Saturday, 16 September 2017

What Happened To The Sharks? (2017)




If you ask Cronulla Sharks coach Shane Flanagan, the Sharks were destined to go back-to-back and claim top honours again in 2017, making them the first side to do so since the Broncos in 1992-93.

But, in his view, a diabolical performance by the officials cost his side that opportunity.

Did they though?

Every team cops some rough calls through the course of the season, which means every side will get the rub of the green. Some calls have a bigger impact than others undoubtedly. But relying even somewhat on imperfect humans to be perfect so as to get the result you want is essentially quite lazy. Players make mistakes but they aren’t hauled before the media post-match and harangued by their coach for such.

If a coach can accept less than perfection from his players, why do they expect nothing less than perfection from the officials?

The Sharks in 2017 have been a dismal shadow of their all-conquering outfit in 2016. They averaged 3.2 tries per game, down from the 4 per game last year. They averaged 3 runs less per game this year, but still managed to average 25 metres more per game.

Cronulla also averaged nearly a whole try assist less in 2017, over 1 offload less per game, and just over 1 line break assist per game. They were also close to 2 tackle breaks per game worse off in 2017.

Despite making 4 tackles per game more in 2017, they also missed 5 and a half tackles more per game, which saw them make 90.23% of all tackles, better than only Wests Tigers (90.12%), Manly (89.55%) and Penrith (89.45%). The Sharks also had nearly 2 handling errors more per game. Despite conceding less penalties this year, Cronulla were still the most penalised team in the competition, not to mention having the worst completion rate.

Only 5 teams were worse than Sharks when it came to switching off before halftime. The Sharks conceded 24 of their 68 tries in the final 20 minutes of the first half, with just Penrith (25), Wests Tigers (26), Souths & Newcastle (28) and Manly (30) worse. This often saw the Sharks enter the sheds behind on the scoreboard. To their credit they found ways to win as indicated by their competition best record in the second half.

That’s a lot of numbers that show the Sharks played a more restricted style in 2017, a style they abandoned somewhat to great effect in 2016. And sure enough, the return to this style has seen the side return to an early exit in the finals.

Flanagan’s 2017 roster has an average age of 27.59 years old, older than other squad. He has 3 men who all brought up their 300 game milestones this year and just 5 players in his side under the age of 24. His side is naturally going to be the one showing less improvement, as his squad is either at their peak or past their peak. Naturally they are still a very competitive outfit and one of the top teams in the competition, but as the game continues to improve, his side will slowly start to get left behind.

He needs an injection of youth and some ad-lib footy needs to creep into their game to break up the predictability of the machine he has assembled. His side have become easier to compete against in 2017.

None of this is the referee’s fault.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Forcing a Pearce peg into an Origin hole (2017)



Another year and another State of Origin series falls the way of the Maroons after such a promising start from the Blues.

But this year surely is the one that hurts the most for New South Wales.

They played a Queensland side that has begun its transition from the dynasty to the next young crop of talent. They were without Darius Boyd, Billy Slater and Johnathan Thurston at times and both Greg Inglis and Matt Scott failed to play a part in any of the three games.

Queensland stuck with the as much of the team from 2016 in Game 1 and were belted. They rang in the changes for Game 2 and snuck home. Two more debutants lined up in the decider and Queensland, without Thurston, Boyd, Scott and Inglis, strolled to an easy win over the Blues.

The pre-series talk for New South Wales was about whether Mitch Pearce should be recalled, given his woeful form in Origin. He had been in brilliant form for the Roosters thus far in the season so it seemed a given he be selected.

Then came the assumptions by former players and commentators that the reason New South Wales lost with Pearce in the side was because Farah was too dominant and overcalled Pearce.

So Farah was not picked. Instead the selectors went with a new option, the talented Nathan Peats.

What transpired though was Peats became nothing more than a tackling, stand and pass merchant, denied the opportunity to show any creativity at all. Across all 3 of his Origin games, he ran the ball 6 times, had 0 line breaks, 0 try assists, 0 offloads and 0 line break assists.

All of this was done so that Pearce could have full control of the team and be comfortable to play at his best.

Pearce produced 0 line breaks, 0 try assists and 0 line break assists. He continued to kick the ball directly to Queensland’s back three. Every time.

He ran the same play, over and over again, slowly and poorly.

He regularly botched small plays with his team mate from the Roosters Boyd Cordner.

