NRL Recap – Round 21, 2018

The battle for the soul of rugby league continues, as the vested interests, and their patsies in the media, continue to fling poop at the refs and the organisation and the game like a bunch of bored monkeys. Which is basically what it comes down to: the rich and powerful (at least by rugby league standards), bereft of meaning in their lives, look for playthings to amuse them. The rest of us suffer the consequences.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about this week. In a strange turn of events, Andrew Johns has called for fewer teams in Sydney:

It was a throwaway comment that we perhaps shouldn’t read too much into but I thought the response was interesting. Those of us north of the Tweed seemed to be praising Johns for the first time ever while the response south was decidedly more frosty and defensive. The best case most Sydneysiders will offer to reduce congestion in their market is to move a given team, which if you dig a little deeper, is inevitably their least liked team. Funny that. Sydney rugby league’s tribalism causes an astonishing amount of petty short-sightedness.

Let’s remember that the NRL is meant to be a national competition and the fact that the NRL is an outgrowth of the Sydney premiership is a historical accident thanks to lax gaming legislation, not a divine mandate.

If you were starting a national competition today, there’s no way you’d have nine teams in Sydney (five max and I would mount an argument for just three). There’s a place for the existing heritage suburban marques but it’s not at the apex of the game. Canterbury and Parramatta pulling in less than 7,000 at ANZ is proof of that. Spare me the “out of town teams”, “dud stadiums”, etc excuses. You’re embarrassing us in front of the other sports. And then there’s this completely unverified rumour –

It feels like Manly have been on the ropes all year and a large part of that will be baseless media speculation (remember when North Sydney were going to buy them?) but this could be big. But it’ll probably be nothing and we’ll still be arguing over which team should be shipped off to Perth.

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The ladder doesn’t tell the whole story. Sometimes, we can see other things – like hope, luck and disappointment – in the statistics. That’s what why we have the Indices.

Don’t get what you’re looking at? See the primer.



South Sydney are minor premiers elect with only four games left to play and outright leadership on the ladder. They have a slightly less good Pythagorean expectation than the Storm, so sit second on the Power Index. The Roosters are not far off the pace while one-time premiership contenders in the Dragons and Panthers have dropped off the pace. The rest of the comp is too far back to win the minor premiership now and will struggle to bring in the big one unless there is some massively unsurprising results ahead.

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Technically, Souths won four more simulated grand finals than Melbourne, so are outright premiership favourites. That said, the 5,000 simulations we do is not necessarily so precise that four is meaningful. Realistically, we’re in the same place we were last week with the Bunnies, Chooks and Storms all vying for the premiership with the rest competing for scraps. 67% of grand finals were contested between the big three.



The finals spots are now locked up but in a sign of improvement for the future, the Tigers have roared to the top of Hope Index after beating the Dragons, Rabbitohs and Knights. Tempering that are losses to the Bulldogs and Titans in recent games but when you’ve beat the top four and not in contention for the finals, maybe that doesn’t matter so much.

Down in the dumps with no-hopers like the Raiders, Cowboys and the Titans are the April premiers, the Dragons. One win from five games is not the kind of form one wants to carry in to September. I’ve heard suggestions that the forward pack that dominated in the early parts of the year have been overused and now the Dragons have nothing left in reserve. It certainly matches what we’ve seen over the last couple of years and, while St George Illawarra will definitely play in September, I don’t know realistically if they even make the semis.

(Weekly reminder that the finals chances are based on wins, not points difference)



I have to say that I almost as interested in the wooden spoon race as I am in the premiership. It is perhaps fitting that in a round where three of the bottom four teams won, the team that didn’t is now heading our Panic Index, adding to their dominance of the Disappointment Index. The North Queensland Cowboys have had a lousy season and appear to be in serious trouble. The wooden spoon race has more or less come down to the two teams on five wins. With four games left to play, Manly, the Gold Coast and Canterbury are all in the running as well. It may well come down to the ultimate Spoon Bowl in round 24, when Parra and NQ go head-to-head on national television to decide who is the worst team of the year.

Personally, I find myself torn between wanting the Eels to fail – because I don’t like Parramatta and their salty tears will sustain me through the off-season – and wanting the Sea Eagles to fail – for history’s sake but also because I don’t like Manly. It would be nice if the Cowboys avoided the spoon and not ruin the state’s reputation.





Intrust Super Cup Results


I was down at Davies Park to see the Hunters play for the second time. PNG put in a similar performance to last year’s grand final with a lot of muscle and a lot of errors but with fewer nerves, not a lot points conceded and, obviously, considerably less on the line. The Hunters have flown up in form ratings, following the trail blazed by Easts for last minute charges to the top six. Souths Logan, though, their season appears to be over. With three games to play against the Bears, Tigers and Cutters, so maybe one win in there, and a full win off the pace means they are unlikely to play finals footy this year. For a team that was in the top six since round four, this is a pretty disappointing way to bow out.

Conversely, cross-town rivals Norths outplayed the competition leaders at home. Twelve up with fifteen to go would be a pretty safe lead in the NRL but in the QCup, these kinds of leads can disappear in minutes. The Devils slotted a field goal to go ahead by thirteen but sure enough, the Blackhawks came back with two tries in quick succession. The result was a three point win but not enough to get the Devils in the top six. Otherwise, the status quo reigns. A surprise draw for Redcliffe and a win for Burleigh tightens things up at the top but the Intrust Super Cup remains wide open.