The NRL Round 12 Rubdown – and the Origin of Bad Ideas

The NRL Round 12 Rubdown – The Origin of Bad Ideas

The NRL lurched aimlessly into its 2nd week of Origin-weakened matches, and despite fans being able to enjoy six games this week as opposed to last week’s five, the return of some Origin players didn’t quite raise the quality.

In short, it was a one-way slaughterhouse. No game was really close at any stage, and the half-time margins ranged from 10-18 points with an average of 15 points.

The Panthers/Eels promised so much, yet in the end, it was a bit like Hugh Hefner struggling to find his little blue pill. It was a massive let-down, and not just the game itself where the Eels were comprehensively pumped. The sorer point, to my bug-like eyes anyway, was the fact that the NRL failed to breathe life into somewhat of a rarity – the Panthers and Eels clashing in the context of a Top 4 showdown. Given the theatre of the battle for Sydney’s west that we’ve heard so much about in recent years, you’d have thought the NRL would have been all over this like Phil Mickelson with a good stock tip. Anyway, that was dealt with in the last blog, so let’s just say the whole event, from pre-match to the match itself (unfortunately), required the jaws of life by the end just to scrape by. Disappointing.

The Roosters/Raiders seemed to be background noise, the Roosters doing what they needed to do before having a second-half-siesta. Daniel Tupou accepted two gift tries that even Darius Boyd would have scored, but his second half effort Folau-ing through the air underscored why he was selected for Origin in the first place.

Melbourne was typical Melbourne sans Big 3 – stoic, but ineffective. The Cowboys were typical Cowboys with Thurston in the side – entertaining and highly effective. Once again, the result was never in doubt. If I’m the Storm, this is what I’m concerned about:

For and Against Comparison

While the Storm sit on 14 points and two wins from top spot, they sit 9th by virtue of a Bye and their For & Against. Contrast that performance to their conquerors on Saturday night. The Cowboys are effectively on 14 points themselves because they are yet to have the gift 2 points provided by the Bye, but have a net positive For & Against of 71 points – ie. In reality, they are well within the Top 8 when you adjust for the Bye.

The Broncos invoked memories of their first meeting with Manly back in 1988 – completely dominating and outplaying the Sea Eagles, who looked listless and directionless. The absence of chief playmaker Daly Cherry Evans was no doubt a catalyst for their self destruction, but when you see Matt Gillett outrun a jogging Jorge Taufua over the length of the field, you really want to have a look under the hood to see what’s going on … Further, you have to wonder about his readiness for Origin …

The Warriors comfortably beat the Knights, who showed that their internal tribulations have depleted their resolve. The Knights fail to finish halves well, and this is where they were beaten again this weekend. They are out of the habit of hanging in and closing out halves, and it will take some time to rediscover making the right choices under pressure and fatigue (see Mullen’s chip kick as one example). But 2014 doesn’t quite have that time left for them – goodnight.

1st and 2nd half performance

Nor is time on the Dragons’ side. As you can see from the chart below, the early 18-0 lead was good by the Rabbitohs’ standards, and was unlikely to be threatened at any stage given the way both teams perform in the 2nd half (which you can also see in the table above). It feels strange to think back just a few years when the shoe was completely on the opposite foot for these two teams.

Rabbitohs v Dragons For and Against Comparison

The Origin of Bad Ideas – When to play Origin

Given the relative lack of competition over Round 12, the NRL needs to appreciate is that State of Origin doesn’t just weaken the rounds prior to each Origin game where representatives are unavailable for their clubs. It weakens the next round too, though the media emphasis has been on the former.

We’ve now had one of each in Rounds 11 and 12. And, not coincidentally, the average 2wk margin per match is the highest it has been all year (the last two rounds averaging a margin of 20.3 points) :

Rolling 2 week average margin

Ideas to mitigate the disruption caused by Origin were highlighted around this point last year. One of those ideas, moving Origin to Monday night, remains my favourite.

Why? Well ask yourself this: forgetting about turnaround times or any other variable, if Monday Night Football were Wednesday Night Football, would it be any more or less popular as a viewing slot? I don’t think it would make any difference whatsoever given both are school nights, so to speak.

Yet, we still seem to be discussing the living-dead ideas such as a 3-week NRL hiatus to accommodate Origin, when it is Origin that feeds off the NRL, not the reverse. This model has been popularised by some media and players without, it seems, too much thought, and seems to have only one realistic positive – it removes the free ride enjoyed by teams without Origin representatives (like the Panthers and Warriors this year).

On the flipside, it is outweighed by several negatives.

NRL CEO David Smith is correct, in my view, in slaying this zombie corpse, and this article reads like a long face palm, unwittingly ruling out the idea of shutting down the NRL for three consecutive matches for the very reasons it is championed:

THE battered and bruised players want the NRL shut down during State of Origin, but league boss Dave Smith has categorically ruled out a change to the controversial format.

