The NRL grand final teams have been revealed.
I love a lot of sports, but one of my truly big passions is baseball. What do baseball and rugby league have in common? Both sports, and indeed all sports, are statistic and percentage based.
In baseball a team’s ability to score runs consistently and make the small plays everytime will inevitably come out on top – particularly at the end of a long season.
Baseball is a sport jam packed full of statistics, and many people fail to see the importance of even the most minor of statistics, but they do inevitably play a role on the bigger picture.
I won’t get involved with lecturing you on the importance of statistics, I think Moneyball took care of that.
But do we, as an Australian sporting nation, pay attention to the importance behind making the percentage play every time?
The one facet of play in rugby league that has really sparked my interest lately is the importance of a fullback catching the ball on the full. What benefit does a kicker rolling the ball past the number one have on the game?
Professional sport is about building the pressure.
All the athletes on the park can perform the basic skills to a higher level, that’s why they are professionals after all.
It is the ability to perform these skills under intensifying pressure that sets the man apart from the boys.
The ability to turn the fullback around seemed to have been ignored until this season.
I have noticed that there are a couple of teams prepared to kick early in the count to either make the fullback chase a ball back towards his in goal or to make him return the ball with no support.
Essentially, it is about short term loss to achieve a long term gain.
I believe that it is not percentage of possession that necessarily wins games, but amount of time spent at respective parts of the field.
A team can have the ball 70% of the game but spend it in their own half; or a team can have possession only 30% of the time but spend the majority of it at the right end of the park.
With the six tackle rule there appears to be an over-emphasise on the ability to complete sets to the fifth tackle, but this can result in one dimensional play that doesn’t allow for creativity or the sustained pressure that playing the game in the attacking half would create.
Making each kick counts is more important than making sure the tackles are used up in my opinion.
I know many people will think that I am suggesting league adopt a union style of play, but the guaranteed sets of six does add a dimension of certainty that is not offered in union, as well as the ability to delay the play of ball until reinforcements arrive.
On the other side of the field I cannot emphasise enough the importance of catching the ball on the full.
It gets the team moving forwards, gets the ball closer to the retreating forward pack and can start the set of six 10 or 20 further metres up the park.
Over the course of the game we could be looking at potentially more that 100 metres of territory; surely any positive gains are a huge bonus over 80 minutes.
I’m a big fan of the fullback that takes the ball on the full.
Billy Slater and Brett Stewart consistenly take the ball on the full. They put in the extra effort to get their team forward momentum and subsequently attacking and territorial pressure.
I think this is something that differentiates a good fullback from a great fullback.
It is not only the ability to score tries that makes a fullback great, but his ability to make a big deal about the little things.
The little things, extrapolated over the entire season, become vital to the success of a team.