5 November 2014

Cockles Stuck to My Hull - Tom's Season Review

Ahead of the Grand Final, I started to put some ideas together for my personal "End of Season" blog. Yet for the first time in a while I found myself with very little to say

Better qualified people than I (which is a long winded way of saying Mark) will put together a far more in depth entity than I would be able to, and you would find me lacking by comparison. I will, however, endeavour now to compose my own, more introspective review. A review of MY season. My first season as a Podcaster.

My aim being to give you some insight into the journey I went on and the role that the Super League Pod has played in my life since it's genesis in July 2013.

At the end of February 2013 I began making concrete plans to end my life. 

Whilst at the time I was undiagnosed, I was astute enough to understand that I was suffering from serious depression. I ticked every box in terms of symptoms and causes. I had a relatively important job in social care, was not looking after my physical well being in terms of diet and exercise, I had a young family and a mortgage.

Everyone operates under strain and pressure at different times in their lives and most people cope. I was not coping and, over a period of two years from 2011, I began, very gradually, to find life harder to deal with.

Typically of most who suffer from clinical depression, the disease crept up on me. Before I knew the true significance of what I was dealing with I went from suffering an occasional low mood on Sunday evenings, to imagining driving my car into motorway bridges on my daily commute to work.

Also typically of most men in my position, and despite having a loving family and close group of friends nearby, I never spoke about my feelings. I put episodes of low mood down to day to day stress, and when what I now know to be episodes of high anxiety bubbled to the surface I was able to apologise my actions away, and reassure those nearest to me (who invariably were the recipients of my teary breakdowns) that I was simply stressed out by work. Meanwhile, a disease took hold of me and I quietly did nothing about it.

In December of 2012 things became so bad, and my breakdowns so frequent that I first sought medical attention. I went to my local GP, and whilst I by now knew I was depressed, I skirted around that subject and emphasised to my doctor that I felt stressed at work and was struggling to cope with things on a professional basis. 

Based on my half truths I was prescribed medication to help with attacks of anxiety ( a common blood pressure medication called Propanolol) which shortly was followed up with a prescription for an apparently old fashioned anti depressant called Citralopam, which I was to take at night to help aid my sleep.

As the adage goes, if nothing changes, nothing changes. I continued to work for a short while before using stress to be signed off from work, but I continued to imagine (fantasise isn't the right word) ways in which I could kill myself.

Outwardly, I was able to maintain a facade of my usual personality. Inwardly I was dismayed that being away from work was not easing the grip of my depression.  I discovered that taking one of my Citralopam's helped me to sleep, but taking two of them allowed me to blank out the world on days where I had no parental duties to occupy me. Three of my little tablets coupled with a small amount of alcohol allowed me to sleep away entire days. 

When left to my own devices I would alternatively research painless ways to kill myself and take endless online tests to see if I was depressed. Once I made the decision to take my life I felt freed. I felt no guilt because in my mind I was also freeing the people I loved of what I saw to be the burden of me.

2013 was due to be a busy year for me socially and I decided to use two or three events as "last hurrahs". They would give me an opportunity to see people I cared about at their happiest and, in my mind at least, I would be able to say my goodbyes.

On June 2nd 2013, whilst sharing a rare lie in with my wife, I crept from our bedroom, making sure not to pick up my mobile, kissed my also sleeping daughter goodbye and quietly left our home, via the back door, for what I thought would be the last time. A group of actions which sicken me today.

I caught a bus into Blackpool, bought a cheap plane ticket so as to fool anyone who might try to find me into thinking that I was trying to leave the country (although I would later discuss in therapy that this plane ticket might also have been a safety net in case I backed out of my plans at the first attempt), caught a train to Manchester, checked into a hotel and began drinking strong lager with Jack Daniels chasers in the hotel bar. After six or seven repetitions I returned to my hotel room, having arranged for a early morning call (to expedite my discovery and quickly bring about an end to the worry I would have caused in my disappearance), took my remaining ten Citralopam and climbed into bed.

My next recollection, albeit a hazy one, is of the phone in my room ringing. Feeling desperately sick, I drowsily answered and was informed that there was a telephone call for me. Half asleep and drunk I allowed the call to be connected and found I was speaking to my mum. She, along with many people close to me had spent the day and night calling hotels in a gradually increasing radius after learning from the police that I had been filmed getting on a train at Blackpool and getting off at Manchester. What followed was an emotional phone call which even as I type brings tears to my eyes, where she stayed on the phone, refusing to let me hang up, until my dad arrived in the dead of night to pick me up and bring me home.

Ashamed and feeling massively guilty, I was dropped off at home to see my wife after my little girl had been dropped off at nursery. Quite understandably, a very fraught, emotional reunion quickly turned into an argument which left me foetal on my kitchen floor, crying uncontrollably. An ambulance was called, but my parents returned before it could arrive and took me to hospital themselves, where a bed was waiting for me on the psychiatric ward of Blackpool Victoria Hospital.

I stayed in hospital for almost a month. Initially this was a jarring experience. I was checked on at fifteen minute intervals for the first three days. This was gradually relaxed to the point where by my fourth week I would sleep at the hospital but spend large portions of my days with my wife and family, before I was released into community care and integrated back into the home environment. Whilst in hospital I was given care I never thought available. I was able to talk to neutral people, who were empathetic. I talked through big issues and small ones, about my life as it was and as it had been when I was younger.

I am a tremendously lucky man. I had a lovely childhood and experienced no abuse. My parents are good people and raised me well within consistent, fair boundaries, and whilst we weren't rich, I never wanted for anything. Initially this only served to add to the guilt I felt about my actions, but eventually it lead me to see that depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts are a disease like any other.

To my mind, depression is like cancer. It begins as a little abnormality and slowly grows. Unchecked and untreated it will most likely do you very serious physical harm and ultimately, it will kill you.

Viewing my depression as a disease allowed me to understand two things. Firstly, a disease can strike you regardless of social standing, life experiences and your current circumstances. Secondly, knowing you are ill means you also have the chance to fight your illness. In the same way that ignoring a lump won't make it go away, ignoring mental illness has exactly the same result. Nothing changes, it just gets worse.

But in understanding my situation, I was now imbued with a responsibility. If you have cancer, you can chose to fight it. You can undergo medical procedures, live a life that maximises your chances of recovery and make a choice to actively fight the thing that is trying to kill you. With mental illness the choice is the same. Only the treatment differs. Medication, therapy and living a healthy lifestyle (for the most part!) are my tools against my illness. I owe it to my family and myself to take an active part in my recovery, and to take responsibility for it. In speaking to my loved ones, I discovered that they weren't upset by me as a person, but by the choices I made. I was shown a lot of faith during my recovery, and part of that means I owe a debt. One which I can now repay by acting on my understanding of how I work mentally, and by not repeating the steps that lead to my hospitalisation. 

I am no longer suicidal, and haven't been for much of the time since my diagnosis and treatment in hospital. That said, I know that I am still battling to keep my depression from returning. Through making positive choices about my life I have greatly reduced the chance of my depression returning, and I also know the warning signs.

For me, it's the intangibles that have the biggest effect. When you start to live healthily you don't notice an immediate change in how you feel physically, but within a couple of weeks, you do. This payoff and sudden realisation is itself a tonic for the illness. Doing things that are creative has also helped me enormously. Music is an important part of my life that I had neglected for many years, and whilst I'm not looking (or talented enough) to be the next Mercury Prize winner, I have built for myself an arena in which I can fulfil this drive in me. And it makes me feel good. So I keep doing it. 

Sport, and almost exclusively Rugby League, has a similar positive effect on my state of mind. Again, at 32 I think it's unlikely that I will be the next big thing in our sport, so I needed to find a way that I could immerse myself in the game I love whilst also being able to actively contribute to it as a lifestyle.

It is in fact Mark who deserves credit for Super League Pod and it's role in my life for the last year or so.

Coming out of hospital I was armed with an idea. An idea that I wanted to create something. Something I could leave behind, look back on, and be proud of. I didn't want to measure success in terms of wider appeal or recognition, but I knew that I wanted to create. It was the act of DOING rather than the end product that would be most cathartic to me.

One of the first social events I attended following my time in hospital, was the christening of a friends son. Mark was there with his partner Emma, and at some point in the day, I spoke to him about how I was doing generally. It was then that I mentioned that I wanted to start podcasting. I'd had the luxury of time recently to listen to other podcasts and had been struck by how easy a market it was to crack. There are no barriers to entry. You record on a basic device, you edit if you want, and you upload it. How far you push your podcast in terms of wider recognition or exposure is up to you, but very quickly, the thing you have made is out there. For anyone on the internet to discover. Even if most of them don't.

