Now that the NRL Semi Finals are upon us, the elevated sense of excitement is upon us again, and it is palpable.
The atmosphere in the air is thicker than a composite of Jaymes Diaz and seasonal sililoquoys, and there will be more more cliches than you can poke a stick at. Rest assured, we will be bathing in the them until the cows come home.
Not only are cliches per capita set to go on a tear like a Todd Carney hamstring, but we will be able to while away the hours with the inevitable player profiles each time we open the back pages. I love September.
We will learn how John Sutton’s daughter gave him the focus to become the player he is today, how Anthony Watmough secretly adores kittens and sunset strolls on the beach, and how rugby league saved the wayward Jared Warea-Hargreaves from the horrors of life as a golf pro.
We will learn that the government’s neglect of R&D expenditure forced Ben Pomeroy away from a career of splitting atoms and quarks into the warm embrace of rugby league, swapping equations and white lab coats for bicep curls and coat hangers.
In short, we will learn that rugby league’s gain, is humanity’s loss.
And all this will come to a head this weekend, beginning with the Bunnies, whose history shows 19 Premierships (and one dodgy one), but without success in most league fans’ lifetimes who still have their own teeth. The last time a Rabbitoh held the trophy aloft, George Piggins still attended games. In fact, he played in them! Men were hairier than a barber shop floor, children were the remote control, and Julian Assange was hatched, his mother having escaped from a human cyborg with an Austrian accent sent back in time.
Not only that, but we had two political parties that were actually distinguishable from one another, though the elephant-like ears of our Prime Ministers (McMahon and Abbot) seems to have stood the test of time. Some fashions never go out of style.
But will the Rabbitohs lack of success over two generations stand the test of time? Will Reynolds’ hamstring hold out this time? Will they hold their nerve in the way the 1989 juggernaut couldn’t? And the Sharks team from the year before …
They face a team led by the game’s 2nd greatest thinker, a veritable X-Men character whose superpower enables his hands to merge with the ball when it is held by an attacking player on the ground, but which cannot be picked up by any of the referees on and off the ground. He strips more efficiently than Miley Cyrus, and he skips out of dummy half like a metronome (not a midget taking the subway). His habit of catching retreating defences with their pants down tends to excite some, but it is usually a painful experience on the scoreboard.
When he’s not doing this, he’s feeding Cooper Cronk sublime spiral passes so that he can deliver tricky inside balls a metre forward to a scintillating Billy Slater who, fresh from shoulder charging an opponent and sending them into la-la-land without sanction, takes his chances that often result in runaway tries. Once again, Smith’s powers know no bounds.
Will Chambers will be encumbered somewhat with a specially-fitted cod piece, but the flow of their game should not be interrupted by a run of Jason Ryles-inspired penalties, who seems to have lost his knack for giving away cheap yards after leaving the Roosters.
If tonight’s match was an exact average of all 24 matches played by both teams this year, this is how it would play out.
You will immediately notice the similarities from the first line (penalties for and against) to the last (points).
Possession has been similar over the long haul, with the Bunnies having the edge in metres gained and breaking opposition tackles. They therefore have tended to have a lower work ratio to tire them out.
Errors, line breaks and tries almost even out, but the difference in 5/8 runs can be seen quite clearly. That shouldn’t change tonight, whether Finch or Widdop (particularly) play. The Bunnies can shut down a lot of attacking raids given the Storm’s reluctance to have their halves take on the line more regularly.
The one stat I took out (because I got lazy late in the season) is tries from kicks. The Bunnies lead the way with about a third of all their points stemming from kicks, far higher than al other teams except the Sharks and Tigers with about 20%. Dare I suggest we will see more of the same tonight?
The Storm have a habit of switching off after half time, and I’ve noted this before (and you can sense it in the chart above), which could be enough to decide the match if it is as close as I expect.
If you want the trends and issues identified early, you come to the Dr!
The point then, and even more valid today, is that their performances had to become a habit, and clocking off needed to be eradicated early lest it become the same habit that afflicted them in 2012. Like picking your nails and scratching your … you can’t just stop on a dime!
The Bunnies and their fans must be truly horrified at facing the Storm. They haven’t looked like beating them this year, and must have been aghast when the Panthers overcame Manly.
They haven’t been able to exceed 50% possession against them (which is probably a good thing if they’re off the Bali for an end-of-season trip), and have shared the honours (without winning) in the metres gained aspect. But if the Storm are allowed more than 50% possession and too many metres, this is what they generally tend to do (see the arrows pointing the Souths games):
Basically, as little as 100-200 net metres conceded could be very painful for the Bunnies, who still appear to have injury concerns with the great GI. I don’t care what anyone says (and press statements by coaches and others aren’t delivered under oath), because the majestic swoops into the backline in Round 1 that had the Roosters in a panic were nowhere to be found last week, or in preceding weeks.
Reynolds’ new running game as highlighted in the press some time ago lasted about five minutes, and whether it has something to do with the 25 bandages his legs are encased in these days or not, John Sutton is going to have to be the running and link player we know he can be, but for 80 minutes. Burgii-inspired retreating defences don’t particularly appreciate a man of his size then having them flat-footed and in two minds.
I for one will be barracking for the Rabbitohs tonight, because the result of this game will set the tone for the entire series. Should the Storm win and Roosters lose, the Storm will all of a sudden, almost out of nowhere really, be catapulted into a home Grand Final qualifier against either the Roosters, Cowboys or Sharks, and it will be difficult to see them losing against any of them at AAMI. it will be much more interesting (to me, at least) to see them on the road.
Manly, on the other hand, have the wood on the Storm, even when the Storm are at home, making a qualifier between these two teams too difficult to call.
I might put something up about the the Roosters-Manly match, but I don’t think I can improve on a pretty comprehensive preview over at www.26rounds.com.
That’s all I can be bothered with for now. The next important decision to be made will be pizza toppings.