cannot seem to bring themselves to penalise them for blatant fouls. The so-called Big 3 have been culpable on several occasions this year without sanction, the latest being an obvious sin-binning infringement by Cooper Cronk against the Knights on Sunday that … well … wasn’t.

Why? Nobody knows, but everyone suspects.  

Why was Billy Slater not sin-binned when knocking out Antonio Winterstein in an earlier round with an obvious high shoulder charge? Clearly, referees logic extends to ‘two wrongs actually do make a right!’

But it gets better:

“Daniel Anderson must instruct his refs to use the sin bin for repeat infringers. Any player who concedes three penalties in a match should go to the sideline for 10 minutes.

The refs should have even less tolerance for known regular offenders who should go to the bin after conceding two penalties.”

Ahh, the three strike policy, in combination with targeting and profiling. That’s served society pretty well, hasn’t it?

Now, I’m all for solutions as opposed to some of the drivel served up my mainstream media outlets that are purely a yearly rehash of a persistent issue (like the topical diving as alluded to abovewithout a single idea as to how to counter it. This is what I mean when referring to the ability of rugby league to ‘naval gaze’. A narrative or commentary without some creative foresight, is just a waste of time.

But at least this is an idea, if I were to be charitable. And yet, how can we have a rule such as ‘three times and you’re in the bin’ when the referee is the sole arbiter of who he penalises? They can’t even bring themselves to sin bin Cooper Cronk, or Josh Reynolds for ‘clear as day’ professional fouls. They can’t even bring themselves to sin bin Krisnan Inu for a spear tackle on (arguably) the game’s most important player. Or Richie Fa’aoso for two spear tackles on the same player in the same game!

And yet, the brilliant prescription is to sin bin a player because the referee penalises them for, say, slowing the play the ball a couple of times, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he has called ‘held’ midway through a bunch of grown men in mid fall toward the ground. What would he have them do? Circumvent the force of gravity? Clearly they are unaware of the theory of gravity as made famous by Clint Newton and Albert Kelly.

We can’t even get a sin bin for leg twists and testicle grabbing, two of the grubbiest acts a player can commit without springing for dinner. And which only attracted single week suspensions (Burgess had loading), which means the ABC author pretty much equates all these things with a few penalties.

I cannot take issue with the easily identifiable examples. Penalise them, no problem. But once again, I’ve sat through games where a defender has been penalised due to the superb theatrics of the man playing the ball, often including walking up to two metres off the mark in order to do so. Rather than give the attacking team the penalty, this is a clear example of referees not applying the rules (not knowing them if you ask me). If the man with the ball walks off the mark, penalise him … Or, in the spirit of the flow of the game, don’t penalise the marker for being offside. Simple stuff. Low hanging fruit. Reckon they can get it right?

Phil Gould has even brought up the idea that the Storm gave away penalties on purpose on the weekend in order to disrupt the Knights’ attack, and that he will be watching it in coming weeks. Seems to me the Knights would be considered poor exponents of their craft if they got worse with more opportunity. I suspect it’s the other way around.

Give me a break.

Other than achieving the feat of noticing the fact the Storm won the match with less than 50% ball (for a change) and failing to notice the Roosters have done it all year, the idea that the best teams will consistently give away penalties (and therefore ground and possession) as some sort of lifestyle tactic is without foundation.Games and 50pc Possession

It’s hard to believe he would instruct his own team to do this (and didn’t).

And just ask the NSW State of Origin team how Origin 2 felt after 20 minutes this year. The answer would have been ‘exhausted’, I’m sure. The game was effectively over at that early point. But let’s not dwell on the facts …

For any team to be instructed to do this in a finals series when they face sudden death is prima facie evidence for incompetence of the coaching staff, and grounds for dismissal, which is why they don’t do it. Teams will back themselves to withstand extra pressure to be sure, but they certainly do not seek it.

