15 November 2017

RLWC2017: Group Stage Emerging Stars

One of my favourite things about recent World Cups is seeing players you don't know much about emerge as possible stars with exciting futures ahead of them.

After the group stages of this years World Cup, I've picked out some of the players who weren't really on my radar before the tournament, but are now.

I've looked at players nearer the start than the end of their careers. I've overlooked players from the big 3 (Australia, England and New Zealand) and I've also swerved the other home nations, as I already know a fair bit about most of their squads.

Here's my selection of players who, for me, have emerged and could go on to be impressive NRL or Super League talents by the time the next World Cup rolls around in 2021.

Joey Tramontana - Italy & Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, 20 years old, Hooker
Listed at only 5 feet 7 inches, Tramontana is one of the little stars to emerge in this World Cup. The RLWC website had him 5th in total tackles at the end of the group stages, with 108. The Fiji game was his defensive stand out performance, with 43 tackles and no missed tackles counted by the stats men. The USA game was his best attacking display, seeing him score 2 tries in an all-round impressive display leading his team around the field.

One thing that does need to be said is his discipline needs work. He gave up 5 penalties in the World Cup, with a sin bin for throwing a bit of a cheap shot against Fiji a low point for him. However, what this did show is his fiery toughness and lack of fear. Being a small bloke, these are qualities you want to see, and you would hope he'll mature as he gets older to use his fire more constructively. The Bulldogs must see something in that, as he was one of the captains in their 2017 u20s side.

He hasn't made his first grade debut yet, but has been a mainstay in the Bulldogs u20s over the last couple of years. Although there was a u-turn over Michael Lichaa after the coaching change at Belmore, hooker isn't a position of great depth for them. Tramontana has definitely made sure people took notice of him at this World Cup and I expect him to become a part of their first grade plans in 2018, but if he doesn't I'm sure he'll attract some interest from elsewhere.

Ata Hingano - Tonga & New Zealand Warriors, 20 years old, Half back/Five eighth
I've seen Hingano play a bit for the Warriors in the NRL, he's played 15 times in total, but I've never seen him really impress enough to understand the faith they've put in him with his long term deal and letting a number of other halves leave in recent years. That was until Tonga played Samoa in week 2 of the 2017 RLWC.

He played well against Scotland, grabbing a try in a game his forwards dominated in reality. His forwards were great against Samoa too, but Hingano stood out as the best half on the pitch, controlling things for his side and leading them to victory with a lot of maturity. He took a back seat a little to his more experienced half partner Tui Lolohea against the Kiwis, but still put in a competent performance that bodes well for his future. Impressive stuff from the young half overall in this tournament so far.

Mason Cerruto - Italy & Penrith Panthers, 21 years old, Full back/wing
Cerruto is definitely more comfortable at full back. He started the 2017 World Cup campaign against Ireland on the wing, it was his least involved and least impressive performance of the tournament. He was tested defensively by a potent Ireland left edge and only made 76 metres carrying the ball. He then moved to full back against USA and Fiji, making 202 metres and 109 metres respectively, with 3 breaks and a try during those two impressive performances.

A look at his Wikipedia page shows he had spells at u20s level for Wests Tigers and Parramatta Eels, before moving to Penrith. His career highlights so far are mostly for Italy, with 7 tries in his 6 internationals - although all his tries have come against minor sides Serbia, Russia and USA. He also played a big role from full back in Penrith's 2017 NSW Cup Grand Final win, with a try assist and 192 metres on 20 carries.

He's tall and a promising ball carrier. Undoubtedly he needs to work on his defensive skills. He's unlikely to crack the first grade squad at Penrith any time soon, so some of the less financially privileged Super League clubs or upwards looking Championship clubs might want to take a look at him.

Ilias Bergal - France & Leigh Centurions, 21 years old, Wing
Bergal is the only player in my list that isn't signed to a NRL club. He's not even signed to a Super League club, but I think Leigh are lucky to pick him up after his very decent
spell at Swinton - 5 tries in 6 games to help them avoid relegation.

Although France were poor in this World Cup and failed to overcome Lebanon in the group stages, there were a couple of positives and Bergal was definitely one of those. He helped them get out of their own territory, listed as making 419 metres and a couple of breaks, second for France only to full back Mark Kheirrallah in those numbers.

Bergal is tougher and more physical than you might expect. He's hard working too and has reasonable positional sense from what I've seen. I definitely think he's an upgrade to what Leigh already have on the wings so I hope he'll get plenty of game time and should do well at a top Championship club.

Alex Twal - Lebanon & Wests Tigers, 21 years old, Prop
Although he's featured for a Lebanon side that I've found to be set on spoiling tactics in their World Cup underdogs role, Twal is clearly a star in the making.

He doesn't appear to be flashy but he definitely has an impressive work rate. The RLWC website has him top of the tackle counts of all players in the group stages. He leads his side in tackles and carries so far. He made over 100 metres in the win over France, was Lebanon's top metre maker and tackler against England - 52 tackles with no missed tackles - and was top tackler against Australia - 45 tackles, although 1 missed tackle upsetting his record.

