The Agony and the Irony – The Parallel Journey of Parramatta and Referees

The NRL has produced two organisations in 2013 that are at first glance quite different, and yet, on closer examination, display an uncanny resemblance. 

Peter Sterling may well have wondered, along with the Dr and the entire Parramatta fan base, what the club could credibly point to as an achievement in 2013. The harsh truth is that Parramatta has been going backwards. It’s in recession, in other words, and could use a good dose of stimulus! And what makes it worse is the fact that it is entirely of its own making. 

Similarly, the NRL could justifiably wonder what, if anything, their referees achieved over the course of an error-riddled, directionless season. It is a victim of its own short-sightedness, and an affront to the laws of compound interest!

Clearly, both organisations have failed to even tread water this year, meaning they haven’t been able to build on past … ahem … successes, so the question begs asking whether they have learned anything at all from the experience? Or are they like the Dr, who continually rediscovers his grip on the 18th hole?

In Parramatta’s case, two solid years of eating from a wooden spoon highlight a tragedy of immense proportions. And this from what was the club of the 1980s – a proud, successful team that exhibited professionalism before its time, and was a blueprint to be copied.

Parramatta have gone backwards on the playing field and crowd numbers, in many ways driven there by a divided, selfish and poisonous board that makes Federal ALP look like synchronised swimmers. Their ineptitude and desperation were highlighted in their complete inability to negotiate a simple, stable coach’s contract. What they ended up with when they hired Ricky Stuart was the absence of a contract in a ‘functional sense’ – ie. they agreed to pay Ricky an exorbitant amount of money until he found someone to pay him more, no questions asked, which is what happened after the first year of a three year contract.

 

Yeah ... about that contract-ee thingee

Yeah … about that contract-ee thingee

What they received in the interim (which is usually a key part of any contract) was a coach who, under his own level of stress to win games in order to resuscitate an almost irretrievably lost reputation, sacked half the NRL squad in humiliating fashion when the answers weren’t matching the questions, and who was clearly not fully invested in the organisation for the long haul. There’s no argument … He’s not there any longer … In Brad Arthur, Parramatta appear to have enacted their own version of a stimulus package, even if the process was excruciating. He is a committed man with Parramatta pedigree who will be looking to embrace his players in a communal culture, rather than a divided one. The slate is clean for him to show the NRL world why he is held in such high regard.

 

no no, you heard right, I'll pay YOU ...

no no, you heard right, I’ll pay YOU …

But what they really need is a saviour. Will Daniel Anderson, the man they stupidly and acrimoniously sacked the year after taking them to a closely fought Grand Final, only to replace him with an untried, and ultimately spectacularly unsuccessful associate of Craig Bellamy’s, be the right choice? After all, he has just made a meal of the referees post. And will he allow Brad Arthur the space and autonomy in the context of a meddling board to enact long term change? The jury is out on that one.

It’s odd in a way to see him return to an organisation that treated him so appallingly (though not many of us were there ‘behind the scenes’ to make studied comment). Then again, like Mediterranean eyebrows, they just can’t seem to be kept apart. It must be fate.

The decision to take charge of the NRL’s collection of enfants terrible, otherwise known as referees, was clearly his version of a gap year, because if there is one thing we can all agree on, no objectives were achieved in a positive sense in 2013. As a matter of fact, it was a bit like watching Parramatta all year, where there was no sign either of a collection of objectives or an overarching strategy to achieve them. Most teams have a well-defined characteristic, or set of them. But Parramatta? Oh well, good luck Brad …

Good luck is also a sentiment to offer the new head of NRL referees. The NRL initially made a huge mistake appointing Daniel Anderson, a career football coach, to head the referees instead of someone with their roots more firmly planted on the official side of the NRL. What he had to offer this role was unclear in the first place, but there can be no doubt now. 

