The NRL Round 5 Rubdown

Sportsmanship in the face of competition is one of those niceties most of us have been taught to observe and cherish since childhood, so let’s begin there today. It wasn’t that long ago I felt it necessary to highlight this (From the Round 1 Rubdown):

“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.”

There is nothing better than giving your all in any contest, sporting or otherwise, realising you’ve done your absolute best, and being magnanimous in either victory or defeat. The professional age has reduced these types of gestures to the exception rather than the rule, so this dual and unsolicited gesture was wonderful to see.

HodgesI was therefore horrified to see the accompanying picture of Justin Hodges completely ignoring Shris Sandow post-match.

Failure to shake hands with an opponent, whatever the result or level of disappointment, is something we teach our kids to be the height of bad sportsmanship and churlishness (unless, of course, you do the fake shake and immediately move the hand up to scratch the head – that’s just David Brent-like comedic genius). There was a half-hearted ex post attempt to downplay it as some sort of planned joke between the two, but it didn’t look that way, and where on earth did they find the time in such a frantic game to choreograph this extremely non-funny piece of slapstick?

They didn’t. It embarrassed us all.

Elliot boned home

Another unsavoury incident was today’s sacking of Warriors coach Matt Elliot.

The context is important here, because it is highly unusual for a coach to be shown the door so early in the season. It is usually a sign of far deeper issues than performance. Craig Coleman didn’t make it past the trials in 2003, Ivan Henjak was boned by the Broncos pre-season in 2011, and the Cowboys let Murray Hurst go in Round 3, 2002 (thanks, David Middleton!).

The first two pre-season examples of early exits are far more preferable to the very early rounds because they are at least mature, conscious decisions made away from NRL competition by a proactive leadership team.

On the other hand, being shown the door almost immediately the season has begun is not only a slur on a coach’s ability and personability, but highlights management dysfunction. It heavily implies they have not fostered the right workplace environment, have not established a hierarchy of control and accountability, and have not insisted upon respect for the coach. It is pretty clear Matt Elliot didn’t enjoy the type of non-negotiable support other coaches enjoy (possibly because he wasn’t the first choice), and that creates a fairly shaky base.

The idea that Elliot resigned also doesn’t stand up to scrutiny and circumstances, but if he did, I wouldn’t mind seeing the resignation letter …

The Warriors are an habitually underperforming club given the talent pool at their disposal, yet go through coaches like the Italians go through governments. Apart from Ivan Cleary (or Daniel Anderson a little further back), none has been able to harness the power under the hood over a medium to long term period, and even then it was a tough road. At some point where you just have to question the club’s culture and work ethic. It’s all very convenient for management to delegate that to the coach, while abrogating all responsibility for it themsleves. Ironic (and I don’tmean Tony Iro).

There is too much natural ability not to succeed even moderately. That clearly isn’t the problem.

The Shoe doesn’t quite Fifita

A week ago poor old Andrew Fifita was lashing out at the gods in true rugby league style, and now we’re all a bit wiser as to why. There’s nothing quite like an old-fashioned spray, and if you can take down as many people, codes, or even ideas, in collateral damage, then that’s world class. Fifita didn’t miss the game of rugby league or the fans, when really, the focus of his attention might have been better directed out Bankstown way.

Given what we now know, which still isn’t quite everything I’m sure (but possibly more Fifita’s management), there is still a pungent aroma from this deal or no deal. If I were conspiratorial, and I like to think I can tin foil-it-up with the best of them, I would put this entire drama down to Dessie Hasler using this absurdly high offer for Fifita (and I called him a genius for selling the top of a bubble as a result) as a ruse, merely to fire up his under performing pack. Once the rubbery ducky numbers were posted, and looked nothing like what the Fifita camp had imagined, then they could all go their separate ways, and the Bulldogs would have been ignited – and they have been, funnily enough. The problem with this is that there were other offers on the table for the itinerant grass-sign writer, so now we’re in the legal realm for redress (apparently, maybe). Perhaps I’ve been reading too much Clive Cussler, but stranger things have happened each week this year in the NRL!

A more likely scenario, in my opinion, appears to be that the Bulldogs were up to their ears organising 3rd party payments in order to induce Andrew Fifita to switch clubs, knowing full well they couldn’t accommodate such a large yearly number ($850,000) within the salary cap when they still have to pay 24 other players. But they should also have known they couldn’t be seen anywhere near a 3rd party agreement. Here’s the NRL’s stance on this:

Unlimited – Players can earn unlimited amounts from corporate sponsors who are not associated with the club and who do not use the game’s intellectual property (no club logos, jerseys or emblems) provided these are pre-approved. These agreements may not be negotiated by the club as an incentive for a player to sign a contract, nor can they be guaranteed by the club.

(What has my life come to when I start going to -> About -> Reference Centre??)

Yet, here’s Fairfax media:

If Fifita rejected more than $700,000 a season to stay at Cronulla, it goes to reason that he expected significantly more from the Bulldogs, but Fairfax Media was told that the full contract tabled to him included payments of just $335,000 under the salary cap and $250,000 in third party deals for 2015.