A Parramatta junior who earned NSW and Australia junior rep honours, he signed for Wests Tigers midway through 2017 and they gave him his NRL debut in Round 17 of 2017. He played from the bench for each of their last 9 games, averaging almost 100 metres and 28 tackles a game, with one of the best tackle success rates in the NRL for 2017. It's just, by that stage Wests were irrelevant, so I didn't catch much of their action!

It's no surprise that he's signed up to 2020 and I expect him to ease the loss of Aaron Woods a little bit for the joint venture.

Viliame Kikau - Fiji & Penrith Panthers, 22 years old, Back Row/Prop
Listed as a prop, Kikau start each of the group stage games in the 2nd row for Fiji. He scored 3 tries, had 1 try assist, came close to 500 metres (491m) with over 10 metres for every carry. He made 4 line breaks, which from what I can tell is the most of any forward during the 2017 RLWC group stages. The only negative number is his 8 handling errors. It does have to be qualified by pointing out Fiji have enjoyed arguably the easiest run of fixtures, playing USA, Wales and Italy.

His stats look great. He passes the eye test too, listed at 195cm and 119kg, he's tall and muscular with plenty of athleticism. He looks strong, powerful and pretty quick.

Fiji born and raised, he got his break in the u20s with North Queensland and won 2015 honours as prop of the year and RLPA NYC Player of the Year. He debuted for Fiji in 2015 and then moved to Penrith, making his NRL debut earlier in 2017, marking the game with a try. He's played 9 times in the NRL now, all coming off the bench for the Panthers. He was also part of their NSW Cup Grand Final winning side, playing the full 80 and making over 100 metres. He's signed up for 2018 at Penrith.

I've not watched much Penrith footy in 2017, so he hasn't stood out to me before the World Cup. The wider running role that Mick Potter has been giving him is showing more of what he might be capable of. If he doesn't get more play at Penrith, other clubs in NRL or Super League should come calling.

Taane Milne - Fiji & Wests Tigers, 22 years old, Centre
Although he only has 1 NRL try and 1 try assist, Milne has found himself playing 18 times so far in the NRL over the past two seasons. He's made over 100 metres in all but one of his starts, but he's mostly only appeared from the bench to grab a few minutes here or there. Maybe that will change now he's left the Dragons to join Wests Tigers.

If his World Cup form so far is anything to go by, they'd be making a mistake by not giving him more game time. He has 4 ties, 7 try assists, 5 breaks and 11 offloads from the three group stage games. Admittedly, playing for Fiji means he's had the easiest run of group stage opponents he could have faced, but that shouldn't take too much away from what has been an exciting and skillful display so far from the player Benji Marshall said had one of the best flick passes he's seen. He's certainly made me take notice of his skills.

Kato Ottio - Papua New Guinea & Canberra Raiders, 23 years old, Centre/Wing
Ottio's stats from the World Cup group stages are okay, although not as impressive as some of the others in my list - still a try, 2 breaks, 6 offloads and 338 metres aren't bad. It's just that I find him really exciting to watch, like the entire PNG back-line have been in this World Cup so far.

He's not quite the youngest of that back-line, but I know more about centre-partner Nene McDonald from his 60+ NRL games despite him being a couple of months younger than Ottio. He's yet to make his NRL debut for Canberra, but probably wound have if it wasn't for serious injury towards the end of 2016 that ruled him out until a few months into 2017. When fit, he has been a stand out on the wing for the Raiders NSW Cup feeder team the Mount Pritchard Mounties, scoring 29 tries in 23 games in 2016, making the NSW Cup Team of the Year at wing.

Tall, fast, skillful and powerful, Canberra have him signed up through 2019. He looks the part and I think he'll be a big NRL weapon on the wing once he gets a chance.

Justin Olam - Papua New Guinea & Melbourne Storm, 23 years old, Wing
With 4 tries and 458 metres, Olam has been a star for PNG in the group stages. It's true that he has an error in him, he isn't the polished performer quite yet, despite being the oldest of the emerging stars in my shortlist, but he's a hugely exciting watch.

He isn't the biggest winger at the World Cup but he's one of the most powerful and exciting ball runners. He hasn't been massively tested with his Word Cup opponents yet, although did face the impressive Ireland left side attack and saw them go scoreless.

He's yet to make his NRL debut for the Storm after moving to them from the PNG Hunters for 2017, but he has made the extended bench on occasion. Most of his work since his move has been backing the Queensland Cup for the Sunshine Coast Falcons, where he faced his former side the Hunters in the 2017 Grand Final, coming out on the losing side.

Thanks for reading. Look out for our special podcast episodes during the off season. For iTunes users, head HERE. For the rest of you, you'll find us HERE.


