Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The Halftime Spray #9 (2014)

This is the first State of Origin series to feature two games in Brisbane since 2011. And it appears that the Queensland Rugby League have sought to recoup money from not having had two games in a series since then, by jacking up prices for tickets.
This decision has drawn the ire of not only fans, but also Queensland Origin coach Mal Meninga and Hall of Famer Wally Lewis.
Lewis said that the prices have pushed fans away, "A lot of them can't afford to go along to the game."
While the cheapest tickets sell for $80 (which is $50 more than most similar tickets to regular NRL season games) they have all been exhausted, and some 8,000 odd tickets remain unsold, the cheapest of these cost $220.
For a game that championed the working class from its birth, the QRL has sought to push those very people away. Given that there is a very affordable alternative to watch the game (at home on TV for free), it is utter madness to charge through the nose for tickets to the game.
What the QRL has done is blatantly stupid.
And it's for this reason alone that there should only be one game in Brisbane and one game in Sydney every year. Melbourne has proven to be a very viable third venue and has consistently had very strong crowd numbers over recent years.
While NSW officials have previously hinted that Melbourne is more pro-Queensland, the fact remains that it is a neutral venue and having three games in three different cities ensures that you will always get three sell-outs and you will be making the game available to a much larger number of fans.
Which is what the game should be doing, not trying to squire as much money as possible from the fans. Without the fans, there is no money. 
As Lewis also said, "It's really quite an embarrassing moment for the Queensland Rugby League." Meninga also called the price hikes "extremely disappointing." It is now being suggested that some tickets will be given away to ensure that there are no empty seats.
Last year the City v Country game at Coffs Harbour received massive criticism over exorbitant ticket prices, which saw a miserly crowd of 4,645 attend the match. The NRL corrected this issue this year. The fact that this incident was completely overlooked by the QRL is very poor indeed. 
Take the fans for granted at your own peril.

Monday, 19 May 2014

The Halftime Spray #8 (2014)

The NRL season is approaching two notable times in the season. The State of Origin period, where a select few teams will be depleted of their most irreplaceable players, and the halfway point of the year. But is there anything we can learn from statistics alone when it comes to determining who will make the finals this year?
Probably not. But it won't stop me from giving it a red hot go!
I have done a few comparisons between the last 10 seasons and the differences between table placings after Round 9 and at the end of the season.
This alone can give us a bit of an idea who may reach the finals already.
Some key points:
  • Teams placed 15th and 16th after 9 Rounds have not made the finals in this time. So that would mean that Newcastle and Cronulla can start planning their Mad Monday celebrations.
  • The team placed third after 9 Rounds is the only side to have played in all 10 of the last 10 finals series. So pen in the Titans for finals footy.
  • Teams placed 1st and 2nd after 9 rounds have played in 9/10 finals series. Canterbury and Manly can be pencilled in.
  • Teams placed 4th and 5th after 9 rounds have played in 8/10 finals series. That means the Roosters and the Rabbitohs can be pencilled in as well.
At this stage, you're thinking, this is all quite predictable. But this is where things get silly.
  • Teams placed 6th and 13th after 9 rounds have played in 6/10 finals series. So Penrith and Dragons fans, hold onto your hats!
  • To round out the top 8, the team placed 11th after 9 rounds has appeared in half the finals series of the last decade. So broncos fans, don't give up just yet!
It's been widely accepted that 12 wins will guarantee a side a shot at the finals, but twice in the last decade, teams have made the finals with 11 wins. With the ladder a bit topsy-turvey at the moment, there is potential for the mid-table to become quite congested come the pointy end of the season.
So based on percentages of the past decade anyway, we can say that the finalists for 2014 will be Canterbury, Manly, Gold Coast, Sydney Roosters, Souths, Penrith, Brisbane and St.George-Illawarra.
The favourites for the wooden spoon is a bit more tricky, given that there have been 16 teams for 7 of the last 10 years.
The team sitting last after 9 rounds has gone on to win 5 wooden spoons. Or if you are a Cronulla fan, the team sitting 15th after 9 rounds has won more spoons than any other side, with 4.
Can we determine who will win the premiership? Of course not, but let's have a crack anyway!
  • Teams ranked 1st, 2nd and 4th after 9 rounds have won 2 premierships each.
  • Teams ranked 3rd, 5th, 6th and 13th after 9 rounds have won 1 premiership each.
So of our statistically most probable top 8, Brisbane will not win the premiership
  • The team ranked 1st after 9 rounds has played in 5 grand finals.
  • The teams ranked 2nd, 4th and 5th after 9 rounds have played in 3 grand finals.
  • 5th placed though has lost 2 deciders, 2nd and 4th have lost only one each.
So, it seems the Grand Final will be between Canterbury and one of either Manly or the Roosters.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

The Halftime Spray #7 (2014)