He talked to referees, and about them, as if he were still a coach, and the weekly decisions on the field were a scattergun gun melee of surprises, reactive banality and dumbfounding moments (as were the post-match explanations). The referees’ grasp of the core rules and consistency were found sadly lacking, they communicated poorly, and there was no sign of improvement throughout the year on the field and in the video box. To say the year for referees was an unmitigated failure is an understatement. 

The biggest error was picking a candidate who was high profile and talented as a coach, having taken two NRL clubs to Grand Finals, but who was not well suited to this role, wasn’t passionate about it, and wasn’t invested in it. Just like Ricky at Parramatta. 

The NRL referees are now searching for their own saviour, and they have a poisoned chalice to present the successful candidate, who will need to take care bringing it to the lip while standing on the rubble left behind. 

In the interim, Tony Archer has been appointed Elite Performance Manager – because, well, nothing says physical prowess like Tony Archer, the Sonny Bill Williams of referees. And nothing screams elite performance like the average NRL referee. As highlighted many times before, these clowns need to be sorted out, pronto, because they are the game’s clear soft underbelly. The fact that Todd Greenberg has acknowledged their importance to the fabric of the game in recent days is refreshing. All we need is a bit of action …

The most exciting part of the referees side of the equation is that, like Anderson returning to the Eels, Bill Harrigan, the former referee’s boss, appears keen to return to the same organisation that (also unceremoniously) booted him out. Given the NRL rescinded his name on the annual referee’s trophy, perhaps they are sending a message of thanks, but no thanks.

The lesson the NRL needs to learn, just Parramatta, is that appointing someone to the referee’s post isn’t a formality. The role requires certain characteristics, which include, but are not limited to a passion for the job, and a desire to make it their primary career.

In any case, one can only hope the similarities between Parramatta and NRL referees in 2014 and beyond include success. Ah heck, I’ll settle for improvement.

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SBW – time to celebrate, not denigrate

“Talent is God given, be humble.

Fame is Man given, be grateful.

Conceit is Self given, be careful.”

– John Wooden

 

“It’s harder to crack a prejudice than an atom”

– Albert Einstein

 

“Jerry, it’s not a lie if you believe it to be true”

– George Costanza

 

Like everyone, I’ve been fascinated by the Sonny Bill Williams phenomenon. Even though the Dr’s interest extends back ten years and not the week since the Grand Final, it is the more contemporary conjecture over his playing future that has captured the widest attention.

This is unfortunate in a way, because it abstracts from the athlete, and has fans and journalists ‘rubberneckin’ every move as if it were a car crash.

Regardless of any superhuman or super-subliminal feats this year, the name Sonny Bill Williams seems destined to perpetually polarise opinion. And yet, since leaving the Bulldogs in 2008 in circumstances that are still not well understood by most, he really hasn’t put a foot wrong.

The good news is that many have been converted by the sheer depth of his talent and larger-than-life persona. He has left a positive and indelible mark on all teams with which he has been involved, strengthening them from within in areas ranging from work ethic to preparation to belief. There has been zero doubt as to his complete commitment to any team, and you struggle to find anyone who has actually worked with him saying a harsh word. The invariable response is glowing praise.

Sounds like a legacy to be proud of to me.

He is also the type of clean-living, approachable role model the NRL has sought for years. Having anointed several players with the ‘face of the NRL’ moniker, the NRL has unwittingly subjected them to the ‘face of the NRL curse’. Even the ‘unofficial’ face of the NRL in 2013 (after Barba succumbed early), Sam Burgess, couldn’t withstand the gravitational pull of controversy, driven to grabbing peckers, eyes and using knees late in the season.

As the self-appointed physician to attend any and all ills of the NRL, and armed with little more than a rusty stethoscope and a healthy dose of horse sense, I’ve observed the drama and attendant commentary with interest.

To say I’m disappointed in the level of commentary is an understatement. Not only have journalists been completely infatuated by SBW’s playing future to the point of distraction and saturation, they have done so with no sign of any inside information or intelligent speculation whatsoever. Making it move beyond the pale has been a viciousness and toxicity set to Defcon 5.