7 November 2017

How to win in Super League

Listeners to the show will know that we do what we can with the free stats available on the Super League website. One thing that I've been looking at in the off season so far is which of these stats seems to be most important to winning games in Super League.

In a simple breakdown, I've looked at every winning result over the time that the show has been running (so, from 2014-2017). I've counted up when the winning team had the most a particular stat count, when the count was equal between the sides, and when the winning team had less in a stat count than their opponents - then turned these into percentages of the games with a winning result (i.e. not a draw).

The below two charts show the results of the simple process.
The first chart is the basic stats: Tries (T), Tackles (TK), Marker Tackles (MT), Missed Tackles (MI), Tackle Busts (TB), Attacking Kicks (AT), Carries (C), Metres (M), Average Gain per carry (AG), Clean Breaks (CB), Runs From Dummy Half (DR), Errors (E), Goals (G), Missed Goals (MG), Offloads (OF) and Penalties Conceded (P).
The second chart has four stats adapted from those basic ones: Tackle Success Rate (TK%), Goal Success Rate (G%), Positive Impact Plays (TB+CB+OF) and Negative Impact Plays (MI+E+P).

Chart 1
Most of the headline results are fairly obvious - the team with the most tries and goals wins almost all the time. You'd also expect the team making the most metres, the most tackle busts (so also the fewer missed tackles) and most clean breaks to win much more often than lose.
  • 86% of games are won by the team who scores the most tries - only 12 of the 684 games in the period were lost by the team who scored the most tries.
  • 85% of games are won by the team who kicks the most goals (although 52% are also won by the team who misses the most goals!).
  • 79% of games are won by the team who makes the most metres, and 71% by the team who makes those metres at the best average gain.
  • 71% of games are won by the team who makes the most tackle busts (and, as a complementary number, 71% are won by the team with the fewer missed tackles).
  • 70% of games are won by the team who makes the most clean breaks.

It's also clear that using your energy with the ball rather than without the ball is fairly important for success - the team with the most carries and making fewest tackles has a much better win rate than the other way round.
  • The team with the most carries wins 69% of the time.
  • The team with the fewest tackles wins 71% of the time, the 5th highest indicator of all these stats.

What is interesting is that errors, and in particular, offloads and penalties aren't as decisive as we might think.
  • The team who makes fewer errors has won 61% of the time, so it's still an important factor in winning, but it's only the 11th most decisive stat of the 16 shown in Chart 1.
  • The team who makes the most successful offloads only wins half the time.
  • Similarly, when a team concedes fewer penalties they only win half the time.

 Chart 2
These results are a little more interesting still.

This shows having an overall better tackle success rate is very useful, but not as important as not having to make as many tackles in total.

It also shows that kicking at a better success rate than your opponent isn't that important, as long as you're taking more kicks at goal like Chart 1 shows.

Finally, it shows that whilst positive and negative plays are both important, it's more important that you don't make the bad plays, as making more of those has a greater impact on whether you win or not. Now, from Chart 1 we know that it's probably the missed tackles part of this that will hurt your chances most, so this shouldn't mean teams can't take risks in attack - it just means any mistakes in attack have to be backed up by a strong and secure defensive line.

Whilst this isn't the most sophisticated analysis you'll ever see, it is still somewhat informative. In games between evenly matched sides, take a look at who leads the way in the stats that count most when picking a winner.

Thanks for reading. Look out for our special podcast episodes during the off season. For iTunes users, head HERE. For the rest of you, you'll find us HERE.


9 October 2017

SLP 2017 Season Review Show - How to get involved

With the Grand Final slipping into the rear-view mirror, the time is coming to wrap up another season of SLP!

We'll be bringing you our Season Review show on/around 24 October, when we'll look back on last February's predictions (good and bad!), as well as giving some stats and views on each Super League side, and most importantly we'll be including your views on the year that we've just seen. We won't have a show without your input!

There are three ways you can get involved, and we would encourage you to do all three!

1. SEND US AN AUDIO REVIEW OF YOUR SIDE'S SEASON (by email to superleaguepod@gmail.com)

We're looking for just 2-3 minutes on your overall takeaways from 2017 as a fan of your club.

Make the review your own, tell us what you want people to know about your team's season! Some example topics if you're struggling might be high and low moments, best players and performances, youngsters who have made a name for themselves - whatever you feel needs to be said.

You should be able to record them on your phone or other devices easily enough, then email them to us at superleaguepod@gmail.com. We need your reviews in by Sunday 22 October to make the show.

If you don't follow a Super League club, or follow more than one side, don't worry, you can get involved too! We're happy to get your takes on your Championship and League 1 sides too, and we'll give you our under-informed takes on your sides as well! Please send us separate reviews for each side you support.


Our Awards try to cover the good and the bad of the Super League season. We give you a short list, but you also have full freedom to give us your winner if they aren't listed by us. Voting will close on Sunday 22 October at 9pm UK time.

