NRL Round 4 Rubdown

I’m not sure what it is about Friday night NRL. Whether it’s poor scheduing, high tackles and sin bins, or significant penalty anomalies, it is gaining notoriety for its ability to generate controversy. Then again, maybe that’s just rugby league! There is no shortage of it, that’s for sure, and part of me thinks that a large reason we pine for each new season to begin is to allow us an excuse to be justifiably outraged once again. Talkback radio can only fill the gap for so long …

I’m not sure either how I can continue to be so derelict in my time management that a very early Rubdown recapping Friday night’s events remains unwritten even up until now. As far as disgraces go, I’m right up there in the rarified air of NRL broadcasters and referees … Not really, it is April Fool’s after all 🙂 (well, almost)

But to begin on a personal high point, the early rounds of 2014 have been notable for the return of the chip kick in general play – a thrill that has been missing from the overly engineered attacking structures of recent years. Luke Brooks in particular has formed a remarkable partnership with James Tedesco, and it’s a real crowd pleaser.

Memo NRL: I, for one, would like to see a LOT more of James Tedesco, so if you could make sure he isn’t belted out of the game a la Adam Ritson, that would be very much appreciated. He has already suffered more than his fair share of high tackles and knees (no citing on the weekend, I see …).

As a digression, I can see why the chip became a tale of legend, like the Jedi. I mean, control of the ball is key, and the chip kick does carry risk of turning over possession. An old coach used to refer to loose ball as the enemy, so I understand the preoccupation with dominating possession as if it’s a nervous tic.

So, watching the chip kick variations on Friday night was exhilarating. Whether it was the Dragons against the Broncos, or the Daly Cherry-Evans version that I wish had bounced better for him, or the encore by Chris Sandow against the Penny Panthers on the weekend, I look forward to seeing more of it through the season.

Unfortunately, there are a few issues that keep cropping up, and Friday night’s Roosters/Manly match was yet another example. So let’s continue last week’s theme of obstruction.

Obstruction – for catchers

Last week’s Rubdown noted the increasing prevalence of defenders protecting their catchers under the high ball by running overt interference on chasers. It is becoming an ugly blight on the game that is against the rules, and against the spirit of competition. Fortunately, it is easily fixed (with a penalty, or series of them that will easily eradicate it from the game). Unfortunately, this was also the case for the cannonball tackle, and we know how long that took!

Manly’s ‘Wolfman’ had argued during the week that it made sense to target him on the wing with the high ball given his putrid performance against the Polynesian Avatar, Daniel Tupou, in last year’s Grand Final. He was saying that in the full knowledge that part of Friday night’s game plan was to scatter players in Daniel Tupou’s path like rogue bullets in the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. Jamie Lyon, in particular, saw and raised Beau Champion’s previous mastery of this tactic, and didn’t seem to even look at the ball at all – only Tupou, who was unable to get near the ball.

This is obstruction. Were these players making an attempt at the ball, then it’s an entirely different situation. As the law states:

NRL Escorts

It’s worth noting that this type of blocking has reached epidemic proportions across the NRL, and Friday night’s match was simply another step in its evolution. Once you’re allowed to get away with something, it becomes part of the game, a nasty ingrained habit that makes an ingrown toenail look like Cindy Crawford, and very much like the hand-between-legs lifting tackle that ended so tragically the week before.

The Roosters might have had more success bombing the right wing, where the Manly training drills would not have been so concentrated, and therefore less effective. They will need to think better on their feet, as well as work on their discipline if they are to repeat last year’s performance.

Regardless, by allowing (all) teams the ability to obstruct without sanction, the NRL is implicitly saying they would prefer less bombs, or kicks with ‘long hang-time’. I, for one, hope this isn’t the case. It is one of the great sights and contests in rugby league.

One man who is valiantly forming a one-man rearguard action against doing away with the bomb, however, is Lote Tuquiri. In so doing, he is also putting the ‘retro’ back into rugby league (a la the increasing frequency of the chip kick). I haven’t seen a catcher attempt to catch so many high balls with his shoulder since the 70s and 80s. It didn’t work then either, but it’s tremendous theatre, and encourages the attacking team to keep giving it a whirl, obstruction or not. I watched Resurrection last night, and I can’t help thinking we’re seeing Steve Mavin all over again.

I should add (late, and a benefit of procrastination) that the Monday night game between the Titans and Cowboys had a wonderful example of a (Titans) player legally blocking in a kick situation late in the game (by arriving early and holding his ground).

Further, the Titans’ 2nd try came from a high ball too. Had the blocking been as effective (illegal) as Friday night, they may well have stopped it completely. Or they may have been penalised, who the hell knows!

Obstruction – in attack

When I see NRL guidelines that say:

“If, in the opinion of the referee/video, the play had no effect on the scoring of the try, the try will be awarded”

… my heart glows like ET’s (the alien, not Ettingshausen), because it implies that there is a spirit to the law, and that it is not purely rules-based.

Its almost too painful to recollect the state the obstruction law was in this time last year after Daniel Anderson, the coach in referees boss’ clothing, made a nonsense of it. Infamously, tries were disallowed because a breath of air from a decoy brushed against a defender in a neighbouring galaxy light years away.

Obstruction cannot be rules-based. It has to adhere to the spirit noted above of whether a defender was realistically impeded from stopping a try, and not just making a bad defensive read, by commission or omission – ie. tackling a decoy or positioning his weight to do so, or standing there like a deer in the headlights without committing to anything or anyone!

In that regard, I thought the Chooks were a bit hard done by late in Friday night’s loss. But they’re not the first, nor will they be the last.

Judging obstruction on the above metric will still inevitably lead to disagreeable decisions, but within a narrower margin of error – ie. On a net basis, more good decisions will be made.

What is the referee’s game plan?

Looking across the weekend’s action so far, fans are well within their rights to question what the referees are trying to achieve out there on the field. Let’s look at just a few of standouts.

Only the true diehard Roosters-haters will fail to recognise the difference with which both teams in Friday’s Grand Final rematch were treated. It is the same for those who dislike Manly (after Toovey’s famous outburst last year), or Parramatta (witness Jarryd Hayne’s displeasure last week) or the Tigers this weekend, or any other team that have had a poor night with the officials. It’s sour grapes and all evens out, say the ‘wise ones’. Well, it doesn’t really. Unless I missed one of Newton’s laws somewhere along the line, or a specific law of thermodynamics has equally escaped me, I know of no law of nature that decrees bad decisions even out.

Context matters, always.

