Grays Sports Mailbag

by Ed Burton

It has been a LONG time since my last mailbag. Almost 2 years in fact! So with the launch of a new website, comes a new mailbag.

As I don’t have an attached email for people to write to, these have come from various sources. Email, Facebook, message boards, text etc. So if you want a starring role in my next mailbag column, be sure to give me your thoughts wherever you find the articles, or write to me on Twitter (@gsalamanac)

I had a lot of discussion recently about all of the problems with the NRL (and there are many) which we will get to in a minute, but the other thing that seemed to strike a chord is a couple of facets of the Andrew Bogut article that I wrote. People have REALLY done a 180 on the LeBron hate of just over 12 months ago.

I’m no big LeBron fan but given that he is surrounded by injuries, flunks and fuckups, his series so far with two triple doubles no less has been crazy. Everyone he shares that stat with at least had a team around them. Fully expecting him to take over driving the team bus to get em to the games now too.
— Glen, Melbourne

People seem to have misunderstood what I wrote when I was seen to be criticizing James and his production in the finals series. I didn’t think I could make it clearer that my issue was with the MEDIA and the way that they were covering James, Curry and the series, but it seems that some people didn’t follow. LeBron played well in really difficult circumstances. Nobody is doubting that. But people were carrying on like he was the second coming of Odin with a selective blindness normally reserved for Football Managers talking about a controversial incident. My point was that OF COURSE his stats were overwhelming. It was specifically BECAUSE he was the only decent player left on the team that made his stats so good. But it has been a long time since people used those traditional stats alone to judge a person’s performance. He was playing inefficient basketball – the reason being irrelevant – and at the same time Curry was said to be having a poor series while being far more efficient. James had no choice but to take the shots that he did, I get it, but he missed SO many of them that it seemed illogical for everyone to completely ignore it. I thought that both players were great, but the coverage of the two of them was worlds apart. I still think I will come out on the right side of history on this one when we look back at it in the future.

Re: Bogut, getting him to Rio might be helped if his minutes decrease next season, but I agree. Another frustration about the game in general is the small-ball-forever hype now being generated. I don’t long for the grind of old days but it’s another case of people going over the top about this whenever there’s a glimpse of it happening. The middle ground is more sustainable in general than either extreme. It reminds me a little of people (not just fans or lazy pundits but even generally smart analysts) getting excited over fluid strikerless systems in football and declaring it the future without realising how difficult it is to pull it off effectively and even the teams that specialise in it drop it at times to get by.
— Humanerror, Sydney

We have been hearing about small ball taking over since the Heat won the title in 2012, but it has gone really overboard since the Warriors won the title without a traditional Centre in the lineup for most of the finals. A small part of this is basketball nerds getting excited by something new. The type of people that live, breathe and sleep hoops. They work in the industry and have seen everything. I can understand them getting excited by something that they haven’t seen before. But everyone needs to calm down on this issue. Firstly, for the last 4 seasons, at least half of the teams in the league have been trying to replicate the small ball game. Most have failed miserably. Teams like the Clippers and Grizzlies are still dominant forces with 2 traditional bigs in their team and with Anthony Davis set to become the best player in the league over the coming years, as well as players like Karl Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor coming through the ranks, there simply WILL NOT be an end to traditional bigs. It is just swings and roundabouts. As long as the league just leaves itself well alone and doesn’t try to make any unnecessary rule changes, it won’t be too long until we move back to the “You must have a star at Centre to win the league” attitude of the 90’s (with the caveat that having Michael Jordan overrules that)

But enough about basketball. That season is over. The NRL season is just beginning! I have always been one to laugh off talk that the NRL was “in trouble” when people pointed to crowd figures, or refereeing issues etc. but for the first time in my life, I genuinely think that the NRL has some major problems that need urgent fixing or the game itself will be left behind. It is not because of anything that the media have told me either, it is the sheer number of people that keep telling me about their loss of interest in the game and their well thought out and considered reasoning behind it. Believe it or not, so much of it is structural within the NRL and how the game is run rather than the referees or rules of the game that the papers will have you believe.*

There’s definitely an element of truth in the comp only starting after Origin; if teams can make it through the next few weeks (relatively) unscathed and still around the top 4, it bodes well leading into August + September.
— Nathaniel, Sydney

This is not a new thing. For years even the commentators have been saying that one of the keys to a successful season is how your team can get through the Origin period. I wrote about it myself last season. The problem is that the public have started to realise this. They have also started to resent it. The crowds that the State of Origin attracts mask the problems that it causes. The people at the game are mostly there for the event rather than the game itself. The majority of genuine Rugby League fans will watch from home because it is interesting enough entertainment for a Wednesday night. But the thought that this is the pinnacle of Rugby League is a complete misnomer. For starters Australia are not the dominant force in Rugby League that they have been while the Origin narrative was built. The QLD team is getting on and the NSW team has been fairly weak for quite a while. NZ are far stronger than they once were, and the Island Nations that make up such a majority of the NRL players now should be opting to play for their countries rather than Australia just so that they can have a chance at Origin. But even forgetting all of that, ask any North Queensland fan if they would trade the 8 consecutive Origins for a Premiership and you will get a swift answer in favour of the Cowboys. Origin might be the pinnacle of the game for Australians of a certain generation, but that does not make Origin the actual pinnacle of the game. Nor should it be. So the question is, how we fix this mess…