We've brought in a new category this year, so look out for that, and we've also introduced an entirely non-mandatory listener feedback section as well, just to help us get a bit more insight into our listeners. Don't worry, any feedback you give won't be shared with any other party, and if you don't want to answer any question, you don't have to.


We all know the real Dream Team is the SLP Dream Team! We've given you options from putting our heads together to allow you to pick a team you'd be proud to see pull on SLP jerseys. Voting will close on Sunday 22 October at 9pm UK time.

We know that you'll all leave club bias to one side to help pick the best team you've seen this season, or we at least hope you'll try to!

After that, all you'll have to do is wait until the show is released!

Cheers in advance,
Mark & Tom

1 October 2017

Picking at the Bones - Who might get picked up from relegated Leigh?

Leigh's brief stay in Super League has ended so now attention turns to the future. Often that has meant a large player turnover, whether relegated sides stay full-time or not. For Leigh, player turnover will be nothing new after a couple of years in which they've used over 50 players. It's inevitable they'll lose a few players, so let's have a look through their squad and see who'll be candidates to move on.

I'll start with a player who hasn't even got there yet. Bryson Goodwin has a decent track record with 6 tries in 9 internationals for New Zealand and 76% career kicking success. Although he's a little off a 1 in 2 try strike-rate, 71 NRL tries in 178 games over 10 years means he's likely to have other suitors if he can get out of a Championship contract with Leigh. Widnes aren't deep at centre, Wigan could be in the market for a goal-kicking centre, and Warrington and Catalan will be having big squad overhauls. *Edit - We now know that Warrington have taken up Goodwin's contract*

Now I'll be looking at the playing side that fell out of Super League in the Million Pound Game.

If they weren't at Leigh, senior players like 36 year old Mickey Higham and 34 year old Danny Tickle probably wouldn't have gone around in Super League this season, so I don't think they'll be on anyone's wishlist even if they wanted to make themselves available. Harrison Hansen, although a little younger at 31 - he'll be 32 when 2018 kicks off - and with a strong Super 8s showing, may have suitors but I think he's most likely to stay at Leigh. Glenn Stewart is another nearing the end of his career. He wasn't as influential in attack or as hard-working and successful in defence as he was in his year at Catalan. He's contracted to Leigh next year and I'm unsure how many sides will be in the market for a 33 year old on an apparent decline, but he offers good leadership that someone like Salford may look for.

Of the other forwards from the MPG, Liam Hood and Lachlan Burr may be the most likely to attract some interest, unless Catalan go on a French player round-up for Antoni Maria. Both Hood and Burr are in their mid-twenties. Hood has generally saved his best for when the TV cameras were around this year, so teams who might want a back-up hooker with a change of pace may see him as an option, Wakefield or one of the Hull sides maybe. Burr has been one of Leigh's most consistent metre makers, especially in the Qualifiers, and was their best offloader this year. He's a player Catalan or Widnes could benefit from, but Huddersfield would be a good fit I think.

In a bottom four side that has ultimately gone down, both MPG halves have impressed me in 2017. Ben Reynolds impressed me almost every time I saw him, he's a dual run/pass threat with 9 tries and 9 assists over the season, along with a 80% kicking success rate and a good all round kicking game. If he can be attracted away from Leigh, the side that relegated them in the MPG that would be an ideal fit - Catalan will need a running threat to replace Myler and it looks as though they'll need a goal-kicker if Walsh leaves. Josh Drinkwater contributed double-figure assists, showed control in the kicking game and kicked a healthy 3 forty-twenties and showed with a strong Qualifiers record that he can be a good goal-kicker. Widnes, Salford and maybe Wigan could be in the market for a game controlling half back if he hits the market.

In the MPG backs, Ryan Hampshire may have found his best level for now as a Qualifiers level player, but offers good utility and has great speed, so someone like Catalan or Salford who lack backs depth could have interest. Matty Dawson, who has done a little better than I expected as Leigh's top scorer with 15 tries in 29 games, and James Clare who showed up well with 7 Qualifiers tries are also probably in the right place. Both on loan centres might be wanted back at parent clubs. Matty Fleming has earned valuable game time, Ben Crooks has been one of Leigh's best players and if Castleford don't see him improving their squad, Leeds may want centre depth or Widnes could be in the market for that position, and Warrington is an outside chance for me too.

Outside of that, there are a few others in the squad who may interest clubs if they seek a Leigh release.

