Do the football codes engineer their draw to favour certain teams? There has been a suspicion in recent years that some codes have favoured teams that are facing greater challenges than others because administrators are attempting to sell their product (especially for TV).
And this sell is maximised when there is an even competition with close games.
Let us review the 2011 season, and the place where ‘the battle of the codes’ is at its most intense – the Gold Coast. By the way, both NRL and AFL draws were compiled after their respective grand finals.
The Gold Coast Suns AFL team received a few benefits. An advantage in the AFL (where, unlike the NRL, minimum six-day breaks are compulsory between games) would be to play teams after they have played in a blockbuster. This might be the week after Carlton versus Collingwood, or where the Adelaide or Perth have had a local derby.
The Suns played at Port Adelaide the week after the first South Australia showdown and won their first game. They also played Essendon after their ANZAC day blockbuster with Collingwood on a six-day break. Essendon were at home and still won easily.
They played a Richmond home game in neutral Cairns to win their second game. They also played Collingwood the week after Carlton versus Collingwood. The teams to play Adelaide or Perth teams after their home town derbies were the Suns, Carlton, Collingwood and Brisbane (against Adelaide teams), and Port Adelaide, Western Bulldogs, and Hawthorn (against Perth teams), which is an even spread.
How about the incumbent Gold Coast Titans? In Round 1, the Titans (at home) played the Saints just eight days after the Saints had flown back from the UK for the World Club Challenge, and the Saints didn’t even get the home game. In Round 2, the Titans played the Storm. Two days beforehand, the NRL released details of enquiry into four player agents who will be deregistered after their dealings with Storm players in the salary cap debacle.\
In Round 3, the Titans played a home game against the Broncos – the biggest drawing team at home – before the Suns first match in the AFL, which was a fair enough business strategy when a competitor coming in to your territory.
In Round 4 the Titans were at Canberra – two cold climate away games and long trips (Storm and Raiders) came early in the season, rather than in the middle of winter, so an advantage to the Titans I would suggest.
In Round 5 the Titans played the North Queensland Cowboys on Friday night TV game, in which the Cowboys were backing up for their third game in 12 days. The Broncos v Knights would be a more appealing Queensland Friday night game for ratings. In Round 6 the Titans were at home versus Wests, and earlier that week the Titans announced the Idris signing.
Round 7, Titans v Parramatta, Hayne gets two weeks before this game for headbutting. His earlier one on Slater, for which he was exonerated, was worse, but maybe he had run out of credits by that stage. In Round 8, the Titans were at home versus the Roosters, who played the blockbuster ANZAC Day clash with the Saints the previous Monday, but still have to play away on a short turnaround.
Compare that with the AFL’s Essendon versus Collingwood match on the ANZAC Day Monday, where both played at home the following Sunday. In 2006 the Storm played at home against the premiership favourites St George on Saturday night, after the Saints had played the ANZAC Day Tuesday match.
In Round 9, the Australia v New Zealand rugby league Test on Friday night was scheduled for Christchurch (which was subsequently moved to the Gold Coast after the Christchurch earthquakes. The Warriors were scheduled to play a home game on the Sunday against – you guessed it – the Titans.
The Warriors would have had a number of Kiwis backing up who would have had to fly on the Saturday from Christchurch to Auckland. The Gold Coast would have had few Test players if any.
But the best until last – there were only four games that weekend, yet the Warriors didn’t even get the bye that eight other teams had, despite the large number of their players who played the Test match. Perhaps the trade-off was the Warriors playing a Cronulla home game in Taupo, New Zealand, later in the year.
In Round 10 the Titans were at home versus Manly on Monday night, a team that had a few players in the rep games. This meant three games in nine days, one of only eight teams whose rep players carried that burden. And so it went, but alas, by this point, the Gold Coast was running last on the table.
In Round 14 the Titans played at St George on Friday night the week before Origin Two, so the Dragons were missing all their stars (the Knights played the Dragons before Origin 3). Interestingly Darius Boyd signing with the Knights was announced the day before the Saints played the Titans, which is curious.
Food for thought, in how the respective administrators may optimise opportunities that the draw presents to maximise the evenness of their competitions and assist the struggling teams. Hopefully when the season is complete and the NRL draw is finalised, we can do an analysis of the benefits of the respective draws to GWS and the four Sydney NRL teams from the west.