We’ve Got Issues: Transfer Period

Manly - Daly Cherry-EvansBy STEVE MASCORD
PAUL Green knowns all too well about the pitfalls of trying to regulate the movement of players between clubs,
“I got sacked at the Cowboys because they tried to say I was negotiating before June 30,” the current North Queensland coach tells League Week when we tell him we’re doing a story on the possibility of a transfer window in the NRL.
“It probably is a good idea because at least you can manage the fallout or whatever’s going to happen about it
“You’re never going to stop it (negotiations). It’s probably about making it as less-painful as you can for the fans and supporters.”
The idea that rugby league would ape others sports by limiting discussions between players and clubs has gained renewed currency in recent months following the decisions of Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran to sign contracts with rival clubs in 2016.
RLW understands the NRL raised the idea in discussions with the Rugby League Players Association a year ago but it went nowhere. The RLPA wouldn’t be surprised if it came up again.
But Green is a walking reminder of why we got rid of restrictions in the first place – they are nigh on impossible to enforce. He eventually won an out-of-court settlement from the cowboys over his sacking midway through 2000.
Nevertheless, Foran, who is going to Parramatta next year, favours a change,
“I’m the same as everyone else – I’m not a fan of ithe told Triple M in a recent interview.
“When you’re signing for another club and you’ve still got 26 rounds to go, I don’t think it’s good for the fans and I don’t think it’s good for the club.
LOZHh51420274496“I don’t what the solution is but I think they’ve got to fix it,”
The argument against having the trade window at the end of the year is that it doesn’t leave players long to move their entire family to another city if necessary,
But Sydney Roosters centre Michael Jennings says: “I think at the end of the year when no teams are playing … I can just see itas a distraction to the clubs and the team and the fans during the season
“so I think the end of the year would be ideal for not just the fans but the player. They can get settled.
“When you’re playing a game, knowing you are going to another club the following year is a distraction.”
Others are willing to listen to argument s for and against a trade window.
“I’d have to have a good think about it,”says Cronulla’s Luke Lewis. “But I’m pretty open to anything that makes it better for players to work out their future, to work out what they’re going to do.
“If it’s going To benefit the players, I’m all for it,”
Team-mate Michael Ennis adds: “it’s hard for the fans, too, you know? They spend a lot of their hard-earned money to support teams.
“To support a team knowing the players aren’t going to be there in 12 months’ time – when things are done so early in the season – is hard for them.”
donate2No-one thinks players will actually hold off deciding their futures until the end of the season – but there is a feeling everyone might be able to keep their mouths shut if the trade window was introduced.
Given that contracts cannot be registered until June 30 anyway, perhaps that is the best time for the trading period. Any arrangement reached before then isn’t legally binding anyway,
And it would give the game another media property to promote and leverage,
Of course, in the middle of all is is the idea that an internal draft would return – that would put paid to the need for any sort of formalised trading period because you’d just have to go where you are told.
Green concludes: “The guys that are involved, it’s part of the business now. You get your head around it and get on with it.
“But it’s the fans who probably hurt more than everyone else and can’t understanding it.
“So at least if there’s a trade window for a period, you kind of know it’s coming.
“You’re not going to stop it but when the information comes out, you can manage that better.
“If you’re going to have a transfer week, that’s when it’s all going to happen – even though it’s all really happened beforehand.
“And that’s probably the hardest thing for the fans to get their heads around.
“There’re not too many secrets in league, either, which makes it hard. But if everyone agrees on it, it’s probably a better look.”
Everyone agreeing on putting the game first? Hmmm….

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

BONDI BEAT: May 2014

Dr Who? Mockup by @drkockrash
Dr Who? Mockup by @drkockrash

By STEVE MASCORD

LIKE your clubs in England, the NRL is considering ways to hold onto players and to recruit new stars,
Bondi Beat‘s spies tell us that the issue was raised in Auckland before the NRL Nines. The CEO of the league, David Smith, suggested that if one club wanted to sign a rugby union star, for instance, it could apply for central funding.
But every club would have the opportunity to match or exceed the amount of money the recruiting club was willing to pay. If Souths wanted to sign England rahrah George North, for instance, North Queensland could offer to pay a larger part of his wage package. This would leave the league paying less.
North would still have the opportunity to go to the club of his choice, not the highest bidder.
But another idea should be a concern to most readers. The plan is to make transfer fees salary cap-free if the incoming player is not from the NRL.
In other words, a leave pass to raid the Super League if you have enough money to pay the transfer fees.
I am told it was South Sydney chief executive Shane Richardson who pointed this implication out. “They play the same sport as us over there, you know,” was the crux of his argument.
If you go through the current NRL club CEOS, few have much experience in the international game.