Initially my idea was to record the conversations my close group of friends had. We would meet regularly for dinner at someones home and I had always found that the conversations were funny, often to the point of food spitting, so I suggested this to Mark. I was slightly disappointed by his less than enthusiastic response, but a few days later, whilst driving to Bradford to watch the Bulls/Dragons match, he suggested that a podcast would in fact be a good idea. His take on it, however, was to do a rugby league podcast. One where we would go to games and record ourselves talking about the match and news at the time as we went to and from each game. This idea was kicked around and modified to the point where we had the basis for the Super League Pod.

One of the things I admire most about Mark is his level of commitment to his pursuits. There is no half arse-ing with Mark (mostly). By January we had worked out how we wanted the show to look in terms of its structure. We had made social media plans and launched our twitter feed and Facebook pages. We prepared and researched ahead of our first episode. A season preview.

On a chilly night in January, I drove to Mark's house with my iPad. We were surrounded by our own handwritten notes in his back bedroom/office. Sat no more than a foot apart, our eyes met and I pressed record. The rest as they say, is history. 

Since those early days we have streamlined and refined our operation to such a degree that barring the most frustrating of technological failures, we are able to record/edit/upload a new show in a matter of about three hours from start to finish.

Through the Super League Pod, we have both enjoyed the chance to interact with (and in some cases meet) an organic and growing group of people whom we would never have encountered otherwise. People who share our passion, if not always our point of view, on rugby league. Twitter and Facebook bring us all together and give us something I believe to be quite unique in our sport. We aren't sponsored, we aren't paid, we are entirely independent of any outside influences save our own opinions. We are two blokes, talking about rugby league and having fun doing it. 

What we have "created", is a space. A space for people to dip in and out of our opinions, return fire with their own, and to get a constant stream of interaction from the guys who herd this particular group of cats around the world of a sport we all secretly feel smug for knowing about.

This entity is what "we" (Mark, me, anyone who has streamed five minutes before turning off, anyone who has tweeted the show, anyone who has liked us on Facebook, or taken time to email us) have created. It will always be there. In twenty years I will be able to play SLP S1 E1 to my daughter (who will no doubt roll her eyes at me). 

The beating heart of the Super League Pod is Mark Illingworth. He labours for large parts of his week putting together stats, reading match reports, writing blogs and organising tweets. His inadvertent gift to me, and aid in my recovery, has been to allow me to share the platform he has had a larger hand in building. A platform where I can crack bad jokes and talk shit about rugby league. He is kind enough only to correct my mistakes on a rare occasion.

The podcast was just one of many facets to my recovery, and these days the only needs it meets are the need to be silly and the need to show off, but a few months ago it was an anchor for me to tie my little boat to. Which, if I strain the metaphor a little harder, makes you a Cockle, stuck to my hull. A small part of my life, that I will find it tough to get rid of without a very long stick.

Creativity is cathartic. It isn't inherently brilliant or immediately world famous. But if something you make is discovered by one person, or a million, the satisfaction and psychological reward are the same. As listeners or tweeters/facebookers, you have rewarded my creativity with your attention, and I am tremendously grateful for it.

As a side note to anyone kind enough to read my words this far, if you recognise in yourself any of the stuff I have talked about in regards to my mental health problems, PLEASE, take half an hour for yourself and see someone about it. You won't feel good, it will be hard to look inside yourself and be honest, but it will feel better sooner if you do. 

Both Mark and I will be back in 2015, when hopefully we can all come out of hibernation together and enjoy the Super League Pod for another series.


Expectations Surpassed - Mark's Season Review

You'll probably expect lots of numbers in my review of the year. There are a few, but I found myself keener to reflect on the journey and the experience of 2014 being a Rugby League podcaster - if you want numbers, there are plenty in the season review episode!

1,500 plus Twitter followers, nearly 6,000 reads of our blogs and over 13,000 plays of our shows. Its been quite a year!

I'll be honest, I thought we'd get through a month with a handful of followers, a few listens from encouraging family and friends and a few curious others dipping in here and there. So to come as far as we have has been great.

The whole idea of staring the show for me was to broaden my experiences as a Rugby League fan. The seed was planted when I went with Tom to some Bradford games purely as a neutral in 2013. This was something relatively new to me, other than sitting around waiting for Wigan at Magic and a Northern Rail Cup Final I had cheap tickets for. It was good to hear a wider range of views, to see how much other fans cared about their team first hand, in amongst them.

From there, through a little bit of planning and a lot of just landing on what we ended up with, a podcast was born.

The result has been that this year I saw games from all three professional divisions and have had conversations (real or on social media) with club owners, RFL officials, TV pundits, journalists, professional players and fans from all over the world. I watched Rugby League in 14 different venues and saw every Super League side live at least twice. I visited some stadiums for the first time in years and others for the first time ever.

The show has given me a happy excuse to go to more Rugby League, to watch more Rugby League, to read more about Rugby League and to write more about Rugby League. And of course, to talk more about Rugby League.

You see, whilst I've been a Wigan season ticket holder since I was at school and lived in Lancashire all my life, I'm not from a Rugby League town and the sport isn't played in schools where I grew up. Few of my friends really understood Rugby League and even fewer actively follow the sport.
From conversations with my granddad and uncle, to internet forums, to Twitter and blog, my opportunities for RL conversation have grown as time has gone by. I've enjoyed that, and no more so than this years where that engagement level has gone through the roof.

My highlights of the season include Wigan's away win at Saints, the entire Magic Weekend - not just Wigan's win over Leeds - and Origin I. Though my biggest highlight was putting together Episode 40.

It was great that so many of you had taken the time to vote for our awards and it was so much fun listening to some of your voices with your season reviews. Whilst we couldn't fit everything we wanted to say in the show, it helped me remember some of the fun times we had along the way.
It's been really enjoyable getting to know a lot more rugby league people and getting to see a lot more opinions and views. That brings me to my closing thoughts really.

I want to end with a big thank you! Firstly to Tom for putting some impetus behind this idea and giving some balance to a show that becomes eminently more listenable with his input. Secondly, and crucially, to you, our listeners, readers and followers. This show would not have come so far without the involvement and support we get from you guys.

A massive thank you to every single follow, tweet, play, read, share and conversation at a game!
I hope you all come back next year and keep bringing new people into the SLP family.

Thanks again!


16 October 2014

2014 Disciplinary Review

The disciplinary review process is something we have written about before. This piece is a review of the outcomes and some of the controversies that have been thrown up by this process during the 2014 Super League season.

We have been reviewing all the cases considered by the Match Review Panel - hereafter referred to as the Panel - and decisions made by the Operational Rules Tribunal - hereafter referred to as the Tribunal - this season that relate to Super League players (this was task enough in itself without looking through the other leagues and academy fixtures!).

Before we get started, we would note that the RFL are pretty good about being open and clear about their process and guidelines around the disciplinary - you can read all you need to know on the 'Disciplinary' section of their website including who will be on the panel and the guidelines the panel and tribunal should look to follow, they should be credited for this. Without this open resource we wouldn't be in a position to undertake this review.

In total 624 cases involving Super League players were considered by the Panel in 2014. 538 of those were in Super League regular season games, 32 were in Super League playoff series games and 54 were in Challenge Cup games.

Something we often hear about is bias - towards/against certain regions, certain clubs or certain players. In previous work I've done I've come to the conclusion that this doesn't exist (certainly on the first two counts, I've not really considered the third in detail before). However, I don't suppose the accusations will ever go away.

Table 1 below summarises the data on a team by team basis from the Super League regular season, the only place you can make any like for like comparisons as in the other competitions not all teams played the same amount of games against the same opponents. I've included the 'disciplinary' calls made in game by the officials as well as those made later by the panel and tribunal.
It isn't surprising that by and large the teams who incur the most penalties also end up with the most cases being reviewed by the panel as they will be the ones most frequently being seen to break the rules. This trend is generally followed on to the teams who get the most charges and the most bans.

The anomalies here were Castleford, who ranked low for in game offences but high in the number of games their players missed through suspensions (thanks largely to Justin 'taxi to Red Hall' Carney), and Huddersfield, who were third in penalties and joint first in cases reviewed but had the least number of games lost through suspension.

Neither of these two anomalies suggest bias of any order though to me - the RFL only tend to be biased towards Wigan or Leeds and against every supporters' own club is my general understanding from the normal guff you see on social media and message boards. The often alleged 'Yorkshire Bias' also appears to sadly not sit true as the split in the cases, charges and bans is pretty evenly split between Yorkshire and non-Yorkshire clubs.

Catalan may have some point to their suggestion that they are treated more harshly that other teams, but they do give away the most penalties and only getting around two-thirds of their possible bans maybe balances that argument a little.

Something interesting to discuss from the above table is that there were 70 charges but only 7 sendings off in the 2014 regular season. Does that indicate our match officials are too lenient in game situations? This isn't a question I intend to answer here, but one worth posing.