Many will say that it is hard for a halfback to play at their peak when their forwards are struggling. And to a degree it’s true. But if you had a hooker who was either prepared, or perhaps allowed, to make a few dummy half scoots to try and get the defence back pedalling, more often than once every half, that would help the halfback.

You can see in Cameron Smith’s stats across the 3 Origin games how vital it can be to have your rake running the ball. In Game 1 he made 3 runs for just 9 metres. In Game 3 he made 18 runs for 112 metres. Peats made around 30 metres in his first two games and a miserly 3 metres in Game 3.

Only one player in the Blues spine pulled their weight and it was Fullback James Tedesco, while James Maloney was passable at best. He made 3 of their 6 line breaks (Maloney made the other 3), 3 of their 5 try assists (Maloney had the other 2) and all 3 of their line break assists.

Also, stop picking fullbacks in the centres. Sure Hayne and Dugan have had some good games there, but they were defensively poor and more often than not, failed to get their wingers any decent opportunities, on the rare occasions that they did pass the ball.

Woods was largely useless, even in the opening game, Fifita was heavily targeted in the second and third games after a barnstorming Origin opener. Frizell’s NRL form didn’t carry over and he failed to have much impact while Jackson was great in Game 2, he seems to be lacking in attack.

But one thing that hasn’t changed is the style of play and the stubbornness to persist with a failed half. Coach Laurie Daley has been incessantly hammering the large square peg of Pearce into the small round hole of being an Origin quality halfback.

It’s time for Daley to go. It’s time for Mitchell Pearce to go. If neither happens soon, Queensland will have replaced the likes of Smith, Cronk, Thurston, Slater, Boyd, Scott and Inglis and will be embarking on yet another dynasty, while Laurie Daley continues hammering away trying to make a squad of 16 work around 1 player who simply isn’t good enough and doesn’t deserve the opportunity any more.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Solving the Blues #9 Conundrum (2017)


Since the morning after Origin 3 in 2016 it seems the media has been obsessing about who will be the hooker should be for the New South Wales side in 2017.

Robbie Farah is the incumbent rake, with plenty of statements at the start of the year from coach Laurie Daley that he’s inclined to stick with him. But naturally as the season has rolled on, plenty of others have put their hand up with strong claims of unseating Farah.

So with plenty of options on the table coupled with Daley softening his stance on Farah, what’s needed is some facts as opposed to the usual biased back and forth. This article is working entirely on statistical data obtained from the official NRL website and with a simple calculation based on ranking from best to worst in each field, I have been able to calculate who the most consistent and best candidate is to pull on the sky blue.

Naturally there will be arguments to be made that some statistical fields are more important than others, but the purpose of this exercise is to find the most complete and consistent player in all fields.

Added to the list of Blues candidates is Australian and Maroons hooker Cameron Smith, to show where the Blues options rank in comparison.

NSW Candidates
Robbie Farah (Souths and incumbent NSW Origin hooker)
Jayden Brailey (Cronulla)
Damian Cook (Souths)
Apisai Koroisau (Manly)
Michael Lichha (Canterbury)
Cameron McInnes (Souths)
Nathan Peats (Gold Coast)
Kaysa Pritchard (Parramatta)
Peter Wallace (Penrith)

Runs and metres
Cameron Smith averages 9 runs per game, which is vastly higher than all of the Blues. Cook and Koroisau both average 5.4, with Farah at 5.1. Naturally Smith has made more metres, averaging 57.4 per game, however Koroisau is not far behind, gaining 53.6 per game, which is impressive given he runs the ball considerably less. Michael Lichha has 4.4 runs for 48.9 metres per game, making him the only player averaging more than 10 metres per run. Metres per run is the only field where Cameron Smith is beaten by all the NSW Players.

Line and Tackle Breaks
Koroisau leads the field for line breaks, picking up 3 in his 10 games so far. McInnes has 2 from as many games. Smith, Lichaa, Farah and Peats have all yet to register a line break yet this year. Koroisau is also top of the class for tackle breaks, racking up 15 so far, one clear of McInnes and 6 in front of Smith.

Line Break and Try Assists
Despite playing just 4 games, Nathan Peats averages 0.75 Line break assists per game which is the best of the lot. Second is Smith and Farah, who both average 0.6 per game. Peats is also the best when it comes to try assists, averaging a neat 1 per game while Farah and McInnes are second with 0.5 per game. Smith comes next with 0.3.