Daniel Mortimer is obviously experienced in the NRL and fits the bill of many previous Hull KR or Salford signings, but I think both clubs may have learnt from being burnt on similar types of player before. I'm not convinced what the market for him should be, but he'll get another club if he wants one probably. Samisoni Langi made the SLP stats round-up every time he played apart from his first game. It was a fairly small sample size and he didn't contribute as many tries or assists as Leigh would have wanted, but he averaged over 100m a game so clearly is an impact player - Widnes, Warrington or Catalan could be looking for a new centre, and Huddersfield, Leeds or Wigan could want depth there at the right price. Eloi Pelissier feels to me like quite literally the player Catalan were missing this year. Zip, passion and enthusiasm in everything he does, even if that does sometimes slip over the line into penalties or diving. If bridges haven't been burnt, he needs to get back to the Dragons. I can't see another clear landing pad club for him, maybe Warrington who need to replace Brad Dwyer. Mitch Brown has arguably been Leigh's best this year, with the most carries and metres, as well as a rich try scoring form in the Qualifiers. He can play across the back line and do a good job, he brings experience and determination as well as ability and versatility. I imagine lots of sides will look at him. Widnes might be the best fit, where he can play centre and back up full back.

One last player to discuss is Jamie Acton. Yes, he's a thug and a liability given his disciplinary record - 2 sin-bins and 5 charges in 2017, 14 games missed due to suspensions as a result. However, they won a third of his 15 Super League regular season games, no Leigh regular had a better win percentage. His 105 metres per game is also the best of any Leigh regular in the 23 game regular season. 4 tries is good for a prop and he has reasonable defence. If there's any coach up to the task of calming his reactions and focusing his aggression in the right way then Acton belongs in Super League. Sadly, I'm not sure if there is. *Edit - we now know that Acton has committed himself to Leigh*

My guess is about half of the twenty players I've singled out above won't be starting 2018 in the Leigh squad. I suppose one thing relegation does is spice up the off-season transfer market!


2017 Grand Final SLP Meet Up

A few people have asked about a Grand Final meet up, so we've decided to put some plans in place for anyone who wants to grab a beer with us before the Saturday's big game. We appreciate it's fairly short notice, but do come say hi if you can.

Our plan will be to get to The DOCKyard at Media City for roughly 1:00pm.
This pub is located close to MetroLink Line D & Line E, close to local bus routes and close to car parking at the Lowry Outlet shopping centre, amongst other places to park. It's roughly 1 mile walking distance away from Old Trafford.

We will then make the walk to Old Trafford at about 4:15pm, which should give us time to grab a beer or two in the Fan Zone before heading inside the ground for kick off.

Get in touch with us if you're going to be at the Grand Final on our Twitter or Facebook. If you'll be there and want to contribute to our Instagram also get in touch!

Mark & Tom

7 September 2017

Structuring the Future: a different way forward for Rugby League

Changes are coming in 2019 it seems. As ever, views are split and no-one agrees. But all the ideas I've seen are things that we've seen before already - a load of tried, tested, moaned about and moved on from structures.

Personally I'd stick as we are, with very minor tweaks, but if change is in the air my suggestion is one we haven't tried yet, but is hugely successful in America. Here it is!
Super League
  • Super League to be made up of two conferences of 8 each
  • Sides play within their conference home and away (14 games)
  • Sides play inter-conference opponents once - rotating the home/away game in alternating years (8 games)
  • Magic Weekend will see sides play the other conference side who ended the previous year in the same position, i.e. 1v1, 2v2 etc. (1 game)
  • Playoffs: 1v4 and 2v3 in each conference, winners playoff in conference finals, then winner of each conference play Grand Final.
  • Promotion & Relegation can be retained, if desired, by having the bottom side of each conference playoff. They would be replaced by the winner of a Championship Grand Final. (I wouldn't allow P&R in Year 1, to let things settle)
Here's an idea of how it might look, based on current league placings and ability to run as full time clubs in 2019. I'm not a marketing guy, so the conference names are just me spit-balling, but you get the idea.
One thing you'll notice from this structure is there's a lot less games than we currently play. Super League sides currently play 23 regular season games, 7 'Super 8s' games, then potentially a semi and a Grand Final. 30 to 32 games, plus up to 5 in the Cup. In my structure they play 23 league games, then potentially 3 finals games, as well as up to 5 Cup games.

That opens up the schedule for some extra games. Those games could be:
  • Additional 'On the Road' rounds, as part of the actual season of course - inter-conference games between say the top 4 from each and bottom 4 from each, other than your Magic opponent, so 3 more regular season games. They could be played as double headers in places like the Midlands, London, South West, Cardiff, Dublin, Edinburgh etc.
  • An expanded World Club Series (although we might struggle to get NRL buy-in!)
  • International games, with France, New Zealand or Pacific Island nations all possibilities.
  • An Origin Series - Lancashire v Yorkshire, with Cumbria v the South or something as a curtain raiser.
  • You could also work in an 'All-Star' game, with players from each conference other than the Grand Final sides, as a Grand Final curtain raiser maybe, to further encourage fans of all sides to attend.

At the moment I'm not convinced we have the depth of quality below the full time clubs to have the same structure in the Championship as in the Super League.

