The NRL Round 21 Rubdown

Knock knock …

Who’s there?

The Storm and Manly – remember us?

Guess who ...

Guess who …

The media frenzy about a Rabbitohs-Roosters Grand Final has become quite tiresome in its exclusivity. It’s almost as if there are no other teams in contention, and it’s almost disrespectful to a few other teams with genuine title chances.

The media is prone to do this at times, I guess, preferring the easy option of sensational headlines and a serving of whipped frenzy to cold, rational analysis. But if they continue to hype it up at the current exponential rate, it’s a good bet many will be disappointed, even though that’s what a vast majority of fans would like to see for all sorts of reasons.

To take the absurdities to a new level, Fox Sports is now inviting a comparison of Mahe Fonua to the incomparable GI after his brilliant try-assist on Sunday. The media are in a rare territory here – the equivalent of the bellhop giving stock tips to businessmen stepping out of limos on the eve of the 1929 stock market crash.

 

... yep, it's us!

… yep, it’s us!

Cool your heels, step out of la-la land and get with reality. The Storm lost five straight last year, yet were not threatened in the finals to any significant degree. As a reminder of how they can flick the switch to peak performance as opposed to just grinding themselves back into form like mere mortals, take in what happened to the 7th placed Raiders (who beat them in Round 8). Not only was the performance cruelly dominant, there was no hint of deceleration for the entire match. It was if their dinner depended on it.

And by the way, the Raiders are highly unlikely to make the Top 8 (updated numbers below). Their draw to close the season (Roosters, Bulldogs, Manly, Warriors, Sharks) is every bit as tough as the one that faced the Bulldogs in the early rounds (where they won the solitary match from five attempts).  

The dudes up at Manly (and let’s face it, the Wolfman and Horo look more like The Dude from the Big Lebowski than Wolverine) are a bunch of scrapping, rugby league thoroughbreds. They are a standout team when it comes to appearing to play their footy for the love of it. Whether they’re up by 20, or down by 20, heads never go down, and they are always trying to score. They love competing and are a uniquely dangerous team.

We would all be better served providing equal time for all Top 4 teams, with a splattering of Bulldogs, Sharks, Knights and Warriors. The idea of the ‘July Premiers’ is a myth, an extrapolation, a nonsense. The Minor Premiership is just a long audition for a role in a no holds barred month of NRL brutality and endurance. In the meantime, we get to see who really wants to be there.

The Top 8 taking shape as planned

Based on the assumption that at least 30 points are required to squeeze into the Top 8, the Top 8 mathematical equation has now been solved permanently (well, for 2013, at least) for the Broncos, Cowboys, Dragons, Tigers and Eels. The Panthers have an infinitesimal chance, but need to win every game (unlikely) and have other results work perfectly for them.

What we’re then left with is a fight between the Titans, Warriors and Raiders. As you can see below, the Titans and Raiders have horrific draws and, amongst the contenders, are by far the most difficult.

It’s hard to bet against the Warriors at this point. Given the strength of the draws facing the Warriors and Knights (currently 8th), it would almost be a monumental meltdown for them both to miss the Top 8. Draw from Round 21Solving the Golden Point puzzle

In lieu of eradicating, exterminating and expunging it totally …

Golden Point continues to attract criticism, and rightly so. For the time-honoured ’80 minutes’ to extend to 90 minutes without a result is pointless. It makes a mockery of the entire concept.

The NRL have to decide what function Golden Point serves. If it is to weed out the draws and force a result, then fine, let’s have a result. The point is, 10 minutes devoted to seeking a field goal while the referees change their approach to penalties isn’t cutting it for anyone. We may as well have a soccer-style field-goal shootout to save the players’ legs.

If a draw is acceptable to the NRL even after Golden Point, then it needs to at least be entertaining.

A far superior version of extra time would be who can score the most points in those 10 minutes of extra time. It is far and away a better solution than Golden Try, and is akin to the British Open Golf 4-hole playoff.

And … it doesn’t change the characteristics of the game like the awful ‘player drop-off method’, where players are taken off each team based on the clock.

If ‘we are in the entertainment business’ as the top coaches and commentators continue to opine, then this is a change the NRL needs to make – pronto.

What do you think?

