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Friday, 26 September 2014

The Halftime Spray #21 (2014)

Recently, Manly coach Geoff Toovey commented that the Minor Premiership is undervalued, especially given the length and toughness of the modern competition. And he is absolutely right.
From 1910 til 1925 the team who were Minor Premiers were instantly awarded the Premiership. It was deemed that being the best side over an entire season was worthy enough of the title of Premiers. The only time a final was played was when two teams finished the year on the same competition points (Points differential was not used to determine premiers). Since then the glory of Minor Premiership success has been whittled down.
From 1926 until 1953, a finals system was employed (with the exception of the 1937 season which was cut short to accommodate the Kangaroo's tour). In this finals system, the Minor Premiers would play the third placed side and second would play fourth. The winners would square off in the final.
If the team, who was the minor premier in this time, lost their finals match, they had the right to challenge the winner of the final in a Grand Final.
It was 1954 that saw the worth of the Minor Premiership after a year of toil and being the benchmark, get downgraded. The Minor Premier and the second placed side would play each other in the first week of finals and the losing side would get a second chance and remain in the finals series, while the winner would advance to the Grand Final and get a week off. This system remained in place up until 1972.
From 1973 til 1994 the game moved from a top 4 system to a top 5. The Minor Premier received the first week of the finals off. If they won their first finals game they advanced straight to the Grand Final. If they lost they got a second chance and another week off, while the team that beat them advanced directly to the Grand Final.
As the game expanded to 20 teams in 1995, the finals system did too, with 8 teams vying for premiership glory. Under this system, the teams in the finals were split into two groups, the top 4 and the bottom 4. The Minor Premiers played the fourth placed side. As in the previous finals series, the Minor Premiers still received a week off if they won their first final match or a second chance if they lost.
In 1999, the newly formed NRL adopted the McIntyre system which granted the second placed side the same privilege as the Minor Premier, being that they could both lose in week 1 of the finals and get a second chance, or
win and a get a week off.
It's time that the Minor Premiership was made to be much more rewarding.
So you guessed it, here's my proposal and it is simple.
Keep the current top 8 system, but re-introduce the old rule whereby the Minor Premier could challenge the Grand Final winner for the Premiership.
You could essentially see two Grand Finals in a year. That's bound to make some big coin. It most importantly gives the Minor Premiership an immense amount of importance.

The Halftime Spray #20 (2014)

Last weekend the Newcastle Knights staged a magnificent victory against the Melbourne Storm, scoring a try after the siren sounded to level the scores, before the boot of Kurt Gidley sealed the miraculous victory.
It prompted Craig Bellamy to go into a tirade against one of the two on-field referees, Ashley Klein, claiming Klein had some sort of vendetta against the Storm.
Bellamy said: "Ashley Klein obviously doesn't like the way we play our footy. We've had that many times when we've had him this year and the penalty count, it hasn't even been close. Every time we have Ashley we always seem to be on the wrong side of the penalty count and a fair way on the wrong side."
Craig, your abysmal sportsmanship aside, you are completely wrong, on several points.
If Klein doesn't like the way you play and has an issue with the Melbourne Storm, why is it that your team has won 14 of 24 games played under Klein's control?
Klein has officiated 6 of Melbourne's 20 games this year. They were:
Round 2 - Melbourne def Penrith 18-17. Melbourne won the penalty count 11-10
Round 4 - Canterbury def Melbourne 40-12. Penalties were drawn 7 all.
Round 8 - Warriors def Melbourne 16-10. Warriors won the penalty count 5-4
Round 12 - North Queensland def Melbourne 22-0. Cowboys won the penalty count 7-4
Round 16 - St George-Illawarra def Melbourne 24-12. Penalties were drawn 3 all.
Round 22 - Newcastle def Melbourne 32-30. Newcastle won the penalty count 11-3
Prior to last weekends game, Melbourne had won 1 penalty count, drawn 2 counts and lost 2 counts. They had received 29 penalties to their opponents 32, in games refereed by Klein this season.
Hardly 'a fair way on the wrong side.'
Melbourne has a long history of introducing ugly wrestling tactics to ball carriers to slow down the play the ball or disable opponents. So proficient were they that the NRL brought in laws against the crusher tackle and the chicken wing.
Melbourne's latest tactic has involved a defender lifting up one leg of an attacker as high as they can in an attempt to halt their momentum and turn them around.
Given how badly one of their lifting tackles went earlier the year on Newcastle Knights player Alex McKinnon, you would think the Storm would abandon this particular practice.
It's grubby, it's ugly, it makes the game look unattractive, it injures players and even laws have had to be made to restrict the usage of some of their tactics.
Klein has every right to not like their style of football.
And to learn that Klein has been punished and dropped to lower grades after Bellamy's outright lies is utterly disgraceful.
Bellamy's comments were no doubt a ploy to get referee's to officiate in a manner more favourable toward the Storm.
And that is as deplorable as Melbourne's wrestling tactics.