THE debate over the marquee player proposal in England is a fascinating one.
I heard on the BBC recently that the NRL has a marquee player allowance of $600,000 per club. That is wrong. There is no marquee player system in the NRL that is even remotely similar to what Dr Marwan Koukash is proposing in Super League.

What is allowed in the NRL are third part agreements – club sponsors paying players up to a limit. It is not the same as allowing clubs to spend their own money on imported talent, regardless of whether it sends them broke.
Instead of offering Stg200,000 for rival clubs’ “golden tickets”, perhaps Dr Koukash should guarantee to under-write the rest of the comp so every club can spend up to the cap as it exists now.
I am a bit of a sociallist when it comes to sporting competitions. I believe our game needs to be outwardly capitalist but inwardly communist.
Until every club in the Super League is spending up to the cap, there is no point giving them more rope to hang themselves. Maybe if every club in the new division of eight is spending up to the cap and is on a sound financialfooting, it can be considered again.
The recent Widnes-Salford epic was a clash of cultures – between licencing and throwing raw cash at something. And who won that?
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THIS column probably features a few too many items which paint my Australian compatriots as being a little ignorant of the realities of rugby league outside their own bubble. It’s a point that gets laboured here too much.
But it was curious the other day to hear Penrith coach Ivan Cleary say this: “I think, personally, we shouldn’t have representative tournaments every year at the end of the year,” Cleary said. ”Maybe a one-off game with Australia and New Zealand straight after the grand final pretty much. Basically, if you are going to have one it needs to finish a lot earlier.”
Cleary, you’ll remember, is the New Zealand assistant coach!
Now, George Gregan played 139 Tests in that other code. Darren Lockyer had played 59 when he retired. But WE’RE playing too many Tests? Clearly, were playing too many club games…
One man who agreed with Cleary was Greg Alexander, who is on the board at Penrith. When I appeared with Andrew Voss and Brandy on 2UE to argue against Cleary’s contention, one of their responses was that if we needed international football so much then perhaps there should be a World Cup every two years!
From the sublime to the ridiculous…..
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IN the wake of the sort of ignorance described above, you’ve got to hand it to the Sydney Roosters and former Catalan coach Trent Robinson.
He has hired the England coach as his assistant and in Remy Casty has a man who is likely to be only the fourth French born player to turn out in the top flight down under, after Jerome Guisset, Jacques Molinet and Jason Baitieri.
And when his team completely outclassed Wigan in the World Club Challenge, Robinson argued that the concept should be expanded. Even in the face of the increasing disparity in the salary caps of the two competitions, he argued an expanded WCC would narrow the gap, not accentuate it.

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ANOTHER great story in this neck of the woods this year has been the debut in Queensland’s Untrust Super Cup (the Q Cup to you) of the Kopoko-based PNG Hunters.
After the disappointments of the World Cup, the PNGRL signed players from rural areas to contracts, took them away from their families for 11 weeks and put them in a police barracks.
The result was a 24-18 win on debut against Redcliffe in Brisbane. “Back at home, after the World Cup when everyone got back into the country, the guys that played in
the World Cup never went out in public places because a lot of the media and the people around the country were pissed off,” said coach Michael Marum.
PNGRL chairman Sandis Tsaka says Mal Meninga is now the coach of the Kumuls. They hope to play the winner of the mid-year Samoa-Fiji Test before the Four Nations and a warm-up game against another 4N team – perhaps England.
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TYRONE McCarthy and his partner, Helen Lomax, are settling in nicely in Cairns.
The Ireland vice-captain and ex-Warrington star scored two tries on debut for Q Cup side Northern Pride. “I was probably getting stagnant at Warrington, being in and out of the side,” he said.
“It’s pretty different to home here, very hot and humid, but I’m used to it now and the club have been great. Two tries is more than I scored all last year.”
Tyrone is hoping to get his charity project, the FullBloods, going in Oz. It helps kids in disadvantaged areas using rugby league to connect with them. Support Tyrone by visiting thefullbloodproject.org.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

DISCORD 2013: Edition 42

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD

WITH the NRL to give clubs $7.55 million next year and the salary cap to be $6.3 million, the question has to be asked: why doesn’t the governing body just pay the players directly?

