Tracking how well NRL teams win – and lose

Looking at the Round 16 NRL draw, I couldn’t help but think the Tigers were the weekly special, certain to rack up a 13+ victory over the Raiders on Saturday night.

They need to, right? They are well behind where they need to be in their Points Differential (-33). So, even though they have equal competition points to the Eels and Storm, they are still behind them by virtue of that inferior differential. Not that those two teams are doing well in this respect either, I should add. It could literally mean the difference between making, or missing, the Top 8 for the Tigers, and needs urgent attention.

The scene is set for them to post a big win against a club in turmoil, and who are playing the sort of uninspired football that validates their 3rd-last position. And if they can’t do it against the Raiders, one wonders who they can do it to.

But how likely is it? Of their seven wins this year, only two have been 13+ (a 30-point margin over the Titans in Round 2 and a 16-point win against Manly in Round 5 – both quite some time ago). The rest have averaged 5.8 points, or a median of just 3pts.

(I like the median with smaller data sets because it clips off the outliers and gives us a central tendency).

Below is the median win margin of all teams over the 2014 so far:Median Win

Hmm, maybe I’d better look deeper into this before splashing out on a 13+ ticket for this match – if I even end up going there at all, as now seems unlikely! With a median of 9pts, the Tigers and 13+ results don’t seem to fall into the expected category.

As for the Raiders, their average losing margin this year is 16.8pts, with a median of 13pts, but the last five matches are somewhat better (loss average 13pts and median 11pts – with a win thrown in). So far, the Tigers 13+ isn’t quite stacking up as I’d hoped, but all is not lost yet.

Over this period, the Tigers have had three clear losses to superior teams, but only beat the Sharks by 2pts and the Knights by 3pts. Yes, the bottom two teams.

Let’s add in for good measure the record at the poorly supported Campbelltown Stadium – a 12pt win against the Cowboys, who can’t even get interested south of the border, and a narrow loss to the Broncos.

Uggh … Tigers 13+ just doesn’t stack up for risk/reward. Even if the Tigers win by 30pts tonight, I won’t be upset about not having put on the 13+ bet. It leaves a little more to chance than I would like, and I’m not that lucky! And you’re not getting paid to take the risk (13+ at 2’s? Nah ah).

Maybe we can salvage something though. The two matches played at Campbelltown were relatively low-scoring – 20pts and 30pts respectively. With the Over/Under line at around 42-44 (depending on agency), perhaps there’s an angle. The median total points of all Tigers matches this year is 42pts, and 46pts for the Raiders. So, the Over/Under looks right from an historical numbers sense, but still a little high given form and venue.

Ranking the Win & Loss Margins

Parramatta’s collection of losses (the worst in the NRL) initially motivated me to look at the margins by which teams typically win and lose, but hadn’t done anything until prompted by this Tigers match and a desire to see if having a lash was worth it.

The Eels’ loss against the Tigers in Round 7 was bad enough considering their dominance that day, but following it up with a thumping at the hands of the Cowboys was a fortnight that (I thought at the time) set their Finals hopes back and may come back to haunt them. Then again, subsequent losses have been equally as bad! How bad?

Check out the following chart, highlighting just how poorly the Eels have performed when losing matches. It’s very unlike what you’d expect from a team clinging to 8th spot.Median Loss

Even if the Eels have the attack worthy of finalists, they don’t have the defence at this point. So, while I’d personally like to see some of their champ(Hayne) best in September, I’m not betting on it.

You can lump the Tigers into that category as well. In both cases, it doesn’t auger well for Finals football against the current Top 6, who demonstrate far greater resolve when behind on the scoreboard. Cultivating that sort of attitude becomes a habit, and teams can’t draw upon it when needed if they don’t have it.

The surprise packet in the chart above is clearly the enigmatic Cowboys. A median loss of just 4.5pts (and an average of just over 8pts)? Really? Well, onsider that five of their losses have been within a 1-5pt range. Throw in losses of 8pts and 12pts, and the only big (Origin-affected) loss was the 30pt drubbing by the Raiders. As far as loss records go, that’s pretty impressive. And it’s made me rethink their match against the Rabbitohs too!