Offloads
Cook is well clear of the field in this category, averaging 1.1 per game, while Farah, Pritchard and Wallace are all tied for second with 0.6 per game.

Defence
McInnes is the best tackler here, making more tackles and missing less than everybody else. He has made 437 and missed just 6, at a rate of 98.65%. Farah is next at 97.21% while Smith runs fourth at 96.21%

Discipline
Koroisau, Farah and Brailey are the least penalised players on average, giving away 0.4 penalties each per game. Smith averages 0.6. Ball handling is quite good amongst all, with everyone under 1 turnover per game. McInnes and Cook have had just 1 error each while Smith has had 5.

There are 12 fields all up and each field is converted to an average per game. The best in each field scores 1 point, second best gets 2 points etc. The player with the lowest total across all twelve ranks is deemed the best.

There is just three points difference between the top 5 players, which shows just how close this is.

Cameron Smith came out on top with 48 points.
Apisai Koroisau and Cameron McInnes were equal second on 49 points.
Robbie Farah and Damien Cook were next best, both tied on 51 points.
Michael Lichaa had 61, Kaysa Pritchard 73, Jayden Brailey and Peter Wallace were tied on 77 and Nathan Peats had 81 points

So a countback is required.

McInnes has ranked first in two fields and never ranked last, while Koroisau ranked first in three fields and last twice. McInnes therefore is more consistent and would thus be ranked as the Number 1 hooker for NSW.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Moral High Ground Agenda (2016)



Today the Australian Rugby League team was selected for the Four Nations tournament, with two notable omissions, Andrew Fifita, who was near best on field in the Grand Final and Semi Radradra.

The reason given is that both players have tarnished records off the field. Todd Greenberg stated today during the team announcement regarding Fifita, “selection for the Australian team requires standards on and off the field and as he is currently under investigation by the Integrity Unit, we believe he still has some way to go to meet those off field standards.”

He went on to say that, “we believe that to wear the Australian jersey, the most prestigious jersey in our game, you should have to distinguish yourself both on and off the field.”

Firstly, I want to say that I fully agree with Greenberg’s statement. We should have only the best role models wearing our national colours. You are on the world stage and you should be a prime example to all people everywhere to earn that jumper, so as to set the best possible example for every child out there who wishes to wear that jumper in the future.

Fifita was handed a paltry $30,000 fine and a one year ban from the Penrith District Junior Rugby League and a six week suspension from the NRL for abusing a referee. This year he landed in hot water again for publicly showing support for convicted one punch killer Keiran Loveridge.

Meanwhile Semi Radradra has been charged with two counts of common assault and one count of causing actual bodily harm to his then partner, which he has pleaded not guilty to.

The problem with the decision to prevent these two from playing, based on the grounds of their off field indiscretions, is that it’s not a rule that has been applied to all players.

Blake Ferguson was found guilty of indecently assaulting a woman in 2013 and handed a two year good behaviour bond. He was selected in the Kangaroo’s squad today.

Darius Boyd inflicted over $1500 worth of damages to a hotel room that he single-handedly trashed before admitting himself to rehab. He paid for the damages he caused. He was selected in the Kangaroo’s squad today.

Josh Dugan was sacked by his former club for a string of off-field incidents, most notably binge drinking with Blake Ferguson instead of attending a recovery session. He was selected in the Kangaroo’s squad today.

Sam Thaiday was one of three players who was punished by his club Brisbane, for his alleged involvement in sexual acts and the unauthorised recording of them in the 2008 off-season. The Broncos fined him $20,000, while he lost a third party sponsorship deal worth around the same amount as well. He also had to attend counselling. He was selected in the Kangaroo’s squad today.

Greg Inglis was even charged with assault but the charges were later dropped. He accepted to undergo a diversion order that meant he had to attend a behavioural change program and pay a fine of $3,000 to a women’s health service. He was selected in the Kangaroo’s squad today.

If the NRL want to be serious about this, and they most certainly should be because they are most definitely taking the right stance, then it should apply to all players. Anything less is only a mockery of the game and makes team selections and omissions farcical.

Worse still, it provides grounds that can justify the inclusion of players whose off-field demeanour should prevent them from ever being selected. That is what this rule should set out to achieve, but today, it has failed itself.