Melbourne and NSW Blues forward Ryan Hoffman along with Storm and Queensland skipper Cameron Smith agree it is time to play the series as three stand-alone fixtures over three consecutive weeks.

Hoffman pointed to the big injury list from last week’s Origin opener in Brisbane as proof of the increasing toll the series takes on its combatants.”

Remind me again why that suggests playing the same match the very week after such carnage, and then again the week after that, is a great idea? If player welfare is the concern, this isn’t the way to achieve it. It will almost certainly mean that prominent players either miss the 2nd and/or 3rd match given the short recovery period, or play with a needle, risking further damage that will ultimately affect their club team. This is definitely a case of being careful what you wish for.

Some say it is negligent not to employ this model because of player welfare concerns. As outlined above, that is an internally inconsistent argument. If we are going to talk about negligence and player welfare, I would prefer to begin with dangerous tackles.

Second, is a mid-season holiday for players a great idea? I can only imagine it invites a significant possibility of even more disreputable headlines than we already generate in this little subset of the sporting cosmos. I don’t see how that could be avoided.

Third, a month between club games (because that’s what it would be) is too much for the fans who, as much as they enjoy State of Origin, just want to watch their team, and whose team might not have any Origin representatives anyway. It would become a bit of a dead period as a result, not to mention the idea of giving other sports free reign over that period.

But the grand daddy of all considerations, as always, is the money aspect. The broadcast deal stitched together by the NRL and its network affiliates doesn’t countenance the idea of even less rugby league (read: less prime-time advertising space), and there is no way they would consider a dead period such as this. Single matches separated by weeks? Not going to happen.

The good thing is, it doesn’t need to, which is why the Monday night Origin has appeal. Read the linked article above, but in short, it goes like this:

  • State of Origin is played fortnightly on a Monday;
  • It shortens the Origin-affected period to five weeks (from Game 1 through Game 3);
  • Origin players are available the weekend prior (no Monday Night Football) to the following Monday night’s Origin – ie. more than a full week of rest and recovery for Origin);
  • State of Origin on Monday night crowns a full weekend of NRL (without Origin representatives), and with a guaranteed audience that only origin can bring (which cannot be said of normal Monday Night Football);
  • Barring injury, Origin players are available for their club teams the next weekend (no Friday Night Football), which can be spread over the Saturday and Sunday, and over times that can be shared by Fox and Channel 9. As a last resort, and an olive branch of compromise, Friday Night Football could be retained if the children running the show cannot engage themselves in adult fashion (it would still be better than backing up on Friday or Saturday after a Wednesday night game).

The Origin of Bad Ideas 2 – Where to play State of Origin

As much as I can praise the NRL’s idea of closing the door to the consecutive weekend State of Origin model, I can’t quite bring myself to say the same about its periodic forays into Melbourne.

We now have to live with next year’s second match being played at the MCG, as outlined by the NRL yesterday, but it doesn’t mean it’s a good decision.

CEO David Smith noted that:

“… anyone who saw last week’s Origin game will realise Melbourne has secured the best sporting event in Australia…”

Yes, well, except the fans of the teams actually playing the match, who will now be unable to attend.

I had this quaint notion that State of Origin was a NSW vs Queensland event, and that it therefore made complete sense to play the games in those States where the passion is highest, and where the game is more meaningful.

Has the NRL perhaps forgotten the roots of State of Origin, forged in the furnace of resentment over the many years where Queensland players were denied the opportunity to represent their State, but instead don a Sky Blue jersey to effectively give a country team a good hiding?

The sentiment that began in 1980 seems to have been pushed to the side because the MCG can hold more people and generate more ticketing revenue. It wasn’t that long ago that Jeff Kennett was public enemy no.1 for ring-fencing the best sporting events in the land, and now the NRL gives it away?

Forget the fact that the MCG is so large as to render the live viewing experience a complete anti-climax (been there, done that), but this short-term decision undermines the very fabric of State of Origin. Over time it will hasten its demise as a special event between two passionate States. Who knows, maybe it can be diluted even further by taking it to another country to showcase a game they cannot participate in! This is why we have international football, and why that should be nurtured independently.

If the NRL truly believe State of Origin is the best sporting product Australia has to offer, it won’t turn its back on the fans by pimping it to other interstate or international venues.

The Origin of Bad Ideas – Who to play Origin?

One piece of advice I have always remembered is the idea of first, do no harm. For my sins, that was listening to the droll monotones of the Governor of the Reserve Bank in the context of monetary policy, but it applies to every major decision when you think about it.

So, when surveying the casualty ward arising from the first State of Origin, and the forced team changes as a result, I lean back on this motto as a first principle of selection – that is, don’t weaken more positions than you need to, or you undermine the whole structure of the team.

Taking arguably the best fullback in the game at present (Jarryd Hayne) and shunting him into right centre?

Madness.

Taking the best centre in the game (Greg Inglis) and pushing him into the unfamiliar territory of 5/8?