NRL Round 11 Rubdown meets Pre-Origin Lube-up

The Broncos and the Urban Sombrero … er, Salary Cap

SombreroI’m pretty late to this, so of course I’ll lead with it at short notice in my flippant, yet serious, yet flippant way!

I’m stunned that teams can get this so wrong. It is a simple spreadsheet entry. It’s also easily recordable on a napkin. The only conclusion I can possibly arrive at is that it is an intentional and cynical breach.

The ability to be underhanded when it comes to 3rd party payments is almost infinite, but the fact is that clubs cannot guarantee them, and therefore they should be made public (what sponsor doesn’t want publicity?). I covered it in the Round 5 Rubdown in the context of the Bulldogs offering Andrew Fifita a contract that was heavily overweight with 3rd party payments. The rules say (underlines mine):

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.

Sounds fairly straight forward to me, and I’m still scratching my head as to why the Bulldogs have not been investigated for this.

As one journalist told me, clubs can deliver on 3rd party payments, but it is a grey area. It’s not grey to me – if a club pays the money, it’s a salary cap event.

Looking forward to a few more investigative stories on this topic in coming days.

Monday Night … Foot …Ball ….

Sorry … nodded off there …

Even in a truncated abomination of a week, Round 11 of the NRL had more than enough soap opera and controversy. It also further highlighted the flawed logic in weakening the NRL in the middle of the season, simultaneously reducing the quality of matches that are actually played. So not only do we get less football, we get less for our money in each game. Enough people are onto this now to refrain from flogging a dead horse – again – and besides, it’s been said here before anyway.

But as an example of what NRL fans are being asked to endure, the Sharks vs Rabbitohs scored an 11 on a scale of 1-10 on the Soporific Scale on Monday night. The only thing saving it was that the soccer international was even worse, and not by a small margin. Some of the footwork by the Socceroos in front of goal would have had the Spaniards thinking the match was Australia’s Funniest Home Videos, not to mention making me feel better about my insipid dribbling. Not being able to beat a second string South Africa at home was a fairly pedestrian effort, but at least they scored a solitary point, which can’t be said of the gummy Sharks.

I’m sure I heard an audible sigh of relief from Laurie Daley, however, suddenly feeling more relaxed about not giving the Bunnies halves a chance at Origin. His halves selections of Hodkinson (no ‘g’ people) and Josh Reynolds will have to deal with a more even forward battle in State of Origin that will test their creativity and resolve, but are likely to surprise many people on Wednesday night.

The Rabbitohs halves against the Sharks, on the other hand, didn’t execute well or provide the type of direction and spark required of an Origin pairing. Offered the chance of taking apart a depleted Sharks outfit (the media definition of those who lose, despite the victors also being ‘depleted’), the Rabbitohs halves looked like they’d have trouble organising a Ronnie Coote in a brothel.

Reynolds made the solitary run, rendering him almost useless in attack other than as a pure distributor (which the opposition likes – a lot). The NRL average for Half Back Runs is 4.8 per match, and Adam Reynolds’ average is 4 (the last 6 weeks being 3), so the hand isn’t exactly being thrust skyward for Origin duty. And ole Johnny Sutton, despite being well above the NRL average for 5/8 Runs, which I love to see, is off the pace too.

Quite frankly, the game was embarrassingly poor, and almost like watching a reserve grade side play Amco Cup many years ago. This is what planning around State of Origin is delivering us.

State of Concussion

Andrew Webster wrote an interesting article overnight about the respective trainers for NSW and Queensland being under a different type of pressure to the players – the pressure to announce concussion, even if it harms their team’s chances.

Love yer work, Ronnie!

Love yer work, Ronnie!

As Andrew rightly notes, 15 minutes can decide a series, let alone a game, so there is the temptation for the cougar, Ronnie Palmer (NSW) and his Queensland counterpart (Troy Thompson) to look the other way tomorrow night if a key player cops a knock. That’s not to say they will, but the latter has been implicated in the use of smelling salts last year. Then again, go back 5 years, and you’d probably struggle to name a trainer who hadn’t used them.