The Roosters have a minor discipline problem that seems to guarantee a lopsided penalty count at the best of times. I thought they’d have eradicated that by now. Alas … Even so, the 9-penalty differential on Friday night was an abomination. A more more neutral reading would have had it 3-4. Still in deficit, but a game-changing difference. When marginal calls are made in favour of one team, and even more obvious ones let go for the other, then there is a problem.

The irony of that match is that the Roosters will have gained a lot of heart from their bravery. It’s not something the Roosters were particularly known for until last year, and Manly would have beaten most by 30+ points with nearly 60% possession.

No one disputes good and bad decisions will be made. Referees are human, after all. But they should conduct themselves like a government department in my opinion (public servants, not poilticians, obviously), by holding themselves to the highest levels of probity – ie. do everything possible to mitigate claims of incompetence, or worse, bias, by focussing intensely on consistency.

Moving on to the spear tackle in the Storm/Bulldogs match that was not even penalised. Apparently not one of the two referees or touch judges or video referees saw this, which looked even worse in real-time:Storm Bulldogs spear tackle

A week after a tragic accident, referees do nothing?

So I wonder aloud again – do referees endeavour to enforce dangerous tackle rules, such as:

Dangerous Throw

… Or was last week a distant memory?

And why can Johnathan Thurston be allowed to score from a quick tap in Round 1 when the defence had a post-penalty nap, yet Gareth Widdop be denied the same opportunity on Friday (Round 4)?

The quick tap was always going to be a dog’s breakfast for this very reason. Sadly, nothing appears to have changed. It’s as if there was no rule amendment at all. And worse, it was always going to be this way! Just scrap it.

One Rule to rule them all …

JWH predictably attracted a disproportionate grading in my opinion (Grade 2, 1-2 weeks) for an accidental shoulder clash to Manly’s Glenn Stewart’s head that left him concussed. Given SBW returns next week, I would imagine the Roosters will consider taking the week and moving on. Yet, I’m struck by the apparent unfairness of it all, and they should probably fight it.

In a remarkably similar incident, the Bulldogs’ James Graham was hit in the head by Jordan Maclean’s shoulder in Perth, surely leaving Graham thinking he was back in Bankstown talking to Channel 9 reporters. Yet, not even a penalty was awarded from my recollection, and certainly no citing.

Tonight’s match saw the Cowboys penalised for a high tackle from a late kick off return, yet no citing. To be clear, the first tackle runner after a kick off is usually lined up from 20 metres back. It is odd to me that no report was issued given that context, though there would have been had the Titans player stayed on the ground.

Both tacklers in the JWH and Maclean examples were standing quite upright without shoulders cocked and loaded, which discounts intention. Both events were what I would class as the type of accidental contact that happens in a contact sport, with the key difference being the Maclean-Graham incident was more front on contact.

Judge them all, or judge none.

Tigers licking the wounds of thudding back to earth

Last week’s Rubdown rapped the Tigers, but cautioned against extrapolation. If you don’t know what I mean about extrapolation, it is like when you do something once, and your wife accuses you of doing it all the time! Something like that.

Noting their consistency is not yet worthy of being considered a top 8 side, they have now been flogged twice (average score 43-21), and won twice (average score 34-14).

Their two wins were impressive, but let’s not get hung up on recency bias again.

Like any team so far this year, the ability to play long spells of quality football that last weeks, and are merely cameos of halves here and there, will be the differentiating factor in the end as to who makes the finals.

Funnily enough (given we’re talking about the Tigers and inconsistency), this season has all the hallmarks of 2005. I was happy the Tigers won that year, but I don’t know many people who actually believed they were the standout team of the year. The inconsistency so far this year (by all teams) may just throw up a surprise at the end of the year.

So who’s more important – fullback or hooker?

In the absence of influential fullbacks early in the season, the position has been labeled the  singularly most important on the paddock. Firstly, Greg Inglis was poleaxed early in the Tigers match, and the team floundered without any sense of direction. Whether it was his talismanic properties, or that Souths simply cannot do without him, is debatable.

The absence of James Tedesco under the concussion rule for the Tigers on the weekend (courtesy of Nathan Friend leading with his knees – no citing), was similarly blamed for the Tigers going off the rails.

But look what happens when a team loses a hooker (or Set of Six worker, as I like to call them). Nathan Peats’ absence coincided with Parramatta’s mauling at the hands of the Roosters, Isaac Luke’s injury has seen the Rabbitohs completely lose their way, and the Storm … Well, we all know what happens when Cam Smith doesn’t play.

Moral of the story? Don’t believe fullback is necessarily the most important position in the team. Clearly the ability of individual players matters – a lot. Personally, I feel the halves are the most instrumental positions, but whatever … Tomato, Taumata …

Should Bunnies fans be concerned?

It’s folly to get overly concerned at this point, but something’s not quite right. The absence of Isaac Luke has been documented and John Sutton is nowhere near the answer at dummy half, either. But something is still not right.

And Sam Burgess breaking his own media ban to deny rumours is a bit like the full support of the board line.

I’ve been wary ever since Burgess’ move to rugby was announced, on top of the hangover that seems to beset a team that has reached the Preliminary Final consecutively and failed both times. We then had the expose stories of unrest, and specifically Burgess-related.

Now, apparently, some players have issues with the coach! I take a fairly dim view of this, believing it is not for the players to engage in mutiny given they are paid good money to be professional. In the real world, employees either leave if they are unhappy, or they are ‘let go’ if they allow disaffection to allow them to produce a sub-standard performance.

But a clear sign that the warren is edgy comes through in the stats. How does (for example) George Burgess run 3 times in the 1st half for 13 metres, and Sam 8 runs for 59 metres? The second half improved immensely, but the game had been lost already at 0-22.

Completions are low … I could go on … It’s natural to ask why their mind is not on the job. I know the fans would like to know.

 

Sh*t just got real – the NRL loses it’s innocence

Somewhere in Sydney’s east, Greg Inglis has been saying “There but for the grace of God go I” and tossing rabbit feet over his left shoulder since Monday night. You might recall him being spear tackled three times within two weeks last season, firstly by Krisnan Inu, then Richie Fa’aoso – twice.

The obvious point to note about these tackles was that neither player was sent from the field for tackles that were potentially career ending, or worse. Not even Richie, who gave the referee a second look, just to make sure. And as Blocker Roach thundered at the time in response to Jared Warea-Hargreaves being very controversially sent off for a lot less, “Inglis has been dropped on his head three times and nothing happened.”

Any one of them could have caused the same type of damage inflicted upon the Knights’ young Alex McKinnon last night. They certainly looked worse in the sense that they were vertical in nature, yet the NRL was silent, simply because no serious injury was sustained.

Well, now the inevitable has happened, a distressing and devastating injury to McKinnon that looks no better 24hrs later, and is likely to see the end of a promising career, which is what the early diagnosis suggests. We can only hope that his future quality of life is not too severely impacted.