Could it also be argued that the Tribunal are too lenient as well? After all, they only handed out suspensions that amounted to just over half the tariff the offence gradings would allow. 35 accepted Early Guilty Pleas contributed, but only 11 charges all season have resulted in the maximum possible ban. Do the match officials and the tribunal go too easily on offenders? The numbers seem to suggest they do.

Table 2 below breaks cases down by the type of incident being considered. This table includes data on all cases from all competitions.
The most checked over incidents were for possible dangerous contact offences, making up around a third of all panel cases, but only leading to 19 charges.

High tackles were the next most looked at, although only 6% of these were seen to not be penalty sufficient or less, yet where there was a charge it tended to be at the higher end of the scale. Similar results can be seen for dangerous throw offences, an area that has been under particular scrutiny in 2014 after the Alex McKinnon tragic accident in the NRL.

Of the most commonly occurring offences, striking offences most often resulted in charges. Many of these related to punching or fighting so would be fairly clear cut charges you would think.

Interestingly the highest punished offences were those directly on match officials. Only two such cases were seen - a negative that there were even that many in my eyes - and both saw charges. 91% of the possible game suspensions were levied from these charges.

Another interesting observation is that only two charges resulted from incidents considered from playoff games, both of which were from the Grand Final, if you weren't aware!

Data errors
This may sound like a small insignificant matter, but one thing that really struck me looking over the data is how poorly it is compiled.

Without looking too closely I was still able to find 33 different errors and inconsistencies in the recording of the disciplinary cases that actually affected the records of almost a quarter of all cases.

The mistakes ranged from mis-spelling club and player names to duplicating case reference numbers and not providing details on cases.

Now hopefully the online records aren't fully reflective of the RFL records of the hearings. If they are, the records that the RFL might use to look for previous offences are seriously flawed for some teams and players. (If anyone at the RFL reads this and wants a full list of the errors we found then get in touch)

DVD inconclusive
One of my biggest gripes with this process is cases where the panel make no referral on the grounds that the DVD footage of the incident is inconclusive, usually to the nature or point of contact.

I'm not for saying that if the DVD doesn't prove innocence then charge them, but I do feel that if there is any doubt from what has been seen that they aren't truly innocent of an offence then a caution should be issued and then next time around the same player for the same type of offence isn't awarded such benefit of the doubt.

I do think it is quite remarkable that in the 624 cases reviewed the panel felt they could make a confident call either way on roughly 95% of them, only citing DVD footage as being inconclusive in 35 cases.

Only three of those inconclusive cases resulted in a caution being issued. This inconsistency is something we will move on to as we look at the approach taken in individual and similar cases.

Now we turn to something I've never really written about before - consistency between individual cases.

With video footage sometimes being hard to come by it can be hard to do this but I will try my best to put something sensible and rational together (red card offences and fights tend to be a bit easier to find video of on YouTube - although we should all get to see the footage of every case reviewed on the RFL website in my opinion!).

I will first comment on some specific instances or similar offences where I would question the outcome. I will then move on to some of the cases people have flagged to us that they were unhappy about.
Scott Grix - Grade B but no ban
I'll start with one that makes no sense to me whatsoever. Scott Grix was charged with a Grade B offence of kicking out at his opponent (light contact with the opponent's head - Case ON/137/14) which normally carries a 1 to 2 game ban if found guilty at the tribunal. Grix was found guilty and fined the standard £300 but received no ban, on account of a guilty plea, showing remorse to his opponent and having a good record.

Normally you would expect that these mitigating factors would help reduce the ban to the lower end of the normal range, so it is surprising that they mitigated the entire ban. What makes it most surprising for me is that Scott Grix had been formally cautioned for a similar offence only a year earlier (Case ON/49/13). How that transpires to him having a good record is beyond me. A player with a relatively recent history of the same offence should not get such benefit of their record being clean in my opinion.

The tribunal were aware of this previous offence and still chose to go outside the recommended range, which I feel is inconsistent with other charges. There have been some Grade B guilty offences where no ban was handed out for similar reasons, but in those cases there was no recent caution (James Roby ON/484/14). If I were players like Michael Lawrence (ON/136/14), Chev Walker (ON/135/14) or Taulima Tautai (ON/755/14) found guilty of other Grade B offences with similar mitigating circumstance and no previous caution for the same offence as charged then I would feel a little aggrieved that I wasn't treated with the same leniency Scott Grix was given.
Gareth Ellis - Shoulder charge grading
The next case I've identified is simply one where I think a better explanation of the grading given would help fans and observers understand the distinctions made by the panel when assessing incidents. The case in question involves Gareth Ellis (ON/185/14). It was a Grade C shoulder charger for which the player accepted a 2 match ban by submitting an early guilty plea.

My question is over the description though. The case file says "Shoulder Charge - Indirect or secondary contact with the head of an attacking player", which under the guidelines could be an B-D graded offence. However, there have been six cases that the panel charged players with shoulder charge offences, two Grade B and four Grade C.

In the Grade B cases the players were noted to have made secondary or indirect head contact, just like Ellis. In all the other Grade C charges direct head contact was noted. That would indicate to me that Ellis' offence should have been a Grade B so he served a longer ban than he should have. For this type of thing, where the grading is different to other similarly described offences, it would be good to get an explanation why the more severe grading was applied.
Ben Westwood - Dangerous throw inconsistencies
The next one to consider is a dangerous throw offence made by Ben Westwood (ON/404/14), charged with a Grade D offence and receiving a 3 match ban (the lower end of the normal range). Really, its fairer to say that this is about the wider treatment of dangerous throw offences and Westwood's case is just the one that brought something to my attention.

As noted earlier in this piece, the dangerous throw has been an area of particular focus since the horrible career-ending Alex McKinnon injury in the NRL in March. However, there were still only ten charges and nine cautions in the 79 dangerous throw incidents reviewed.

Now, I'm not the first or only person to question the RFL disciplinary process over this type of tackle this season - the different treatment of Justin Poore (ON/200/14) compared to that of a group of Widnes players (ON/177/14, ON/180/14, ON/181/14) for a similar offence on the same weekend brought much discussion on this back in March for example. When you review the videos of the incidents, it's hard to disagree, and I can't improve on what was already said on these tackles.

The thing that interested me about Westwood's case is the note from the tribunal that the rule states that it is not how an opponent lands but what is the likely outcome given the technique used that constitutes a dangerous throw. This was in response to Warrington's not guilty plea, arguing that as the player (Scott Anderson) landed on his back and not his head or neck then it doesn't meet the definition of a dangerous lift. The tribunal were in fact correct and Karl Fitzpatrick, on behalf of Warrington and Westwood, was incorrect - the rules say that a dangerous throw occurs when the player is put in a position where the likely first part to hit the floor is the head or the neck ('the dangerous position'), so the point of landing doesn't matter as long as the likelihood of the head or the neck being that in the lift occurs.

Whilst the tribunal were in this case correct, you can understand Warrington's confusion given that in the write up for the Justin Poore case states "A dangerous throw requires contact with the ground by the head or neck of the opponent" - it doesn't, they just need to be the likely landing point during the tackle/lift/throw.

The bigger question the point made in the Westwood case raises though, is why so many cases were looked at with no charge, with a specific note in the case details being made to the player landing safely or the tackle ending safely. All but one (and I'll get to that one!) of the cases looked at by the panel where no charge or caution was issued mentioned how the player landed safely. However, if the outcome is not that significant to the tribunal, should more charges have been made by the panel? Should at least more cautions be issued? Or should Westwood have been served with a lower grade of offence? All pertinent questions that I feel this case raises for the disciplinary to answer.

Back first to the three Widnes players, who were only given a caution for their dangerous lift where all three contributed in different ways. Four of the Grade B charges we saw this year for this offence included a note that the other tackler's actions were part of the problem, so I don't understand why these three Widnes players didn't get treated the same way as the other four players charged in similar circumstances.

Now, that one case where no action was taken but the safe landing of the opponent wasn't mentioned. It was Liam Sutcliffe of Leeds (ON/679/14) and the panel decided that there was no lifting motion but the head did hit the floor. In this case I would have thought player safety aspect of a tackle that resulted in the head landing on the ground should have been a factor that although no lift was used should still warrant some sort of caution anyway as the result was clearly unsafe.

My view is I wouldn't have any issue with more charges being made on this type of offence, even ones that involve players from the team I support. For example, Dom Crosby only received a caution after Magic Weekend (ON/380/14) for an incident that had the following description: "Dangerous Throw – Other tackler’s actions part of the problem. Player does lift leg of opponent beyond the horizontal however player lands safely on upper back". I don't think landing on the upper back is at all safe and I think the description should be extended to include upper back risk as well as head and neck.