Here’s the thing that the article doesn’t conclude, but I think needs to be discussed …

If the incidence of concussion is so great in the super-charged arena of State of Origin (which it is given the way bodies are thrust into action, and I’m not sure Dallas Johnson ever finished a game on the right side of right way up), and given the fact that no longer will concussed players be tolerated on the field, does it not make sense to have an extended bench for such matches? No increase in interchanges mind you, just an increase in the available players to cover the possibility of concussion depleting a team of player numbers, and to reduce the temptation for trainers as noted above.

We all saw what appalling refereeing did to the 2nd Origin match last year, and effectively handing the game to the Queenslanders after 25 minutes. The last thing we want to see is a team lose half to all of its bench due to concussion. The teams have 19 men – use them.

What’s with Klemmer and feet?

I wouldn’t be surprised if David Klemmer has a foot fetish. They seem to follow him and hunt him down, and while I’d prefer mine in a lacy high-heel, all evidence points to the fact that David likes the hairy variety covered in studded leather. That didn’t come out right …

David Klemmer 'on the burst'

David Klemmer ‘on the burst’

If it’s not planting a kiss on Billy Slater’s boots, he’s now trying to make Frank Paul Nuisala do the same with his. His ungainly and inexplicable barge into the Roosters’ line on Friday night was worthy of at least a week on the sideline. There are some things that just aren’t done in rugby league. Given that squirrel grips have made an almighty comeback, you’d be correct in asking exactly what is not allowed! Eye gouging is one. Kicks to the face are another.

Earlier on, Klemmer had sparked a melee by hitting Jared Warea-Hargreaves in the chops with the type of tackle that had JWH suspended last year. The game was tough and engrossing, even if lacking a bit of panache (dare I say ‘depleted again?), and the physicality added to the drama. At the same time, the NRL can’t be sending people off and not charging others for the same offence.

For Roosters fans, though, they should be thanking David Klemmer for waking up the JWH beast. Up until his manhood was challenged by Klemmer, he had the appearance so far in 2014 of having just fallen out of bed. This could be a turning point.

The Kasiano Bodyslam

It’s all seems a bit anti-Bulldogs, doesn’t it? It’s unintentional, I assure you.

I’ve mentioned the Cumberland throw, or use of the leg in tackles before. It’s a type of tackle I’ve detested for a long time because of the possibility of serious injury. You won’t see it often, like the McKinnon injury, but when it happens, well, you get the picture.

The very same JWH who was clobbered by Klemmer on Friday was finished off by Kasiano when his head hit the ground as fast as I can remember any other when thrown over the supporting fulcrum of Kasiano’s leg. I’m sure he didn’t mean for injury to occur, but I don’t like the leg being used as a fulcrum in a tackle, even with a single defender. It accelerates the ball carrier with centrifugal force toward the ground. But using it with two or more defenders is a recipe for disaster. Remember what a fulcrum actually is – a way of increasing force by using a support. Does there need to be a broken leg for the NRL to outlaw a completely unnecessary tackle?

Cut Price D-D-Dragons

I had to laugh at this article which led with the header The News Came Quickly for Dragons Coach Steve Price

Which part of the end came quickly?

This has been a saga from Round 1 2013. And even though Price’s contract was extended to cover 2014 on Anzac Day that year, it was clear that it was only buying time for a 2015 coach to be found. That’s what the club’s option on his services for 2015 is all about. It’s an option that was undervalued, as it is in Rugby League all the time.

In the financial world, you pay to buy an option because it has value – in this case, a put option (right to sell) on Steve Price. Was Steve Price paid for granting that option? Doubt he even thought to ask. All of us have put options on our houses – that’s what the insurance premium is – it’s not free!

Anyway, the heat was on from Round 1 again, and only early victories kept him in the job this long. Powerful forces were aligned against him from Day 1, which must be an awful environment in which to work. So must an environment of incompetent recruitment. Does the Dragons management just sit in corners counting chromosomes and staring at walls or something? Whatever management does, it doesn’t seem to have a forward-looking element at all, and then they have the hide to blame their unsupported coach, a man who supported so many players through the years, only to have them turn their back on him (I wrote that prior to the reported chatter on The Back Page, which I can’t wait to watch a bit later).