The combined weight of well over 300kg bearing downward on a 100+kg player who had been lifted and tipped forced him to make a decision he should never have had to make – take a punt he was being flipped (like so many others last year without suspensions), or go face, shoulder or neck first into the turf, possibly causing significant injury from that angle. His instinctive decision to try and curl up had to be made in a split second. He shouldn’t have had to make it.

The insensitivity that followed it, ranging from Storm players downplaying the incident and even placing some of the blame on McKinnon was child’s play compared to the sheer absurdity today where other commentators sought to blame the 10-metre rule or, and I kid you not, the outlawing of the cannonball tackle. Some are even complaining about the Melbourne player at the centre of the incident (who is likely to be emotionally devastated himself) being stood down, oblivious to the young man in intensive care with one less disk.

The NRL’s response to dangerous tackles has been insufficient for too long. They have procrastinated in the forlorn hope that it would never come to this. Its major shortcoming has been to not observe its duty of care to its full extent, and that might lead to significant legal developments. Accidents will happen, but when they do, the NRL must be able to say they did everything reasonably possible to avoid it. It’s difficult to say they have.

Outlawing a defender putting his hand between the ball-carriers legs and lifting is one thing, but failing to follow through with send offs and tough penalties for spear tackles and lifting tackles given the risk of spinal injury has only served to perpetuate this feature of the game. But as long as nobody was seriously hurt, everyone could go about their business …

No more.

The lack of disciplinary action on head contact (possibly because the NRL thought it had time) has now been leapfrogged by an incident serious enough to be a watershed moment for the NRL. Focussing only on the result and not the severity of an act will no longer wash. The McKinnon incident is impossible to downplay because of the circumstances on the night, and those that enabled it to happen.

How they respond will have repurcussions well into the future, and which are likely to include legal remedies. You might say the NRL’s innocence has been lost, and the real world, in the form of lawyers looking for some cash, is knocking at the door.

Management and duty of care need to be tightened, pronto. Sh*t just got real.

NRL Round 3 Rubdown

All the world is a stage, coach

The coaching fraternity was under greater siege than Steven Seagal even before Round 1 Began. Messrs Steve Price (Dragons), Anthony Griffin (Broncos) and Mick Potter (Tigers) were all dead men walking, and not because their delivery in interviews and at press conferences was remarkably similar to the Elliot Goblet-like Sean Penn.

They had been the stewards of woefully underperforming clubs in 2013, the knives were still embedded between their shoulder blades, and early season trial form suggested nothing had changed.

But enter Round 3, and their teams have irritatingly gone on to win most or all of their games so far, removing all three as fuel for the media life support system!

Not content to allow the issue of coaches’ job security disappear meekly into the night (thanks, Bill Pullman) and into the oblivion from whence a completely new story must be created (cue: NRL expansion and the draft … Dun dun dun – shoot me now), John Cartwright and Matt Elliot had nobly and unselfishly stepped up to the plate to fill the void.

Annoyingly, both the Titans and Warriors won away from home this weekend, so they’re out now too.

Best we go back to old faithful, Ricky Stuart …

The Tigers’ Prospects and their ‘Big 3’ Spine

A tough – no, mighty tough – and well-constructed win over the Rabbitohs has caused a few commentators to go a little frothy at the mouth about the Tigers’ prospects. Certainly, any time a team’s bravery in a hostile body contact sport is questioned there are going to be fireworks. The Tigers have shown signs that they have the mettle to compete, and beat, the biggest and best.

The Tigers have talent, and they are not ‘small’, as many seem to think. What they had been lacking was desire and resoluteness, which goes with the territory of not quite knowing who your coach is going to be. That issue has been resolved, and the Tigers would need to have a lobotomy to sack Potter in the middle of what could be an existential crisis. They really could turn out to be the 2014 version of the 2013 Sharks!

And who knew Aaron Woods had such mongrel? He looks like the pasty-haired technogeek who lives in a basement trying to hack into NASA. He sure put a rocket up Souths, even though he probably couldn’t calculate the trajectory of one. Then again, most people can’t, including the person to whom your current interlocutor is in the habit of referring via the implementation of the perpendicular pronoun.

By the by, have you noticed how well the Tigers’ version of the Storm’s Big 3 performed? The Melbourne blueprint is all over the game plans of Farah, Brooks and Tedesco. I’m excited to see how this relationship evolves over the season, and more than a little excited about their match-up with the Storm.

However, amongst all the hoopla, it might be useful to recall their first two games as we step back and take a calm, measured breath. Their very short season so far has included being pumped by the Dragons, then doing the same to the Titans, a lower-ladder team if ever I saw one. Before getting too excited, we have to keep an eye on whether they can reproduce Friday’s effort more than once a fortnight, and also how they respond to the inevitable losses. It’s not as easy as it sounds if the first 3 rounds are any indication.

Who are the favourites again?

Speaking of which, the failure of so many favourites over the first 3 rounds to help the punters out with a bit of spending money makes me wonder how the favourite/underdog distinction will be constructed henceforth. What is now classified as an upset?!

The more highly regarded teams have struggled early, and though some place the new rules at the heart of it, I can’t quite see it, personally. I prefer (as you know) to see the competition as fairly even, where the absence of any pivotal player brings a winning team back to the field. Not only that, but winning in such a competition is largely a function of attitude and preparation.

The Rabbitohs turned up on Friday as if their mere presence guaranteed a win. When it got tough, the mouths got going, and not a game plan was to be seen for miles. Knowing Madge, it is unlikely he would field a team without one, so the performance was one where the Bunnies completely lost their heads. Adam Reynolds, as one example, even forgot how to count, preferring a kick to using an overlap 20m from the Tigers’ line. It was a disaster, Inglis or no Inglis.

Apart from the Bunnies’ record now standing 1-from-3 for 2014, the really bad news for Round 4 is saved for the Raiders, who play them away.   

That being said, there is clearly more than the consecutive Preliminary Final letdown affecting the Bunnies … opponents know exactly how to put Sam Burgess off his game, and seem guaranteed to succeed.  

Doggies have Michael on the Lichaa

Lichaa Tiger has a better ring, but suffers from the dual factoids that he is not going to the Tigers, nor is his name pronounced as if containing a ‘k’. Alas, he’s been dropped anyway …

There are two sides to this:

      Either the Sharks deem Lichaa to not be good enough to play NRL, in which case, he has done the only sensible thing by moving to the Bulldogs on enormous money (so why the uproar?); or

      He is being dropped in an act of discontent bordering on bloody mindedness.