But has it really been so hard to connect the dots? Taking in his stellar performances this year including a Premiership (Bob McCarthy might disagree), the esteem with which he is held by all team mates, and the point in his career at which he finds himself, was 2014 really the guesswork many would have us believe?

Looking objectively at his achievements, it would not only be difficult to do a hit ‘n run on the NRL with a Premiership in hand and then leaving a group of ‘soul mates’ and friendships forged through the pain and grind of a long season, but if there is one thing he hasn’t achieved in the NRL, it’s a back to back Premiership.

Why would he go back to rugby a year early? For what? Was there really any risk the NZRU wouldn’t relax their ambit claim that playing Super 15 in 2014 was mandatory for selection in the 2015 Rugby World Cup? As they said themselves when asked if they wanted him back, “Why wouldn’t we?”

Indeed.

While he only had the five minutes of game time in the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final, I’m sure Kiwi officials would have given him significantly more if they had their time again. I mean, 8-7 isn’t exactly a comfortable win against the French now, is it?

To put it even more frankly, the All Blacks are going to need SBW to win the Cup consecutively, and on foreign soil, with a playing roster two years longer in the tooth.

For that reason, the not so secret Sans Souci meeting wasn’t a betrayal of the NRL and all it stands for. It wasn’t an act of use and abuse, and it wasn’t monumental chutzpah only hours after making himself available for the Rugby League World Cup. That last point should have been leapt on as the greatest sign possible he was staying with the Roosters and the NRL for 2014. To have played the Rugby league World Cup given the controversy surrounding his availability, and the message this would have sent to the Roosters about his plans for 2014 (which it did), then not play on next year would have been a different issue.

He didn’t, so it wasn’t.

The Dr made the point to a couple of commentators on the day of the Sans Souci meeting that it was more likely the negotiation centred around eligibility for the Rugby World Cup should he return to Super 15 in 2015. It seemed a fairly straight forward assumption to make given the information and connecting the dots. The bond formed at the Roosters this year has been watertight, and many appear to have underestimated its power.

In that sense, too, there was no rejection of the NZRU as has been suggested – it was merely a postponement to rejoining the fold, about which there can be no doubt.

If the Dr (and others) can reach a conclusion like this in his virtual surgery/couch/’rooms’, then it behooves the official commentators to lift their game. Given the level of character assassination lately, though, it is clear that hatred burns deep and clouds the judgement. It sells papers though, and I suppose that is the point. Accuracy has taken a back seat to expediency, and to be groping about in the dark for information has turned many bitter, it would seem.

Just ask CEO David Smith, who has turned off the Bat Phone to journalists. He’s hardly had a good word written about him and his organisation all year (some justified, some clearly not), and I can only imagine how much it burns them to realise that the NRL have been neck-deep in the SBW negotiations for some time. The lack of leaks is simply extraordinary, and it doesn’t fuel news copy in the same way bone-headed conjecture and untruths do.

There are clearly going to be people who are unswayed by the last five years of SBW’s stellar performances and team ethic, and who certainly won’t pay tribute of any sort to a 2013 season that has not only defied (so-called) critics, but has opened the eyes of many to the possibilities in the game of rugby league.

And they almost certainly won’t soften when they learn about what he does off the field, not just within the confines of a team environment, but also in making himself perpetually available to every group of kids wanting a photo.

At some point, fans and commentators need to ask themselves what they want from the game. Is it enjoyment? It should be. By all means support your team with vigour, but also revel in the toughness and skill of all players and all teams. When there are a few players clearly above the pack, celebrate it. Immerse yourself in the glory of athletic ability and game-changing efforts, even when performed by the opposition.

There is no need to moan continuously about someone being bigger than the game. It happens, and it always will. Rugby League might be the ‘working man’s game, but there is a large element of meritocracy to it also, particularly given the numbers it generates as a business (on top of being a game).