The Dragons need a good dose of discipline!

The Dragons need a good dose of discipline!

I’m pretty unimpressed with the idea of player power amassing behind a coach (unless he’s a right so-and-so), particularly when they are paid to play. If you look at the structure of rugby league matches, it is fairly difficult to discern one game plan from another. There are player targets and instructions around aggression in certain matches to be sure, but completing sets, playing for territory with a good kicking game, all the way through dummy half settlers and identical block plays are observable in all teams. Where Steve Price has failed is not so much in his tactical nous, but in his ability to motivate the team, a subject dabbled in previously with respect to Matt Elliot.

Given the impediments he has faced, it’s hard to know whether he’s a good coach or not. What a disgrace.

Interesting Stats for Round 11

The Knights a nd Wayne Bennett’s future (or folly) will have to wait given the time and length of this Rubdown already, so let’s just finish with a few tidbits:

  • Missed tackles – What a week for defence! 6 of the 10 teams playing Round 11 congregated in the 3.1% to 5.2% range for Missed Tackle Percentage. That’s abnormally low, and the Raiders missed only 7.6% into the bargain. The Bulldogs (9.1%) and the Titans and Cowboys (just over 10%) rounded out a pretty solid defensive week.
  • The Warriors’ Missed Tackle % of only 3.6% was by far their best performance, contrasting with a prior average of 8.2%
  • The Warriors’ Possession was up almost 10 percentage points on their average to 57.2%
  • How much did the Cowboys miss their origin stars? Well, they recorded their lowest Metres reading all season of 1127m (well down on a prior average of 1417m). They’ve only had a metres deficit twice this season, and been flogged both times. The Cowboys’ 3 prior matches were all victories averaging a positive Net Metres of 357m. Round 11 was negative 494m, and a 1188m turnaround from last week indicates they struggle more than most without Origin players available.
  • The Tigers finally recorded a match where their Metres were roughly shared. It only took 11 rounds, but the result was within what you’d expect from them.Tigers Scatter
  • How influential are the Titans halves, Kelly and Sezer? You’d expect the answer to be ‘quite a lot’ given their running stats. Their game is built around it. Half Runs

Their absence has been a massive disruption, and their tumble out of the Top 8 is no surprise (it was less than 2 weeks ago where I pointed out they were within 2 weeks of dipping out of the Top 8).They have given up Metres in 3 consecutive games now (at an average rate of 429m), and predictably lost the points battle as well (by an average 15 points).

Half Back runs have plummeted from an average 11.3 per match to 2 in the last 2 weeks. And 5/8 Runs have dropped from an average 6.5 to 1.5 in that time. See what I mean?

  • The Raiders followed 2 weeks of giving up 54 points to the opposition by then recording 2 consecutive weeks of 54% possession! But they only won one of those games. They’ll 54% and more on Saturday against the Roosters.
  • Thanks to the Bye, it was the first week in the last 5 that the Knights’ For & Against hasn’t deteriorated!

Breaking down NRL scoring patterns – where does your team score, or fade?

Right, I promised you punks a short blog breaking each team’s scoring patterns into 20-minute segments, and what better way to do it than to squeeze it in between dinner and the kick-off of Friday Night Football.

ZoolanderAs always with someone as full of it as the Dr, there will be a quick digression prior to the content I promised. The reason is that it is partly a follow-on from yesterday’s analysis, and partly because it has to do with tonight’s game, which I shall call the Zoolander Cup come to think of it. Both sides have lost their regular left sides as Origin takes its toll and muddies the tipping waters. The Roosters are more affected I think – the loss of Cordner (injury), Jennings and Tupou probably trumps a half and Josh Morris. Still, both teams might have as much trouble going left as poor young Derek himself, meaning the odds are with a 0-12 result (not sure which way, though).

But recall the Net metres Difference explained yesterday. Large differentials usually dictate the result of the game, and while the Roosters have made a habit of winning with a lower percentage of ball and Metres, it was mostly last year. Here is the average over the first 10 rounds.