The message being sent is inconsistent with retaining Andrew Fifita in the NRL side. And if the very strong indications are true that Lichaa was offered NRL game time should he decide to stay, it heavily implies the Sharks management are content to sacrifice this season’s results. Yes, so offended are they that a young colt has decided to take a different path, that they are willing to hit the self-destruct button to prove a point. I just don’t know what that point is, though.

It’s certainly not giving him a reason to change his mind before the Round 13 deadline where contracts become official legal documents (yeah, describing them that way makes me chuckle too).

Referees and the rules – Penalty tries, Obstructions – Where’s Tony Archer?

The referees continued their near unified affront to common sense and decency over the weekend, but crucially for them, appear to have secured the prized $10,000 ‘blow up’ fine that keeps their end-of-year celebration kitty turning over. At this rate they’ll be throwing a bigger party than MC Hammer.

Eels Captain Jarryd Hayne was seething at his side’s loss after incompetent and inconsistent refereeing, and called them on it. It appears the NRL, in turn, will call his bank manager. Bias wasn’t the accusation, but then again, neither was Ricky Stuart’s fine early last year – and that was paid.

Next in line in coming weeks must surely be Des Hasler, who is a hair’s breath away from completely losing it, and even shorter odds of completely transforming into Mel Gibson. If he can manage to conduct his press conferences drunk, and in Aramaic while abusing certain sections of the community, he may well be a chance of blowing off steam without anyone understanding a damn word.

Now, I kind of want to hear from the referees post-match in the same way we do the players and coaches As some have suggested. And I also sort of don’t …

The innovation the game is really screaming out for is a Tuesday night press conference with Tony Archer, where he can clearly explain the weekend’s contentious refereeing decisions, and also articulate what the referees are trying to achieve in certain areas.

It might go something like this:

“So, Tony, why on earth wasn’t pat Richards awarded a penalty try on Friday? In your answer, please consider if the decision would have been different if the game were a Finals match, or a Grand Final …”

… “Dahhh, which game again?”

“So, Tony, in a ‘high ball’ situation when a defending team obstruct the chasing team by rushing into their path with zero intention to compete for the ball, is it, you know, like, a toss of the coin whether your referees blow a penalty or allow play to continue? In your answer, you may like to explain just how spectacular the obstructed players fall has to be (e.g. Jarrod Croker last night) in order to attract a penalty …”

… “Dahhh, let me get back to you on that …”

As it stands, their inability to send a message of any description makes me seriously question their fitness to operate Microsoft Outlook. Five striking reports from the Rabbitohs-Tigers match alone, with the first sin bin – for anything – occurring only within the final 10 minutes, simply has to make them wonder what they’re trying to achieve.

They must have a plan, right? Right?

A quick word on player access

I’m all for increasing player access – both to fans and media. The problem thus far has been the manner in which this access has been sought (I’m talking the media at this point).

The Hayne incident noted above highlights that access must be NRL-centric, not media-centric. The NRL must get this sorted out. Accosting a player immediately post an emotional loss full of controversial refereeing decisions is aimed purely at ratings, nothing more. The hope is that Jarryd will go off the hook with criticism, or that Tariq might drop the f-bomb again. It gives the media something to write about, and someone for the NRL to fine should the comments be intemperate.

Well, what do you expect in the heat of yesterday’s Manly-Parramatta match?

Where is the consideration for the context of the remarks, let alone what was actually said and not said? Where is the consideration also for the fact that most NRL players aren’t exactly Toastmaster-quality after-dinner speakers, and whose remarks are not always well structured?

What does the NRL actually want? This is disappointing. Referees do more each and every week to bring the game into disrepute. Players like Hayne do the opposite.

A Tale of Two Halves – by Jamie Soward-Dickens

It was the best of halves, it was the worst of halves, and I’m not talking about Peter, if you know what I mean. It was an act of off the cuff ball-playing wisdom (by me) in a sea of foolishness (by everybody else, mostly Doggies), it was an epoch … what does epoch mean? … I don’t know, but I’m incredulous just thinking about it. It was the start of the season, a season of light with Ivan at the helm to follow the Darkness (when Ivan was also at the helm, but I like to put the past behind me), and me and Pete steering the good ship Panthers in the spring of hope, even though it was autumn, before the winter that was impending, after the autumn, which was after the summer … something –  in short, I threw an awesome long ball and Matty kicked a goal from the sideline that I could have, but someone else has to contribute too, and the noisiest authorities in the grandstand behind insisted on Matty being the difference, but I for good or evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only, know the truth. Oh, woe, woe, woe …

Say what you like about Jamie Soward, who can put on a cliché clinic and talk frumpily in the 3rd person with the best of them, but the kid can play – and always could. What’s more, he owns a resilience that would put many bigger, so-called tougher men to shame. Throughout all the hurtful slings and arrows fired his way during his career – and continuing even now – he continues to come out the other side as match-winner with stoicism, skill and foresight.

So say what you like, but be ready to retract when he proves you wrong. And guess what, that’s beginning to happen … again. Some have no shame.

Congratulations (or not) to:

Channel 9 – who retain the no.1 chutzpah ranking with daylight second. Without a hint of irony, the upcoming Major League Baseball exhibition at the SCG was advertised as streaming live on GEM the following night during the delayed NRL match between last year’s Premiers, the Roosters, and a valiant Broncos.

In a unique twist to the whole charade, that particular NRL match will be hard to displace as match of the season.

In case anybody missed the above, Channel 9 made doubly sure of alienating fans by disclosing score of the Rabbitohs-Tigers match half-way into the delayed telecast into Queensland.

The NRL – who insist that, in 2014, the video referee should have to put up with blurred stop-frame replays in order to adjudicate tries, and not the super slo-mo technology that is readily available. Stopping on a frame can prove almost anything – if you can see past the blur.

The NRL (again!) – for scheduling the Cowboys-Warriors game so late that not only was the crowd small, but it was 11pm NZ-time. Fortunately, the Warriors were able to overcome a large body clock-effect to record a brave win against both time and the Cowboys.

The NRL (again, yes, again) – there seem to be a lot of very easily pleased fans and commentators out there. If you believe the hype, the small amount of time-off in the last five minutes of games is the biggest innovation since seat numbers on the Brookie hill. I would say it is even less innovative than Kylie Minogue lyrics.

It’s a band aid.

Watching the clock tick down until the kick is made, or 1m:20s, means, by definition, 1m:20s is lost. This is absurd, and the obvious amendment is to stop time once the try has been awarded, and restart it at kick-off. The conversion can easily be taken in a time-off period. It’s not like the ball is ‘live’ should the kick miss.