Rugby League doesn’t need SBW per se, in the same way it doesn’t need Smith, Slater, Thurston and countless others. But I’ll let you in on a (non) secret – it is far better for having them in the game.

NRL Grand Final – Is there a danger period?

Discussing danger periods for Grand Finals is almost a fool’s errand.

It’s the final game of the season for goodness’ sake! And, since 1954, the most important by far.

So, clearly, every moment, particularly in an uncommonly well-matched contest, is a bona fide danger period! Anything can happen in a rugby league Grand Final, whether it’s a bounce of the ball, a seed of doubt, a poor decision or mistake, or mastering patience vs panic in the ultimate of stressful environments. It could even be an inadequate preparation that affects game day effectiveness.

So stats aren’t the ‘be all and end all’. Having said that, let’s rush in where angels fear to tread (without even mentioning a single players’ name) …

The last post tipped the Dr’s hand, predicting the Roosters to prevail after years of bridesmaid finishes. And the difference of four points between the two teams in Week 1 of the Semi Finals is, coincidentally, the margin the entire season of For & Against points suggests will be the margin this Sunday.

But at exactly what point in the game does each team’s 2013 performances suggest this margin will be established?

Let’s look how each team has accumulated and conceded points over the home & away season to start off:

GF ScoreGF ConcedeThese charts are interesting because they highlight the flat point in Manly’s scoring generally from the 25th to 50th minute, at the very same point they have tended to leak points.

The Roosters score regularly through the first 50 minutes with no really noticeable peaks or troughs, and score a little faster again in the second half.

Pitting the two teams’ For & Against performance on the same chart, we can clearly see that Manly’s danger period is indeed in this segment of the game, while the Roosters take a good 20 minutes to get into the game (usually).

GF FA

The highlighted box is where I see the winning margin most likely being established. Here’s how it looks up closer in order to emphasise the point:

GF 2060

Whether it can hold or not is another matter in a one-off contest, but 2013 has shown the Roosters doing quite well from the 25th minute through to the 65th minute.

Manly’s effectiveness in this period is relatively poor.

The Roosters need to own this period (as usual), while Manly need to improve markedly if they are to win.

If old habits die hard, then the signs are good for the Roosters to halt a truly abysmal run of Grand Final results.

A different take on the NRL Grand Final, Tele Stats, SBW and Sharknados

I’m fast realising that I’m going to have to add to my very small collection of cricket blogs once the NRL season is over. Or, heaven forbid, a few on the ills of the finance world! I hope some of my regular readers hang around.

Having said that, the NRL ought to provide enough drama to add to my tally post-Grand Final, and I really look forward to sinking my teeth into the rules again, the concept on which this blog began.

In the meantime, here’s a different take on this weekend’s Grand Final, with a few added extras to keep you interested, including the idea of a suspension exemption for Finals’ matches, the Tele’s war on stats, SBW, the Sharks, and the tall tales of Benny.

A left field perspective on the Grand Final

If you are looking for a deeper, more expansive commentary and preview of this weekend’s blockbuster (is there any other name for it?), along with all the important match ups, I suggest you spend some time reading www.26rounds.com and www.smithyspeaks.com.au – if you love nothing more than immersing yourself in a bath of all things rugby league, you won’t be disappointed by these sources.

What I want to showcase is a snapshot of the three epic encounters played between these two teams in 2013 (including the first week of the Finals Series). It will highlight why this particular Grand Final holds so much promise, especially with both at or near full strength.

The Roosters have won all three games this year by an average of just 7.4pts, or an average (rounded) score of 12.7 to 5.3.

Chew on that for a moment.

The Roosters have won on each occasion, meaning the averages are unsullied by mixing wins and losses.

But to do so averaging just 12.7pts? With a top score of only 18pts across three games? Putting that into a wider context, their average points per game (ex Manly) for the regular season is 28.3.

