I mostly started this blog as something to occupy my brain when work was quiet. Pro tip: spreadsheets are a great way to cover up that you’re not working. I’d actually stopped watching rugby league closely around 2004 but had gone to a few games in the last few years, reigniting a spark somewhere in the back of my head. I went to five games in the last six years and watched a handful on TV but this year, I probably watched well over a hundred games and went to seven. I’ve found it a good distraction from the real world and I’m glad I did it.
Here’s how the year has panned out.
State of the (Northern) Union
The game is a lot faster, more athletic and visually spectacular than I remember. Queensland Cup is pretty good, not withstanding the Hunters’ poor performance last Sunday. Despite the Storm’s dominance, there were plenty of close games in the NRL and, unlike say AFL or NFL, the game is never quite over until the final whistle. In fact, there’s not a lot wrong with the rugby league product in 2017. Fans seem to agree with four of the year’s top six rating programmes being the three State of Origin bouts and the grand final, even if all are down somewhat off their peaks and attendances are sliding.
However, the coverage of it seems on the balance to be quite negative, both from within the rugby league media and externally. I have a very simple explanation for the former: old people need to be put out to pasture. I also have a simple explanation for the latter: class warfare. While this is perhaps not the place for a paean to the working class, I want to remind everyone that rugby league was banned by the Vichy government in southern France for being associated with the socialism, Britain and de Gaulle. If you hate rugby league, you’re siding with the Nazis. Never forget that.
My own view of the proletariat – specifically in response to the grand final entertainment – has improved considerably. The NRL and its fans often gives itself a handjob for being less racist than the AFL and less elitist than union but it’s the first time I’ve seen a genuinely positive reaction from a large number of fans, in stark contrast to the hateful garbage spread by certain egomaniacal propagandists.
It’s not all roses though. The NRL desperately needs a bout of contraction. A fourteen team, eighteen round format with a wider geographical footprint (i.e. fewer Sydney teams, more in other major metro areas like Perth or Wellington) would have a number of benefits, particularly in improving access to the game and reducing the number of low quality games in favour of more rep and lower tier footy.
Combined with a tight control on cost escalation and a top six finals format, this would resolve most of the NRL’s current issues. More emphasis on streaming as an alternative to traditional TV and a cull of the RL media’s older and patently less capable correspondents would probably resolve the rest.
The fact that this has been painfully obvious to successive generations of administrators and fans – most of whom are happy to see Sydney clubs go on the proviso that it is not their club – and nothing has materially changed, has to be one of the great incompetencies of Australian sport.
Getting back to the topic at hand, I started the blog a few weeks later than anticipated at the end of March, a few weeks into the season. In that six months, I’ve turned out 98 posts – something like 50,000 words – and the blog has averaged close to 8.5 hits a day. A smidge under a quarter of those come from the US, which is a strange result and it would be somewhat depressing to find out that most of those were because someone mistyped ‘NFL’.
The most popular posts were (in order) the tips for rounds 7, 16, 17, 9 and 26. Your guess is as good as mine as to why those posts in particular did well. The average tips post pulled twice as many hits as any of the analysis and three times the projections posts, which I feel are the key to the site but obviously they aren’t for everyone. The club reports were a little disappointing, at half the average of the projections, but for the record, the Tigers and Cowboys finished equal most popular.
It’s about where I expected and a small something is better than the nothing I started with, but will obviously work for more next year.
The Collated Ladder outperformed both the Stocky and Pythagorean expectation again this year. The mean absolute error (MAE) was lower for the ladder across the year, although the Stocky jumped it at a few turning points.
Pythagoras was out by a bit more than last year which I primarily blame the unusually high proportional of games decided by six points or less this year. Over the long run, about 20% of games are this close. This year it was 35%.
The Stocky did pretty well this year. It didn’t do as well as last year, which is not surprising considering the troubles the Elo ratings had keeping up, but good enough for our purposes in a year where the Storm were totally dominant.
Tipping didn’t go particularly well for the Elo models this year. Euclid had a record setting 2016 with 69.7% correctly tipped but then dropped to a mere 54.7% for this year, their public debut. It was the worst year that this version of the model has had and yes, picking the home team would’ve been as effective.
Eratsothenes, whose job is to track long term performance and be garbage at tipping, actually came out best at 60.2%. While not the best ever, this is a significant improvement on the 49.8% achieved in 2016. Again, Eratosthenes is not a system for tipping but c’mon, that sucks.
Eratosthenes beat me by five tips and the Jury of systems did best of all, reaching 62.3% when it could be bothered coming to a decision. The Jury will be back next year with some tweaking.
The important takeaway for me was that the idea that good tipping is equivalent to expertise is for chumps. Given the fine margins and high levels of uncertainty, winning a tipping competition is an exercise in survivorship bias more than anything else. As eloquently elaborated on by 538.com:
I’m not going to stop, not least because the tipping posts get the most love, but I just wanted you to know that when I return a similar record next year.
I’ve been planning next year for a little while and have begun work on retooling the behind the scenes stuff and a couple of draft posts. I’ve got a couple of ideas, including:
- Getting a domain and an updated look
- Refining the Greeks with a little more purpose
- Power, Hope, Disappointment and Panic Ratings (shamelessly ripped from SBNation.com, as everything on this blog has been)
- (Some) Coverage of the Intrust Super Cup
I’m going to resist the urge to write more than three posts a week and really resist the urge to cover more sports or else I will definitely burn out. The dip in writing quality towards the end of the season is testament to the importance of taking a break once in a while.
Thank you for reading this far and hope to see you in 2018.