Average Metres per Match to Rd 10

Clearly, even with an Origin-weakened team, the Bulldogs, with an almost imtact forward pack, will be hard to beat. Based on 2014 performances, the averages suggest they will accumulate 200 metres more than the Roosters. The Roosters have one the single match this season from this position, while the Bulldogs have not lost one.

Add to this their ability to Offloads, whivh gives them even more of an advantage than they already enjoy in terms of Sets (37 to 34) and Completions (77% to 71%, more or less). Think of it this way: on top of the 29 Sets, on average, the Bulldogs complete, they’re getting an extra tackle in nearly half of them.


Breakin’ the Game Down

it was no surprise to the Dr (nor to anyone eles, probably) that the Knights couldn’t put the Sea Eagles away last week. Why? Because Manly’s record in the final 20 minutes of a match in terms of net points scored is one of the best, while the Knights’ record is one of the worst. If any team was going to run them down, it was Manly.

Check it out:


There’s an awful lot of predictive information in there, and you can see the Knights’ 2nd half fade-outs in sharp relief. The Raiders aren’t much better, nor are the usual suspects. The Storm have a pretty poor middle-40, the Cowboys do their finest work in the first 60, while the Tigers need to be in front by that time if they are to win. Knock yourself out …

As far as tonight’s game goes, here it is in a neat little table, suggesting a faster start in general by the Roosters, but the Bulldogs methodically taking over from there. You can’t really conclude this in a disrupted match like this … or can you?Roosters v Bulldogs

I might add to this after flicking on the box now, but if you want to see when your team scores points (vis0a0vis the opposition, or are interested in using the information for a flutter, it’s extremely useful!


The Bulldogs’ concussion fine, it’s adequacy, and why they’ll appeal

The NRL announced yesterday that it has fined the Bulldogs (a possible) $20,000 under the new concussion rules (half is suspended). Is that a suitable amount? And will the Bulldogs appeal as they are hinting?

First of all, the NRL is to be praised for taking the issue of concussion seriously. In fact, it has shown enough concern to have formulated an entire policy for the recognition and treatment of it (see here for more). Advances in science and technology have tilted the balance of risks in favour of pre-emptive action, even if some of the linkages are unclear at this point.

There are many reasons why the NRL has been active in this area, which centre around the links between head trauma and future brain dysfunction suggested by (admittedly) foreign research, and is very much a nod toward risk management and long term damage mitigation.

Of course, not every contingency can’t be planned for. For example, while some concussions are quite obvious, even to those sitting in the bleachers, some concussions don’t present symptoms for up to 24 to 48 hours. How a sideline test can pick up on this type of injury is anyone’s guess. Well, actually, it’s not – it can’t. This is precisely why the NRL needs to be so strict in enforcing this rule.

It’s also a reason, by the way, why a mandatory sit-out-period is not advisable. All concussions are different, meaning recovery times are different – it could be hours, or several weeks depending on the knock and the individual). This is why we have further testing to assess when full recovery has been made, and only then should a player be allowed to train and compete again. The only mandatory rule I would support at this point is at least one week off subsequent to consecutive concussions (eg. Liam Fulton and Joel Edwards so far this year).

The short history of the rule has been fairly impressive, and many of those not returning to play any further part in the match (13 of 27) would more than likely have been pushed back onto the field in years gone by.

The enforcement of the rule is the important point here, and it must have a strong deterrent as it’s centrepiece. Now, that might also entail a suite of options, all the way from fines, tiered fines for repeat offences, deregistration of medical staff, and loss of competition points (the actual thing past coaches and staff have desired to protect by sending players back onto the field).

Have the NRL achieved this with what appears to be a very light $10,000 fine (with the same to be paid upon another breach)? It’s unfortunate that the only conclusion to that question at his point is no. The good news is that it’s early days and the policy can be strengthened, and the very first thing to be done is to remove the idea of suspending a fine of this nature. That’s ludicrous.

Consider that the fine the Bulldogs are (initially) being asked to pay is the equivalent of that payable for the relatively innocuous charge of criticising a referee’s performance with a little too much vigour. That doesn’t make sense. If this issue is so serious, it needs a far harsher penalty structure.