When charges have been made, bans have been fairly severe and grading for such offences reflects the potential for serious injury. I think its time we started taking them even more seriously. Bad accidents happen in Rugby League, but there is no need to lift a player over the horizontal and put them in a position that just makes them more likely.
Macgraff Leuluai - Contact to the head and duty of care
This incident is more recent than some discussed here, so will be fresher in readers mind. Now, I admit, I felt a red card for this incident would have been harsh at the time, although I now am of the mind that a ban may have been appropriate on the grounds of the duty of care a defending player has to the attacker, particularly our skillful ball-playing attackers like fullbacks and half-backs who really we pay to watch entertain us with their skills.

Leuluai was assessed for a high tackle (ON/804/14), rather than a shoulder charge as some on social media felt it should be classified. I agree it wasn't a shoulder charge, there was no rotation of the body and arms were not tucked by Leuluai's side. There was however contact to the head as part of a normal tackle motion, so high tackle to me is reasonable. Indeed, the description of the incident says: "Player makes legitimate attempt to tackle and makes contact direct to the head of opponent". In an apparent explanation of why there was no charge it goes on to say: "however opponent is dipping while trying to re-gather ball".

Immediately I thought of a comparison to a similarly recent red card offence for St Helens' Alex Walmsley (ON/782/14). Originally seen as a Grade C shoulder charge by the panel, the tribunal regraded the offence as a Grade B careless high tackle, Walmsley getting a 1 match ban. The reasoning for the decision noted the following: "The tackling player has a duty of care towards the opponent and has to be aware of all the circumstances". On reflection of this it would be my view that Leuluai would have the same duty of care to a dipping player as Walmsley had to a shorter player (St Helens' defence, that the tribunal and indeed most people, would not accept).

If this incident had been charged in the guidelines of a Grade A or B 'careless high tackle - ball carrier dips' I don't think there would have been too many complaints, especially with the aggravating factor of potential for serious injury that was a factor in the tribunal's decision on Walmsley - an incident where in fact less injury resulted than the Leuluai one.

Whilst talking about high tackles I would talk about another couple of cases where I think there is some inconsistency. Before I go on, I will state that this is not based on bias, let the charge details speak for themselves:
Case ON/174/14: "Rule – 15.1(b) Detail – Reckless – tried to tackle but reckless about outcome Grade - B"
Case ON/108/14: "Rule – 15.1(b) Detail – Reckless – tried to tackle but reckless about outcome Grade - C"

They look pretty similar don't they, apart from the grading. The first one is Jon Wilkin of St Helens. The second is Michael McIlorum of Wigan. My contention isn't with the three match ban for McIlorum (hence why I say no bias), the aggravating factor of the injury caused, combined with his poor historic record meant it was merited. But why was Wilkin's graded differently is my contention. From the descriptions of the events I don't understand the different grades so feel it's reasonable to suggest inconsistency here:
Wilkin: "The Panel reviewed an incident which occurred in approximately the 5th minute of the above Match. In the Panel’s opinion in attempting to tackle your opponent (Riley) you were reckless about the outcome and made contact with the head of your opponent. The Panel believed that your actions were unnecessary and had the potential to cause your opponent injury."
McIlorum: "The Panel reviewed an incident which occurred in approximately the 10th minute of the above Match. In the Panel’s opinion in attempting to tackle your opponent (Dixon) you were reckless about the outcome and made contact with the head of your opponent. The Panel believed that you had the full body of your opponent to aim at and that your actions had the potential to cause your opponent injury"

One final point on high tackles. A lot appear to get no charge because either the tackler is reaching, light contact is made or initial contact is with another part of the body or ball before the head. This to me is fair enough on review and its good that a tough stance is at least being taken on head contact almost always earning a penalty (unless unfortunately missed by the officials) - it is a key player safety concern to limit head contact - but in a fast physical contact sport accidental head contact can happen and it isn't right to punish that with bans every time.

An issue I have though is the complete lack of cautions being issued. Now, innocent accidental contact happens and I'm not saying caution every player guilty of head contact, but where a player is regularly committing penalties of this nature and having cases reviewed they should get some formal caution. Where a player is a serial high tackle offender (say three or more cases reviewed in the same season) then it might be appropriate for some formal caution or warning to be put on their record to help encourage them to keep their tackles down and opponents safe - meaning that if they were ever to be charged they wouldn't have a clean disciplinary record for this type of incident. Under this scheme high tackle cautions this season would be sent to Adrian Morley (Salford), Eddy Pettybourne (Wigan), Paddy Flynn (Widnes), Roy Asotasi (Warrington), Sia Soliola (St Helens) and Weller Hauraki (Castleford).
Tommy Lee & Willie Isa - Two charges from the same game
On two occasions in 2014 a player was charged twice in the same game, and both times I'm not certain the outcome was fair.

For Tommy Lee (ON/611/14 & ON/613/14) his first offence was a Grade B shoulder charge for which he was offered and accepted an early guilty plea (EGP), one match ban. His second offence was one-on-one punching Grade A, for which he got no ban but the standard £300 fine. No other players are fined for accepting a charge on an EGP so the single fine is fair. Its also reasonable that he may not have had a ban from a Grade A offence, but in the notes it seems to suggest that part of the reason for this is the ban from the EGP offence:
"It is also noted that the player has already been punished with a one-match suspension for the previous offence. All things considered, the Tribunal feels that no further suspension is required"
To me, it isn't right that a ban for a separate incident (although one did cause the other) is taken as a reason not to ban a player for a second offence. If the incidents took place in different games then this wouldn't be the outcome, so it shouldn't be for incidents in the same game surely?

For Willie Isa (ON/675/14 & ON/676/14) both offences were for different grades of dangerous contact and both earned him a ban, a total of 3 games. However, the tribunal only issued a single fine of £300 on the first offence and no fine for the second offence. There is no explanation why a second fine for the second offence isn't warranted. Again, if the two offences happened in two different games this wouldn't be that outcome so I can't see it is fair as an outcome when two offences occur in the same game.
Matt Diskin & others - Dangerous contact cautions
My question here would be why cautions were issued in a number of cases where the case details were very similar to other cases where no cautions were issued - or more so, its why cautions were not issued for these other similar cases?

This is clearly an area of particular scrutiny and impetus for the disciplinary. Table 2 above shows it was the most looked at type of incident all season long. Correspondingly (though not proportionately) it resulted in the most cautions and charges as well as the most suspensions imposed. So why the inconsistency in the use of the caution?

Matt Diskin's case (ON/428/14) is given particular note as it was one of twelve dangerous contact cases where my old friend DVD inconclusive featured in the details. I can't understand why, with this type of incident getting particular emphasis from the panel and the tribunal, it was the only one of the twelve DVD inconclusive cases to receive a caution.

Here is a selection of the case details from some of the twelve cases:
Matt Diskin (only one cautioned) - "Player does take hold of arm of opponent however DVD inconclusive as to pressure applied."
George Griffin (ON/529/14) - "Player gets opponent into crusher position however does not regrip and is retreating whilst making tackle. DVD inconclusive as to amount and nature of pressure applied"
Harrison Hansen (ON/651/14) - "Player does make direct contact with supporting leg of opponent however DVD inconclusive as to point of contact."
Paul Aiton (ON/196/14) - "Player does make some contact with the arm of opponent however DVD inconclusive as to exact nature of contact."
Setaimata Sa (ON/533/14) - "Player Makes hold on opponent's leg however DVD inconclusive as to amount of pressure applied"
Tommy Lee (ON/164/14) - "Does take hold of opponent around the neck area and maintains grip. DVD inconclusive as to the nature of contact as the tackle ends."
Vincent Duport (ON/734/14) - "Player gets opponent into crusher opposition however player attempts to make room for opponent and DVD inconclusive as to force applied."
William Barthau (ON/095/14) - "Arm is taken and held but DVD inconclusive regarding the level and nature of any force."

Can anyone explain the difference that earned Matt Diskin a formal caution over his technique but not the others? I'm struggling to understand why. I know a caution isn't a ban and we've seen they can be disregarded a little when making a decision but at the same time this is an important area of emphasis for player safety and cases are being handled differently, quite clearly. It isn't just the DVD inconclusive cases, there are a number of similar case details for incidents that did not result in any action at all where other incidents that appear to have the same basis earned at minimum a caution. If this is a point of emphasis and concern then all tackle techniques that present any risk of injury should result in cautions.

Alternatively, the same approach as suggested for high tackles could be taken (caution issued after three or more similar cases seen in the same season). 22 players could have potentially have received such cautions in 2014, making them more aware of their technique in time for 2015.
Jamie Peacock - no ban for guilty Grade B offence
Similar to the Scott Grix offence discussed earlier, Jamie Peacock was charged with a Grade B offence (punching - ON/471/14) but received no ban. The major factor in getting no ban was that he has a good record of playing over 500 games and had never had a disciplinary tribunal appearance before this one.

I don't want to appear to be getting at Jamie Peacock here, he has been a great servant to our game and does have a good record. However, I feel his record should not be regarded as being as untarnished as the tribunal felt. Its true that he has never faced the tribunal, but when in game discipline is considered he record is not as clean.