I would suggest for the Championship:
  • A 12 team league, featuring based on current clubs and current standings:
    • Featherstone, Halifax, Batley, Sheffield, Dewsbury, Rochdale, Swinton, Oldham, Bradford, Barrow, Whitehaven, York
  • Top 4 playoff, 1v4 and 2v3, followed by promotion final at neutral venue - potentially as Super League Grand Final curtain raiser or part of some other 'event'.
  • Bottom side will go down to League 1.
  • Fixtures would be made up of:
    • Home & away v all (22 games)
    • 'Summer Bash' fixture against closest finishing opponent previous year (i.e. relegated side v final loser, losing semi finalists, 5v6, 7v8 etc.) (23 games)
  • I would strongly consider reinstating a cup competition for this level if clubs feel 11 home fixtures isn't enough to sustain required revenue levels to compete.
League 1

It's really tough to make a call on what to do with League 1 right now, with a some uncertainty surrounding the existing clubs like All Golds and Oxford.

If we assume no change for now, we're left with 12 teams: Doncaster, Keighley, Newcastle, Workington, London Skolars, Hunslet, North Wales, All Golds, Coventry, Oxford, Hemel and South Wales.

The obvious solution is to copy the Championship set up. That would work well in some ways, but with such low central funding - and crowds - at this level, I think it needs a unique solution given the distances travelled. 

I would have a north and a south division, with inter-division play, to help the Southern teams progress still. 
  • Sides would play their own division 3 times, with 7 home games, 7 away games and 1 to be decided - it could be neutral for example. (15 games)
  • Sides would play once against the other division - 3 home and 3 away, based on odd or even finishing position the year before. (6 games)
  • The playoffs would consist of 3 North sides, to reflect their generally stronger capability to compete if promoted, and 2 South sides. The top finishing North side gets a 1st round bye. In the 1st round QF1 sees South 1 hosts North 2, and QF2 sees South 2 hosts North 3. In the 2nd round, SF1 sees North 1 hosts winner of QF1, and SF2 sees loser QF1 hosts winner QF2. In the 3rd round, Loser SF1 hosts winner SF2 for the right to face winner SF1 in the Promotion Final. 
  • With Promotion & Relegation to/from the Championship, the make up of the divisions will have to be fluid.
It would look something like this:
Entry to the League

New entrants can enter in one of three ways. All have to be approved by a majority of member clubs.

  1. Application to join League 1 as a new part-time club. They join the most appropriate division and fixture scheduling is adjusted as appropriate. No club will be forced from the structure. 
  2. Application to join Championship as a full-time club. Their will be a requirement to financially compensate the club displaced into League 1. No club will be forced from the structure.
  3. Buy-out an existing club at any level, directly replacing that club in the structure.
I would say 1 & 2 type of entrants need to be ratified by kick off of the season before the one where entry would occur, to allow for confirmation on any structural adjustments. Type 3 entrants will need to be ratified by Super League Grand Final day of the season before the one where the entry/change will occur.

Anyway, that's my idea, if we have to change things. I actually think you could apply my Super League structure to the NRL too. Let me know your ideas too!


19 August 2017

Appreciating Success - The Value of Castleford's League Leaders Title

A big very well done to Castleford Tigers!

They've won the League Leaders title and done so with four games to spare. They've obviously been the best side in Super League this year. Very good in defence, peerless in attack.

The debate/banter amongst commentators and fans now turns to the value of what they've achieved and the level of celebration it deserves.

In my book, they aren't the Super League champions. They side will be crowned at Old Trafford in October. However, that should never take anything away from what the League Leaders title means or is worth.

There are three major trophies available in Rugby League - the Challenge Cup, the League Leaders Shield and the Super League Trophy (with the bonus of the World Club Championship opportunity to the winners).

All three are special. Winning any of the three should be considered a success. All three require slightly different things to achieve:
  • The Cup requires you to raise your game repeatedly for one off winner takes all pressurised occasions, culminating on a massive stage at Wembley to a national audience. 
  • The LLS requires you to be the most consistently good side throughout a season, home and away, against every side. 
  • The Grand Final requires an element of consistency combined with the ability to time being on top of your game weekly for a quick succession of games against the other very best teams in the league.

We should not underestimate what it takes the great athletes of our game to do any of these things. We also should not value what it takes to do any of them over what it takes to do the others. They are all special challenges that, when achieved, should all be celebrated. Equally so in my eyes!

I know they aren't all quite treated equally right now and everyone has their preference or viewpoint. I'm asking anyone reading this to put that behind them, move on from it, start celebrating all the successes equally. I think we'll all feel better about things!

Having a proper presentation and giving medals for the League Leaders winners, and giving it more equality in terms of prize money, are all things that help give the most maligned trophy more kudos. The last step will be to move its award back to the end of the regular season. That should give the winner more time to celebrate it in its own right, without it coming too close to the cup or grand final.

If we as fans start flocking to Wembley for the climax of the cup, whoever the sides on the field are, that addresses any loss of magic there.

The Grand Final sees the champions crowned, no change needed there.

So, fans of Rugby League, I'm calling on you to recognise all the successes equally. Are you with me..?


17 April 2017

Man Down: Does Losing a Player Mean Losing on the Scoreboard?

