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.

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.

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%

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.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Jim Devereux - The Other "Master" (2016)

While the legacy of the great Dally “The Master” Messenger has endured the tests of time, and rightfully so, there was another great pioneering centre who many argue was as good as Dally.

Jim Devereux.

The son of Irish immigrants, James Devereux was born in 1885 in the Northern NSW town of Tenterfield. He had an elder brother, Phillip, three years his senior, who was born in nearby Armidale.

Phillip stayed in the area before eventually moving further north, while James moved in the opposite direction to Sydney, where he played lower grade Rugby Union in the North Sydney competition, before making his debut in their first grade side in 1906, shortly after turning 21.

The following season, Jim watched on as a rebel New South Wales outfit took on a professional New Zealand visiting side who were en-route to England to play against the rebel Northern Union sides.

The hosts lost the first game in a close battle. A number of changes to the NSW line-up were made for the second game, with Devereux getting called up to play on the wing in what would be his first representative jumper in just his second year of top grade Rugby.

The Kiwis were again too good in game two, but Devereux impressed, dubbed in the press as the “hero of the day,” to retain his place in the third match, which was another hard fought victory to New Zealand.

Three weeks later, Devereux, along with all the other men who played for New South Wales in the three games against the professional New Zealand side, were handed life bans from the Metropolitan Rugby Union.

During the summer of 1907/08, 8 MRU clubs decided to break away and form their own competition, playing Northern Union rules. One of those clubs was Devereux’s own North Sydney, who on February 7, 1908, officially became a Rugby League club, with Jimmy elected as a committee member at the inaugural meeting for the iconic club.

After a strong start to the inaugural 1908 Rugby League season, Devereux was selected at centre, alongside Dally Messenger, for New South Wales against the returning New Zealand side in 2 games before earning a place at centre alongside Messenger in Australia’s first ever Rugby League game and Test, against New Zealand. Despite the narrow loss, Jim was retained for the second test before being moved to the wing for the third.

Devereux’s form saw him earn a place in the Pioneering Kangaroo tour of 1908-09 to England, where he became the first player to score a try in Tests between Australia and Great Britain, when he crossed for the first of 3 tries in the first test played in London.

Team mate Tom McCabe described one of those tries:

He raced for the corner, finding no opening in that direction he wheeled almost at right angles, and beat man after man, and scored between the posts.

Devereux played in 2 of the 3 tests against Great Britain and a mammoth 31 games on the tour, with a total of 17 tries, more than anyone else in the squad.

Another team mate, Peter Moir, revealed in a letter to the Evening News that “Devereux (was) the champion three-quarter.”

Harry Dannatt, a director on the board (and former president) of the Hull Rugby League club managed to secure the services of Devereux and his North Sydney colleague Sid Deane for “a fair price” at the conclusion of the tour in 1909.

Devereux played in 4 games for Hull at the end of the 1908-09 season before staying on for the following season which saw him picked in the York representative team. Hull made it to the final of the 1909-10 Challenge Cup against Leeds which ended in a 7 all draw. Devereux lined up for Hull in the replay just two days later, however Leeds were too strong, running out 26-12 victors.

Jimmy played the first half of the 1910-11 season with Hull before deciding to head back to Australia, accompanying the 1910 Great Britain touring side. He again turned out for North Sydney in just two matches before returning with the British tourists to Hull.

After making a good start to the 1911-12 season, Devereux suffered a series of injuries which hampered him for the rest of the season. He again returned to Australia, this time sharing the ship with the returning 1911-12 Kangaroos, who had just completed a successful tour of Great Britain. Once in Sydney, he played the last 5 games of the year for North Sydney.

1913 saw Devereux earn selection for New South Wales for the first time in 5 years. He played in two games against the visiting New Zealand side, with the hosts winning both games. He then set sail for England yet again.

Once back in England, Jim again played for Hull, playing a starring role in their 1913-14 Challenge Cup victory over Wakefield Trinity, despite playing out of position at halfback.

Devereux scored an impressive 21 tries in just 19 games for Hull in the 1914-15 season before the outbreak of war. Devereux enlisted with the British Army in 1916, earning himself selection in an Australasian Servicemen Rugby Union team later that year. Devereux rose to the rank of Lance Corporal. At the conclusion of the war, he married Daisy Heath, a local lady whom he had known prior to enlisting.

Hull won their first ever Championship in the 1919-20 season in a hard fought 3-2 victory over the mighty Huddersfield side. Hull won back-to-back Championships when they defeat nearby rivals Hull Kingston Rovers 16-14, in a match which saw Devereux score the match winning try.

Devereux and his wife travelled to Australia in 1921, where Jim again made himself available to play for North Sydney, but was unable to break into the all-star backline of Blinkhorn, Peters, Rule and Horder, thus only appeared in 3 games in reserve grade, before retiring from the game.

