JOY OF SIX: round one 2015

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD

SEEING RED OVER MOSES
WHAT if Dallas Donnelly pulled up outside an NRL ground in his time travelling Delorian and went inside for a gander? What would he make of a competition where you are sent to the sin bin for punching someone but stay on the field for a deadset coat-hanger? How can we be SOFTER on an offence now than we were in the seventies? It defies logic. The ban on referee comments stifled the debate on Saturday night surrounding Mitchell Moses’ shot on William Zillman. Set of Six will debate it; Moses should have been sent off. Flailing fists deter parents from letting their kids play rugby league – do we think mum wants little Johnny to do his best rag doll impersonation every weekend?
BATTLE AHEAD
WELL may Phil Gould and Penrith oppose an external draft – they have more juniors than most other clubs. But one donatechange in the game that has gone un-noticed over the summer has been the rebranding of the state leagues, aside from NSW and Queensland. The South Australian Rugby League is now NRL South Australia – and so on. They are wholly owned subsidiaries of the Moore Park HQ. No doubt, the aim is to do the same with the NSWRL, the QRL and the CRL. The NRL wants to be to rugby league what the NBA is to basketball – that is, just about everything. It will take care of all development and clubs will be shells focused only on winning first grade matches and attracting fans. Set of Six likes the idea.
COCKY FOWLS NOT SCARED OF FOULS
LOTS of things have changed this season by according to Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan, one thing hasn’t. “It’s a little bit faster, sides are trying to find their feet. Sides don’t want to give away too many penalties away – bar the Roosters. They were quite happy to give penalties away and then defend ‘em.” The Roosters do not like accusations they deliberately give away penalties. Flanagan nominated Trent Robinson’s team, South Sydney and Parramatta as sides who had “put their hand up” over the weekend. The Sharks boss wasn’t sure how he’d feel going to Remondis Stadium last night for his first game back from suspension. “Surprisingly, I’m pretty calm about the whole thing,” he said. “It’s not about me. I’ve got a job here to do and I’ve just got to get on with it.”
HELLO 2015
SOME random observations about our first taste of premiership football for the year. One, the game IS faster and there IS amazonless wrestling, and the crowds like it. Friday night at Pirtek Stadium, particularly in the first half, was a revelation; the word “fickle” just isn’t in the dictionaries of western Sydney. Your correspondent was at Headingley, where they sing all night, eight days previously and the local Blue and Gold Army outdid their British cousins easily. A bulked-up Anthony Milford in the halves is a gamble. We won’t get reliable forward pass rulings until there are chips in the balls. Dane Gagai and Joey Leilua could be the centre pairing of the year. Pat Richards could easily realise his ambition of playing in the 2017 World Cup. Live free-to-air TV coverage on a Sunday should have happened years ago.
THE SHAFT FOR SHILLO AND SHANNON
TRENT Merrin was only “dropped” for Monday Night Football if you don’t count the game against Warrington, which he also started from the bench. He was in the starting side for round 26 last year, though – we checked. Two men who WERE dropped, by any definition, are big Canberra forwards David Shillington and Shannon Boyd. They were named in Canberra’s first grade side on Sunday – Shillington in the starting front row – but played NSW Cup. Coach Ricky Stuart admitted the hot conditions were in his mind but “there’s a few other reasons – nothing untoward in regards to the two boys. We made the decision earlier in the week.” Stuart reckons the quicker rucks this year mean “dropped balls and penalties are making a big difference between winning and losing.’
CARNAGE IN FRANCE
Dwrq4E1421835700EVEN a broken rib for Todd Carney took a back seat to the scoreline in the Catalans-Salford Super League game over the weekend. The match finished in a 40-40 draw – which in the Australian premiership would make it the highest scoring drawn game ever, beat three matches which finished 34-34.. In England, there’ve been higher scores in draws – and there almost certainly have been in France, too. After a tackle by Lama Tasi, Carney – who missed the opening two rounds through injury – tweeted: “Just got home from the hospital, Broken Ribs Fingers crossed I won’t be out for long.” Dragons coach Laurent Frayssinous said the tackle was illegal. “It is not acceptable that there is a late tackle on Todd Carney that has left him in the hospital with a broken rib,” he told reporters. Oh, and the penalty which gave Salford a late draw was a tad controversial, too.

Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Is This Year’s NRL Lopsided?

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD

THIS year, more than any since the formation of the NRL in 1998, we’ve been hearing, reading and talking about whether we have “an even competition”.

Used to sitting on our couches on a Friday night and seeing contests which will go some way towards determining the make-up of the finals, we’ve been dismayed in bearing witness to some meaningless matches for the first 20 rounds, because of rigid scheduling. We’ve read 50-0, 68-4, 54-10, 62-6 in the paper some mornings.