This is something one of our listeners asked us about recently. I said I had the info but needed to put it all together, and now I have.

After the Salford v St Helens game, where the Red Devils hung on in the last ten minutes despite being a man down, Helen Hughes asked:
"Are there any (free) stats on which side does better during the ten minutes of sin binning in Super League matches? It seems to me that the side who has lost the player often score more during this period, or at least they are not disadvantaged by the sin binning from a points point of view. What do you reckon?"

I suggested the reality was probably that teams generally do better with the extra man, but there will be some memory bias at play, that we'll be more likely to remember the ones that go against the expected outcome. 

In actual fact, having an extra man for ten minutes does generally have a positive impact on the scoreboard. Having an extra man for more than the ten minutes a sin binning provides doesn't seem to give the expected impact on the scoreboard though. Then, when you look at the overall results of the period teams have an extra player, you actually see as many outcomes where a team down a man is equal of or better than their opponents, supporting Helen's supposition.

I looked at every card handed out in Super League from the start of the 2015 season through to and including Round 9 of 2017. I also broke these down specifically for televised games too, as we're more likely to recall games we've actually seen,
Over the period, there were 171 cards, with 120 occasions where this saw one team having any advantage of players on the field - 51 times, cards were either off-setting or came when opponents had already lost a player themselves.

In those 120 games, 60 saw the team that were a man up take advantage, although 60 also saw them fail to do so, with 36 occasions actually seeing it become a disadvantage. Amazingly, this has been more unexpected when a send off has occurred, so a team had a longer man advantage yet only took advantage 5 of 11 times.

Helen was right, and I was kind of right too - that memory can play tricks. You'll see that in televised games the same experience is even more pronounced, as more televised games with cards see a draw or negative result for the side with an extra man than see them take a scoreboard advantage of the numerical one.

The experience does differ a little by year however, as the below full table below shows. In 2015 teams were much better at taking advantage of having an extra man than they were in 2016, although in red card situations in 2015 it still seemed tough to finish off opponents. 
In 2017, the full experience is closer to 2015, with teams more likely to take advantage when they have an extra man. Despite that, in 2017 televised games we do see a greater failure to take advantage of the extra man. Up to Round 7, when Helen asked her question, the full 2016 experience was being seen in 2017. In certainly was a reasonable question to ask and her suspicions are not at all without foundation.

The 2016 information really is remarkable when faced up against the standard wisdom that having an extra man is a big advantage. Maybe this is just a quirk of the information sample I had available, who knows? If it isn't then the spirit of the Rourke's Drift Test is well alive and rugby league teams really can use adversity as a true motivator.

Thanks for reading and feel free to give your views on the explanation for the surprising results in the comments below.


12 February 2017

2017 Round 1 Crowds - Headline looks bad, context looks better

If you take a quick glance at the crowd figures for Round 1 of Super League they look bad. Really bad in fact. The worst opening round average gate since 2003!

The headline figure is an average gate of: 7,981.

That is the third lowest opening round average since Super League began in 1996, and compares to 11,421 for Round 1 last year.

The 7,981 is made up from:
12,208 at St Helens v Leeds
5,031 at Widnes v Huddersfield
8,522 at Castleford v Leigh
6,253 at Salford v Wigan
8,842 at Catalans v Warrington
7,027 at Wakefield v Hull FC

Whilst I'm not suggesting figures like this shouldn't cause the clubs and the governing body pause for thought - we all want higher crowds if we love the game - but I'm here to add a dose of perspective and context to 2017's poor early showing.

The first thing to highlight is that last year's four best attended Super League sides - Leeds, Wigan, Hull FC and Warrington - were all away from home to kick off 2017.

Compare that to 2016, when 2015's best 4 attended sides - Leeds, Wigan, St Helens and Hull FC - all began the season at home, and we already start to get context.

I'll now put things in to more context by sharing the average attendance for all Round 1 Super League fixtures each club has hosted, plus the details of the corresponding fixture in 2016's regular season and their 2016 league average:
*notes on the above: Green indicates figure is lower than 2017 Round 1 attendance, Red indicates figure is higher than 2017 Round 1 attendance. Figures taken from the start of Super League in 1996. All figures are correct to the best of our knowledge, Catalans only have two previous Round 1 figures available, one of which was their first ever fixture. The Round 1 Magic Weekend of 2011 is excluded from all figures. 

Addressing each match/home side in turn:

St Helens
Thursday's crowd represented a 3% increase on average Round 1 gates for them. It was 8% higher than their corresponding match-up with Leeds last year, despite this one being on a Thursday and last year being on the more popular Friday night slot. They also start 2017 off with a 14% hike from the 2016 average attendance for all their league games last year. All in all, a relatively positive start for St Helens.