Been thinking a bit about the SOO and the rigmarole surrounding it. How it hurts the comp and so forth. So I sculpted my idea. Most fans think their team has two byes, that’s officially true, but unofficially a furfie. Each team has 3 weeks off during the 26 round season due to the Anzac Test and Tonga, Fiji, PNG and Samoa friendlies. Scrap that. My proposal is 3 stand-alone weekends. Fiji v Samoa on your Friday Night. NSW v QLD on your Saturday night. PNG v Tonga on your Sunday. Then back to the real stuff. Then Tonga v Samoa on your Friday Night QLD v NSW on your Saturday night Fiji v PNG on your Sunday. Then back to your real stuff. Then the aggregate best two teams of the smaller nations play in the final of the lesser teams for the right to join the 4 nations at the end of the season against Australia, New Zealand, and England. Then the final SOO. This way, no team loses players during the SOO period, it legitimises the smaller teams’ international fixtures (which is really what rugby league should be striving to do) and it eliminates the ridiculousness of losing your very best during the middle of your season. The only ones who could possibly complain are Channel 9. The length of the season stays exactly the same. You don’t have to deal with your players not playing for your club, it legitimises international rugby league, it doesn’t hinder the length or legitimacy of the competition. Forget about Channel 9. Would you prefer my scenario? What price do you put on integrity? What price do you put on the growth of the game internationally? What price do you put on the actual NRL? It’s time to forget about the short term value, and look at the long term gain.
— Nathan, Sydney

I have to say, I like it. I have made it pretty clear in the past that I think that there needs to be an overhaul to the season structure – and I went way further with my attempts to get International Rugby League going – but this improves on many of my ideas (which isn’t hard considering I came up with in half a day last year). There are some tweaks that I would make though. I am not sure if I want the 4 smaller nations to all play each other (3 games each) or if I want there to be both a final with the top 2 teams playing to get into the 4 nations, AS WELL AS a bottom 2 playoff for some sort of relegation out of this tournament for the following season. That would also require a tier below which ties it into what I wrote about last year**. For now I think everyone plays each other and once it gains some traction and hopefully improves international Rugby League we can revisit a relegation system

I would also keep a City v Country game as a curtain raiser for the Sydney Origin game. It is an acknowledgement of the players that are just that tier below the Origin team, and serves as a GENUINE opportunity for players to show what they can do in that situation to be in the mind of the Origin coach and selectors should injuries or form dictate a need for change.

Outside of that, I can’t see much fault in it. Except of course for the fact that I can’t just forget about Channel 9. They run the game as much, if not more, than the NRL itself. Any change to the schedule needs to come from them or go through them, and that is the league’s biggest stumbling block. In an attempt to survive in the competitive world of professional sports in Australia (the need to offer athletes big salaries, while not having clubs go under) the game has sold its soul and integrity, and it has been to the long term detriment of the sport itself. Either something needs to change, or league will slowly go the way of club rugby. If the effort that is spent every off season changing all of the rules was put into fixing the structure of the season, the game would be in a much better place.***

But now for the next structural issue that needs to be sorted out – contracts and transfers. I really don’t have much of a response for the following, so I am pretty much going to let it end the article on its own…

Does anyone reading this follow the AFL and know how their end of season transfer stuff all works?
I imagine the NRL should just copy them, as the current stuff is garbage.
This talk about a slush fund for random elite players doesn’t seem to be a very good idea either.
The AFL’s Free Agency stuff is interesting too. Almost as if they’ve actually thought about it rather than just letting random stuff happen.
There are loads of issues with the NRL’s current system IMO:
- No compensation for losing players. Canberra in particular have been stitched up hugely - lost Dugan, Carney and Ferguson through no fault of their own with no compensation. Spent money developing Milford only for him to up and leave at the first opportunity. If the NRL is going to leave development to the clubs (rather than a draft), then the clubs should be encouraged to do so - keep the players protected for a certain period of time (restricted free agents) and/or allow compensation should they leave.
- Third Party payments is an absolute quagmire and doesn’t really allow a level playing field. Either declare these all publicly or get rid.
- The signing period opens far too early - teams shouldn’t have to be recruiting for 2016 before 2015 starts.
AFL contracts are protected for the first 8 years, so clubs gain the benefits of what they do in terms of development. American Sports have similar restrictions, even in MLB where there is no salary cap (but an extreme focus on development through minor leagues etc).
As it stands, what impetus is there for the rich clubs to even bother with spending cash on lower grades when they can just poach the best players from elsewhere? The Roosters have about 5 juniors that have played 1st grade over the last 10-15 years, and yet can buy whoever they want and thus have made a GF almost every other year.
The Bulldogs’ publicly released strategic plan includes promoting one local junior per year. One!
Sure, the Salary Cap is there, but the richer clubs can offer TPA deals (TPA now being unlimited) so they’ve got extra scope to fit these guys in - when they’re not flexing their muscles and getting the kids in earlier (a la big European football clubs).
The Broncos literally have a business group arranged specifically to arrange this crap.
Using Canberra as an example: They never get on FTA as they’re an average team with no stars and a smaller market. Decent junior base. Struggle to attract non-local players due to geography, have to overpay. Can’t even attract players by overpaying as they can get the same money (via extra TPA) in Sydney without having to relocate. Corporates don’t see them as a viable outlet for sponsorship $$$, due to average performance and lack of exposure. On it goes.
Compare that to Brisbane, who are pretty much the opposite in every facet…
— Hunter, Sydney

The game’s troubles run deep.





*I mean, don’t get me wrong, plenty of people have issues with that too, but they are minor things that can be looked at another time. People would rather these bigger issues be handled first.

**And if you think that I DIDN’T do an entire spreadsheet with my fake end of season international tournament including grounds that matches would be played at and scores of each game then you are out of your god damned mind

***Even just one off season where they left all of the rules alone would be a triumph!