Jim took on the role of coach of the back-to-back premiers North Sydney in the 1923 season. With his side sitting third and only a slight hope of reaching the final two, the club suffered a cruel setback when legendary halfback Duncan Thompson was wrongly suspended for kicking a player. Thompson was aghast at the accusation and sentence that he vowed never to return to Sydney again. Norths lost all of their remaining games.

Devereux’s team slid again in the shortened 1924 season, winning just 3 of their 8 games and finishing second last. They turned their fortunes around in 1925, running second to the dominant South Sydney outfit right up until the last round, where a loss to Western Suburbs saw them finish the season in fourth.

Jimmy retired from coaching at the end of the 1925 season and went to work on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. On December 3, 1929 he suffered horrific injuries when he was struck by a 35 ton girder that had fallen off a truck. He suffered fractures to his pelvis, left shoulder and right leg, as well as receiving severe head injuries. He miraculously survived, however he had the lower half of his right leg amputated.

Unable to work, the disability and accompanying medical costs almost forced Devereux and his wife into destitution. In 1932, upon learning of the despair of Jimmy, his old club North Sydney donated £50 to help him out. After amassing nearly £500 in medical costs and unable to earn any money, the donation was gratefully accepted. However it wasn’t enough and before the end of the year, he sold his house and decided to return to England with his wife to live a more relaxed life, in an attempt to get away from the hardships that had befallen him since his accident.

Sadly, he passed away just two years later.

He was made an honorary life member of the New South Wales Rugby League in 1914 and was named in the North Sydney Team of the Century in 2008.

Despite weighing just 60kgs, Devereux was described as “an aggressive centre in every sense of the term” by Tom McCabe.

He was fast and agile with a big side-step, was a ruthless tackler and a smart ball-player with great hands. He was constantly regarded as one of the best three-quarters in the world during his time as a player, some even suggesting he was better than Messenger.

Playing Career:
Australia – 1908-09 – 5 Tests, 3 tries, 1 goal

1908/09 Kangaroo Tour – 31 games, 17 tries, 2 goals
New South Wales – 6 games, 3 tries

North Sydney – 1908, 1910, 1912-13 – Played 17 games, 9 tries
Hull – 1908/09-1911/12, 1913/14-1920/21 – Played 172, 102 tries, 4 goals

(also played 37 games in War Leagues from 1915/16 til 1918/19, scoring 25 tries, 9 goals which are not included in official records)

***This article appeared in the Rugby League Review Magazine***

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Super 8's Is Super Silly (2016)

Last year the English Superleague competition cut its competing number of teams down from 14 to 12 and reduced the regular season from 27 games to 23. But they came up with a bold new concept to make up for the missing games and called it Super 8’s.

The top 8 sides at the end of the regular season would play every other top 8 side once more, thus creating an extra seven games. The competition points they accrued in the regular season would remain and for the Super 8’s and teams would be playing to accrue enough points to reach the top four after the Super 8’s had ended, so they could then play in the finals to determine the Champion side.

The problem with this concept is that it’s stupid. In the two seasons that it has been in place, the eighth placed side has had to somehow win at least 4 games more than the fourth placed side, just to match them on points. While it is a possibility, it’s a very slim one given their only opponents are all sides better than them.  In 2015 the Super 8’s confirmed that the top 4 sides after the regular season were still the top 4 sides after Super 8’s. In 2016 the exact same thing has happened again.

This raises the question; why have the Super 8’s? Why not go straight into the finals and save the players bodies?

Furthermore, with 12 teams competing, why have 23 rounds. It means one team will have to play another three times in the regular season. It’s just nonsense and not a fair system at all. The competition would be better served by having 22 Rounds and a top 5 finals series.

Given that Rugby League in England on a weekly basis doesn’t draw large crowds, flooding the market with more of the product only serves to devalue it further and at the risk of shortening player’s careers. In short, longer seasons are doing more harm than good for the game.

This Super 8’s concept is also used in a slightly modified manner to determine which teams are relegated and promoted across divisions. Again this is unnecessary. Why not have the bottom four sides of the higher division play the top 4 of the lower, with all games elimination matches.  

For example:
Superleague 12th v Championship 1st
Superleague 11th v Championship 2nd
Superleague 10th v Championship 3rd
Superleague 9th v Championship 4th

When you consider that all these teams also compete in the Challenge Cup competition, which can see some sides playing 3 or 4 games as well, the toll on players and clubs starts to become absurd.

If a top side in the Superleague played in the Grand Final and the Challenge Cup Final they would play 23 regular season games, 7 Super 8’s games, 2 finals, 4 Challenge Cup and 1 World Club Challenge game for a total of 37 games. That is simply excessive and absurd.

The game needs to find a way to ensure that the dramas that have besieged once great sides like Bradford don’t become commonplace. Cutting down in the number of games will go a long way to alleviating some of those concerns, not to mention reducing the impact on players and would make the game a slightly more rare treat which would have a positive effect on crowd figures.