Two cases have been reviewed where it was deemed by the panel that the in match sin-bin he received were sufficient punishment so no referral to the tribunal was needed. One was only the season before this new incident (ON/159/13) and the other, though some time ago, was for the same type of offence he was in front of the tribunal for this year, punching (ON/05/09). Two other instances on record didn't reach the tribunal because the DVD footage the panel had wasn't conclusive enough to draw a charge.

In my view this information, particularly the 2009 punching incident, should have meant his good record credit saw the minimum guideline ban of 1 game apply, rather than the tribunal go outside this with a 0 game ban.

Your cases
As well as me having my tuppence worth on these matters, we've been asking you our listeners and Twitter followers to get in touch with cases you feel were questionable throughout the 2014 season. Before I go through the ones we got, I must say I really enjoyed looking these up and would welcome more of the same - any you send in I will add as we go.
Paul (Warrington fan) @paulw1908 - McIlorum on Laithwaite and Leuluai on Russell, blatant attacks on our players and nothing done about them. Josh Jones on Joel Monaghan is another one - it was a late high shot while Joel was on the floor, we got a penalty but nothing else was done.
I've covered the Leuluai-Russell incident above and agree there is some inconsistency/injustice in that one.

The McIlorum-Laithwaite decision was noted as 'Striking' in the case record (ON/791/14) although reads to me more like it should have been noted as 'Late tackle' so I've looked over the records for both offence types. In this situation the details on the records for similar cases suggest the error was on part of the match official not awarding a penalty, but the disciplinary panel view was consistent with other cases - where there is a late tackle but no contact to the head and no illegal shoulder charge then there has been no charge or ban handed out:
McIlorum - "Player makes late contact with opponent however does not use illegal Shoulder Charge. No contact with the head. Worthy of on field penalty."
Jeff Lima (ON/507/14) - "Tackle is late, however is no contact with head. Worthy of on field penalty."
Sia Soliola (ON/242/14) - "Not an illegal Shoulder Charge. Tackle is marginally late however no contact with the head."
Willie Isa (ON/066/14) - "Player does make attempt to make a tackle however attempt is very late. Player does not use illegal shoulder charge and there is no contact with the head. Penalty sufficient."
Willie Manu (ON/528/14) - "Tackle is late but no contact with head. Penalty sufficient."
Shaun Lunt (ON/723/14) - "Tackle is marginally late however contact is across chest"

Whilst it was a big shame that injury was suffered following the late hit, and its clear a penalty could well have been awarded for the late hit, the panel would see head contact as the main issue when thinking whether or not to charge the player and as that wasn't a part of the tackle I think the call was at least consistent with all the similar incidents that were reviewed. I suppose the question mark may be, given the injury suffered to the head when Laithwaite hit the floor (and not because of the point of the tackle), should there be more emphasis and crack down on late hits that have the potential to indirectly cause injury for 2015 and beyond if a player safety issue is being highlighted?

The Jones on Monaghan incident (ON/758/14) isn't one I remember and isn't the type of incident you would easily find footage of, so I'm limited in being able to compare it with other cases. Based on the case record it was considered as possible striking but the Panel decided it was a legitimate tackle attempt and a penalty for the high tackle element was sufficient.

Based on Paul's recollections I can only off the top of my head think of one similar offence, where there was head contact in a tackle on a player on the floor. That was Benjamin Garcia on Sam Powell (ON/589/14) where he hit him on the floor during a fiery period in the game and was sin-binned following a team warning being issued. The case details were slightly different in that they decided it was a swinging arm by Garcia, not a legitimate tackle attempt, but they couldn't conclude head contact like they did in Jones' case.

With the lack of further examples of similar I'm struggling to say how consistent the panel dealt with the Jones case. It reads as being fair based on how high tackles are treated, although as I've said above I feel it might be time to be tougher on these offences.
Mark (Leeds fan) @markstevo72 - Bowen high tackle, late hit on Aiton v Saints, Carvell tackle when he ended up in a neck brace, Moon getting two games but Walmsley only one.
A few good ones to go at so thanks for these Mark.

I assume the Bowen incident referred to is the one in the season opener where Wigan hosted Huddersfield (ON/020/14). One thing to note on this one is the details of the case are as long as any details for a no charge outcome, maybe they just had more time on their hands early doors. I've copied the details out below with some key words highlighted:
"Late tackle on opponent after opponent has kicked the ball. Defender maintains contact with floor with one foot and does not jump in to contact. Initial contact is with shoulder which then causes the arm to slide up under the chin of the attacker. Defender has open hand throughout the tackle. Penalty sufficient."

Not excusing this bad tackle, which was fully worthy of the on field penalty and given it was also arguably so late it was off the ball I wouldn't have argued against a harsher in game punishment. However, I think the panel who have longer to look over the incident made a consistent call based on their assessment of it. 23 high tackle offences scrutinised mention initial contact being off or around the attacking player's shoulder being a factor in a penalty being sufficient and no charge being made, so that is consistent. There are also four other cases that make specific reference to the tackler having an open hand, all of which resulted in no charge being made. So again, on that basis its reasonable to suggest consistency here.

(Note: I accept it could be argued there was very minimal shoulder contact as the arm rose, but then there was no direct head contact either - a red card with Grade A charge and no additional ban may have been a fairer call. Further note: the game Bowen would have missed, the World Club Challenge, has been widely regarded by Wigan fans as Bowen's worst game this year!)

The Carvell case referred to was a tackle on him by Wakefield's Chris Annakin (ON/756/14). The tackle caused Carvell to leave the game and he went to hospital experiencing pin and needles, where whilst in care he tweeted a picture of himself wearing a neck brace. It was an incident I remembered the fall out from (a League Express journalist was criticised for making it his top tackle in that game) but I couldn't recall the actual tackle - so I found it on YouTube.

The details note that "Player lifts legs of opponent above the horizontal however opponent lands on his side.". Carvell does indeed land on his side.

However, at the point of this still-shot I would refer back to the rules noted earlier - a dangerous throw occurs when the player is put in a position where the likely first part to hit the floor is the head or the neck. At this point there is a clear lift and there has to be a definite player safety concern from the position Carvell in placed in. When the video rolls on the lift actually becomes more pronounced with both legs going over the horizontal, but as Carvell has released the ball he is also able to put an arm down to help break his fall to the floor in the end.

I'm surprised there was no charge, although you could probably freeze-frame a number of similar cases and come to the same conclusion so in that way maybe it isn't inconsistent, unfortunately. If there had been a charge then Annakin would have seen a second ban of the season for this type of offence. In fact, he had a ban in 2012, a caution in 2013 and a 5 game ban in 2014, so Annakin does have to take a serious look at his technique one would reckon.

The Joel Moon (ON/724/14 - video) and Alex Walmsley question Mark raised (ON/782/14 - video), simply based on the case records, is an easy one to answer - the tribunal agreed with the panel that Moon's was a shoulder charge with direct head contact (a charge to which Moon pleaded guilty and the Leeds club and coach conceded was an illegal tackle though out of character), but the tribunal decided Walmsley's was a careless high tackle and not a shoulder charge - it was clear the arms were out in an attempt to wrap the attacker up and there was no rotation of the body, unlike Moon's case where he led with the shoulder.

The guidelines say any shoulder charge with direct initial contact to the head is a minimum Grade C offence, so based on that and the fact that Joel Moon did make direct contact to the head with a shoulder charge means he was given the right grade and the lowest punishment in the guidelines based on all considerations.

The guidelines also say a careless high tackle should be graded A-B, so in that respect Walmsley was given the higher grade for the offence the tribunal found him guilty of and based on mitigating factors got the minimum ban for that grading.

On the face of it the guidelines were followed so the decisions were fair and consistent. Certainly it seems reasonable in hindsight that they were judged as different offences - shoulder charge and high tackle respectively - so that is why they were assessed differently. However, I would question why it was seen as careless and not reckless on the part of Alex Walmsley.

The 'Careless' descriptions are:
A-B Careless – flat hand off balance
A-B Careless - Ball carrier dips
A-B Careless - Stepped and reaching
A-B Careless – initial contact with ball or chest
A-B Careless – second tackler in – wrapping tackle up

The reckless ones are:
B-C Reckless – tackler in control
B-C Reckless – tried to tackle but reckless about outcome

Surely the highlighted one would best describe this offence more than any of the careless ones. The outcome could still have been Grade B and 1 match ban, it just would have seemed more in line with the guidelines that way to me. It does seem strange that the outcome of the cases was different when effectively the danger to the opponents safety was the same in both, but I suppose key is Moon used an illegal technique whereas Walmsley poorly executed a legal technique.