If the $10,000 was all the Bulldogs were likely to pay, then they would be well advised to take the medicine, keep their traps shut, and do much better next time. But there’s the rub – it’s not all they are likely to pay.

This particular fine applies to an incident late in the match against the Sharks where Josh Jackson’s head knock was inadequately assessed under the NRL concussion policy guidelines. It’s there on video. There’s no disputing it, really. There was no test of five key signs. And the fact it happened so late in the match is more damning than excusable.

The James Graham concussion test?

The James Graham concussion test?

But the sight of James Graham floating about with the pixies against Melbourne after repeated heavy knocks was noticed by everybody except the Bulldogs coaching staff and trainers, and for that they are likely to be found in breach of the guidelines once again. This means the suspended sentence will have to be paid, along with (I presume) the new fine, which I would expect to be $20,000 straight up at a minimum. If the first fine is suspended for a first offence, surely a larger fine might be in order for a repeated offence so quickly?

Instead of $10,000 being deposited into the NRL’s Christmas party fund, it’s going to be more like four times that in my opinion, if not more (if the NRL wants to send a message to clubs, especially repeat offenders who aren’t taking the rules seriously, to get on board).

The Bulldogs are therefore likely to roll the dice and argue abstruse points of the law and attempt to cast reasonable doubt on the process, the level to which the guidelines were adhered to and so on. In other words, use the burden of proof to their advantage (though I don’t see it being successful).

Questions still remain, however, for the operation of the policy.

Why are we seeing this catch-up in the please explain notices? Should these concussion reports not be delivered immediately post-match, and any further investigation be similarly swift?

And why is there not an independent doctor (whether NRL-administered, local hospital staff or other accredited person) present to remove all suspicion from the club and it’s medical staff?

At the end of the day, the spirit of the concussion guidelines is player safety, and cynical attempts to sidestep them not only increase the risk of injury to the player, but to the game itself.

How You Doin? Updating Your Team’s Draw Strength

An earlier (pre season) blog on the subject of each team’s draw strength sought to highlight who had the best chance of getting off to a good start in season 2014.

Using last year’s Minor Premiership results and making some allowance for Home and Away matches, it looked like this:Draw Strength 1st 8 rounds adj

Now that we’re one sixth of the way through the 2014 draw, how is it looking? More importantly, given the surprises that have marked the early rounds and the odd look of the NRL ladder, how does the next group of games look?

The Cowboys are the notable failure so far on this metric. They haven’t even left Queensland, and won’t until Round 6, yet have won just the solitary game. They’re off to a slower start than the 40 year old virgin, and that’s with a fantastic draw. I likened their Auckland 9s success to teh US Masters par 3 tournament, but didn’t think they’d fall out of contention this quickly. The only positive thing to say is that there is still 20 games to go … there’s time to resurrect this abomination of a start.

Of course, based on any metric at all, favourable draw or not, the Bunnies have stunk up the joint, and are beginning to resemble the North Sydney Bears and the 2007 Dragons all in one. The former couldn’t win finals matches and were boring with boring jerseys (yes, I choose my wine based on the label), and the latter began to drop off the face of the earth after failing in two consecutive Preliminary Finals. What you will see below won’t give their fans any cheer whatsoever!

The Dragons and Bulldogs have managed to overcome what appeared to be a fairly tough draw for the first two months of the season, though it must be said, of that eight week span, the Dragons’ first half was monumentally easier than what they are about to face in the next four weeks. Put it this way, if they are on top of the table after the Roosters match in Round 8, I’ll do a lap of Coogee beach in my birthday suit! The Bulldogs’ performance is far more meritorious, and for that matter, so is that of the Titans.

Using the same approach to measuring draw strength, here is how the adjusted period from Round 5 through 8 looks:Draw Strength Rounds 5 to 8 adj

As if the Melbourne Storm needed a good run, right? Along with the Sea Eagles, they have been the best performing of last year’s Top 4, and now both appear to have a rails run into Anzac Day. At the other end of teh spectrum, the Dragons (as noted) and Bulldogs will find it tough to maintain their positions on the ladder, as will the Broncos.