Manly have not scored more than 12pts (or two tries) in a game against the Roosters all year (including the Semi Final where they failed to score at all). And this despite an electrifying attacking game that has them averaging 25.9pts per game through the regular season (ex Roosters), and a history of chowing down on Chooks with ridiculous ease for years.

These numbers are simply astounding. But let’s take a closer look at each game, culminating in the first Semi Final where Manly showed more dominance than a good night at the old Hellfire Club, but still couldn’t win.Grand Final Stats

The stats sheet above shows that the difference between the two teams on the scoreboard has diminished with each new instalment. The first two matches this year were tight, aggressive games, and something previous Roosters teams couldn’t hope to emulate. Arguably, the 6pt difference in game two was flattering to the Manly side, the Roosters playing without a goal kicker and Manly scoring near full time.

Runs made were pretty close to square, and the Roosters had marginally more punch in making those runs (averaging about a metre more each time).

The real difference was in the Roosters defence, where their percentage of missed tackles was about four percentage points lower than Manly’s.

The third game was where this all changed. Not the result, mind you, just the stats. The Roosters were well behind on runs (making only 43.6% of them), metres (making only 39.4% of the total), and, of course, possession (43.6%). The missed tackle percentage advantage was completely lost, which is unsurprising given the workload. They had 45% of the sets, and a woeful 30.6% share of all halves runs.

But they won, and those stats are highly unlikely to be repeated this time.

This game demonstrated that they are a team that refuse to lose. They are Manly, in other words. Manly will do what they always do, but a part of them must really dislike the mirror they see in front of them – and a younger, stronger, fitter one at that.

For all the Roosters’ 5 grand Finals appearances since 2000, there was only one that I could visualise them actually winning – 2002.

This is the second.

Follow up on Prelim and Grand Final Penalties

As per last week’s blog, my research showed that Preliminary Finals averaged a penalty count far lower than a normal NRL match and, more to the point, the gap between teams was a maximum of three (which didn’t happen often).

The idea that the Roosters and Manly would be too hard to beat if this trend continued worked just fine. Consider that the last time the two teams played the Bunnies they were almost penalised out of the games.

Coincidentally, the 4-0 victory by the Roosters in week one of the Semi Finals had them give up more than twice the amount of penalties to Manly. It’s awfully hard to win games where your momentum is completely butchered by referees, and fatigue levels necessarily rise faster. The good news for the Roosters is that the average Grand Final penalty count is 7.8, and the average difference is 1.4.

An even penalty count for the Grand Final is going to produce a game for the ages, where both teams will be tested to the extremes of their endurance, rather than a more one-sided affair.

Manly’s Gift

Manly and Glenn “Gifty” Stewart should count themselves very lucky that he is free to play in this weekend’s decider.

In short, a Grade 1 was a soft option given his hit seemed like a stiff arm from days of yore. I seem to recall Jared Warea-Hargreaves being sent off in the Round 9 clash against Manly (coincidentally) for what was also judged a Grade 1.

Perhaps it’s a hangover from all the footage shown in recent weeks of the 1973 Grand Final seeping into the collective consciousness, but the stiff arm didn’t ‘slip up’, and it didn’t travel an arc. It started high, travelled horizontally through space and time, and hit Burgess’ extraordinarily large melon flush. Granted, it might’ve been hard to miss – it’s a virtual planetoid! Oh, and he wasn’t ‘falling’ either (though he did drop like a sack of spuds after the event).

It reminded me of the Terry Lamb search and destroy on Ellery Hanley in 1988, knocking him into the next week and handing the Bulldogs the title with little fuss. It’s unclear if this was part of the game plan, and whether a couple of key Roosters players might need to recharge their peripheral vision goggles this Sunday, but it wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened.

But, whatever, he’s been cleared and we move into the debate about missing Grand Finals for incidents that are not serious enough to invoke a one week suspension on their own, which is what Grade 1 means.