Thanks for those ones Mark, really enjoyed looking in to those case. Unfortunately it doesn't look like any late hit on Paul Aiton was considered by the Match Review Panel so it falls out of scope for discussion here.
Paul (Widnes fan) @pob1976 - Incident between Paddy Flynn and Justin Carney at Castleford. Flynn EGP, 2 match ban. Carney no EGP due to previous record, 2 match ban..
I think an important thing to mention on this case is the availability of the EGP doesn't necessarily mean you deserve a lesser ban than other players charged with the same offence.

Paddy Flynn (ON/403/14) accepted the EGP, effectively accepting guilt for the Grade C charge without having to face the tribunal which would also incur a £300 fine for him to pay. Justin Carney (ON/402/14) also accepted guilt for the Grade C offence, but he didn't have the opportunity to bypass the tribunal hearing that brings with it a £300 fine.

So in effect Carney was treated the same as Flynn in getting a 2 match ban after accepting guilt. The lack of an EGP for Carney shouldn't automatically mean his admission of guilt isn't treated in the same way as Flynn's in my view. It was also noted that Flynn was the aggressor and the instigator of the fight - he caught Carney high a couple of times then nudged him in the face at the play of the ball and although Carney landed the first proper punch, Flynn had his fists up first. That mitigated things for Carney too.

The surprise to me was his previous record of two bans for similar punching offences in the previous 15 months, plus a formal warning over future conduct weren't taken as aggravating factors that meant he got the maximum ban. This of course has nothing to do with the Flynn incident, but is what I would have expected when other cases saw the tribunal report poor previous record as a factor in awarding maximum bans for gradings applied - 6 out of 10 cases in 2014 where a maximum ban was imposed noted previous poor records as a factor in the decision, including a subsequent case involving Carney. On that basis at least you might suggest some inconsistency on the part of the disciplinary committee.
Phil (Wakefield fan) @winitycats - What about the two match ban for Dean Collis earlier in the year for nothing at all.
We went to the game Dean Collis earned this charge from (ON/036/14) but were a little away from the tackle, which I do remember caused Lee Gaskell a fairly serious knee ligament injury, so I looked it up and got this screen grab from some YouTube footage.

Collis was charged for dangerous contact and this picture does suggest he has attacked Gaskell around the knee as the third man in to the tackle.

I wouldn't think Collis intended to injure Gaskell but the charge was for a breach of Rule 15.1(i) - "A defending player, in effecting a tackle, makes dangerous contact (either direct or indirect) with the supporting leg or legs of an attacking player who has been held in the tackle and who is deemed to be in a vulnerable position, in a way that involves an unacceptable risk of injury to that player. Grade - C".

I think the picture suggests the charge was met and it is worth noting Collis was offered and accepted an EGP for the charge, which resulted in injury as noted. On the basis of injury being caused and guilt being accepted and not challenged by Collis or Wakefield I think its hard to say there was nothing in it.

What has to be questioned though was whether Collis was treated consistently with others? A number of others charges for the same offence were made in 2014 after it was agreed there would be renewed focus on this type of tackle for this season. The only one I could find a shot of was this Steve Rapira one that brought only a Grade B charge (ON/126/14 - EGP offered and accepted). Thankfully Alex Gerrard wasn't injured. My opinion, both should have had a charge but should also have had the same grade as each other. Possibly some inconsistency here.
Luke (Castleford) @lukedorn - I can think of one other...
I can only imagine our friend Luke from Castleford is referring to an incident he was intimately involved in. In fact, I'm surprised no one else brought it up given the outrage that stirred around it at the time - Kevin Sinfield's red card and subsequent two game ban for a head butt (ON/617/14).

In reality, this wasn't that controversial. Based on the guidelines a full contact head butt is a Grade C offence. With his good record Sinfield was afforded an EGP, which he accepted for the two match ban any other player in the same circumstances would have been given.

I can't see anything other than this being a correct and consistent decision by the Panel given the guidelines they have to follow. Gary Hetherington, Leeds Chief Exec, disagreed: "“Unfortunately this is another example of the pattern of inconsistency displayed by the Review Panel of the RFL,” he said. “Earlier this year, Hull KR’s Kris Welham was charged with an unprovoked head-butt and received a Grade A charge and no suspension."

Welham's butt (ON/086/14) was also on Luke Dorn (what is it about his face?) but was deemed to be light contact by the panel. The video shows it more on the side of Dorn's head so it wasn't full contact, that much is clear. The guidelines for this would be Grade A-B, so again they went with the guidelines on this case, which was clearly different from the Sinfield one.
Ben Flower and Lance Hohaia - striking
I thought that all but finalising some of the numbers this piece was written. I was happy with that. Then it all kicked off at Old Trafford and one final re-write was needed. Its an incident that has been covered at great length and across all media, so I'll try to not dwell on it too much here, and I don't intend to include the footage or images, we've seen it enough.

Lance Hohaia's forearm strike (ON/830/14) on Ben Flower was bad, but not something we don't occasionally see the like of in a game of rugby league, he had been a little roughed up on the kick chase and he reacted, initiating the major flare up. There was direct head contact, he ran in from a distance, and whilst there was some provocation from Flower on the kick chase it didn't warrant the reaction in my view. I personally don't feel the Panel followed the grading guidelines by giving a Grade B charge. The Grade B forearm/elbow striking offences don't tally with Hohaia's actions as well as "Strikes with elbow off ball reckless" that could be Grade C-E. I would have charged Hohaia with a C. He had the option of an EGP and that would have meant a 2 game ban. I'm not sure if the Panel were influenced by other factors here but it shouldn't slip under the radar completely that they appear to have gone off guidelines in this call. I would not have questioned it if a Tribunal had been held and they felt there were enough mitigating factors to lower the tariff as we have seen that happen before and can be reasonably explained.

Ben Flower's first punch wasn't nice, but again isn't something we never see on a rugby league field and was arguably warranted as a reaction to the striking attack on him. If it was that incident in isolation the guideline descriptions for some Grade A or B offences could have been reasonable: "Reaction to opponent – lashing out" or "Punching – self defence" maybe. But sadly for all involved in rugby league, it didn't end there (ON/831/14).

That second punch on a prone Lance Hohaia unable to defend himself was landed. Its an image I don't want to see again. It was as bad as anything I have seen watching a Super League game and it was awarded the largest ban handed out in the Super League era for an on field offence. Grade F means a minimum of 8 games and the maximum is open ended as the tribunal can apply a period suspension.

The key wording from the report is this section: "This was a flagship game watched by a large audience. The player lost his temper and delivered two blows. The second blow was whilst the opponent was defenceless on the ground. The player can be seen to pin the opponent to the ground and then deliver the second blow. This had the potential for serious injury. On this occasion serious injury did not follow although the opponent did not return to the field of play. The reality of the situation is the actions of this player was malicious and intentional and in the opinion of this Tribunal have been graded correctly at Grade F the most serious grading."

The profile of the event and the wider impact this has had on the view of the sport are in my view would be legitimate aggravating factors to this ban. The outcome was 6 months, which means 13 games, including the World Club Series and 10 Super League fixtures. It should also see him come back after the first Wigan-Saints derby of 2015, a sensible call in my view. As I feel it was as bad as I've seen and has as big a ban as has been given, I'm off the position that the Flower decision, essentially for that second punch, was reasonable. It is hard to compare if it is consistent because I have not seen a player pin down and hit an unconscious opponent before in the RFL data considered (or from what I could recall from watching the sport).

I am surprised no one else was charged. Even the match officials in the #AskTheRefs session after the game stated that Paul Wellens punched Ben Flower and I'm sure those reviewing the match could have found others from both sides possibly offending and at least deserving further scrutiny if not charges.

I must say I'm very disappointed to have had to end on such an emotive, recent and divisive incident that in truth I feel we should just move on from. There are a very wide range of views on this incident that I've read and I'm sure many others that I haven't read. I suppose all I can say to reflect my own view is the clubs involved have both supported the outcome. Its a tough one to talk about, and one I hope we won't see enough cases like in future to even establish if they dealt with it consistently, because that would mean more negative images we don't want to see.

So what conclusions have I drawn and what do I think should change. Firstly, I think the record keeping is poor and when some cases might depend on it or observers views are informed by it then it needs to be better, and with the records should be included footage of the incident considered - especially where a charge is made.

I don't think there is any compelling evidence of systemic bias. In general, the players who have bad records get bigger bans regardless of the club they play for. Incidents that are obviously bad or have caused significant injury or damage are more likely to attract the highest gradings and longest bans, regardless of who the player is or who they play for. Very few appeals are made which indicates the clubs must have some level of support in the system despite a number of public criticisms from representatives of the clubs.

There is an element of inconsistency seen in some of the decisions and there is also an element of inconsistency between the different offences that can have a similar end result getting viewed more differently than this warrants - I'm talking really about potential for head injury with shoulder charges being apparently graded on a different scale to high or dangerous tackles.