More to the point, it should apply for the entire game, along with other time-saving recommendations written over a year ago as an introduction to this blog.

Manly and the Roosters – the two Grand Finalists were able to produce sub-par performances, yet manage to remain composed enough to snatch victories right on full-time.

Parramatta – an enormous performance against one of the toughest opponents they will face all year. The Eels are 1-from-3, but their effort is 2-from-3. They are a far better team than the one thrashed by the Roosters. I haven’t given up on them, and today proved why. Nor should their fans.

Concussion

Can I slip it in? No, it’ll have to wait … it’ll be a good ‘un.

The NRL Round 2 Rubdown

It’s only Round 2 and the Dr is hopping mad. Ripping into management is a bore and a chore. Sometimes it’s just necessary, purely because leaders need to be held to a higher level of account. So when they get it wrong, then do it again, it’s go-time.

NRL, meet Channel 9 …

If the Round 1 shemozzle wasn’t enough, we begin Round 2 by scheduling games on the Sun, or, more specifically, the Gold Coast at 2pm, which is only mildly cooler. Here is yet another example in a long list of easily avoidable problems to match Round 1. Then we roll on into the perpetual argument about delayed NRL on free-to-air television. This time, however, there was a twist.

According to Channel 9′s Head of Sport, Steve Crawley, the network is quite prepared to broadcast a live Sunday afternoon game- if it’s a 4pm kick-off (so it can run into the 6pm news). Further, the NRL has stated in response that it is a “possibility, but we’d need to consider that, in the middle of the year, games would finish in the dark and may affect crowds for Sunday afternoon football”.

Hmm … Quite a few points immediately spring to mind as a result of this … what can we call it … gem? Time will possibly unveil even more ramifications, but for now:

– Given that fans were quite prepared to support the Thursday night season opener between the Bunnies and Roosters had it been played in the same sector of the galaxy in which both teams’ fans reside, and even as late as a 7pm kick-off, I would venture that ‘time’ is a confected problem at best. It’s simply not late. Throw a spag bol down the kids’ throats on the way home and they’re in bed by 8pm;

– Surely this whole exchange is a joke anyway. I know it’s not quite April 1st, but it simply has to be.

Crawley’s comment seemed to take the NRL by surprise as if they had never thought about this scheduling possibility, and therefore, by logical extension, certainly hadn’t raised it with the broadcaster. And it would appear this is the first time Channel 9 have offered this time slot. Is it actually possible? Well, there is no evidence to the contrary, and reams for the affirmative.

These are the two parties who just negotiated a billion dollar broadcast rights deal, correct?

Stunning.

– Can there be any doubt that the NRL is a mere pawn for Channel 9, with very little consideration from their end about the health of the sport? The NRL sells this as a partnership, but it is anything but, as we have seen repeatedly over the years, and as evidenced again in grotesque clarity even before the conclusion of Round 2, 2014.

To be clear, I have zero problem with Channel 9 seeking to make money, just as the NRL does, but there simply must be a better system of checks and balances from the NRL side – it’s their game after all, and 30 pieces of silver aren’t enhancing the experience of the fans, without whom there would be no broadcast deal.

It’s understandable that Channel 9 want to hypnotise NRL fans sufficiently to have them mindlessly hang around for the 6pm news (the entirety of which could have been gleaned from Twitter hours prior), but what about NRL fans? Anyone checked what they want? For a start, it’s not delayed telecasts …

That loss must burn? Meh …

The Knights are doing all the right things to make the Dr’s pre-season musings of 11th place a reality. Sure, it’s quite understandable that injuries have dealt them a devastating blow from which they will find it difficult to recover. And it doesn’t get any easier next week against the Storm, who have scraped home twice, but look primed to record a dominant win.

The real problem was watching some Knights players looking less than gutted about losing a game that was well within their grasp, against a Raiders team who are about as effective away from home as ET, and giving Bennett a 0-2 record for 2014. Expect to hear more about THAT. Actually, maybe not given that:

a) Apparently it’s the silent treatment that gets dished out in Newcastle these days;

b) Wayne Bennett isn’t a noted Toastmaster when it comes to talking about his team when they’re losing; and

c) if players leak anything, they will likely get the Chris Houston treatment.

There’s a lot going on under the hood at the Knights. If it isn’t injuries, the behaviour of Packer, Mason, or Gagai hinting at internal instability, it’s Tinkler and bank guarantees. I could be wrong, but alarm bells seem to be ringing.

Who says you can’t sell the top of a bubble? Watch the interchange …

Andrew Fifita has just accomplished a rare feat, and one which very few can claim to have emulated. Not even the best traders at Goldman Sachs can say they captured the top of a bubble, but big Andrew Fifita, despite his claims as “not being the brightest in school”, clearly has a horse sense equal to Mister Ed and Sarah Jessica Parker combined.

What he has done is convince the Bulldogs to pay him 850,000 a year, despite being more an emerging star than tried-and-tested, and just as the game hits a tipping point in player salaries in my opinion (In a positional sense).

That’s right, tipping point. Has anyone seen Jamie Buhrer conjure such magic late in the game such as he did against Souths on Friday? Has everyone been noticing how the smaller, more agile players are re-emerging as potent threats now that the game has sped up (even just a little)?

And don’t close your ears to the cacophony of players and commentators agitating for fewer interchanges. I wrote about this a year ago, and Paul Gallen is a well known and vocal proponent of it. Fitness and natural attrition are part of the fabric of rugby league, enabling players of all sizes the opportunity at glory, not the faux-NFL it seems to have strived to emulate in recent years.

That’s a game where fitness is optional and subordinate to sheer size, simply because the pace of play is so mind-numbingly slow. It’s not rugby league.

Expect the interchange rule to be amended soon (which could mean next year or the one after at NRL-pace), and for salaries to increasingly reflect not only utility value, but sheer speed. I would also expect a subtle drop in the average player weight to accommodate a higher workload and required fitness.

The upshot is that a far wider range of players need to be accommodated to suit a faster game, not just the spine of the team. Time to dust off the Beaver Menzies prototype. Never know, a year or two someone not wearing 1, 6, 7 or 9 might win a Dally M!

A blind eye to Obstructions

Speaking of NFL trends, Beau Champion has become somewhat of an expert in obstructing attacking players chasing through on the high ball and protecting his catcher. I only single him out because his first two matches this year were quite notable for the practice. The reality is that every team has players who speed into the path of chasers and non-ball carriers, then just stand there as if they’re whistling Dixie on a Sunday stroll. They don’t even seem to feign an attempt to catch the ball any more, and there’s so much wool in the heads of the pink clowns called referees that it’s child’s play to pull it over their eyes.