But is the competition really lopsided this year, or are we just seeing less significant games on free-to-air television? It’s just the sort of question we like to think we have for breakfast here at Rugby League Week.

Or, put another way, it’s just the sort of question that we like to put to The Guru, David Middleton.

The only problem is, how do you measure such a thing? There are two types of evenness – within a game and over the course of a season.

If team A beats team B by 50 points, but when they next meet the result is exactly reversed, then you still have an even competition but two pretty bloody lopsided games! No matter if you have a draft, a salary cap or even force players to switch clubs on a daily basis, it’s still hard for an administrator to affect margins.

That comes down to players and referees.

Nevertheless, we got Middo to give us the average margin in all games since 1908 – because we thought it might be interesting and we can’t recall such a study ever being done before.

As for the mythical “level playing field” – over the course of a season – how do we measure that? “The ultimate even competition,” says Middo, “would be when every team wins 50 per cent of its games.

“Some people might consider that boring. It wouldn’t happen. But perhaps the number of teams that win 50 per cent or more of their games would be a starting point.”

We thought we’d spare him the agony of going back to 1908 with that stat, however, so we settled for the years covering only the salary cap era, post 1990.

Which brings us to another question: if we had no salary cap now, then how many teams would we be left with, and would the resulting inequalities be reflected in big scores, big gaps between the teams on the table, or both?

We’ll try to answer that one, too.

But first, Middo’s stats. At first glance, they don’t say much. They certainly don’t indicate that the competition is as hopelessly cock-eyed as it may appear from watching those late night Friday matches.

But here’s a few points:

· The margins in games this year are the “worst”, or biggest, in eight years. But the average winning margin has varied by just 1.4 points from the 1908 season! That’s right, all those administrators accused of stuffing the game over the past 105 years can feel vindicated. Very little has changed in the closeness of premiership matches despite rule changes, international transfer bans, residential rules, the cap, draft and, er, two world wars;

· The 1935 season had the biggest margins, with Canterbury not handling their debut season so well and Eastern Suburbs running up some big scores.

· While average margins suggest 1925 was the closest, Souths were so far out in front that the competition was abandoned early and the next year a mandatory finals series was introduced! So the season with the closest games was, in fact, so lopsided they invented the play-offs to keep people interested!

Middleton: “Of the last 20 seasons, 2011 is considered the closest based on these rankings (average winning margin, number of scores of 50+ and number of winning margins of 20+).

“That year the average winning margin was 13.3 points, there were only two scores of 50+ and only 48 games where the winning margin was 20+. This year is ranked currently seventh (of the last 20 years) although there are still four rounds to be played.”

Now to the second set of figures, the number of teams that won 50 per cent or more of their games. You still with us? Pay attention! “The thing with this is it still allows for stragglers – if it’s easier for more of the top teams to win more than half of their games, they have to have someone to beat,” Middleton warns.

The most even competition in the salary cap era by this criteria was the very first, 1990. Ten of 16 teams won half or more than half their games that year. The closest we’ve got to that since was 2006 – that’s right, when the average margin in games was even bigger than this year!

“What’s that saying? There’s lies, damn lies and statistics,” says South Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson.

Perhaps the answer lies elsewhere.

One year out of club coaching, Australia coach Tim Sheens thinks he knows what constitutes an even competition. RLW was told that when talks were first held about starting a “Super League” back in 1994, the definition of a superior competition was one where if you beat a team the first time you played them, it was no certainty you would do so the second time.

“I think people get carried away in saying the competition isn’t even,” Sheens tells us.

“An even competition to me is when you have 12 or more teams in the running for the final eight three weeks out from the finals. I think we’ll have that.

“It’s when the tipsters in the office competitions and in the papers are struggling.

“There’re only three sides (before round 23) out of the running for the finals. You never know, the cut-off could even be 26 points, that’s probably an indication of a close competition because it’s been 28 in recent years.”

Indeed, the best test of an even competition might be the score you need to win your office tipping competition; the lower the winning score, the more unpredictable the competition.

“I’ve been watching a lot of old videos of World Cup games,” Sheens concludes, “and sometimes I don’t think we appreciate how skillful, unpredictable and exciting the game is right now.”

Richardson, meanwhile, says people forget that until around a decade ago, the premiership had never experienced average crowds into five figures.

OK, so all the evidence we’ve so far gathered seems to indicate that regardless of salary caps, finals of four, five or eight teams or even breakaway leagues, the patterns of competitiveness within the premiership don’t alter too much.

So, why have a salary cap if clubs lose mainly because they are poorly run, not because of poor talent equalisation from above?

I ask the veteran Souths boss how many truly competitive clubs there would be, in his opinion, if there was no salary cap at all.

“Four to six,” he says. “Brisbane, Canterbury, the Warriors … the wealthy Sydney clubs.”