But here’s the thing – the 2014 form guide is so different to last year’s, even the latter half ot the season, that it makes sense to recalculate the strength of draws basd on this year’s form. Looking at it this way, the next four weeks looks like this:

Draw Strength Rounds 5 to 8 2014 form adj

If you thought the Rabbitohs were up against it, check out their draw! It’s the most difficult of any team for the next month, much of it due to having three of their four games away from home, but also in recognition of the form of their upcoming opponents. Sitting 13th now might not be getting a whole lot better in a hurry.

The Warriors didn’t take full advantage of their early draw (surprise, surprise(, and now face a difficult task to tread water if 2014 form continues across the NRL field.

The Titans have done what was asked of them in the first four rounds, and if they can remain in the Top 8 after Round 8, then they are well on the way to securing a finals spot (Origin period notwithstanding).

The bolter here could be the Panthers. Sitting mid-pack and faced with a relatively kind draw (it’s never easy, it’s NRL after all!), it’s not inconceivable that these pokie-playing mountain men will be a Top 4 proposition, and won’t that set the cat amongst the media pigeons. Phil Gould might even go to a game!

When all is said and done, though, I’d expect Manly to be leading after Round 8 from the Storm and Roosters, with a remaining Top 8 that no one would have picked pre-season.

After the bloodletting, some lessons need to be learned

This blog wasn’t supposed to happen, so it won’t be long. I was hoping to get stuck into something more like a concussion roadmap, or at least an examination of the progress of the new policy (hint: it has more hairs on it than a barber’s shop floor).

Or a quick discussion of recent contract announcements (and dis-announcements!) and what they imply (hint: 3rd party)

Or maybe even just settle into the weekend and limber up for another Rubdown, where the issues to be discussed in the media in two weeks time are always to be found (check the brouhaha about to erupt with kick obstructions …).

Instead, I’ve been waylaid having just watched the Sterlo program. Now, I usually enjoy it immensely. Maybe because they dress seriously, and take the game even more seriously. It’s not the Cambridge debates, more the put-your-feet-up rugby league version of pub chat before you’ve hit the cans (the Footy Show being the ‘after’). And even though they won’t part with any of the data used to compile infographics because … because … well, I truly don’t know, national security, perhaps, there is usually enough sensible discussion and analysis to make me glad I invested the time.

Tonight, however, it meandered, nay bolted, into the very sensitive Jordan Maclean judiciary hearing debate. As if the scale of intemperate and emotional remarks by a wide variety of people haven’t flown off the chart already, we all bore witness to the propagation of the same sort of misguided comments within the confines of four minutes of rigorous analysis that:

a) seem oblivious to the sequence of events that led to this horrific event in the first place; and

b) have been scattergunned through the media all day by those who might be better off sitting in a corner and taking inventory of their chromosomes.

My thoughts pre-hearing went like this:Maclean

… which I thought were entirely reasonable, and therefore wasn’t surprised by the outcome.

I take particular issue, however, with the idea espoused on Sterlo that Maclean’s sentence was excessive because ‘hundreds and hundreds of tackles’ … have been … ‘worse than that one, where the man got up and played the football, and there was nothing like seven weeks (suspension)’.

They shouldn’t have been made.

The misunderstanding of the underlying issue is breathtaking (not Matty Johns, I stress to point out, who has it right). In fact, it is the ultimate irony that the NRL has handed down a penalty of enough substance to cause complaint in some areas, but which, had such a penalty been imposed much earlier to reflect the act of illegal tackles (that reflect risk of significant injury) rather the result (a massive bugbear of the Dr!), would have narrowed the range of injury possibilities to the point where this would likely never have happened.

Why? Because the nasty habit of lifting in gang tackles would have been expunged from the game very early. Unfortunately, lifting has been around for far too long and has become an unpoliced habit, and has not materialised since the cannonball tackle was outlawed (as some commentators impervious to embarrassment seem to be suggesting).

Now, I have it on impeccable authority that Jordan Maclean is just the nicest guy you’ll meet, and I believe it. There is no question that the tackle was accidental on his behalf. As I see it, he is the victim of a system that instructed him to tackle in a certain way to bring the ball carrier down. What early-20’s footballer doesn’t do as he’s told as he attempts to forge a career?