The rule for Obstruction in this case (Section 15 of the NRL rules under Misconduct) is now honoured in the breach rather than the observance, with referees oblivious to the whole charade.

The NRL is always slow to deal with trends such as this (where exhibits include cannonball and associated tackles, hands on the ball in the ruck and so on), and it was increasingly evident all the way through 2013. It’s time to put this one to bed – it’s not in the spirit of the game, and, well, it’s against the rules.

A blind eye to the head high – the subtle, implicit message

 

Hello sailor!

Hello sailor!

In a stunning display of incompetence, none of Gavin Badger, Brett Suttor or Chris Ward felt that Parramatta’s Darcy Lussick trying to reenact a Tower of London-style beheading of the Roosters’ Jared Warea-Hargreaves (JWH) was worthy of a send-off.

JWH Lussick 2Along with the fact it was high, intentional and peripheral (not head on), it not only looked appalling, but is was measurably worse than the tackle that earned JWH an early shower and five weeks on the sideline last year. Even more galling was the fact that he followed it up with an indenti-kit version of the JWH’s 2013 send off tackle immediately after.

I’m a stickler for careless and/or intentional head contact. I don’t find particularly brave because the ball-carrier is somewhat defenceless, and it comes on top of a week where concussion was THE major story dominating the news feed. How can the referees allow this one through to the keeper? It was atrocious, whoever did it, and whomever they did it to. The accompanying pictures show the contact and result quite clearly.photo

The subtle messages from this incident are quite simple to decipher:

1. It matters – quite a lot – who you are – Certain players have a reputation with the judiciary that precedes them, and in many cases it’s largely historical.

JWH is one of those, and it treated far differently as a result. He (or a player with a similar reputation) is punished more severely for identical transgressions, and anyone who fouls him (or, once again, a similar player) is treated far more leniently. Last year, spear tackles were dealt with less harshly than the JWH tackle that had him sent off against Manly, and similar/worse tackles followed without a send-off or similar penalty.

2. It matters – a lot – what the outcome is – had JWH stayed down on the ground (injured or otherwise) after either tackle on Saturday night, especially the first, the chances of Lussick being sent off would have risen dramatically. In a period where the long term effects of head contact is topical to the point of being viral, it is the time now, more than ever, to punish the act, not just the consequences.

It just may well be that the consequences aren’t evident for years. Isn’t that what the column inches and TV shows have been about?

As an update on the grading, it is laughable that a Grade 4 Reckless tackle of the type we saw on Saturday is open to a 4-week ban if it is contested and won.

It should have been categorised as Intentional. The penalty (in weeks) is not proportional to the offence in any way, and the pictures tell you why. The last one highlights how Lussick obtained the extra leverage required to snap JWH’s head back so hard. Tiger Woods doesn’t have that much snap in his golf swing!

The madness of crowds … and crowds

The large-scale frothing of the mouth and navel gazing following the Round 1 crowds debacle turned out to be the insane ramblings of those who think their dog is a cat because they both have four legs.

As mentioned last week, it was the NRL brass that got it irretrievably wrong, and that crowd numbers were not a reflection of fans’ disinterest.

Fast forward to Round 2 and we’re averaging a healthier 17,938 against Round 1′s 15,823 (And tonight should also be in the 15-20k region). There’s certainly room to improve, but if commentators and punters can refrain from pure extrapolation, I’m sure we’d all be better off.

Gareth Widdop, I humbly apologise

Having tarred Gareth Widdop with the same Brush as Adam Blair, no matter what happens from this point on, I can admit to being horribly wrong.

Widdop was, or so I thought, a player elevated to a greater station and reputation than he deserved on the back of the Storm’s ‘Big 3′. This isn’t an unusual result of their brilliance, amd they make a lot of average journeymen look like world beaters.

I called Adam Blair on it from day one. However, Gareth Widdop has shown so much skill, poise and direction in just two NRL matches that my head is spinning. Given what he now means to the Dragons, he must surely be the single best buy in the NRL. If he’s not, he’s in the semi finals!

NRL Oscars

The nominations for best actor are flowing in already. We still have one game left to play in Round 2, and the standout performers are currently:

Anthony Minichiello – for his role alongside Robert de Niro and Robin Williams in Awakenings

David ‘Wolfman’ Williams – for his role in the touching biography of Rod Wishart – the man run down by the other slowest guy on the field.

Congratulations gentlemen, I’m sure you will be joined by other worthy nominees.

NRL Round 1 Report Card

Apologies in advance! Real life got in the way a bit this weekend, so I’ll just have to blurt this all out before Round 2 is underway.

Round 1 of the 2014 NRL season was a long time coming, and when it finally arrived it showcased once again the remarkable speed, strength and agility of the modern-day footballer. The size of players and physicality of the game continues to amaze me.

However, it demonstrated just as evidently that rugby league as a code still has a lot of work to do to engage those directly and indirectly involved in the game.

A number of issues/points of interest emerged from the round.

Scheduling, Broadcasting and Crowds

Who, exactly, negotiated the broadcast deal? Was there any discussion at all of what was best for the game? Did the NRL retain any power over its own product all? The new administration are quite content to reap the rewards of the billion dollar 5-year arrangement, but they might like to distance themselves from the fine print.

It’s safe to say that Round 1 was a poor one for NRL management. If I were to be brutally honest, it was a bit of a disaster. It would be best for them to admit it and move forward, or we’re in for a truly long season.

Now, I quite liked the Thursday night football for the first month last year. After a long off-season, a liberal immersion in the great game was a terrific way to clear the cobwebs before normal programming resumed. As it turned out, it was more to do with crushing Channel 10’s The Game Plan than anything else, and now for some strange reason we have a solitary Thursday night game in 2014 as a seson opening … ahem … extravaganza. The mind boggles. At least, mine does, like jelly mostly.

Why would a season-opening match between what are essentially two eastern suburbs clubs, and two heavyweight Premiership contenders at that, be:

a) played on the only Thursday designated for NRL in 2014? Is there anything particularly special about a Thursday? Clearly not – it’s the only one;

b) played almost an hour away from their fan bases;

c) be played so late at 8pm when, combined with significant distance and travel time, families would prefer to just watch it on the box?;

There is no question that Allianz Stadium would have been bursting at its 40,000 capacity seams, much like the A-League on Saturday night, which featured a Sydney derby that doubled as a top 4 clash deep into the season (Round 22). This was a poor decision, and an entirely and obviously preventable one. Another 13,000 bums on seats and an incalculable increase in the atmosphere on the night would have been the right way to begin NRL 2014. It’s plain common sense.