And would happen to the rest? They’d be competitive among each other, he says, but fans and sponsors who are used to parity would find it hard to keep faith.

“But, you know, look at England – they find a way to survive,” he said. “Then again, if the poker machine money continued to dry up, maybe not.”

What David Middleton’s stats do tell us is that if a similar story to this one is written (or beamed directly into brains) in 2118, chances are the margins of NRL games won’t be that different and the competition points separating teams on the table will have fluctuated but not changed in any permanent way.

Call them footy constants – things that no one with a laptop or a whistle can permanently alter. There’s something about what started at Birchgrove Oval all those years ago, and in the rule book, which keep scoring patterns in our sport on an even keel regardless of what we mere mortals do.

It’s intriguing, inscrutable, like DNA strands passed down from one generation to the next.

“John Lang used to have a saying,” says Richardson. “Each year, a third of the teams aren’t good enough and a third will implode during the season.

“So there’s only what’s left that you have to worry about.”

Teams Winning 50% or more games in a season in the Salary Cap Era 1990-2013

 Year >50% Winning Record Total Teams % of Total

1990 10 16 62.5

1991 9 16 56.3

1992 7 16 43.8

1993 8 16 50.0

1994 7 16 43.8

1995 11 20 55.0

1996 10 20 50.0

1997* 10 22 45.5

1998 11 20 55.0

1999 9 17 52.9

2000 8 14 57.1

2001 6 14 42.9

2002 6 15 40.0

2003 8 15 53.3

2004 7 15 46.7

2005 8 15 53.3

2006 9 15 60.0

2007 7 16 43.8

2008 9 16 56.3

2009 9 16 56.3

2010 9 16 56.3

2011 9 16 56.3

2012 8 16 50.0

2013 9 16 56.3

Source: League Information Services

Close competitions 1908-2013

Year Avg Win Margin Scores 50+ Margin >20

1908 14.0 – 11

1909 12.3 – 10

1910 14.5 2 15

1911 11.0 – 8

1912 10.7 – 11

1913 9.5 – 6

1914 9.3 – 6

1915 12.9 1 13

1916 9.5 1 5

1917 11.4 – 12

1918 10.7 – 9

1919 12.5 1 8

1920 17.9 3 22

1921 13.1 2 7

1922 11.5 – 10

1923 10.0 – 10

1924 9.0 – 2

1925 6.7 – 1

1926 9.6 – 5

1927 10.0 – 9

1928 8.2 – 5

1929 9.8 – 8

1930 11.3 – 9

1931 9.7 1 7

1932 12.9 – 13

1933 9.8 – 4

1934 12.0 – 12

1935 19.5 8 27

1936 15.1 1 15

1937 15.1 3 7

1938 13.4 1 10

1939 12.5 1 11

1940 10.2 – 8

1941 8.9 – 6

1942 9.1 – 6

1943 10.3 – 7

1944 13.9 4 12

1945 10.3 – 4

1946 10.6 – 8

1947 10.9 1 13

1948 9.7 – 11

1949 10.8 – 16

1950 9.5 – 10

1951 11.6 2 19

1952 11.4 2 20

1953 12.0 2 13

1954 14.1 1 22

1955 12.4 1 19

1956 11.1 – 19

1957 13.0 2 22

1958 11.8 3 18

1959 11.9 2 19

1960 11.0 2 15

1961 11.5 1 23

1962 9.4 – 13

1963 11.2 2 17

1964 11.6 – 18

1965 10.7 – 13

1966 10.3 1 12

1967 10.0 – 16

1968 9.7 – 16

1969 10.0 – 20

1970 10.7 – 16

1971 11.2 1 21

1972 12.3 2 29

1973 11.4 2 23

1974 12.0 1 24

1975 10.9 2 17

1976 11.3 1 23

1977 12.5 1 22

1978 12.7 3 26

1979 11.1 – 21

1980 11.4 1 26

1981 10.7 1 14

1982 12.3 5 38

1983 14.2 4 53

1984 12.3 3 28

1985 13.4 3 38

1986 12.3 3 34

1987 11.3 – 25

1988 13.5 2 48

1989 13.1 – 46

1990 14.1 1 48

1991 13.0 – 40

1992 11.6 2 32

1993 14.2 4 46

1994 16.7 5 62

1995 17.8 16 85

1996 15.4 12 67

1997 13.8 7 62

1998 15.6 16 75

1999 16.2 12 70

2000 15.1 10 57

2001 16.8 17 62

2002 17.3 14 64

2003 14.5 13 61

2004 16.4 17 65

2005 16.0 11 59

2006 14.2 8 55

2007 14.5 13 55

2008 15.1 6 66

2009 14.6 5 59

2010 13.9 8 56

2011 13.3 2 48

2012 14.0 5 55

2013 15.4 6 49

*source: League Information Services

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK