Tag Archives: melbourne

A Shallow Dive into the 2021 Melbourne Storm

The 2021 Melbourne Storm join the 2007 Melbourne Storm and, later, the 2021 Penrith Panthers in being the only teams to have achieved 21 wins in a NRL season. The 07 vintage is somewhat tainted by the demonstrated salary cap cheating but the most recent efforts from the Storm and Panthers are probably equally tainted by the Vlandoball era. Despite all that, they played their worst game since their 2018 grand final loss in the preliminary final and, consequently, did not win the premiership.

The Victory Lap

From the pre-season deep dive:

The roster remains one of the best in the league, as measured in projected Taylors. The Storm have the most successful coach of the last twenty years. That just doesn’t disappear over night because the best player of the NRL era retires and/or moves to the Gold Coast. The club doesn’t need the GOAT to win the premiership, the team merely needs to be very good. The Storm will be, once again, and barring a distraction like Bellamy’s future and replacement having a surprisingly damanging impact on the team’s psyche, they will be in the running.

I have declined to quote the insufferably wanky stuff about the Roman Empire. I thought I had a theme going but I should not have bothered. But, overall, I was correct. They were in the hunt and they didn’t need the GOAT, until they did.

What happened

To borrow some words from our friend at the League Eye Test:

In the end, the Storm fell 24 points short of the 2001 Eels’ total points scored record. The Eels had two extra games, so Melbourne set a new points scored per game record of 34.0, edging out other luminaries in the field including the 21 Rabbitohs and the 01 Eels (both 32.3), the 04 Bulldogs (31.7), the 21 Sea Eagles (31.0) and the 02 and 01 Knights (30.2 and 30.1 respectively).

Defensively, Melbourne were a mess. Conceding an enormous 13.2 points per game, the 2021 squad were only the sixth best in Storm history, let alone in NRL history, where they were twelfth best. Pathetic.

However, if points difference per game were a thing, the 2021 Storm would be atop that list too, scoring 20.8 more points than they conceded. The next best, that same 2001 Eels team, could only manage 16.7 and their vanquishers, the 2021 Panthers, 16.3.

The net result of all that is the Storm earned their 21 wins with 20.6 Pythagorean wins but none of that matters because they went to pieces when it did matter. Such a waste.

There’s always next year

Much like the Roosters’ summary, I fully expect the Storm to keep going until they don’t. They played a horrible preliminary final and still only lost by four points. A couple of unlucky incidents turn into lucky ones and they’re playing in the grand final.

Rather than dwell on the obvious – that the 2021 Storm have entered the conversation for best team to fail to win the premiership – I thought it was interesting that both of the Storm’s feeders had comparatively bad years.

The Tigers were awful, although not quite Capras/Jets awful but definitely Cutters awful, finishing 11th with a 4-12-1 record. The Falcons managed to make the top eight (in a fourteen team comp) and were promptly dismissed by Redcliffe, the Warriors’ feeder, in the finals.

Obviously, there was no QCup last year but the skeleton of this year’s Storm squad came up through the 2019 Falcons, who had their own record-setting season. Before that, the Tigers made the grand final in 2018 and the Falcons made the grand final in 2017. We haven’t seen such a pedestrian season from both franchises since 2015.

If the Storm conveyor belt has slowed down and if this generation isn’t on the same level as the golden generation before, then you can do the math.

A Shallow Dive into the 2020 Melbourne Storm

Finally, to the champions. From pre-season:

Melbourne finished the season with a 20-4 record, a record only bettered* by the Storm’s 21-3 2007 season. Unlike 2017, where it seemed inevitable that the Storm would win the premiership after winning 20 games, they never seemed to get much credit for what was still a very impressive season in 2019.

Melbourne just have the knack of taking extremely talented young men, putting them on the football field and winning games. Positions don’t seem important, neither do the names. It will likely continue forever because there is plenty of talent pushing through in reserve grade. Even the departure of several reasonable quality players doesn’t seem to have made a dent in their prospects.

So yeah, they’re pretty good. If I’m lucky, I may live long enough to see the next Broncos win over the Storm, an event about as frequent as Halley’s Comet.

You picked the Storm to be good too? Well done.

Summary

What happened

The Melbourne Storm are good – they had the best defence by Poseidon, they had the best average form Elo rating through the season and future Immortal Cameron Smith was TPR champ – but after going through fifteen of these reviews, this one graph stuck out for me.

This graph shows the each club’s difference between their players’ pre-season TPR projection and their actual TPR. A higher score means the player outperformed their projection more, which is good, and vice versa.

What caught my eye was not just how embarrassingly poor the Broncos were but also the apparent mediocrity of the Storm. This graph is my proxy for coaching ability and specifically who gets the best out of their roster. How could the greatest coach of the NRL era be so middle of the road? Last season, Bellamy was top of the table.

I thought about it and I think it’s because, unlike the Panthers, the Storm were projected to be good, indeed the best in the NRL, and they had very little room to improve, even with the excess of production caused by Vlandoball. They did that because of the way the club goes about its core business of winning football matches.

One of the themes I’ve come back to in these reviews, especially looking at the top teams, is the concept of process. Rugby league is a harsh and chaotic master and the only way to weather it is to have good processes in place. Good processes are repeatable and lightning in a bottle results are not.

We tend to think of dominant teams as having endless runs of premierships, which the Storm do not have. What they have done is implement systems that allow a certain reliability of premierships. They may not win every year but the systems ensure they are always in the hunt and will inevitably capitalise every few seasons. Refer to the 2012, 2017 and 2020 seasons. This is the essence of their long term success.

This is not to say that these teams are all the same. The 2017 vintage Storm would have become extremely frustrated with their inability to force the Panthers to capitulate and this would have led to mistakes, possibly costing them the grand final (see their week 1 final where the Eels briefly stood up to them). The 2020 vintage were far more flexible, if less domineering, and that was what got them over the line. The ability to retool every couple of years is also critical to their long term success.

As a result, the Storm now are as good as when they cheated the cap, if not better.

What’s laughable is that, other than the Roosters and maybe the Raiders and the Rabbitohs, no other team has sought to create their own version of this approach. Sign players on a value-for-money basis, give them the best coaching to maximise their potential and implement pathways that are constantly generating cheap talent; it’s that simple.

If anything, clubs at the bottom of the league are getting left even further behind. These dunces wait for multiple generational talents to stumble into their clubs and hope they get it together at some point. They will continue to fail because they do not understand this.

(You can tell who these clubs are because their end of season reviews end in a state of existential crisis, whereas the good teams are talked about in terms of how well they will roll into next year)

What’s next

Cam Smith probably retires, Dave Donaghy might move to Brisbane and maybe brings Craig Bellamy with him.

Assuming these things come to pass over the next twelve to twenty-four months, will these be the personnel changes that finally bring the Storm dynasty (the current iteration has been in train since 2016) to an end? Are the ideas, systems, processes – the intangibles – so embedded into the very fabric of the club that they will never be dethroned? Much like how Papenhuyzen replaced Slater, Hughes replaced Cronk and Grant will likely replace Smith, is the next man up in the boardroom capable of living up to the club’s lofty standards?

Will the Storm be the club of the 2020s or will that torch be passed to another?

The wheel of history eventually lowers the powerful down into the dust but it took the Roman Empire 400 years to decline from its peak to its end (1500 if you include Byzantium). The reality is we may not live long enough to see the Storm’s empire come crashing down.

Club Report – Melbourne Storm

mel-badgeBackground

The Melbourne Storm were founded in 1998, in the immediate aftermath of the Super League-ARL dispute. Getting a team in Melbourne was a priority for Newscorp in order to expand the footprint of the game.

Early financial concessions meant that the Storm won their first premiership in only their second season in 1999. Thereafter, more sustained success arrived, with three minor premierships in a row from 2006 to 2008, four grand finals in a row from 2006 to 2009 and two premierships in 2007 and 2009. Melbourne, and rivals Manly, were the most dominant teams of this period. It all came apart in 2010 when massive salary cap rorts were uncovered. The Storm were stripped of the minor and major premierships from the 2006 to 2009 period and lost all their competition points in 2010, ensuring the club’s only wooden spoon.

The Storm bounced back quickly, winning a legitimate minor premiership in 2011 and a premiership in 2012. Since then, they’ve kept winning with two more minor premierships in 2016 and 2017. There’s not a lot of superlatives left to describe the Storm – even their cheating was monumental and they’ve had more NRL titles stripped than most clubs have won – and the 2017 team could make an excellent case for being the best vintage produced in the last twenty years.

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Analysis – Stocky vs Reality: Did your team outperform? (Pt II)

The Stocky is the main forecasting tool driving the analysis on this site. It’s a simulator of the season ahead, using the Monte Carlo method and based on Elo ratings, that gives insight into the future performance of each club. My main interest has been the number of wins, as it determines ladder positions which in turn have a big impact on the finals. The Stocky might not be able to tell you which games a team will win, but it is good at telling you how many wins are ahead.

But how does a computer simulation (in reality, a very large spreadsheet) compare to reality? To test it, I’ve put together a graph of each team’s performance against what the Stocky projected for them. Each graph shows:

  • The Stocky’s projection for total wins (blue)
  • Converting that projection to a “pace” for that point in the season (red)
  • Comparing that to the actual number of wins (yellow)

It will never be exactly right, particularly as you can only ever win whole numbers of games and the Stocky loves a decimal point, but as we’ll see, the Stocky is not too bad at tracking form and projecting that forward.

This week is Part II, from North Queensland to Wests Tigers. Part I, from Brisbane to Newcastle, was last week. Also see this week’s projections update for some errors in the Stocky.

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Analysis – Stocky vs Reality: Did your team outperform? (Pt I)

The Stocky is the main forecasting tool driving the analysis on this site. It’s a simulator of the season ahead, using the Monte Carlo method and based on Elo ratings, that gives insight into the future performance of each club. My main interest has been the number of wins, as it determines ladder positions which in turn have a big impact on the finals. The Stocky might not be able to tell you which games a team will win, but it is good at telling you how many wins are ahead.

But how does a computer simulation (in reality, a very large spreadsheet) compare to reality? To test it, I’ve put together a graph of each team’s performance against what the Stocky projected for them. Each graph shows:

  • The Stocky’s projection for total wins (blue)
  • Converting that projection to a “pace” for that point in the season (red)
  • Comparing that to the actual number of wins (yellow)

It will never be exactly right, particularly as you can only ever win whole numbers of games and the Stocky loves a decimal point, but as we’ll see, the Stocky is not too bad at tracking form and projecting that forward.

This week is Part I, from Brisbane to Newcastle. Part II, from North Queensland to Wests Tigers, will be next week.

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Analysis – Another bloody mid-season review (Part I)

With the conclusion of round 13, it’s half time in the 2017 NRL season. It’s the ideal time to do what everyone else is doing and look back at the season so far. This week we’re looking at the first eight clubs that come up in alphabetical order.

Part II to come next week.

Benchmarks

There are some important benchmarks to consider when looking ahead to the end of the season.

Firstly, let’s look at the regular season. I’ve tallied up the average number of wins for each position, the average for-and-against and the number of teams with a negative for-and-against for each spot on the ladder. The dataset covers 1998 to 2016, so there are some inconsistencies from seasons which had twenty or fourteen teams and where points penalties were applied to the 2002 Bulldogs, 2016 Eels and 2010 Storm.

The main takeaways are that twelve wins should get you into the finals and eighteen should get you the minor premiership. Six or seven wins will still only get you the bottom spots on the ladder (unless the 2016 Knights are playing).

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