This was just the first of seven – seven – Sydney-based games for the weekend. For all the blather about growing the game in the season launch and release of the 2013 annual report, which was basking in a healthy profit (heavily influenced by the broadcast deal cash infusion to my eye), taking the game far and wide seems to have escaped NRL management. It should be benchmark policy for every opening round.

Now, this is a bit like City-Country-gate from last year, another preventable calamity, and it’s difficult to escape the notion that the NRL has been schooled again in the art of logistics. How can we forget the unavailability of ANZ Stadium last year because the NRL hadn’t secured the ground for the Semi Finals? This year it was the Reds rugby team with first dibs on Suncorp Stadium. Then the A-League on Sunday. The low hanging fruit I love to refer to continues to fall to the ground.

I will bet there were ashen faces at League Central when this was pointed out, but there needn’t have been – it’s not like they didn’t have a working internet connection and many months to collaborate with the stadium. How hard could it have been to organise a ‘rolling carnval’ start to the season, with a game in each of Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. Now that’s forward thinking!

Anyway, a  real mistake was made regarding Suncorp and the Broncos, but the response was worse. Rather than schedule the Broncos match in Brisbane, it was instead jammed into ANZ Stadium with half the crowd it would have drawn up north. As all golfers know, it’s best to take your medicine after a mistake rather than compound it. So, with the Fox-allocated Saturday and Monday seemingly out of the question (for Channel 9, mostly), the least worst option would have been to use the only Thursday match of the year to pack out Suncorp at a family-friendly time of 6:30-7pm, and still give Channel 9 its precious Brisbane ratings uplift. We could then roll into Sydney and Melbourne crowning the weekend on Monday night back in Sydney. I mean, there is no particular reason that long time rival Roosters and Rabbitohs need to open the season.

I may be off base here, but my view will always be to look after the best interests of the game. In turn, the broadcaster will benefit from a better, more organised product. There is a middle ground where the latter still makes an enormous amount of money televising matches that almost sell themselves (and advertising space), and the former still has a say in how its own competition is run. Unfortunately, we know that isn’t the case, as Todd Greenberg implied when saying “Thursday night was a selection from the broadcasters who have paid handsomely for the commercial right and they chose to place the game then.”

The irony is that we, the NRL and Channel 9 could have had it all.

There are two further related issues here. First, playing at ANZ Stadium is a commercial reality that enables cash-strapped clubs to pay the bills. I get that, even if I don’t personally warm to the stadium myself (Allianz and Suncorp are unsurpassed from a viewing standpoint). The problem was the scheduling for the opening week of the season, which is supposed to be a showcase event and whip the crowd into a frenzy. If anyone wants to argue the season’s draw makes it difficult, then the draw is the problem, but in this case, the three games in question – Rabbitohs-Roosters, Bulldogs-Broncos and Manly-Storm – all have return matches. All it would have required is to switch the home game. It’s not “significantly complex”, as the NRL said, at all.

Second, the idea that crowds have been poor is numerically correct, but as always when there are a lot of moving parts, it’s complicated. The NRL could have ensured this debate didn’t have the oxygen been given it by simply being a little shrewder with their schedule. It’s opening round, for goodness’ sake, the exact time when fans will part with a bit of coin, just for the experience and atmosphere. So it’s not ticket pricing per se that I would point to when analysing low crowd numbers for Round 1, 2014, but it does remain an urgent issue that concerns me, and I attempted an entirely workable, revenue-positive solution almost a year ago. You can add to that solution variable pricing for the quality of the opposition, night of the week, and so on.

As strange as it must sound, I am a supporter of David Smith and what he’s trying to achieve, and realise that a lot of work still needs to be done to cut through decades of mismanagement. But I can’t in all good conscience say the weekend was a stunning success. It was sloppy. Too much chat about ‘members and fans’ without the eye on detail to back it up.

The Channel 9 ‘Cross-Sell’

I know I railed against the inequity of the Dally M voting process as favouring the spine at the expense of the rest of the team, but I didn’t expect the Channel 9 Man of the Match voting panel to rush to the other end of the spectrum and ignore Greg Inglis at the expense of Sam Burgess. I can’t help but think they play favourites with their own ‘talent’. Some will say I’m mad, others will nod and say ‘spot on’.

Sam Burgess had a superb game, there’s no doubt. However, like 2013, Greg Inglis was the difference between the two teams, pure and simple, and not by a small amount. He scored three tries himself, and the manner in which he did so highlighted his strength, speed and vision. Not many would have – could have – scored the first two of his tries, and not many achieve 10 tackle-breaks in a match, either.

As impressive as Souths were on Thursday night, without Inglis they were just another team.

Felix Baumgartner-cam

New technology can really provide useful insights and information. Then again, it can provide nothing of the sort. Channel 9’s aerial camera added nothing to the experience except to have many question how, if the players resembled ants because of its height, it was of any use at all. It wasn’t, and needs to be retired so that we can return to the action that is already shown from and elevated angle sufficient to show us what we need to see.

The Similarity

It was hard to escape the feeling that we’d seen the season opener before. Well, we had – last year’s season opener. Not only did the match take a similar path with the Roosters scoring early only to be over run and convincingly beaten by the Rabbitohs, but the score was almost identical, as was the lopsided penalty count and possession statistics.

The Bunnies are once again being crowned as the March premiers with a performance as awesome as … well, last year’s Round 1. Their size didn’t seem to be impacted by the new rules increasing the pace of the game. Indeed, it was the (once again hesitant) Roosters on the back foot from a rolling barrage of red and green tanks.

The Roosters were given an abrupt lesson last year of what it took to be a Top 4 team, which they quite obviously learned as they moved through the season and became Premiers. They have been given the exact same lesson in 2014, and it will be interesting to see how they respond. Having already won a Premiership, the inevitable let down will need to be carefully managed, particularly with the incessant talk of back-to-back titles.

The similar flavour carried through the remaining games, highlighted by the Eels once again trouncing the Warriors, and the Sharks and Titans repeating another close match.

The Surprise

Ok, ok, it’s only Round 1, and Parramatta had a similar win last year at this point.

But … having shrewdly picked them to lift themselves above the wooden spoon this year, I’m now not comfortable having picked them for 14th. They looked a little too good for that on the weekend, and have a size and pace advantage, particularly in the backline, to trouble many teams.

They are a definite watch-this-space team, even if if I don’t see them playing Finals footy in Brad Arthur’s first year.

Referees

Round 1 saw an average 16 penalties per game. If this is an indication of their approach this year, then shoot me now. The median penalty count was 17 per match, highlighting that there was a heavy skew toward the pedantry of high penalty counts, and reducing those games as a specatcle.