The club grant equalling the salary cap was seen as a holy grail of the previous NRL administration and it’s a credit to the new regime that it has been realised and exceeded in such a short time.

By why do we need a middleman?

Sure, Ian Schubert and his salary cap watchdogs would still have to keep a look out for illicit payments from clubs but surely things would be a lot cleaner and enforceable if every premiership players was on the NRL’s payroll.

The clubs could then be given the balance between the wages bill and the club grant to develop their busnesses. If they wanted to pay players less than the cap, they could simply ask the NRL to do it and give them more cash.

There’d be less room for funny business. An added advantage would be the end of “club v country” debates. Terry Campese feels pressured not to go to the World Cup? “Well mate, the NRL are paying your wage and they want you fitness tested before you pull out.”

Imagine the boost to the international game if you were paid the same for Test appearances, regardless of country.

And if premiership players were the direct employees of the NRL, a whole layer of bureaucracy could be removed. Aside from playing and training they could be employed in a uniform manner for marketing, publicity, coaching and the greater good of the sport.

Their commitments outside of training and playing would be standardised and the age of coaches as tsars would end. Imagine that!

Yes, it is socialist. Discord believes pro sports need to be internally socialist and externally capitalist to succeed in this competitive environment.

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NEWS that Eddy Pettybourne has been added to the United States team is just another chapter in the colourful history of our game in the Land Of Hype And Glory.

Pettybourne qualifies due to his American Samoan grandfather. As the battle between factions in America continues over the number of “heritage” players in the Tomahawks squad, a series between Canada West and US West was played at Newport Beach at the weekend with journalist Ben Everill refereeing.

Confused? It has always been thus.

As mentioned before, a fantastic new book called No Helmets Required tells how the Americans were actually invited to the first World Cup in 1954 and almost went.

Promoter Mike Dimitro brought the American All Stars to Australia in ’53 and had people chasing him to the airport pursuing debts. He embellished the reputations of his side, none of whom had ever actually played the game before, and a small squad of 18 players was driven into the ground playing two games a week.

Afterwards he also took the All Stars to France – meaning this Saturday’s international in Toulouse is not the first between the sides. That happened at Parc des Princes 60 years ago, the French winning 31-0.

Dimitro fell out of favour with the International Board. Then, after Australia and New Zealand played exhibition games at Veterans Stadium, Long Beach, and the LA Colisseum on the way back from the first World Cup – in front of fog-affected crowds – someone else fell out of favour.

And it’s been the same ever since.

Sure, many people have been well intentioned. But rugby league was born out of a pursuit of money (if only to offset poverty) and there is nowhere that the dollar sign stands taller than in the United States.

Rugby league’s penchant for self-canibalisation is limited only by the modesty of those involved. And modesty is not America’s long-suit.

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SAD news that Sydney Roosters doctor John Orchard and NRL media man John Brady are moving on.