How can that be? It’s abundantly clear that that the $250,000 worth of 3rd party payments were part of the overall package offered to Fifita. And who were these payments supposed to come from?

And a $335,000 salary? The NRL wouldn’t register that in a fit, because it’s not a true reflection of what he is worth. Sure, it was sailing pretty close to April 1st, but it does look a tad low. No wonder there’s been a breakdown! How could the Fifita camp be led to believe the contract was salary heavy, not 3rd party heavy? I still think Fifita’s management have failed miserably, but that’s another subject altogether.

And what were the other payments? You know, that trifling, iddy biddy $265,000-odd gap to make up the full monte?

How do we get around this type of 3rd party obfuscation?

I would favour listing all player 3rd party deals (as opposed to salaries). After all, if an organisation wants to sponsor a sportsperson, presumably they want visibility. Isn’t that why they do it? Publicity -> positive association -> increased sales? A crazy idea, I know. Unless the entire marketing model has changed, of course, to anonymous donations …

The best part about listing 3rd party payments is that full public knowledge would make the entire payment process transparent. Not only would the selfless souls paying the money be rewarded with good karma and cheap, high visibility advertising, but it would be awfully difficult to renege. Everyone would know! That’s called reputational risk, and not a good look. We would then avoid the problem of players like Darius Boyd and Jarryd Hayne not getting paid (though one of those is slightly amusing).

Who didn’t pay them? We still don’t know. But we should.

Lifting tackles (and reputational risk)

I’ve already written about the habits the NRL has allowed to infiltrate the game. And bad habits are hard to break. When player safety is a consideration, it’s best not to give bad habits oxygen.

So, I look at the dangerous lifting tackles that have followed on from the Alex McKinnon incident and I’m dumbfounded in a sense (that players continue to use them), but understand these habits need to be broken, and that doesn’t happen immediately.

The NRL should have, but didn’t, confront this issue head on, but now they simply have to act. Here are a couple of views of Sam Burgess being driven head first into the SCG turf on Saturday night.

SB2Not only did the referees seem to completely miss it and require prodding from the hot tub referee to even blow a penalty, but there was no report.

Unfortunately, it gets worse. Today the tackle was assigned a Grade 1 Dangerous Throw. A one week suspension, in other words. Grade 1.

SB1Sam, or anyone else put into that position, can count themselves lucky if they aren’t seriously hurt (and we’ve seen that end of the spectrum), yet the Dragons’ Jack De Bellin effectively gets a slap on the wrist. Braith Anasta is facing a two week suspension for half a shoulder charge – hardly a potential career-ending tackle, but deemed Grade 2 nonetheless.

The immediate problem is that the NRL isn’t learning from a tragedy. No time like the present, as they say.

The longer term problem is what it means for young kids wanting (or being allowed) to play rugby league. I can’t emphasise how serious this is.

Changing Interchange – an old idea, but a good one

I was very interested to read this article today recommending reducing interchanges in order to address the impact of collisions, to bring smaller, faster players and workhorses back into the contest, and to once again bring back endurance and natural attrition back into the game.

Ok, not all of those were in the article, but they were in the Dr’s from early last year! January 2013 to be precise, and pretty close to the first blog ever on this site.

Here’s the money from the bottom of that blog:

“But back to the interchange mentioned above (or as I like to say, a blue ribbon example of the law of unintended consequences). In this case, the idea that more interchange = less injury has turned out to be quite the opposite. As players become increasingly used as defensive or attacking weapons in shorter bursts, their size has predictably increased. Endurance and natural attrition play a much reduced role in the modern game, to its detriment. Collisions amongst fresher, larger players are phenomenal, so not only are injuries more prevalent, but players’ shelf lives are arguably shortened too.”

Is it too early to begin talking seriously about Origin?

If you read the papers, which suggest the Blues team is pretty much picked, then no, it’s not too early! And besides, every player who ‘s had a good game is seemingly in line for a Blue or Maroon jumper already too.

Over the next week or two we’ll run through the Game 3, 2013 NSW team and endeavour to make improvements for the upcoming 2014 series. I was going to add ‘if any’, but not even I could keep a straight face. Clearly, some changes will be required to wrest the shield back south, and I’m open to ideas. What is not up for discussion is picking a left side player to play right side in the Origin crucible. Players are now specialists, especially centres and wingers, so no matter how good they are (on one side), it doesn’t follow that they are just as effective on the other.

I’m going to begin with Aaron Woods, who played Game 3, but was in no way assured of a position this year. In fact, his performances last year invited some criticism. This is something that cannot be levelled at him so far in 2014. Quite simply, his performances have been stellar – inspired and tough.

Two of the Tigers’ great wins so far this year have been against the fearsome forward packs of South Sydney and Manly, and neither were able to subdue him. He has without doubt put his hand up to be counted for Origin. Not just to be selected, but to make an impact.


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