Yet when it came to the crunch and they had an opportunity to really stamp their authority, they crumbled. Reynolds should have been sin-binned against the Roosters, Cameron Smith should have been on report for a high shot toward the end of the match that looked worse than the one that earned a Melbourne player a report minutes earlier (can’t remember who now!)

One of my first ever blogs made the point that referees were actually a danger to the progress of the game, and their flighty, inconsistent performances right up until last weekend don’t disabuse me of this notion.

Whatever you think of Bill Harrigan is, well, usually balanced out by what he thinks of himself … but whatever you think of him, he was the best referee I can remember because he understood that the flow of the game is crucial. A faster game also reduces foul play – there just isn’t enough time! So when he criticises the referees’ Round 1 effort and suggests they needn’t blow the whistle for minor offences that don’t affect the flow of the next play, I say ‘amen’.

It’s too early to judge whether these clowns have learned the most basic rules, but if they need a primer, I just happen to have a resource to assist them!

Player movement and contracts

It saddens me somewhat to see players announce they will be playing elsewhere next season before the current season has already kicked off. First we had Sam Burgess, whose role as a ball-playing forward appears to have been given to two players more suited to the role – John Sutton and Ben T’eo. Where this leaves him with regard to an English rugby backline position without experience is anybody’s guess, though I’ll stick to the idea that he is far better suited to no.8.

Along with team mate Michael Lichaa, Andrew Fifita is the latest pre-season signing, and both are going to the Bulldogs, Fifita for four years. If the Bulldogs have any brains they will have inserted a clause that financially dissuades Andrew from leaving early, as Sam Burgess has done – also for money.

The standard contract does nothing of the sort, but should as a matter of priority. I have a bee in my bonnet about reneging on contracts. In fact, all club contracts should understand by now how disruptive an unanticipated change to the roster can be, especially when that playing group has been carefully planned for years in advance.

Sportsmanship

Anyone who watched the enthralling chase between Reece Robinson and his shadow Michael Morgan on Saturday night would have seen a gesture that epitomises what rugby league (and sport in general) is really about.

Both gave each other a friendly tap of congratulation, Morgan to Robinson for running the length of the field to score a try, and Robinson to Morgan in recognition of his superb chase.

It sure beats seeing a classless try-scorer dumping the ball on their opponents head.

 

Who’s Got the Luck of the Draw? Quantifying Early Season Draw Strength

As the new season begins, we are all well aware of the importance of a good start for our team. It can be a long way back with little margin for error if momentum isn’t established early. A little buffer of wins goes a long way to determining the Top 8 in September, particularly given representative disruptions. Most of it is up the team, to be sure, but the actual draw is a live player in the equation.

The idea of attributing some sort of value to the draw an individual team faces isn’t new. The problem has always been where subjective opinion leaves the building and objectivity takes over. But on what basis?

The race to last year’s Semi Finals led me to make some sort of rough estimation based on the opposition’s place on the ladder, and I’ll repeat it here for the first two months leading up to Easter.

If you saw that blog last year, you will know that the Warriors had the world at their feet six weeks prior to the Finals, yet came up short. Their draw strength was consistently easier than the other contenders (yes I’m aware NRL isn’t easy, this is measuring relatively), but pressure is a funny thing. They failed to take advantage of their good fortune, missing the Top 8 by the barest of margins. You would also know that I wrote the Raiders off from the outset of that analysis, even though they were still in the Top 8 at the time, purely based on their closing draw.

The best laid plans are tossed aside in sports when a team doesn’t rise to the challenge or perform to their known ability, so it’s not an exact science, and I would never treat it that way. We are dealing with human beings, after all, and groups of them at that!

Then there are the unquantifiables – things such as weather, injuries, suspensions, internal relationships, pressure relating to form and media scrutiny, personal and even family issues that can seriously affect performance.

What about home ground advantage and the benefit it provides to a team? Is it measurable? Sure, in a rough way. Punters use just this type of analysis to skew probabilities in their favour. A useful resource in this sense is The Punters Guide to the 2014 NRL Season. If you are so inclined, there is a wealth of statistics in there.

However, home ground advantage is itself elusive to capture exactly. For instance, are the Tigers equally better at home when playing at Leichhardt, Campbelltown or Allianz Stadium? I would argue that of course they aren’t. Are they better at Leichhart the week after playing the Roosters, or at Allianz after playing the Dragons the week before? Who knows? There are different grades of home ground advantage, so best not to get too caught up in precision that doesn’t exist.

I’m more interested in the bigger picture and ramifications. For example, this NRL season begins with more pressure on a handful of coaches than I can remember for a long time. They’re always under pressure, but I’ll bet you the newspaper articles outlining the job security of certain coaches will begin in earnest the very moment the Bulldogs/Broncos and Dragons/Tigers matches end.

Mick Potter may well have a guardian angel on his shoulder in this case, for the Tigers’ draw in the first two months is very kind (relatively). This could be what he, and the team, need in order to reduce the intense pressure on their results and allow them to settle into the season.

On the other hand, making a mess of the first two months despite a favourable draw likely means, well …you get the picture.

So who has the luck of the draw in the two months leading up to Easter?Draw

Using the same method as last year, but using the 2013 Minor Premiership ladder as the basis, the above chart shows the Cowboys in Barrier 1. If they were going to finally pull their collective finger out and utilise their potential, they couldnt have dreamed of a better start to the season. Paul Green would be quietly delighted, I’m sure.

Once again, though, the Raiders have drawn the short straw, similar to the close of last year’s season. Unless they can overcome this, expect journalists and fans to have Ricky Stuart in their crosshairs. In the Raiders’ case, they couldn’t have expected a worse opening to the season!

But this is all raw data with no mitigation for home & Away matches. It’s purely based on the most recent example of quality of opposition that we we can use. To adjust for this shortcoming, I’ve made a simple assumption that teams are about +\- 20% better or worse when playing at Home or Away. We’ve all done it, and intuitively we understand the difference made playing at home. Some may argue with the %, but as mentioned its best to get the vibe. It’s never going to be exact.

once we make the adjustment, we see that the Tigers do indeed have something to cheer. With four games each at Home and Away, and a draw that pits them against only two of the top sides from last year (Rabbitohs and Sea Eagles), they are a clear 2nd on the ‘table of fortune’.

The Sea Eagles barely budge in the middle of the table because, despite six out of eight Home games (hello?), four of them are against Top 8 teams.

At the back of the pack, the Raiders have still ben smashed by the draw. Five Top 8 teams, and just three Home matches.
Draw with HA Adj

A lot will change in subsequent months as representative duties draw down on club depth, but as far as a helping hand goes, it favours the Cowboys, Tigers, Titans, Warriors and last year’s Top 4 quite nicely.

Let’s see where we are at Easter!