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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Halftime Spray #17 (2014)

With just seven weeks until the NRL Finals commence, everyone's focus is firmly on the premiership ladder and whether their team will make the cut.
At the end of Round 19, there is just three wins separating 2nd and 13th on the ladder. Every year it seems the competition is getting tighter and tighter. This is clearly a good advertisement to the benefits of a properly functioning and policed salary cap.
But it highlights another issue. The NRL's policy for determining which sides make the top 8 if there are 2 or more teams outside the top 8, tied on competition points with a team inside the top 8.
The first method used is sensible: points difference between points scored and points conceded.
If the teams are still tied, the second method is a convoluted and pointless equation that proves that the team with the best defence will be ranked higher.
If this method doesn't separate the sides, then the side with the most tries scored, then most goals kicked, then most field goals kicked.
If by some chance the teams are still tied, and this is the really amateur part, the toss of a coin will decide.
Oddly enough, there's no protocol to deal with the issue of the coin landing on its side.
So it's with these facts that I decided to break the system based on the current NRL ladder and predicting the outcome of the remaining games.
With only 10 of the 56 predicted score lines relying on the winning side scoring 40 points or more, it's not too unrealistic.
The Final ladder ended up with just 2 wins separating first and last, with 10 teams tied for fourth.
Brisbane were minor premiers with 30 points and a points difference of 126. Melbourne were second with 30 points and a points difference of 12. Wests Tigers were third on 30 points and with a points difference of -9.
Manly, Gold Coast, Sydney, Newcastle, St.George-Illawarra, Souths, North Queensland, Penrith, Canterbury and the Warriors were all tied at 4th on 28 points, with 450 points for and 450 points against.
Canberra, Cronulla and Parramatta rounded out the table on 26 points.
This example is quite extreme clearly, but it raises the question. If a coin toss decides who makes the finals and who misses out, how do they decide which teams square off in the coin toss in this situation?
Or do they just play heads or tails, where a delegate from each tied club has to choose if the coin toss will be a head or a tail by putting their hands on their hand, or their bottom, with the process continuing until enough sides have been eliminated?
That comment could almost be considered sarcastic if it weren't so frighteningly close to a possibility.
There's a lot of merit to play-offs to determine which teams make the finals and it is the only fair way to determine which side is better.
A coin toss to determine a sides season is disgraceful.

The Halftime Spray #16 (2014)

Last week, Jeremy Hawkins was denied his opportunity to play for the Canberra Raiders in the NRL due to the second tier salary cap. In February this year this cap was amended and increased from $375,000 to $440,000 in an attempt to allay this issue.
Alas, it has failed. Why? Because it was a band aid fix to a bigger issue that could be solved quite easily.
Every year, each club has to name a full 25 man squad, players whose salaries fall under the NRL Salary Cap for their respective clubs.
This is where the problem lies. Squad sizes of 25 are just too small. Of the 173 squads from 2004 til 2013, there have been just 8 which finished the season using 25 players or less.
In the same time, there have been 13 occasions where a side has used 34 players or more.
The most common number of players a club uses in a year:
29 players - 28 occasions
28 players - 25 occasions
30 players - 19 occasions
27 players - 16 occasions
26 players - 15 occasions
31 players - 14 occasions
33 players - 10 occasions
32 players - 9 occasions
23 to 25 players - 8 occasions
Even after 18 rounds this year, nearly all the teams have used more than 25 players already.
To add to this absurd squad figure of 25 is this alarming fact: The last time every team in the competition had 25 players or less in the same season was in 1950.
It's pretty clear that a typical squad size in the modern day game is 30 players.
Having restrictions preventing new players from covering for injured players in the NRL side is absurd. We should be giving young players every opportunity they can to play at an elite level.
The NRL should also be employing good occupational health and safety practices, where possible in a contact sport, by allowing clubs to replace injured players without penalty and without forcing injured players to continue playing, so as to help the club remain under the salary cap.
Especially given the comments by Robbie Farah a few weeks ago that suggested none of the NRL players are insured.
All the NRL needs to do to fix this issue is increase squad sizes to 30. To accommodate the extra players, increase the salary cap by a million dollars.
This would ensure that players outside the 30 man squad will be able to play without the club breaching the second tier salary cap, players won't be playing injured, more players will get exposure to the NRL thus creating a larger talent pool, which is a great thing if the NRL continues to plan towards introducing new teams in the near future.