Madness.

I have a bee in my bonnet as it is about picking left side players to play right side in important matches, let alone different positions altogether. Jarryd Hayne is more than a fullback. He is a ball-playing runner who almost plays like an extra 5/8 and centre combined. His thrusts into the backline cannot be underestimated, and it was precisely that involvement that led to a NSW victory last week. And for those advocating he play wing, can you give any less involvement? Give yourself an uppercut.

Further, his defence isn’t exactly his strength, and he is not the person to be marking Greg Inglis (if Queensland keep a grip on their sanity and leave him in the centres). So why weaken his contribution, particularly in attack, while bringing in an inferior fullback? That’s two positions under a cloud of uncertainty and unnecessary.

Still, NSW have a right side centre and winger to replace, which is no mean feat. I think we can rule out Josh Dugan given the Laurie Daley culture washing over the Blues this year, and we can rule in Will Hopoate. As poor as his game was on Friday, Daley’s loyalty will see him on that right side. The question is where.

To me, the best combination will be derived from three players – two to start, the other being either a squad member or bench player. And those three are Hopoate, Mansour and Wighton. Mansour is solid, tough, busy, tenacious and takes great pride in his performance. Wighton is big, fast, skilful, and unlucky not to have been chosen already.

The only way Beau Scott should be selected at right centre, as some have proposed, is if NSW actually want to lose and go to a decider in Queensland. He is an impeccable defender, but lacks the pace required of a centre, particularly marking noted speedsters with good fends. His contribution inside Josh Morris was instrumental in keeping the Queensland left had side somewhat contained, and he was involved also in the final match-saving tackle. He needs to play exactly the same role in Game 2.

As for the Queenslanders, there is no need to weaken 5/8 by taking the best in the business (Johnathan Thurston) out of the position. The production line of top-quality halves in Queensland is such that they have a ready-made replacement for Cooper Cronk and DCE – and it’s not Thurston.

The Broncos’ Ben Hunt has demonstrated he has the ball-playing skills and precocious talent to hold his own in the Origin arena, and would fit seamlessly into the team, without getting in the way of Thurston. I’ve watched him closely, and  think it’s a no-brainer.

This leaves Inglis at his destructive best in the centres, while making space at the back for Anthony Milford. The Queensland team, in this sense, is hardly weakened at all. But they can weaken it if they want …

What would all NSW fans want to see for Game 2?

Without question, the NSW would be a stronger, more intimidating presence were Jamie Lyon to finally relent on his representative retirement and play. In many ways, I would call it NSW’s Alfie Langer moment, and with a similar effect on the outcome of the match.

After such a long time, you wonder what could possibly persuade him to accept a personal invitation from the NSW coach. I’m sure everyone recalls why he made his decision in the first place. So, does he have more to lose than gain? Or does he leave a positive legacy of being the right man at the right time?

He is a prince of centres, and a player Queensland would genuinely fear – fast, furious, and a never-say-die attitude, not to mention an unparalleled ability to put his winger into space. He single-handedly launched the Wolfman’s career!

Off you go Laurie, I’m sure you know where he lives …

 

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “The NRL Round 12 Rubdown – and the Origin of Bad Ideas

  1. Agree that something needs to be done about the greatly diminished NRL rounds either side of Origin matches. I think there needs to be a step further than your suggested Monday night scenario. Play Origin as a Friday / Saturday / Sunday / Monday game supplemented by interesting matches such as a Pacific Island test, Women’s Origin, junior Origin etc across the rest of the weekend. Surely there are enough creative and innovative souls involved in the Channel Nine cave that they can create some content to satisfy their hunger for money. Maybe Nine could even create some off-field content, although their recent track record of locally produced content has been quite poor.

    Split the Origins a few weeks apart as per the current schedule but don’t turn the rounds into the low quality football we’ve suffered through over the past fortnight. Dispose of byes to accommodate the shortened season.

    If Channel Nine / Fox are the stumbling blocks then it’s time for the NRL to be a bit more bullish at the negotiation table the next time the television rights are up. Alternatively, the players could strike for Origin next year……. imagine that!

    • Hey Tunza, looks like I’ve managed to lose my entire reply, so let’s have another go.

      Do you mean having standalone Origins, supplemented by Pacific Tests and other matches? If so, I think that might fall into the broadcasting bucket, meaning there wouldn’t be enough football to satisfy the broadcasters.

      Regarding the Bye, I’m more irritates by the 2pts given to the non-playing team than I am about the Bye itself. The whole idea of the Origin-led focus on player welfare necessarily extends to the NRL too. So, a rest for a week or two doesn’t bother me at all, but maybe the Bye weekend can occur prior and subsequent to the Origin series, with the first encompassing those matches you mention and City-Country, the second having an international flavour?

      A strike would be interesting, but it’s hard to see players giving up a $30k payday …

      Rgds,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s