Suspensions and suspending belief

The Glenn Stewart incident has ignited a relatively unrealistic debate about players being exonerated for foul play in the Finals Series because it would be so awful for them to miss a Grand Final. For me, I’d hate to miss a Grand Final because I had a broken jaw, or was ruled out due to being concussed by a high tackle. But that’s just me …

Were it to actually happen, it would be relatively straight forward rule to implement, as I see it.

Grade 1 offences would accrue to previous loading next season, enabling the player to play through the Semi Finals, and taking any suspension into that forthcoming season. Semi or Grand Final unaffected – happy days.

A second Grade 1 offence through the Finals Series would presumably work as a 2nd yellow card, meaning an automatic one week suspension and, once again, applying any carry-over points to the next season. My thinking behind this is that you can’t just go around clobbering people earning Grade 1s each week!

Previously suspended players won’t have the same luxury, but if we’re talking about Grade 1 offences, they will only miss the first week of the Semi Finals anyway. Logically, if they had been suspended for any longer, then they must have attracted a Grade 2 or worse in the first place, or had enough loading to be paying the price. I know we’re into Gen Y and all, but someone has to pay a price sometime … don’t they?

But all this is anathema to what the NRL is trying to achieve in eradicating foul play and head contact. It’s an idea that should stay in the media and fan forums of the land, and be seen nowhere near the halls of League Headquarters. It’s plain stupid.

Richard Hinds had it spot on when comparing the NRL’s increasingly concerned approach to head knocks with the idea that thuggery will return if given the space to breathe, for this is what this idea about Finals’ exemptions will allow.

Not only does he make sense (because it’s, well, obvious … and I agree with it!), but confirms that he still retains remnants of SMH journalistic quality that will soon be lost to us forever. Nothing is really solved here apart from allowing violence increased latitude. The goalposts are simply moved a little further toward the violent end as if it’s acceptable, and the focal point for debate and subsequent controversy moves to the grading. If it’s not worth a suspension, then don’t charge … It’s that simple.

Rothfield & Stats

I’m surprised that yesterday’s Daily Tele story about Reynolds and Pearce as halves hasn’t attracted more comment. Or maybe it did and I wasn’t paying attention. No, let’s go with the first idea …

The thing that struck me was the set of numbers to describe their respective play this year.

They’re way off base. They’re so wrong it’s scary, and a misrepresentation of each player, possibly highlighting the Fox News approach to reporting – we report, you believe.

Further, is there actually an apology to Mitchell Pearce for the vicious campaign waged against him earlier in the year, only to now offer a half-baked mea culpa?

Adam Reynolds has not – I repeat, not – averaged 8.5 runs per game this year. It is more like 4.1 and 4th lowest in the NRL, but regular readers would know that from regular updates during the year. I had no idea that Reynolds ran more often that Daly Cherry-Evans (6.2)! That’s because it’s not true.

And Mitchell Pearce didn’t make 6 runs against the Knights, it was 10.

Quite a difference in both cases, which makes you wonder what point was trying to be made.

SBW – People still don’t get it

The penny is beginning to drop for many about Sonny Bill William’s value and place in the game. It’s not about who he plays for either. It’s about his athleticism, endurance and game-breaking ability. I truly haven’t seen anything like it, and hope the Roosters’ Politis is a convincing guy.

The debate about whether this season seals the deal relating to greatness (or not) is myopic and misses the point, or is just a carryover from the way he controversially left the game over five years ago. Critics misjudged the Roosters’ staying power after their impressive start to the season because they didn’t look deeper into the way they were winning games. Likewise, trying to measure SBW based on whether he can help deliver a Premiership to Bondi, or because he’s been back the solitary year, is also not paying close attention to exactly what he has been doing on the field (let alone off it).

