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Monday, August 30, 2004

Why the NRL maybe isn't all that just yet 

Well my timing is impeccable to be writing about this subject since today I've spied this story in at It's regarding the length of the season with NRL boss David Gallop basically conceding that the season is too long but because of the financial problems they have to have it at the current length to guarantee each team has 12 home matches so they can make some dosh.

But on to what I drafted up in the days before seeing the article...

Check out the scores from this seasons competition and tell me it doesn't need a few weeks shortened from it. Having 24 games spread over 26 weeks plus three State of Origin games, a test match and City v Country for NSW players thrown in there BEFORE heading into a month long playoff series surely CANNOT bring the best out of the players and teams week after week. Or even anything near it for that matter. This isn't supposed to be the Super 12 y'know.

Here's the scorelines by margin:
Tight Games
6 points or less: 47
7-12: 39

Comfortable Wins
13-20: 38

Non Events - Right Bollockings
21-30: 26
31-40: 10
41+: 13

In practical terms two matches a round out of the 7 are 'thrashings', and roughly 1-2 are comfortable wins and the other 3-4 are good contests.

But the real proof lies in the first half and second half split. In the first half of the season there were many more close games than in the second half. Rounds 1-13 saw 48 of the 90 games decided by 12 or fewer points with the majority in the 0-6 point range. In the second half however there have been just 38 of the 83 games to date in that range with more than half of them in the 7-12 point range. What's more the first half of the season yielded margins of 30 points or more on just 7 occasions, compared to the 16 thus far in the second half.

You have to bear in mind that as the playoffs draw near teams try their best to tighten up their efforts to either a) avoid the wooden spoon, b) sneak into the playoffs, or c) get themselves a home semi final. This led to several tight games in this last weekend which would not have ended that way had they been played a month ago. If you basically chopped out say rounds 18-24 then I think you would be looking at a much higher standard of play and tighter games all season.

To add to all this, on 36 occasions to date this season (34 last year) the victorious team has scored 40 or more points.

Teams are more attacking these days than say they were a decade a go and the speed of the game combined with the referees cracking down on slowing the play the ball type tactics doesn't do defences any favours, but as it's the same for both teams the scorelines shouldn't be blowing out so much should they?

Look at the distribution of scores of 40+ over the seasons:
11 in the first half of last season (13 weeks) and 23 in the second half (13 weeks).
13 in the first half of this season and 23 in the 12 weeks of the second half of the season.

My solution as I've said before a few times is to shorten the season by about 4-6 weeks. Put the State of Origin games on Saturday nights with bye weekends for the NRL teams. That way those guys wouldn't have to back up a couple of days later and they could actually build up to the games during the day rather than on weekdays as they do now. And that opens up our (my) puppy idea of having a NZ origin series played at the same time with all the NRL Kiwis in action. North versus South (which includes Wellington) on the Friday night with New Zealand Maori v Bartercard Cup game as a curtain raiser or something similar. Now tell me that wouldn't get a bigger crowd along to Ericsson Stadium or where ever than the Warriors would (in any kind of form).

The shortened season is surely inevitable. Take a look at the National Football League in the US. It's hugely popular with every team bar one of the 32 averaging over 53,000 per home game (the Washington Redskins thanks to the high government official wining and dining/'free lunch' scene average 80,499 a game).

But the regular season lasts just 16 games over 17 weeks. With the playoffs featuring just 12 of the 32 teams and lasting only 11 matches with a two week break before Super Bowl Sunday.

The reason for this is because the games are so brutal that teams simply cannot sustain a high level of performance any longer than that. Bones start to break, ligaments get torn and first choice players fall by the wayside.

Getting back to the NRL, there has been a measured increase in the number of players staying on the field due to injuries because of the limited interchange rule. I would say that having followed both sports fairly closely over the last few years (St Louis Rams fan) that the number of injuries are roughly the same between the sports. For a comprehensive and live and updated list of all the injuries in the NRL this season check this rather valuable list out which even includes links to information on each injury.

I particularly 'like' this write up:
Jon Olzard knee ACL Injury:Rnd 7 Returns: Next season
In Premier League, attempting to save a try by sliding under Shannon Hegarty, he ruptured everything in his left knee including his hamstring and calf muscles. His common peroneal nerve was one of the few structures left in tact holding his knee together. Extensive rehabilitation required.