There should be more warnings and more longer suspensions in my view. We need to take more seriously those incidents with serious potential to injure a player or harm the sport in a wider context. 79 charges only resulted in 117 games missed through suspension and only 11 cases resulted in the full possible punishment being handed out. The process needs to take more cases as seriously as it took Ben Flower's case. That is not to compare all cases to Ben Flower's case or suggest more Grade F charges should have been handed out, but it is to say that stronger stances need to be taken across the piece to make the process more robust.

I think a greater level of identification of how the Panel have followed the guidelines in their charges, and why the Tribunal may have or may not have followed the normal range of punishment, would help clear things up for clubs and supporters, if not always appease them.

I also think there should be (if there is not already) a monthly disciplinary forum where all those involved with the process meet with the coaches, chairmen and players union representatives to get together and discuss cases where there may be some uncertainty or question marks. Some formal structure and governance to these meetings would be needed so it isn't just a case of clubs bringing their own bans to the table and trying to get a backtrack from the RFL - they have the appeals process for this. This would be for the RFL Compliance Department to draw up I suppose.

It is an interesting process with lots to consider and I have by and large enjoyed writing this essay, because that's what it has become. I've come away feeling the process has holes but not feeling it should be torn up and started again. The RFL need to make a number of things more robust, more definite and easier to understand for the disgruntled fan, but they do have an idea of a system that with some tightening up I would feel will truly be fit for purpose.

I know this has been a long one but thanks for reading and I hope you found it worthwhile. Don't forget to stay in touch with us on Facebook and Twitter and keep up with our latest shows by following on Spreaker or subscribing on iTunes - all the links you need are in the sidebar.

Super League Pod

21 September 2014

Dream Team by Numbers

Everyone knows I like my numbers. Whilst I'm as aware as anyone that they don't always tell the full story, when you have a large enough data set then they should tell a pretty reliable story. Using the numbers that we've given on the shows throughout the first year of Super League Pod, I've compiled an alternative Dream Team, one supported by the numbers. This isn't my own Dream Team per se, I would take a more subjective approach for my own team, but many members might well cross over.

So, what was my criteria? Regular season games only. A player can only be chosen in their most frequent position played in the season. They have to have played in at least half the games, so minimum 14 appearances. All rankings given below apply to players meeting this criteria.

With a lot of strong performances and a number of different playing styles there does inevitably have to be some subjectivity in what to look for in each position. For outside backs I would favour attacking stats. For halves I will favour kicking and creative numbers. For forwards, work rate and efficiency will be more important. However, all round contribution will be considered too as a deciding factor where there was no clear stand out across all number categories.

Fullback - Morgan Escaré (Catalan Dragons)

14 players qualify for consideration at fullback. Oddly, two from Hull KR, because Ben Cockayne played most of his 16 games at fullback whilst Greg Eden qualifies for the list too.

Of those 14 players Morgan Escaré played the most games (all 27) and scored the most tries (27), his average of 1 try per game is the best for any fullback in the 2014 regular season. He was also third behind Eden and Rhys Hanbury for try assists (16).

He's midway down the list for total metres made but his average gain of 9.24 metres per carry was second only to Matty Russell.

Escaré scores a try on 10% of his carries (a try every 10.5 carries) - he leads fullbacks in this category and is second overall to only Joel Monaghan. When adding in try assists too, Escaré tops the list for all Super League players who have played at least 14 games - he either scores or creates on 15% of his carries. He also leads fullbacks (and is second overall to Daryl Clark) in terms of busts or breaks per carry - busting a tackle or breaking the line on 44% of his 284 regular season carries.

In terms of defence Escaré is middle of the pack, not the best but not the worst by any stretch. He's also midway in errors but gives away the most penalties per game of any regular fullback.

Ultimately, he is a player who makes things happen. If you don't enjoy watching him play then you're watching the wrong sport. His numbers well deserved his spot in this team.

Zak Hardaker also had good numbers in a strong season, but his season wasn't as good as the young Catalan player when assessing the numbers only.

Wing - Joel Monaghan (Warrington Wolves) & Josh Charnley (Wigan Warriors)

There are more wingers to choose from. 30 met the criteria. With more players there are more different wingers who top each of the stat categories.

With wingers though the most important job is scoring tries. Ultimately that's why Joel Monaghan and Josh Charnley made the cut - they were 2nd and 1st respectively in tries per game, the only two eligible wingers to score at a better rate than a try per game.

Monaghan was outright top scorer, getting 28 tries in 24 games at 1.17 tries per game. Actually he had a better strike rate in his fewer games at centre than on the wing, but he qualifies for this team as a winger and I couldn't leave the top try scorer out of the stats dream team. He also leads the way with a league leading number of a try every 9 carries (a try in 11% of his carries). His defensive numbers are also decent, being highly ranked in tackles per game and tackle success percent.

Charnley hasn't played a full season, only making 16 Super League outings. He still however managed to score 19 tries at a league leading 1.19 tries per game. Again, with a wingers job being to score tries, how can you leave out the most prolific winger this season. He also ranks top ten in metres, average gain and clean breaks amongst wingers, as well as making top ten in tackle success.

Other notable mentions for category leading numbers: Justin Carney - tackle busts (4.26 per game) and metres (135.68 per game), Joe Burgess - average gain (10.64 per carry) and clean breaks (1.35 per game).

Centre - Michael Shenton (Castleford Tigers) & Kallum Watkins (Leeds Rhinos)

32 players met the criteria of playing at least 14 games and their most common position being centre. Its a very hard position to pick as although all the players mostly played centre, quite a few that lead different categories do so because of the other positions they spent some time in - for example, Chris Bridge leads assists per game but played a lot in the halves and Dan Sarginson leads total metres but played a bit of fullback and wing, where metres are easier to come by with kick returns gains.

The first one picks himself however. Michael Shenton is joint top for centres in try scoring with Joe Wardle (17) and joint top in assists with Chris Bridge (17). He has kept this up regardless of whether it was Justin Carney or James Clare outside him as well as shouldering the captaincy responsibility. He scored or assisted on 12% of all carries, best amongst centres. He also ranks well amongst centres in metres per game (6th), average gain (4th) and clean breaks (3rd). In addition he is 2nd in tackles per game for a regular centre and top in tackle success rate. In terms of getting scores for his team, there has been none better and all around he has also been the best. A nailed on pick in every team of the year for certain.

I could have given the second spot in this team to a lot of players but it went to Kallum Watkins. Before I explain why, honourable mentions must go to Joel Moon, Leroy Cudjoe, Vincent Duport, Mark Percival and Anthony Gelling, as well as Wardle, Bridge and Sarginson already mentioned - all leading or competing strongly across a number stat categories. 

It was Watkins however who all around was the strongest when the attack is complemented by defence and discipline considerations. Watkins is top ten amongst centres in almost all categories, top five in most of those. He doesn't lead many categories, modestly ranked in try scoring in particular, but he more than makes up for it with overall contribution. He is one of only three centres contributing at better than 1 in every 2 games for both scoring and assisting tries (others are Shenton and Gelling). In carries and metres per game only the two Wigan centres in the list do more, but then Wigan's game plan involves more centre play than anyone else. He features high in busts and breaks and is best in the group picked out above for penalties and missed tackles. In the end, it was this all round role that would contribute best to a team's success that got him the nod, although I could have argued a case for a number of centres to go alongside Shenton.

Stand off - Danny Brough (Huddersfield Giants)

17 players were eligible for consideration, but only 6 deserved serious thought - Danny Brough, Kevin Brown, Rangi Chase, Blake Green, Gareth O'Brien and Marc Sneyd. This is because they all averaged at least 1 try assist per game, no other regular stand off did, and creating tries is a key part of their job.

Brough created the most tries (31) and had most assists per game also (1.24). He was lower in tries scored than the others in the select six but he made more attacking kicks and his 9 40/20s put him comfortably ahead of the rest of the league in this momentum changing skill. 

Chase carried more ball, made more busts and breaks but ultimately couldn't help his side to the playoffs with his defence numbers down on the others and he made the most errors and penalties of the six. Brown scored the most tries himself but for the amount of involvement he had the numbers weren't quite enough, defence was poorer than most. Sneyd had the most assists per carry but didn't involve himself enough, also being below some others for defence numbers. Green was strongest in defence and made the fewest errors, but also played the fewest games and was least involved in the kicking game of the six. O'Brien earned his place in the thought process with some stand out performances but only led the way in fewest penalties.

Scrum half - Matty Smith (Wigan Warriors)

14 players were up for consideration for the number 7 shirt in this team. Most of the categories are topped by different players actually.