SBW has proven that he is a winner and has more influence on a team than most appreciate. He did it with the Bulldogs, then the Chiefs and All Blacks (to the point they desperately want him back as soon as possible), and now again at the Roosters. He’s even had a fling at boxing amongst other footballing travels, and that has hasn’t gone too bad either.

Far from the brash, ill-advised youngster of 2008, he has left behind him a trail of professionalism and success, and those teams associated with him have been the better for it. His work ethic and ability to push status to one side and work harder than the next guy has transformed teams from within. Forget the idea that the coach sets the culture. They may, or they may not. Usually it is a shared striving to meet goals, but when your highest profile player gets his hands dirty repeatedly, the rest of the team is lifted. Most players have an SBW figure with an enormous presence on and off the field, though probably not at the same skill level.

Sharknado starts and ends in the Shire

The best part about the Sharks’ $10m cash advance on the total $28m associated with the redesign of the ‘Shark Park’ precinct is that it puts an awfully large nail in the idea that they were to be relocated to Central Queensland. Not that we should expect contrition from the journalists who have sensationalised the entire saga to the point of either inventing ideas, being economical with the truth, or just sold porkies.

I’m sure a great many comments and ideas are floated in board and committee meetings, and not all of them sensible. I can attest to this from a past life. Perhaps we should just have a release of the Minutes of NRL board meetings, Central Bank-style. At least we could all then make our own assessments of what the NRL is thinking. It would generate a better quality of debate, too. I hereby volunteer to write those Minutes. Gimme a call, John Grant … how funny.

Returning to the point, despite the fact that not many Sharks make it that far inland except in the unlikely event of a Sharknado, asking Queensland fans to embrace a NSW club is absurd. Don’t they know about the (real or just plain perceived) conspiracies that threaten to make fans north of the border spontaneously combust with hatred of all things sub-Tweed? And let’s not get into Daylight Saving.

The worst aspect of the idea is that it is what politicians like to call ‘policy on the run’. Events should dictate policy only in the event of a crisis. Even then it is an attempt to restore equilibrium before embarking on important changes in direction.

The best approach is always to strategise and move ahead on your own terms, based upon the rigour of the analysis.

In other words, the NRL may well have designs on expansion, but significant groundwork needs to be done before this can become a sustainable reality. It is particularly crucial when considering greenfield expansion (ie. into new areas such as Perth where the NRL isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when the subject of football is raised).

Laying the proper groundwork is far superior to taking any old opportunity to set off on half-baked fancies.

Benny and the Knights

Wayne Bennett confirmed yesterday what everybody knew last week.

No, not that he was staying with the Knights, but that by refusing to deny his commitment to the club in the lead up to the Preliminary Final against the Roosters, he was protecting his playing squad from the glare and pressure surrounding pre-game publicity.

When the same type of stories reappear at crucial moments in the season, it’s always best to be a little cynical about motives. This approach invariably works with respect to politics, and it works in rugby league too, unsurprisingly.

Here we were looking upon an ageing squad that might be troubled by a furious Roosters outfit (which they were, ultimately, and in spades), and who were being asked to defeat three Top-4 sides consecutively to earn the right to be called Premiers. You can see why they might have been under some pressure to perform given they hadn’t beaten even one of them until the previous week.

But wouldn’t a more mature squad also be well placed to promote the game to the fans through the media?

Rather than sell the game in the interests of the NRL, the press was being fed the type of malarkey that has seen one of the great reporting stalwarts of rugby league, Steve Mascord, sever ties with the game in some areas (for an indeterminate period). You know, comments such as:

“I can’t give you an iron-clad guarantee about anything in this game.”

“Right now I’m the coach here, and when that changes, I’ll let you know.”

So, yesterday’s comments that assign 100% of the blame to the media are a complete rewriting of history and facts.

Perhaps many of the articles written about rugby league, particularly those that contain comments from coaches and other staff, should have a little disclaimer to remind fans that the comments may or may not be true. All care was taken in writing the story, but no responsibility is offered because, well, it’s not like they were under oath!