Each new cynical version of tackles created and designed to incapacitate or pin an opponent has been allowed to linger by the NRL, who have not empowered the referees to take charge of the situation on the field (or thought to, by the looks of it), nor directed the judiciary or MRC to impose sufficient sanction off it that recognises the enormous tail risk of such tackles. Add three 100kg-plus defenders and the force and weight-bearing is enormous. The ‘she’ll be right, mate’ approach just doesn’t work in the modern world.

The only way to proceed from this terrible incident is to show that something quite profound has been learned. I already believe the NRL is culpable and open to legal recourse which is likely to be tested, but it now must take the time to shape the contours of a sensible, watertight enforcement program that enshrines the safety of players above all else.

Rugby league is a contact sport and accidents happen, but the NRL must do all in its power to minimise the range of those accidents. I don’t want to see 100 guys dropped on their head and commentators say it’s fine because they are unhurt. I don’t want to see what happens to no. 101.

A simple law is not enough – it must be enforced stringently enough to discourage any single event, and even more so, to discourage nasty habits like lifting tackles to creep in, which increase risk of injury. They must be snuffed out hard, and those seeking to take the cynical road be held to account.

I’ll be so happy to get back to the mundane nature of draw strength!

NRL: Avoiding the AFL Crowd Gouge

The rugby league community has always looked upon the AFL with a sense of crowd envy. Regular crowds in the tens of thousands, especially at the MCG, has given the AFL a sense of superiority, even arrogance, which it has lorded over the NRL in a less than endearing manner.

The NRL community has always been self-conscious about it, and has overreacted to AFL forays into NRL heartland in somewhat of an unhinged manner – the media, mostly, then transferred to a fired up fan base.

This is unfortunate, because it’s only by recognising shortcomings and formulating positive strategies to combat them, that any of us, individuals or institutions, can grow and improve. And the NRL has a lot of positives that should be focused and improved upon (which I never tire of pointing out), rather than become lost in a maelstrom of introversion and closing ranks.

It has also meant that the NRL hasn’t, in my opinion, been open-minded enough to consider adopting rules from the AFL (the enemy) that would actually prove beneficial, such as time off when the ball is out of bounds, in AFL parlance. We’re getting there in baby steps, but we’re still not cropping the best of the best from other codes.

One part of the AFL playbook the NRL will be advised NOT to emulate, however, at any point, is its boneheaded variable pricing model. In a story to warm the cockles of an NRL fan’s heart, the AFL is on the nose with its own crowds.

And why? Well it’s not specifically about the football.

It’s because fans without memberships are being asked to pay through the nose for the pleasure of watching the best teams play.

So not only has the AFL’s arrogance been projected toward other sports, but it has now been applied like a blowtorch to its own fans who, understandably feel betrayed. Can’t affrd a membership on top of all life’s other commitments? Well bad luck, peasant. You’ll have just pay more to watch your team so we can get our pound of flesh from you. You owe us!

What the AFL has failed to realise it that any ticket pricing system must be adapted to suit local conditions. After all, this isn’t US Major League Baseball, where not only are conditions and support bases different, but so is the pool of fans from which to draw.

It’s complete madness. It’s a complete and utter gouge. But money has no morals, and the pursuit of it has the habit of driving some people insane.

So when NRL CEO David Smith announces a deep dive into the pricing of tickets and game day experience, which includes the expensive slop that can loosely be termed food, he and his team will be well advised to avoid looking at the AFL at all, even as a comparison! There’s no value in it, from their perspective, only noise.

Here’s a better version they might like to look at that focuses on crowd maximisation in the context of a much fairer variable pricing structure. It tiers the pricing according to the viewing position, enabling those who can’t afford current pricing the opportunity to still attend matches and experience the unrivalled atmosphere of a pumping crowd.

The best thing? Apart from improved atmosphere for the fans AND players, it is more likely to generate higher revenue through sheer numbers (with contingent benefits for the food & beverage suppliers, which is another subject that deserves intense scrutiny).