The Halftime Spray #15 (2014)

"People love violence. We love violence in our sport" - Sports psychologist, Professor John Callaghan.
This year's State of Origin series has been criticised by many for being full of niggle tactics and a slap in the face to previous Origin battles.
A lot of that criticism has been directed squarely at the NRL's no punching law. So much so, that it has seen fans, commentators and even players suggest that punching should be returned.
And to some degree, I'd agree with that sentiment, but that's largely due to my passion for the history of the game more than anything else. But we all need to accept that it wasn't the violence that drew people to games, in fact, if the 1970's are any gauge, they drove people away.
So some violence is okay, we still want to watch a good game of footy.
One could argue that niggling is a form of violence. But it's not a sufficiently violent form of violence that some people want. They want punches and blood, like back in the ‘good old days.'
Insert clich├ęd "Cattle dog!" quote here.
It's always a bit confusing when people discuss their reasoning for bringing back punching. They generally say it allows the players to let off their steam and get the anger out of their system. So in a way, they are saying they don't want to see too much violence, but they want to see more violent forms of violence than niggling.
As the game ages and matures, just like the old cattle dog, it loses interest in the fighting.
I actually think this year's Origin series was one of the best in a long time; a war of attrition up the middle, skilled men trying to pry their way through the most unforgiving defences and flashy players doing the unbelievable to save their team from defeat. No one gave an inch.
The niggle tactics while unsavoury to most, I believe showed a passion and aggression that had been waning, almost to the point that it looked a little scripted in recent series.
"It's Origin; we must have some violent incident"
This series we saw a truly desperate NSW Origin side really show passion. For the first time since 1908, they got just a taste of what Queensland suffered through for decades. For the first time, they played with a level of raw passion and desire to win that they've never reached before. They didn't need to punch anyone to show this.
State of Origin keeps growing bigger and stronger and will continue to do so despite punching not being allowed. It seems odd to want to drag it backwards just to satiate some primal desire for a few minutes.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The Halftime Spray #14 (2014)