Monday, 11 August 2014

The Halftime Spray #19 (2014)

Every week fans, officials and players have some gripe with the quality of the match officiating and some of the decisions made. A lot of these are 50/50 calls and people eventually accept them and move on.
But what people cannot, will not and should not accept is ANY error made courtesy of the video referee.
The game is stopped, they have several camera angles at their disposal and the ability to slow play down to a frame-by-frame speed. Furthermore, there are two of them to adjudicate on the decision.
Yet they still make mistakes and this is something that should not be tolerated, when all avenues to make a mistake have been closed off due to the technology.
I am personally getting sick and tired of hearing the referee's boss come out and state that "so and so referee has clearly got that decision wrong."
We know they got it wrong!
How did they get employed if they can make a blatant error that everyone can see?
Furthermore, how do they remain employed after such a mistake?
It's high time that the referee's boss stopped telling us that the ref's made mistakes and set about ensuring they don't do it again.
On-field referee's deserve and receive some leniency on their calls, as they are not privy to several camera angles and opportunities to watch an incident again and again. However they do get the opportunity to send a decision upstairs on possible tries being scored.
A few weeks ago Wests Tigers winger David Nofoaluma appeared to have scored a try against Manly, but the on field referee Shayne Hayne declared it wasn't a try and refused to let the video referee look at it. The replays confirmed that it indeed was a try. Within a minute, Manly travelled the length of the field and scored - and the momentum of the match swung completely the other way.
All people want is consistency. We got used to every try being sent upstairs and learned to live with it. But for some unknown reason, Shayne Hayne chose to bypass this strategy, which is a greater concern than his ‘no try' ruling.
If the on-field referees can't be consistent in how they adjudicate, what chance have the players got of having any respect for them?
If the video referees can't be consistent in how they adjudicate, what chance have the on-field referee's got of having any respect for them?
It's a sad state of affairs when the only decision from any match official that we can completely agree with, is from the referee's boss when he says of the match adjudicators, ‘they got it wrong.'

Sunday, 3 August 2014

The Halftime Spray #18 (2014)

Call me old-fashioned, but if someone told me something in confidence and in private, that's where I'd leave it.
People calling Gorden Tallis ‘honest' for claiming Robbie Farah said Wests Tigers coach Mick Potter can't coach, some 15 months ago, are deluded beyond belief. It's not honest to breach a person's trust or reveal something they said in private.
On Monday night, Tallis revealed that he felt compelled to stick up for his mate Potter when news reports began surfacing some weeks ago that Potter's position could be terminated early.
Rumours about Potter's future were coupled with allegations that there was a player revolt against him. This revolution has been reported as being just one man to as many as ‘the senior playing group' (also known as a wild guess).
‘Honest' Tallis criticised Farah for being quiet while rumours of player unrest towards Potter were fuelling speculation Potter would be sacked. However the week before Tallis made this claim, Farah was reported as saying in the Sydney Morning Herald "There is no player discontent."
Potter backed this up by saying "I have not had one issue about the players."
He also spoke of the uncertainty about his career at the Tigers as being "a little distracting."
Hardly the words of a man who needs any PR assistance.
Tallis decided to reveal his big story anyway, despite it being over a year old and quite very possibly entirely irrelevant.
Did ‘honest' Tallis bother to confirm if Farah's alleged beliefs were still true? No.
After the drama on Sunday at the Tiger's post-match press conference, Farah clearly stated that "Mick has the support of the playing group and will continue to have the support of the playing group, that has never been an issue." Shortly after, the Tigers board agreed to not sack Potter, but to let him see the season out.
Given that Tallis suggested his interest was in defending Potter, one has to wonder how ‘honest' that statement is, given that 24 hours after Potter was saved from the sack, Tallis continued pushing his agenda.
Surely if Tallis was trying to look after Potter, then shutting his gob would help to take the pressure off Potter. His courageous crusade to try and help a bloke (who never asked for his assistance) should have ended when it was announced that Potter would get to see out his contract.
Instead Tallis ironically decided to carry the story on. The ‘honest' Tallis said to Farah after a recent game "Robbie you can have your say, it doesn't worry me."
Yet Tallis is the only one of the two constantly bringing this story up and dragging it out. Clearly it worries Tallis.
‘Honest.'

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.