Probably the biggest disappointment of the round, but given the doom and gloom around predictions for both sides in 2017, not entirely surprising. Even so, there's still some green on the board as the corresponding match in Round 16 last year had a lower crowd than this one, a 7% increase was seen. The 36% drop on previous Round 1 Super League home game average and the 8% drop from last year's average crowd figure are both disappointments that Widnes will be working hard to address I'm sure.

With no corresponding fixture to compare to, we can still see that Friday night's crowd was marginally up on the all-time Round 1 hosting average, albeit less than 0.5% up, but more promisingly 14% up on the 2016 home average for the Tigers. A start they'll surely look to build on as bigger clubs come to town.

Clearly a bright start to 2017 for the Red Devils off the field, helped it has to be acknowledged by a large travelling Wigan contingent. That contributed to a 6% bump on historic Round 1 crowds for Salford and a massive 94% uplift compared to 2016's home league figures. Still, 53% up on last year's match-up between these sides isn't to be sniffed at.

2017 starts with a bit of a downer crowds-wise for Catalans, with the chart above showing all red. Worth noting though that the difference between this game and the 2016 regular season fixture between the two sides was only 17, so not really a difference at all. Perspective should be added around the Round 1 average figures for Catalan too. This was only their third Round 1 home opener since they joined the league. In their first, against Wigan, their first ever game, they had 11,000 watching. In 2009 they hosted Huddersfield in front of only 7,520, so its not a great sample size to draw from. Of course, the 5% drop at this game from their 2016 average isn't great and something they'll hope turns around as the summer months come along.

After a few years of disappointing crowds, three green lights for Wakefield is a big plus. A 5% increase on what was their second best 2016 home crowd is a great start. It's also a 5% increase on their longer-term Round 1 average. Even better, it's 41% up on their 2016 average crowd. Hopefully we'll see more of the same from the Trin faithful this year.

So, should we be happy with 2017's Round 1 crowd figures? No, not even in context, but that's because we should be striving for more and not settling for where we're at, and not because the figures for each of the games we saw were bad.

Thanks for reading, hope you found it interesting. Make sure you look out for our shows each week for more of this kind of stuff!


*Edit: I've now seen an alternative crowd figure for Salford v Wigan of 6,527, that takes the average crowds for Round 1 up to 8,026. My original figure was taken from the Salford Twitter feed. As this doesn't change the overall theme of this piece a full revisit isn't planned.

7 February 2017

Rugby League Hierarchy - An Idea For The Way Forward

In my often stated opinion, the NFL is the best run pro sports league in the world. It isn't without it's issues I'll admit, but it leaves the way the Super League is run languishing way in the distance.

I'm not a token Red Hall basher. I think the people that run the sport genuinely care about the game, at all levels, and want it to progress. They have made and continue to make mistakes though. And they aren't always helped by the clubs, which aren't always particularly well run either and don't always look out for the interests of the game as a whole, sadly.

A big part of the problems and difficulties to me comes from the organisation that fronts our professional game also fronts our international side and our community game. I understand there will be degrees of separation, but the RFL sits at the top of it all and I'm certain nothing significant would go through without their stamp of approval. In my opinion, a whole game approach can be achieved successfully without hands on RFL involvement in all aspects.

The other big part of the problem to me, looking in from the periphery, is that clubs generally compete with each other first and support each other second.

I have an idea, of sorts, on how to address these feelings and concerns I have. Separate the professional game and the amateur game more decisively. Have the RFL run the wider community game, control the Challenge Cup still and oversee the international game in the UK, but take Super League and the Championship/League 1 out of their hands, to be run by the clubs. All the clubs.

I'm not suggesting the RFL wouldn't still have a seat at that table, they just wouldn't preside over it.

I feel that if you make the owners/executives of the clubs equally responsible for the professional game then they will work harder together to increase the size of the pie, rather than compete with each other or against the RFL for just a larger slice of the pie currently being served.

You would and should insist as part of the charter of this newly reinforced professional arm of the game that a certain proportion of the pie gets handed over to the RFL for their work in the community game. Similarly, revenues from the Cup final and internationals can be shared equitably from the other direction. You would also insist clubs have an in built responsibility for giving up a certain amount of their full time resources to local community initiatives.

Crucially though, the clubs would all get to play a part in moving the professional game forward, without wider political forces influencing decision making.

They would still, in some capacity, answer to the RFL and the wider interests of the sport. But, importantly, the RFL would also answer to the professional arm of the game in how it manages and allocates the resources handed to it.

In the NFL, focusing the progress of the professional sport on the team owners brought about great progress. The merger with the AFL, the rise to the top of America's sporting agenda, the increasing international expansion, progressive rules for interviewing minority candidates for key roles, successive collective bargaining agreements with players. All have been helped by the management structure of the league, largely able to make its own calls without having to spread itself so thinly to cover all aspects of the sport from grass roots up.

It's time the clubs ran the professional game and the RFL answered to them.

That's my opinion anyway. Well, my opinion today, at least. No doubt it'll swing the other way and back again regularly. Nothing is ever settled for long in rugby league after all.

Thanks for reading.