The past week has seen the NRL cop a huge amount of criticism for stopping its competition for a week to play few rep games. The arguments being raised were along the lines of:
  • City v Country is pointless and should be canned.
  • The Trans-Tasman test was going to be a case of Australia dishing out a hiding to the young Kiwi side.
  • No one cares about a bunch of reserve grade players taking part in the Samoa vs Fiji game.
If anything, this weekend's representative fixtures proved all the knockers wrong.
The City v Country game is pivotal to the growth of Country Rugby League and this year fans in Dubbo were treated to a magnificent contest, with the best finish of any game this weekend.
The Trans-Tasman test which was supposed to be a cakewalk for the Aussie side turned out to be a tough contest between the young and exuberant Kiwi side and the more experienced Australian side. The biggest talking point after the game was the stellar performance by the young Kiwi's and less so about Australia's 16th straight test match victory.
And then there was the highly entertaining Test match between Fiji and Samoa. A game played with so much passion, was a great advertisement of fast and powerful football which saw the much less experienced Samoan side claim a victory and enter into their first ever Four Nations tournament at the end of the season, competing against Australia, England and New Zealand.
There was one downside. With the women in League Round fast approaching, this was a great time to actually show the women's Rugby League game prior to the Trans-Tasman test, on Television. It would have been a damn sight more entertaining than that bloke who was doing the pre-match entertainment. It would have been just the thing to show how serious the NRL are about women in league.
Moving forward, this weekend needs to be bigger and better to justify the week off. I believe the NRL can do even more in this week to help promote the game to all demographics around the country:
Friday: Women's Trans-Tasman Test, followed by the Trans-Tasman test - both telecast live
SaturdayFiji v Samoa and Papua New Guinea v Tonga double header - both telecast live
SundayCity v Country Day. Have a Queensland City v Country game, including an undercard game made up of players from the Queensland Intrust Super Cup. There should be a similar undercard game in NSW, whereby players in the Country Rugby League represent against City players from the NSW Cup Competition. These games should all be televised live as well.
The Under 20's Origin game should become a series and should be undercard games for the State of Origin series.
The NRL is undoubtedly the most dominant competition in world Rugby league and I believe that such an honour also carries the responsibility of helping to expand and strengthen the game in every place and in every format it possibly can.

Friday, 2 May 2014

National Rehabilitation League (2014)

This week we have seen the great news coming from both the Newcastle Knights in regards to Alex McKinnon.

McKinnon suffered a horrible spinal injury when he fell awkwardly in an illegal spear tackle earlier this year. Initially there were fears he’d be a quadriplegic.

Since then he has shown insurmountable spirit and courage to try and get himself better. He can move his head and he is able to move both arms and hands. He even has some sensation in his legs.

Alex is a fighter and his recovery is remarkably inspiring. He has an entire community of Rugby League fans around the world wishing him the best.

This week the NRL announced that they would create a job for life for Alex if he requires it. The Newcastle Knights, who had been in contract negotiations with him earlier this year, signed him to a contract over 3 years. Intelligently too, the NRL waived this contract from the Knights salary cap.

Magnificent gestures all round by all involved.

Today, an article called Simon Dwyer the NRL’s dirty secret. Simon Dwyer was a very promising second rower for the Wests Tigers who was touted as a future Origin star, and rightfully so.

But an attempted tackle resulted in Dwyer receiving a spinal injury. While Dwyer can still walk and function reasonably well, he has next to no function in his right arm. The tone of the article was to emphasise that both Dwyer and McKinnon received spinal injuries, McKinnon rightfully received a lot of support while Dwyer, it was assumed, had received nothing.

While the assumption is unfair and mostly incorrect, for me it raises another issue, about player welfare. Each club has their own doctors and rehabilitation staff for their contracted players. But what happens when those players suffer career ending injuries? They retire and are barely heard of since.

And in most cases, they are not providing the services of their former clubs medical and rehabilitation services.

Now I’m going to go on a tangent here briefly. Yesterday the Liberal Government released its commission of audit, essentially a briefing outlining where money could be saved. In a number of cases this even suggested some departments could be closed down completely, leaving many highly skilled and qualified people without work.

As I looked through the list I saw one department and instantly thought of Simon.

Commonwealth Rehabilitation Services (or CRS) is a department that specialises in helping disabled (be it physically, mentally, or both) find sustainable work that doesn’t impact on their disability and ensures that they can produce a high standard of work and earn a good income (essentially reducing or removing the need of money they receive from welfare). It was initially set up to help returned servicemen from World War II.

If this department were to close, the NRL could make a very wise and intelligent move, possibly even the most significant and forward thinking concept of any professional sporting body in the world. They could hire a heap of these highly skilled people to work with players who suffered career ending injuries to help them find alternative work and to keep in touch with them to make sure they are coping well.

It would be essentially the game turning full circle and going back to its first reason of coming into existence, the welfare of the players.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

The Halftime Spray #6 (2014)

City v Country is an annual fixture which has been running for several decades. But alas, everytime it comes around, all the media outlets and people in the big smoke whinge and whine and ask "Why should we even bother with this game"
In the early years the argument was even stronger, given that Country would regularly get towelled up by a full strength City side.
However the argument was just as pointless then as it is now.
Because some of Rugby League's greatest players in this country have come from the bush. Having a City v Country match maintains interest in the game from kids who cannot access their team's games on a regular basis, if at all.
For many years I have demanded that the NRL do more to promote Rugby League in Country Australia, due to the fact that there is so much hidden talent in this expansive region. A failure to capitalise on this is essentially the handing over of this talent to other codes.
When I think of great Rugby League players from the past, I think of Clive Churchill from Merewether, Duncan Thompson from Ipswich, Arthur Beetson from Roma, Graeme Langlands from Wollongong, Peter Sterling from Wagga Wagga, the list well and truly goes on and on.
Furthermore, Country NSW has a similar history in their clashes with City, as Queensland has with NSW, especially when you compare their results. Both regularly got flogged. But both are equally as proud and many would argue, much more passionate, because of the constant floggings. It's the hardship that has built their spirit. It's what makes those players selected for Country cherish that jumper just that bit more than their counterparts.
It is why City vs Country games should be persevered with.