This weekend some bloke, for some odd reason, took a photo of Todd Carney self-watering himself at a urinal. Don't know why you'd want a photo of that, but that's for another discussion.
However, this image was then passed around on social media by some other bloke seemingly desperate for his 5 minutes of fame. Any publicity is good publicity it seems for this bloke.
All that aside, it has led to the Cronulla Sharks terminating Carney's lucrative contract. His initial contract with the Sharks in late 2011 reportedly contained strict disciplinary clauses. His contract was upgraded in 2013.
If those clauses remained after he re-signed, then Carney's lewd act could be argued to be a breach of contract, hence his sacking.
Was his act enough to deserve a sacking? Probably not. Is it a good look? Definitely not. Is it the sort of publicity the Sharks could have done without? Definitely.
As far as Carney's prior indiscretions are concerned, this is possibly the tamest. Essentially, since moving to Sydney, Carney has been better behaved, but it's hard not to have been considering the moronic antics he got up to at Canberra (and later in Atherton).
This isn't a story about Carney being sacked because of the recent image. This is about Carney's past catching up with him and Carney not being mature enough to simply behave himself and act professional at all times.
At the time, it's alleged that the Sharks CEO Steve Noyce had repeatedly tried to get in touch with Carney after the image surfaced, but Carney wouldn't return the calls. Carney later said he wanted "an opportunity to talk to the players firstly and (then) talk to the board and staff."
According to Carney, Noyce said he'd consider it, but then ten minutes later he learnt that he was going to be sacked. Carney said he "felt betrayed and lied to." He went on to state that if someone else was running the club other than Steve Noyce (who terminated Carney's contract when he was CEO at the Sydney Roosters) then he wouldn't have been sacked.
Regarding the image, Carney didn't know the photo had been taken nor did he expect it to turn up on social media. A remorseful Carney said "as much as it's hurt Cronulla and my career, it's hurt my pride and integrity as a person."
The problem for Carney is that he has failed to show a modicum of maturity in this whole saga. He hasn't admitted that he shouldn't have done what he did in the first place. He also hasn't apologised for it. To try and shift the blame for his sacking to some conspiracy to oust him by Steve Noyce is also very immature. Noyce didn't force Carney to do what he did at the urinal, or take the photo, or publish it online and thus bring more bad publicity to the club.
The Sharks board acted in a hastily yet disorganised manner. Carney wasn't offered an opportunity to explain himself directly to the board and players which I think is concerning. It makes the board appear as though they panicked.
For Carney, his past has caught up with him. His previous transgressions undoubtedly played a large role in his fate this week.
The real victims in all of this though are the clubs fans. They have had little to celebrate this year and when they finally had a reason to; it was taken away from them by a moment of utter stupidity. The fact they keep turning up to games shows their resilience and passion for their club.
The other issue here is the apparent lack of professional support provided to Carney. It's no secret he has struggled with alcohol and off-field incidents and as part of his punishment from his earlier incidents he was ordered to undertake rehabilitation. But it appears there was no follow up. And it appears now that the players are checking up on him to make sure he's okay.
The Sharks have announced they will assist Carney with counselling and support. It concerns me that the club, knowing his past, waited for Carney to make a mistake before providing such essential services to a young man who desperately needs them.
The RLPA needs to work much more closely with clubs and players to ensure that support and counselling is readily available at all times for all players.
Closing the stable door after the horse has bolted is very unprofessional.
The Sharks, in a haphazard manner, have taken the right action. This sort of behaviour should not be condoned. Sure there are players at other clubs who are still playing despite doing worse. That however is an issue of integrity for those clubs and a reflection of the culture they will accept to achieve success.
Cronulla while struggling this year have shown that their integrity is more valuable to them then success. It may seem to be a bit harsh given their current issues (no major sponsor, suspended coach, ASADA), but it is certainly noble.

The Halftime Spray #13 (2014)

Every year in Rugby League, fans are debating topics about illegal tackles, fighting and the like that goes on during games, whether the game is getting soft, if the judiciary is consistent, if the game's image is appealing to children or not and so on.
But one thing that happened on the field that we should never have to talk about, but sadly are this week, is a player alleging that a referee has been bribed.
Last weekend, Parramatta's Chris Sandow asked referee Ben Cummins "How much are they paying you?" after Parramatta were penalised in their game against Melbourne.
Cummins summoned Sandow to the sin bin for ten minutes.
Given that the game has been moulded and shaped to appeal more to children and mum's, Sandow's antics were the truly most unprofessional and disrespectful imaginable.
For journalists to label the comment as nothing more than ‘cheeky' is partially condoning the actions.
But even worse is that Parramatta coach Brad Arthur felt the need to lay the blame at the feet of the referees, as opposed to condemning Sandow's comment.
Arthur said "There needs to be a two-way street with respect shown to the players and the referee"
Well Brad, Sandow showed the utmost in disrespect, which was totally unwarranted. 
He went on to say that Sandow "probably shouldn't have said anything, but the players are out there busting their arse."
Probably. Probably?
He definitely shouldn't have said what he did Brad. There is no grey area here.
I can understand the frustration of feeling like the ref calls are going against you all game. But guess what, every single fan, player and administrator of every single sporting team in every single competition in every single country of the world has had that feeling.
They, like you Brad, have also had days when the dubious calls tend to go your way. You never criticise the referees on those days though do you?
Furthermore, you didn't pay the referees to make those calls, did you?
Sandow's deplorable behaviour deserve a suspension, to teach him a lesson that such comments will not and should not be tolerated. He should be made to undertake a refereeing course and do some training with the refs, maybe even officiate a junior game.
Arthur should be fined by the NRL. His comments have barely stopped short of suggesting that the referees are cheats.
This is the worst possible image that the game could show to children. Leaving it go unpunished is nothing more than a statement that this behaviour is okay and will be tolerated, when it most definitely should not.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The Halftime Spray #12 (2014)