Or Mark Gasnier (yeah the phonecall guy)..."He played the last 25 minutes of origin III with a broken collarbone. Re-injured it falling out of a car".

Or Glenn Morrison..."Fractured two thoracic vertebrae and cervical ligaments when head compressed making a low tackle".

getting back to being semi serious for a minute. Here is an article from a couple of years ago regarding the players physical futures after they retire from the game.

I'd like to just cut and paste the whole thing because it's a very good article but I'll just do a decent chunk and you can follow the link for the lot. Most of the expert comments are made by John Orchard who is responsible for the above website on NRL injuries.
All season they are bashed and bruised, concussed and left bleeding, stretchered off the field in neck braces, bandaged and strapped, pumped full of painkillers and local anesthetic, lining up in the surgeries of Sydney's best orthopedic surgeons.

But what we don't see is the unspoken legacy of all this macho biffo, the old players crippled with arthritis, bow-legged and hobbling around at 50 like men of 80, enduring the endless torment of bone grinding against bone in hopelessly damaged knees, ankles and shoulders....

"It's hard to know what arthritis feels like 30 years down the track when you're 20," says Roosters team doctor John Orchard, who constantly has to balance the long-term health prospects of his players against their desire to get back on the field as fast as possible.

For instance, removing damaged cartilage from the knee of a young player gives him 100 per cent pain relief for five to 10 years. But if he keeps playing on the uncushioned knee he faces arthritis in 20 to 30 years....

Orchard says surgical advances have lessened the risk of long-term injury to younger players, although the benefit is counterbalanced by the fact the bigger, heavier players of today collide with greater force.

He lists on his website 26 first-grade players this season who have undergone or will soon undergo ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) knee reconstructions. Footballers face "extreme risks" of degenerative conditions of the joints, he says. Their chance of having a knee or hip replaced is five times greater than for the rest of us....

Then there was Warriors forward Kevin Campion, with blood gushing from a nose split wide open at the bridge and 12 stitches still fresh on his forehead from a Y-shaped gash a week earlier. His once-handsome face mangled, Campion is lauded for extreme toughness. Commentators spoke in awe on Sunday of the fact Campion has averaged 100 stitches per season in his 11-year career....

Another league legend whose game was about "getting split" every week was St George and Test forward Johnny Raper, 63, who says the legacy of his brilliant career becomes more apparent by the year.

Last week he had a litre of congealed blood drained from his knees, a biannual chore. There is no cartilage left in either knee and bone just grinds on bone, which has him gritting his teeth at the end of every day. He is woken at night by the pain of arthritis in his shoulders, a legacy of all those low tackles for which he became famous. And if it's not his shoulders it's the radiated pain from the vertebrae crushing a nerve in his neck....
And to go full circle back to the article in the nrl website today look at these quotes from Gordon Tallis and Wayne Bennett:
Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett and captain Gorden Tallis questioned the pressure being placed on rugby league's elite by the demands of a 24-game NRL season as well as the extra load of representative football.

"You only have to look at the good quality players that are running around and how they played in round 12 or round 14 to how they're playing now," Tallis said.

"It's no disrespect to them because they're still great players and they're trying their guts out. But the quality of the football that they play is not the same.

"That's what the fans pay their money for. The fans pay their money to see the good players play every week and play good football."

Bennett was equally effusive on the subject.

"We're sitting at the end of it now like all the other teams waiting to start the play-offs and just going through the motions," Bennett said.

"When you're loaded up with injury, we just have to get through next week now.

"They're not going to change it but that doesn't mean I have to sit here like a dummy. I'm with the players a long time and I know where we're all at.

"Most of the other clubs are in the same boat."
Since the NRL still has their current broadcasting deal until either 2006 or 2007 they really aren't sure of themselves cash wise, and also the NSW pokie machine money can't be guaranteed for much longer either but it would be nice to think that when broadcasting rights come up again and somebody forks out a bucket of cash that we might see a few of the things I mentioned about come into play.

Won't be holding my breath though.

Brilliant! Shame about them Tigers.

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