Time wasting

Part of the raison d’etre of this blog is to be solutions-based – to attempt to make positive suggestions to advance the game of rugby league, and to do it before the officials and media cotton on to the ideas (hopefully they’ll pay attention). To be sure, there is a lot of low-hanging fruit to begin with, but which remains unpicked. It really isn’t rocket science, and I should know!

It therefore not without a sense of satisfaction that the recent focus (with a sense of revelation, no less) on time wasting has caught my eye. The Dr had a go at this back in January, then again in May.

To recap:

  • Time off for all conversions (from the time the try is awarded), with time restarting at kick off
  • Time off for penalty goals once the election to kick has been made, with time restarting at either kick off, drop out, or resumption of play (a rare event these days)
  • Time off when the ball goes into touch, and restarting with play
  • No kicking for touch when receiving a penalty in the opposition 20 – if the penalty is closer than 10-metres from the sideline, then the option can be to take the tap from the 10-metre line

The beauty of such tweaks to the rules is that they are easy to implement, don’t change the characteristics of the game, and provide a net benefit.

They save time.

There is no time wasting at crucial moments, particularly with conversions close to full time in a tight contest. Useless kicks for touch when close to the opposition line no longer exist, and there is more game-time for the fans and broadcasters.

And it’s not like we don’t have enough interchanges already to deal with it.

Makes sense to me.

Circling back to the Top 2

The Roosters have finally wrestled the long-held Premiership lead from the Rabbitohs, despite the latter having a four point gap just a few weeks ago.

From here, if I apply the same method to assess the strength of the draw facing each team before the finals, then I would give the Roosters a 9.2 rating, the Rabbitohs an 11.4 – the Rabbitohs clearly have some work to do to take the Minor Premiership.

Manly’s draw attracts a 10.2 rating, the Storm 9.4.

It’s worth noting that all Top 4 sides have more difficult draws than those facing the Knights, Warriors, Panthers, Sharks and Bulldogs – and then they face each other in the finals! There could be a surprise or two around the corner …

Having relinquished pole position, the Rabbitohs must now face anywhere from two to four weeks without the key personnel that have been instrumental in their success so far (Sutton and Inglis). Further, Adam Reynolds appears to be playing injured, which could become an issue in the finals. The team is still blue ribbon, with size and speed around the park. But so are the other top teams.

Comparisons with 1989 are going to surface with alacrity and regularity throughout the mainstream media if they drop another couple of games leading into the finals (even if they don’t, probably), but I envisage a Storm-like turnaround once the full team is back on deck.

For the Roosters, they have climbed their Everest early, and are on the brink of an amazing transformation from last year’s inconsistent party boys to the more sober, focused and organised 2013 version. I still think penalties can be their undoing, but I do place part of the blame on the referees, having watched multiple games over the weekend and making simple comparisons across them.

That aside, they are still vulnerable to chips behind the line, and were lucky on several occasions against the Panthers. The fact remains however, that only one try was allowed, and that the scoreline without SBW in the last three (out of four) matches totals 118-6. Goodness …

They are reminiscent of Manly at this point – loving playing the game for the game itself, not panicking, and allowing the result to be a reflection of the process. It’s like they play every game having just finished an off-site (if you’ve been on one, you’ll remember how the path to success becomes so obvious … before you forget it again and need another pissup offsite!).

There goes the ‘competition is uneven’ theory again

Having watched separate no.15 teams triumph over Top 4 teams in recent weeks, we have now experienced a resurgent (13th placed, and international-laced) Cowboys, with no finals campaign to play for, take care of the Rabbitohs. This an issue in itself, having taken place only hours after their coach was sacked due to his underperforming team, but I digress ….

And they didn’t just beat them, they hammered them. The 30-0 scoreline said it all before a couple of ‘consolation tries’ to the Rabbitohs avoided the ignominious donut.

I therefore continue to find it difficult to agree with the idea that the competition is systematically unfair or uneven. So, too, does Greg Inglis if his comments relating to every game being a genuine contest on Fox last night are any indication.

What the results above reinforce to me is that the performance of teams is highly dependent on two to three ‘game changing’ players in each team, the absence of whom bring them back to the field abruptly, as well as the preparation for each match. The Origin period highlights this quite clearly, and so do countless other matches (compare the Tigers’ resolve in Robbie Farah’s 200th match to the one served up against the Titans, for example).

The physical attributes and skills of the average NRL player seem pretty even to me throughout the NRL, with only a couple of exceptions that include the Eels and Tigers.

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