Last week, the Cronulla Sharks captain Paul Gallen revealed that the pressures and stresses of captaining his side engulfed by the ASADA investigation, prevented him from having a third child. He also raised the issue of his younger team mates who have not been coping mentally well with all the speculation.
Firstly I'd like to say thank you to Paul for raising this very pertinent issue. ASADA's investigation has been anything but private and ever since that infamous press conference last year, most athlete's in the country have been tarred with the same brush, while it would appear a fraction of them may be investigated for possible performance enhancing infringements.
But all along, no one has given much thought or care for the players' mental state. These players even do promotions for the NRL about mental health, especially among men, yet it seems no one has bothered to consider the mental health of these men.
Gallen's comments have seen people criticise the NRL for not acting soon enough on this issue. I'm not convinced that criticism is just. Some may ask, "isn't it the role of the Rugby League Players Association to help look after the players off-field welfare, where possible?"
The RLPA state that they "offer a framework of support services relevant to the needs of members over and above the NRL Administration, NRL Club and Player Agent influence."
I find it hard to believe that not one player at the Cronulla Sharks isn't a member of the RLPA. So I asked the RLPA on Twitter, "What percentage of professional Rugby League players in Australia are affiliated with you (the RLPA)?"
The response was a very resounding "All the NRL players."
So why have players not been getting assistance to help deal with the off-field dramas stemming from the ASADA investigation? Is it because players aren't asking for help? Should the RLPA actively contact players and clubs just to check up on them?
Either way, to me it doesn't appear to be an issue for the NRL, given that the RLPA are over and above the NRL as far as providing support services for players is concerned.
The RLPA can't make ASADA go away, but at least they can help players deal with the off-field pressures that have been heaped upon them via the investigation and the shoddy attempts at journalism by some people in the media, looking for a big scoop to further self-inflate their ego's.
These Rugby League players are humans after all.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Halftime Spray #11 (2014)

It's that time of year again. No, not Origin time.
I'm referring to the time when Craig Bellamy complains about the scheduling of Origin and uses his lack of star players to argue for stand-alone rep weekends.
Everyone rightfully goes after Bellamy and his comments and says "well my team has had to do without player(s) as well."
But Bellamy does raise a very valid point and one I have publicly championed in the past. The NRL is the most prolific club competition in the Rugby League World. This is a power that they should use to help promote the game and spread it further.
In order for this to happen though, the NRL season needs to be shortened. Currently it is carried out over 27 weeks, each team playing 24 games, having 2 byes each and an extra week off for the Trans-Tasman test.
I suggest the removal of bye rounds. Cut the season down to 22 games per side. Three stand-alone weeks for Origin and one stand-alone week for the Trans-Tasman match. That saves a week and gives every team 4 weeks off per year. More importantly, it allows all teams to play their full strength side every week.
The rep weekends could be used to have Test matches played between Pacific Island test sides, in a tri series. The winner could play the victor of a European Cup competition to determine the fourth team in the 4 Nations tournament at the end of the year.
It could also be used to televise a women's Rugby League test match. Games showcasing talent in rural Australia could also be played. Matches between other states is another option. Matches between clubs hoping to be in an expanded NRL could also be played.
There are so many great options available and so many games could be played, that fans would not be left wanting for content. The chance to see new teams and other players not in the NRL competing could be a huge drawcard.
Sadly though, it seems the NRL is content with the parameters it has erected around itself. So we'll all just go back to bagging old Bellyache instead…