We all want a close competition, so stop whining about inconsistency

Stuart Thomas Roar Guru

By , Stuart Thomas is a Roar Guru

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    Sport is pretty much about consistency. Being able to make your worst day as near as possible to your best day makes you a daunting proposition for opponents.

    From an NRL standpoint, Melbourne Storm have been the masters of this; rarely are they caught off guard, underdone or poorly prepared.

    With professional and polished preparation, Craig Bellamy has had his team up for the fight for 15 years now and their regular spot in the eight looks assured again in 2018.

    No other club can boast an average ladder position in the same stratosphere as Melbourne (3.8), even including their 16th place finish in 2010 for cheating the cap.

    The Storm aside, NRL clubs grapple and hunt for more consistency in their performances. The coaches rabbit on about hitting KPIs, completion rates and systems, all indicators of the statistical successes or failures.

    Seasons roll around and clubs slip from the upper echelons of the table to the depths of the cellar and back again. The Roosters and Rabbitohs are two such examples, and entire boards, squads, coaching groups and structures come into question when things are in decline.

    Miraculously, clubs bounce back, recruit, rebuild and the fans feel better, only to see it all slip away somewhere in the future.

    Surely as the most intelligent life form on the planet, with access to high-performance teams, statistical data and the most educated sports scientists and medicinal substances, the mystery of inconsistency could be unravelled?

    Once scientifically determined, if you do the prep, follow the plan and hit the numbers week after week, you should be fine, right? Don’t be fooled. It’s a fallacy. An unachievable goal that still beguiles the sharpest minds in the game.

    Coaches fall for it and still think it’s possible, fans pull their hair out when their clubs put in Jekyll and Hyde performances only a week apart, and blind fools continue to line the pockets of the betting agencies, investing on contests with as much predictability as a coin toss.

    The coach, supporter and punter all proceed to regale others with war stories of the weekend just past. The coach scanning numbers and statistics, trying to find the formulaic breakdown, the fan blaming a few players down on metres gained or tackles made, and the punter tells the bloke down the pub that he would have won a motza if things had gone the ‘right’ way.

    Thinking that NRL teams can find some sort of groove and roll along week after week, ticking boxes that translate into good performances is a thing of the past.

    With the odd exception of a club in the doldrums and getting beaten up by just about everybody, such was the case with the Newcastle Knights last year, the NRL has evolved into the closest and most unpredictable sporting competition on the planet.

    It’s time for everyone to accept that fact and see each week as a winning opportunity, irrespective of the opponent. The whining about consistency needs to stop. There is no such thing.

    Unless all and sundry start to see this fact, the tragic endpoint for coaches, fans and punters is clear.

    Coaches will end up sitting in their sunrooms in comfy rocking chairs, muttering players’ names and statistics as their spouse brings them a pair of slippers and a glass of ginger beer. The doctor suggests alcohol should be avoided until their psychological state improves.

    Fans will hold rallies, call for sackings and question the board. They will read Big League magazine and formulate some convoluted reasoning as to the failings of their team.

    The social punter will end up broke, forlorn and throwing darts at walls trying to decide on their next wager. The small-time investor will start taking the $4.50 on the Knights against the Storm away from home, and every now and then, have a win.

    Nathan Ross for the Newcastle Knights

    AAP Image/Dean Lewins

    The unpredictability will see them all undone, just like the participants in workplace tipping comps who start to select six or seven roughies in order to win the weekly jackpot. You know, that weekly incentive for those strugglers who have fallen well off the pace and is won a few times each year by people not looking for overall victory, more for a flukey week.

    The psychological torment subjected on the world of rugby league needs to stop. Let’s call a spade a spade and realise that inconsistency in running metres, tackles, offloads and missed tackles isn’t due to players doing anything particularly different.

    Such statistics are not infuriating blights on players who haven’t put the effort in and the sources of inconsistency. No. What they really reflect is the adversarial nature of the game, the fact that you have an opponent.

    Someone determined to derail your plans, confront you one on one, and force you into error and adaptation. An opponent just as professional as you. Just as committed to the cause, with access to much of the same data, science and assistance as you.

    Thus, on any given day, the result could be reversed. Not due to inconsistent form, more the fact that the discriminators between teams are so minute and uncontrollable.

    Players eat, train and prepare the same way, yet for some frustrating reason, last week can seem a world away.

    The squad can be sharp at training through the week, coming of a full seven-day break; the post-game analysis and review by the coaching staff thorough and without major injuries affecting the squad, everything should be pretty much the same as last week.

    Then, from a rooster to a feather duster, the performance crashes, outplayed by another mob, just as fit, keen and committed.

    Sure, teams will hit form and string wins together in bunches. In the same way, consecutive losses become commonplace. St George Illawarra and Manly have both experienced the fluctuation that can occur in a team’s fortunes in a season still not half done.

    The unpredictable and incredible results we have already seen this season are, therefore, not reflective of inconsistent teams, more of a competition that is playing out exactly the way we want it to.

    Once we have accepted that fact and watch the games as you watch a roulette wheel with fingers crossed and buttocks clenched, we can all sleep a little easier, realising that our team will never be consistent.

    Except for bloody Melbourne, now they are consistent.

    The State of Origin teams for Game 1 at Suncorp Stadium have been announced - be sure to check out all of The Roar's expert reaction to the sides named for the NSW Blues and Queensland Maroons.