So my message to Manly and Toovs is this – keep calling the referees out for incompetence. Ricky did it earlier in the year and accepted the fine, which was a mistake. The fine is there for implying bias, not for unveiling the referee clown show for what it is.

Keep calling out the grading system relating to suspensions for leniency, and the NRL for double standards and inconsistency.

And when the former referees boss, Bill Harrigan, can single out Jeff Lima for a 10 week suspension for an obvious attack on the structure of another man’s leg, why can’t a coach mention it in passing? The MRC aren’t that malleable and easily influenced, are they?

Oh, right …

NRL Data Dump: R-Squared – Regrets and Reminiscences

As we (depressingly) wind our way toward the final four rounds of the home and away competition, not only do we enter the realm of ‘mathematical’ chances that have us summoning our inner Rene Descartes to decipher the many finals permutations, but it’s also the season of dealing with the emotional let-down of ‘if only …’

How many times have you heard the exasperated, disappointed refrain of “if only we had won a couple of those tight games, we’d be in the Top 8”, or “if only we had pulled our fingers (and Sam B’s) out and not handed the Storm 64 For & Against points, we might have had a chance”?

Clearly, reflections such as these are natural, as well as being a reminder (each year, funnily enough), that losses must be kept manageable by competing for the full 80 minutes whether the game is won or lost. A consolation try or two in the shadows of full-time can mean a whole lot more after the 26 rounds are done and dusted.

A brilliant example of this is Manly, whose For & Against stats went from +85 in Round 6 to +67 by Round 16, and almost in a straight, but gentle, line. Never at any stage were they beaten by more than 12 points and, in fact, the average loss (five of them, including a draw) during that period was just five points. It was a tough period for them as you can see below, but they kept their losses tight.Manly For and Against

While it’s all well and good to minimise your losses, you still don’t get paid your two competition points without winning the match. Therefore, you don’t progress up the ladder and, hopefully, squeeze into the finals.

Reaching the finals has just as much, if not more, to do with prevailing in the tight contests that regularly occur throughout the season as it does reigning in the losing margins.

In fact, you would probably be surprised at how many tight games there are during the year, as defined by a converted try or less. For all teams, the average of these close games as a percentage of total is 34% !

Check out your team’s numbers on this metric below:Games played less than 6

Games played less than 6 percentage

The Dragons have literally had 50% of their matches this year decided by six points or less. For Dragons fans, then, the season hasn’t been quite as bad as the 14th place suggests.

Still, they’ve only won four of them (or 40%), and six overall, and that’s what defines the contenders from the also-rans.

The interesting point to note about the chart above is that, of the contenders for the last four positions in the Top 8, they have all played seven or eight of these matches, with varying levels of success.

The Warriors, Knights and Broncos (who I’ve dismissed from finals contention already) have played eight 0-6 pointers, with respective success rates of 50%, 37.5% and 37.5%. Games played less than 6 percentage won

But just imagine if a couple of those games had gone the opposite way. The Broncos losing 19-18 to Parramatta is an obvious example of a game that could, and should, have been won. The Knights losing to the Dragons – twice – in close contests is also an example where a position in the Top 8 could have been secured earlier.

The Sharks are a clear standout, having won five from seven close games, for a 71% winning percentage. This is probably no surprise to Sharks fans in particular. They are an extraordinarily tough and gritty side, which will make them a difficult finals adversary.

It is the reason I posed the question many months ago to all teams who had designs on a successful 2013 – What would the Storm do? What would the Sharks do? Teams that can model the approach of these two teams will have the patience, toughness and resilience to succeed.

The Bulldogs’ 43% winning percentage is lower than average, but is an example of how this measure can be misinterpreted (like all stats, it isn’t infallible!). Three of those close losses were to the Storm, Rabbitohs and Roosters, which makes them a very credible no.5 on the ladder.

For those who don’t quite squeak into positions five through eight, however, it will once again be the seasonal story of ‘what if?’