Category Archives: Analysis & Opinion

Who will win the 2019 NRL Premiership?

At this time of year, is there anything else you want to know more than the answer to this question?

For our crystal ball, we turn to Monte Carlo simulations. These simulations work on the principle that if we know the inputs to a complex system and how they relate to each other, then we can test the outcomes of that system using random numbers to simulate different situations.

At its most basic, just imagine if you simulated the outcome of football matches by rolling dice. Numbers one and two might represent a win for the Gold Coast and numbers three through six might be a win for Wests. If you repeat that a couple of thousand times, not only will you be extremely bored but the Gold Coast will “win” about 33% of the time and Wests 66%.

Now take the same approach for the nine finals games, with the winner advancing per the NRL’s system, but instead of using dice, you generate a random number between zero and one and calculate the win probability using Archimedes (form) Elo ratings. Then repeat it 5,000 times over. The number of times that the Storm or Roosters or Broncos or Eels “win” the premiership across your simulations should give you some insight into the probability of that happening in real life. I call this the Finals Stocky and I present its findings.

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The Art of Projection

Over the last month, we’ve been looking at rating players using a metric called Production Per Game, or PPG. We’ve used it to find players at the higher end, justifying million dollar salaries, and at the lower end, identifying fringe first graders.

The tricky thing about rating players is determining what information from the past can be used to project the player’s performance into the future. I hope it’s obvious why this might be interesting.

Within a player’s career, there is a noticeable amount of variation from season to season. On average, players get two pips (one pip is .001 of a PPG rating) worse, although the actual range is lies between improving by 96 pips or losing 86 somewhere (standard deviation of 24 pips) from season to season.

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On Expansion and its relationship with Sydney

Another week, another expansion bone has been tossed to the ravenous dogs that are NRL nerds on social media to endlessly chew over. I say that like I wasn’t in there first and not still gnawing on it. I just can’t help myself.

This week, the target was the south-east Queensland expansion team dropped into the competition in 2007 that hasn’t turned out to be another Broncos, denying the broadcasters an opportunity to have multiple games with one million viewers each week.

In true Australian fashion, instead considering the historical accidents that have led to this point (i.e. basing the footprint of a supposedly national competition on the demographics of Sydney circa 1908 whose growth has then been fuelled by pokie dollars or previous south-east Queensland franchises that have failed, undercut by a hostile media and inept management) and attempting to rectify them or improve the presentation of the product so that it might appeal beyond Nine’s core audience of decrepit boomers, an executive contacted a buddy in the extremely accommodating media to have a good old fashioned whinge, Gerry Harvey-style. The consequence was the publication of several of the same think pieces we’ve seen before about why Sydney clubs must be protected at all costs.

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Rugby league’s replacement player

Last week we looked at valuing players, specifically Tom Trbojevic, Daly Cherry-Evans and Addin Fonua-Blake, by their contributions to Manly’s winning ways. There were two problems though:

  1. How do we deal with someone like Marty Taupau? He’s played all of the games this year so we can’t find an understudy to compare him to.
  2. What if your understudy is pretty good? Cherry-Evans looks like he is comparatively less valuable than his colleagues because Kane Elgey is about 20% more productive at halfback than Brendan Elliot or Toafofoa Sipley were at their respective positions.

We should establish a fixed benchmark to compare players against.

Baseball uses the concept of a “replacement level“. I touched on it briefly last week but the rugby league equivalent would be a top level reserve grader who can be acquired for the league’s minimum salary ($105,000 in 2019). By definition, the replacement level player provides the right value for money for that salary. If a player provides less value, they shouldn’t be in first grade because they can’t justify their pay packet. The trick is to find players who provide more value and then pay them accordingly to win games for your club.

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What makes a million dollar NRL player?

“He’s not worth a million a year!”

-NRL Twitter proverb

The trick in any sport is spending your available bankroll wisely. Soccernomics established that good soccer managers, among other things, bought players low and sold them high and that was at the heart of prolonged success. Moneyball was a two hour long movie with Brad Pitt about signing otherwise valuable players that the market had skipped over. We see that same principle at work in salary capped leagues too, whether it be the New England Patriots, the Melbourne Storm or the Sydney Roosters.

The NRL’s recent increase of salary cap has minted a number of millionaire rugby league players. There is a distinct element in the rugby league fanbase that can’t wrap their heads around players being worth those kinds of dollars.

But they are.

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Mitchell Pearce saved Nathan Brown’s career

Scene: C-Bus Stadium, Gold Coast. It’s the twenty-first of April and we’re in round 6 of the 2019 National Rugby League season. At around a quarter to three in the afternoon, the referee blows the whistle for half time.

The Newcastle Knights are down 22 to nil after the worst forty minutes of football in recent memory. The Knights conceded three long range tries to the Titans off the back of errors, compounded with extremely lazy defence.

The Knights fervently loyal fanbase has endured years of failure since the financial demise of Nathan Tinkler in 2014. The club’s ownership was turned over to the NRL and a horror run followed, including three straight wooden spoons and fielding an historically bad 1-22-1 side in 2016.

The club, under the new ownership of the Wests Group, signed Kangaroos prop, David Klemmer, in the 2018-19 off-season. His acquisition was seen to be the last piece of the puzzle to bring the Novocastrians back into contention, joining young superstar Kalyn Ponga and premiership winning halfback Mitchell Pearce.

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Rating the 2019 State of Origin teams

It’s that time of the year again. The weather has just turned cold and the NRL season has built just enough momentum to be interesting and has now been brought to a screeching halt. It’s State of Origin time, the world’s only all-star game that the players actually care about. Naturally, the first question anyone needs to consider is: which team looks stronger on paper?

When it comes to assessing representative games, we don’t have access to the usual team rating tools and, even if we did, the gaps between matches and changes to the teams are so significant that Elo ratings aren’t particularly useful. This year, we can evaluate the Origin teams using Production Per Game (PPG), which is a player rating tool.

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