The biggest problem I face in trying to work through rugby league analytics is a lack of useful, reliable, easy to source data to analyse. For this post, I had to do it myself.
I recorded 1,000 sets of six from the 2018 season so far, ranging from a Titans-Warriors pre-season game and finishing during the Titans-Bulldogs game in round 15. A thousand may sound like a lot but given there are about 80 sets of six per game, it’s about a dozen games worth of material. We are working with a relatively small sample size and that the probabilities we estimate may not precisely align with reality. If I had the time and patience (a salary could substitute for time and patience), I could go through the entire history of the NRL and do a better job. This site’s motto is “you get what you pay for”.
But today is not about solving problems once and forever. There are a number of ways to solve a given problem and the techniques and data presented here are hopefully what will be a foundation to build upon. This post is about demonstrating that rugby league can be analysed statistically and useful conclusions can be drawn.
We’re talking about the clubs, not actual people, so it probably won’t be as depressing as the title implies.
This started out as an examination of which rugby league club could claim to be the best expansion team, in the same vein as the Vegas Golden Knights who disputed the NHL’s Stanley Cup in their first season. It would surprise no one to discover that the Melbourne Storm are the best expansion team of all time in rugby league, taking all of two seasons to win a premiership and then winning another
four two in just twenty years of life. That kind of precociousness is hated in children and it seems would also apply to the Victorians.
Instead, what I found more interesting was how many clubs had fallen by the wayside. The original Northern Union was founded in 1895 with twenty-two clubs while the New South Wales Rugby Football League was founded in 1908 with just nine members. How many of those were still standing after all this time?
For the first time in a long time, it looks like we may have a well balanced Origin season. Indeed, the balance may even be a little Blue for my liking but when three of the last generation’s four best players retire from representative football, and they all happened to play for the same state, then the scales will shift perceptibly.
By now, you would know who’s playing for both Queensland and New South Wales in the first of rugby league’s three biggest games. You might even have formed an opinion as to which side is looking the goods. Consensus seems to have settled on this being the Blues’ year. But why settle for the thoughts of experts who have spent the last forty-eight hours tweeting out the leaked Blues lineup, when I’ve crunched the numbers for you?
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Let’s get it done off the bat: Ruan Sims didn’t follow the rules. She had to be at the game and she wasn’t. I don’t blame her. It was a punish of a game to have to sit through for anyone other than Eels fans.
I don’t think the actual votes cast are going to matter much. If you think anyone from Parramatta or Manly is getting a Dally M nod this year, you’re an even bigger idiot than I am. Manly will be lucky to still be a first grade club by 2019 the way they’re going.
It is, however, unlucky and unfair that this befalls specifically on Sims and no one else. As a current player, she has the easiest to verify whereabouts. I have no doubt in my mind that she is neither the first nor alone amongst her judging colleagues to have submitted votes by watching a replay. Braver men might come forward to admit that they have done this as well and stand themselves down. Then we could have a sensible discussion about how the player of the year should be awarded, but that seems grossly unlikely in the current climate of hyperbolic overreaction.
In that spirit, let’s throw the whole thing in the bin and start again with something better.
StatScore, a player rating tool I developed over the off-season, feels like something powerful but I haven’t had a real chance to use it yet. Thanks to Fox League posting individual player stats, I can at least keep updating the scores through 2018 which I was worried I wouldn’t be able to.
But here we are, about one-fifth of the way into the 2018 campaign, and it’s time to start assessing performances. StatScore gives a lot of props to players in the halves, so much so that three of the four top players from the last four seasons have worn the number 7. During the off-season, a lot of the halves shuffled around, including the top line names of Maloney, Cronk, Pearce, Green, Hunt and Marshall. Let’s have a look at how that’s panned out.
Last week, we took a look at estimating the number of premierships we expected NRL teams to have won versus the number of premierships they actually won. This was spurred by a Twitter query from AFL fan, Bill (whose name I don’t remember and won’t be searching for), who asked the same question of someone else but about AFL.
Well Bill, this week, I did it for you.
If you’re the Eels, probably a lot more than zero. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Around the start of the finals last year, The Arc posted the probabilities of each finalist winning the AFL grand final. Some guy on Twitter (let’s call him Bill because I don’t remember who it was and I’m not digging out a throwaway tweet from six months ago) asked if the probabilities had been calculated for all finals series throughout history so we could see how many teams were expected to win against reality. They hadn’t but more on that next week.
I thought, in the true embodiment of the philosophy of this site, “That’s a great idea. I’m gonna do that but for NRL.”