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.
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 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!