read on

DISCORD 2013: Edition 50

DiscordBy STEVE MASCORD
IT’S not so much the number of zeros on Cronulla’s $1 million doping fine, but how long the Sharks have to pay it.
That’s why the club’s supporters should be welcoming reports Cronulla ‘only’ have to shell out $200,000 a year over the next half-decade.
We’ve already said here that it would immoral for Cronulla to be forced into relocating by the financial penalty from the supplements scandal. Endangering the health of players is too serious a matter for it to play any role in a competition’s decentralisation and expansion strategies.
It’s in everyone’s interests to keep the matters completely separate. If Cronulla or anyone else have to move, then sobeit – but not because they have been financially crippled by a sanction from headquarters.
If reports of the Sharks being given five years to pay their fine are correct, the NRL Commission has done the right thing in this regard.
Some will say it’s just tough luck if a financial penalty sends a franchise broke and relocation is its only help of survival. But for a start, we don’t know if the NRL has an incentives at all on the table any more for relocation.
And is the end of a club that entered the premiership in 1967 a fair punishment for a doping offence committed over a comparitively short period in 2011?
Only a harsh bastard would say ‘yes’.
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GREAT result to see the New Zealand-England World Cup semi-final named the greatest moment at Wembley Stadium this year, beating the FA Cup final and Bruce Springsteen.
The Kiwis’ last-ditch victory was the best game I’ve seen this year and plenty agree. With a bit of a nudge from Red Hall, the event won by popular vote.
“The drama of the Rugby League World Cup semi-final certainly befitted the occasion, so it is right to commemorate the match with a Wembley Way stone,” said stadium managing director Roger Maslin.
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THERE are those who steadfastly refuse to believe that the salary cap has anything to do with the even-ness of a competition that has given us nine premiers in 15 years.
But the departure of salary cap commissioner Ian Schubert, the sudden rise in the cap and looming relaxation of rules around the payment ceiling will give us an almost scentific analysis of its importance.
It should be pretty easy to tell if the league is more or less even now than it was before. Schubert was given absolute discretion in a less well-resourced era of the NRL and in the opinion of this column did an exceptional job – even if clubs didn’t like many of his decisions.
You can put an appeal process in place and throw more people at the job but if we get lopsided competition tables in the years ahead, then ‘Schuey’ will be missed.
Ian Schubert’s legacy as salary cap commissioner will be crystal clear in another 15 years.
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COMMENTS now and there was some discussion on the sense, or lack thereof, of the NRL attempting to extend its influence into London.

read on

TRAVELS: XX

Travelsy STEVE MASCORD

IT’S hard to believe anyone could argue what happened at the Provident Stadium on Sunday was good for the game.

Sky’s Rod Studd sent me an email after a dramatically under-strength Huddersfield was lapped 58-6 by Bradford asking if it could happen in the NRL.

I was already planning to write something about it in the Sydney Morning Herald and my first instinct was to ask the NRL. But it only took a few moments’ thought to come up with the answer without making a call.

Under the second tier salary cap at work in the NRL, there is a limit to the value of lower grade (or feeder team) players you can use in first grade. If you are in dire straits, you can apply for dispensation – but it’s not easily forthcoming.

Penrith, in particular, have been refused permission by the League to use their own contracted players this year, because they were over their second tier cap.

Cronulla and Manly had considerable incentive at the weekend to rest swathes of players, given that their positions in the finals were ensured. Some good players were missing, too – like Anthony Watmough and Todd Carney.

But without the second tier salary cap, it would have been much worse.

”That’s right – I definitely thought about leaving out more,” Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan said after I spoke to him pre-match for Triple M and mentioned events at Bradford.

”We don’t have a problem with our second-tier cap but if there was none, you’d consider resting them all.”

There is no point criticising Huddersfield and their coach, Paul Anderson, over the omission of so many players. He was just playing by the rules. But for the RFL to say it was the best available side is ridiculous.

There is a major problem for sports administrations when it comes to medical matters. An official can’t over-rule a doctor. You get medical certificates and it’s case-closed.

Instead, as detailed above, the RFL needs to put in place disincentives to field under-strength teams. I don’t think Rod’s idea of giving teams a points start in play-offs is the answer … it stops being rugby league then.

Perhaps the RFL needs to introduced a second tier salary cap, with only a limited number of players outside the top 25 to be allowed into the first team each year and exceptions the subject of applications.

That way, if we do have to appoint an independent medical officer to check on injuries, he or she would only be called into play when such an application was made, not every time an injury looked doubtful.

The interesting thing here is that the NRL is considering axing the second tier salary cap. When I told the League’s Shane Mattiske what Huddersifield had done, he promised to raise it at headquarters.

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CAN’T wait for the play-offs to start in both hemispheres this weekend.