Per game:
Tries - Richie Myler (0.40 per game)
Tackle busts - Richard Horne (2.05 per game)
Attacking kicks - Josh Drinkwater (5.71 per game)
Carries - Danny McGuire (14.18 per game)
Metres - Danny McGuire (71.05 per game)
Clean breaks - Theo Fages (4.95 per game)
Errors - Luke Robinson (0.50 per game)
Offloads - Luke Gale (1.12 per game)
Penalties - Kris Keating (0.09 per game)
Tackles - Joe Mellor (23.73 per game)

Per carry:
Average gain - Richard Horne (5.91 metres per carry)
Tries/Assists - Liam Finn (try or assist every 6.8 carries)
Busts/Breaks - Theo Fages (bust or break every 3.3 carries)

Tackle success - Theo Fages (96%)

The two stats left out are the two that won Matty Smith the place - try assists and 40/20s. Smith led both, 25 assists (1 per game) and 4 40/20s. His 1.16 tries or assists combined per game also led the eligible group. His influence in helping his team get scores to win games was simply the highest, which earned him the place in this side.

A note on Theo Fages, who to his credit topped a number of categories. His downfall was the influence he had on the scoreboard. His 0.58 tries or assists combined per game was the lowest of the group so that is why he couldn't be considered seriously for this dream team, but credit to him and his development this year. A young player with a bright future, if his club don't push him out for signings with a name the owner likes more.

Prop - Chris Hill (Warrington Wolves) & Jamie Peacock (Leeds Rhinos)

A massive 67 players could be considered in this position based on the criteria set. So many players could stake a claim for so many reasons so I had to start from a basic position of work rate and efficiency. In the end that left me with four players to pick from. 

If I was picking a 17 then Andy Lynch and Eorl Crabtree would have made it in. Lynch was a close second in tackle success (98.03%), also second in missed tackles per game, third in total carries and in total metres. Crabtree was in a bunch on 97% tackle success and fourth in total carries and metres. An average gain over 7 metres per carry, leading in tackle busts (69) and being in the best ten for errors (only 0.19 per game) were a credit to him too. 

However, invariably one or both of Hill or Peacock was ahead of them in the categories mentioned. Peacock has just been a work horse week in week out, reflected in how many times his name has been called in our weekly round ups on the show. He leads all props in tackles (778 - 10th overall in Super League) and carries (519 - 1st overall in Super League). Unsurprisingly, he leads props in both areas on a per game basis too (37.05 tackles and 24.71 carries). He also leads props in metres per game (154.67m). He also tops the eligible props in successful offloads, with 2.33 per game. His efficiency in terms of tackle success and metres per carry are a bit down on other genuine contenders for the team but given his work rate you have to forgive him that really. His effort this year was phenomenal. 

Hill has been outstanding and with plenty of end product too. He tops all regular props in tackle success (98.14%) and total metres (3258m - 2nd overall in Super League), and he is second in total tackles (740), total carries (432) and metres per game (125.31m). If that wasn't impressive enough, he had 5 tries and 5 try assists in the regular season as well as leading eligible props in the tries or assists combined per game with 0.38 and in clean breaks also with 0.38 per game.

Hooker - James Roby (St Helens)

With most teams playing two hookers per game (actually, I prefer to call them dummy halves these days) we have 28 eligible for this side, but I am only picking one. Based on the stats James Roby has to be that one.

Before I explain why, I'll give a nod to Daryl Clark. His 13 tries, 96 tackle busts, 24 clean breaks and 121.67 metres per game led all hookers. His 10.86 metres per carry led all players to have played at least 14 regular season games. Also, credit to Shaun Lunt as an attacking threat with a hooker leading 1.13 tries or assists combined per game as well as Josh Hodgson for durability (played all 27 games, only hooker to do so) and attacking impact (11 tries and 11 try assists). Danny Houghton too gets a note for 1044 tackles (2nd in hookers) at 96% success.

But Roby's stats blow the rest away. He isn't as explosive carrying the ball as Clark, but other than that he is pretty much peerless amongst Super League dummy halves this regular season. He leads in try assists (20 / 0.77 per game). He leads in tackles (1054 / 40.54 per game - leads entire league) and marker tackles (210 / 8.08 per game). He leads tackle success (97%). He leads carries (513 / 19.73 per game) and dummy half runs (424 / 16.31 per game). He leads total metres (2985). In short, he leads all other regular dummy halves in the stats.

Second row - Liam Farrell (Wigan Warriors) & Gareth Ellis (Hull FC)

A total of 36 players played at least 14 games and predominantly started in the second row when they played. Only one had numbers that stood out on both sides of the ball - Liam Farrell. Picking a second was harder as finding a second player who performed equally well in attack and defence stats wasn't so obvious.

I will start with Farrell then. He was in the top 10 for all eligible second rowers in the following categories:

Tries (2nd with 12), tries per game (2nd / 0.57), assists (7th / 4), assists per game (9th / 0.19), missed tackles (1st / 12), missed tackles per game (1st / 0.57), tackle success (1st / 98%), tackle busts (8th / 53), busts per game (4th / 2.52), carries (3rd / 350), carries per game (1st / 16.67), metres (2nd / 2608), metres per game (1st / 124.19), average gain (7th / 7.45mpc), clean breaks (1st / 17), breaks per game (1st / 0.81). His only weakness was penalties, where he gave away second most in the group. Given that he ranks first or second in a number of attack and defence categories, his place in the stat dream team can be considered as nailed on.

Pairing him could have been Elliot Whitehead who was best at try scoring and had high tackle numbers. It could have been Jon Wilkin who led the way in assists and some kicking categories, but this was only by virtue of playing in the halves a bit and they aren't key attributes for a forward when considering his fairly poor tackle success and metre making. It could have been Danny Kirmond who made the most tackles per game but he contributed little with the ball in all regards. It could have been Willie Manu who bust the most tackles but was average across the board. It could have been Larne Patrick who had the best average gain per carry but again didn't have much involvement across the board. It could have been Gareth Hock who led in offloads but he also led in errors and had the worst tackle success. It could have been Brett Ferres who was top in tries/assists per game combined but his all around numbers were average or below. 

In the end it was a player who was consistently above average in most areas without being best in any. From the 36 players to pick from, Gareth Ellis was 3rd in tries per game, 7th in assists per game, 11th in tackle success (but ahead of all the players listed above), 10th in busts per game, 6th in carries per game, 5th in metres per game, 8th in metres per carry and 10th in breaks. Overall it was that 95% tackle success combined with the all around strong involvement that edged it. 

The only other players I would be remiss not to mention are Zeb Taia and Carl Ablett. Both had reasonable above average placings in a number of areas without topping any, similar to Ellis, but respective tackle success of 91% and 92% weren't effective enough numbers for this particular dream team.

Loose forward - Joe Westerman (Hull FC)

There are 15 criteria meeting loose forwards and a few can have a case made for inclusion based on their regular season stats.

As a Wigan fan I would love to pick Sean O'Loughlin and I could have made a case for him too as he leads the 15 players comfortably in tries or assists combined per game and in both tries and assists per game separately too. He didn't have the best numbers in any other category though. His defence wasn't outstanding and the other attacking areas such as metres gained weren't much better than middle of the pack. For errors he had the most in the group - unsurprising as he is the most ball playing of the group but still a mark against him in this team.

So it is that Joe Westerman completes the inaugural SLP Dream Team by Numbers. Top ranked in total try assists (9) and second ranked in tries/assists combined (0.44 per game) behind O'Loughlin, he showed enough scoring involvement to satisfy that facet of the loose forward role. In defence his 93% tackle success was not top drawer but his effort of 916 tackles (rank 1) and 33.93 per game (rank 4) make up for that somewhat. He leads loose forwards in carries, both total (488) and per game (18.07). He has the most metres (2760) by some way and is second ranked with his 102.22 metres per game. He is top in total busts and total breaks, first in busts per game and second in breaks per game.

Others deserve a quick mention too. Grant Millington, good across the board and a very impressive figure of only 4 penalties in 23 games. Hep Cahill topped metres per game and per carry, but had a league worst 1.06 penalties per game. Young Leeds player Alex Foster, on loan at London, also deserved mention in a couple of categories - second in the group with 97% tackle success in a bad Broncos side is notable as well as his group leading number of a bust or a break on 19% of his carries, although he didn't see a lot of ball so his total numbers were not great - still, promise there for sure.

1. Morgan Escaré
2. Josh Charnley 3. Kallum Watkins 4. Michael Shenton 5. Joel Monaghan
6. Danny Brough 7. Matty Smith
8. Chris Hill 9. James Roby 10. Jamie Peacock
11. Gareth Ellis 12. Liam Farrel
13. Joe Westerman

So, there you have it. Your first SLP Dream Team by Numbers. 3 Wigan players (no bias from me I promise). 2 Leeds players. 2 Warrington players. 2 Hull FC players. 1 Catalan player. 1 Castleford player. 1 St Helens player. 1 Huddersfield player. 11 players from top 8 sides and 2 from outside the playoff places. Six featured in the journalist selected official Super League Dream Team, seven missed out from that side.

If you're interested in the source data you can drop us an email, but all the raw numbers are available from the official Super League website.

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