The Super League games are being shown on Eurosport in this part of the world and I can report the station is very keen to increase its commitment to the competition next year.

read on

THE JOY OF SIX: Round 26

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD
CHANGES COULD END IN TIERS
THREE games on the final day of the regular season exposed an unintended benefit of the second tier salary cap and an unforseen danger of changing it without careful consideration. With the finals spots assured, Cronulla and Manly fielded somewhat under strength sides but still put up a fight and provided fans and broadcasters with credible entertainment. Some 16,949 km away, Super League minor premiers Huddersfield rested almost their entire side and were lapped 58-6 by Bradfordon national television. The only thing stopping the same happening here is the second tier salary cap, which limits the number of players outside each club’s top 25 who can appear in first grade. “That’s right – I definitely thought about leaving out more,” Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan told Joy Of Six. “We don’t have a problem with our second tier cap but if there was none, you’d consider resting them all.”

DE JA VU, RUGBY A XIII
RUGBY league just can’t help but go around in circles. In 2005, when 41,260 saw St George Illawarra play Wests Tigers in a preliminary final the Sydney Football Stadium, the outcry over the number of fans locked out led to a policy change which introduced greater flexibility into the scheduling of play-offs. That flexibility was gradually extended to the point where the NRL now has complete control over which Sydney venues are used for which matches. The downside of that is that venues can’t be booked in advance. This opens the door to the AFL getting in first, and that has resulted in a double header at Allianz Stadium this Saturday, back where it all started. And what will be the main criticism of the double header? That fans are locked out. Will we then see a call for finals venues to be booked further in advance?

GOLDEN POINT TARNISHED
THE chattering opposition to golden point is becoming a roar with even Australia captain Cameron Smith joining in after Melbourne’s narrow escape against Gold Coast. “It’s got no rules, there’re no rules in golden point,” said Gold Coast coach John Cartwright. “It’s good for the crowd, the fans, they cheer. But one of the field goal attempts Aiden Sezer went for, Cameron Smith was five metres offside. I understand they don’t want to give a penalty because we were doing the same thing. But does that make it good for the game? ‘Cause it doesn’t. It comes down to a lottery”. As for the try Sezer had disallowed, Gird Bird yesterday put a screen grab on Instagram which showed Ben Ridge not touching the ball as he tackled Billy Slater. Cartwright mused: “They’ll find a way to say they got it right and pat themselves on the back but they got that one wrong.”

TAYLOR MADE TO DO MORE
GOLD Coast giant David Taylor has become such an enigma that friends and foes have discarded the standard diplomacy in describing the mind-blowing extent of his unrealised potential. “He could play like that every week if he wanted to but it comes down to him, whether he wants to do it,” said Cameron Smith after a fearsome DT outing on Saturday. “Hopefully he looks at that game that he played tonight and says ‘why don’t I do that every week?’ He’s a Queenslander, so hopefully he does.” John Cartwright said now that Taylor’s switch was in the ‘on’ position, the trick was to keep it there. “It is pretty simple – as long as Dave don’t complicate things … his last two weeks, he’s been unstoppable,” the coach said. “Where that’s been all year? We’re not the only club where he’s struggled for consistency. We think there’s a player there who can win us games of football. We won’t give up on him, we’ll keep working on him.”

KING ABDICATES

EVEN if North Queensland wins the comp, coach Neil Henry says there’s no hope of him sticking around. The Cowboys are undefeated in six games since Henry was sacked, with the calls for the club to reconsider growing steadily louder. “I think it’s off the table,” Henry said on the ABC yesterday. “I think they’ve canvassed a number of potential coaches … they’ve shortlisted it down for further interviews. I’m down the track with possibilities for me. We’re just getting on with the season. I’, pretty resigned to the fact. I’ve had a lot of support up here.” Henry says the Cowboys will find it difficult to omit prop Matt Scott (finger) next week.

JOINING THE FOURTH ESTATE
A REALLY interesting trend in rugby league is players who have had occasionally prickly relationships with the media seeking to become journalists. Jamie Soward wants to be involved in general sports broadcasting when he retires, Jamal Idris is studying journalism and retiring Scott Prince revealed on Thursday night he was about to commence a Sports PR course at university. All three eemed willing to foster good relationships with reporters early in their careers but somewhere along the line became aggrieved. With Soward it was criticism over his form, with Idris it was unflattering pictures in newspapers and with Prince it was the Titans salary cap scandal. Perhaps their personal interest in the media makes them more aware of criticism. Maybe they want to change the system from within.\

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