The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and the Wests Tigers need to make some tough calls regarding their rosters. But much like a three-piece feed, the hardest part is knowing where to start.
Is there a formula for fashioning a football franchise? A template for team building?
Do you mould your squad around a superstar halfback, or start with a classy number nine? Should you bring in an inspirational big man; a leader of the pack to help lay the platform? Or do you sell the farm for a game-breaking fullback?
Unfortunately, the answers to these questions can’t be found in any coaching manual. This isn’t a problem solved by putting Robert Langdon on retainer or pouring data into Des Hasler’s super computer.
The truth is that when it comes to recruitment and retention, some clubs just know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, and know when to run. Others do not.
From a purely business perspective, the problem is one of supply and demand. A team should target individuals who play in positions of high demand, but where there is an obvious supply shortage.
Two positions that fall squarely into this category are halfback and hooker.
A top shelf number seven is like a tub of Nude by Nature, capable of hiding blemishes and concealing imperfections. However, the supply of quality players to fill the critical halfback position is relatively low, forcing up demand. This is why Dally Cherry-Evans is contracted for the next decade, and why Ben Hunt is set to be paid like Ben Roethlisberger.
The same logic applies to the dummy-half position. The lack of quality options at hooker has increased the value of this position in the modern game. How else do you explain Robbie Farah collecting 16 caps for NSW?
Conversely, the fullback position is overflowing with talent. Had Greg Inglis remained healthy, up to nine fullbacks would have featured in the NSW and Queensland Origin sides. The oversupply at this position has diminished the demand and has the potential to lower the financial value of the role.
Put simply, don’t spend too much on a fullback, as there are plenty more fish in the sea.
How does this help the Bulldogs, Tigers, and the Pawsome Foursome? There are three insights we can glean from the supply and demand approach.
First – and contrary to popular opinion – the Bulldogs and Tigers should focus on signing a halfback. While Luke Brooks, Mitchell Moses and Josh Reynolds aren’t the sexiest options at halfback, they represent good value at a position that’s in high demand but low on supply.
Secondly, Wests should aim to secure the signature of Aaron Woods as their next priority. Blokes tipping the scales at over 115kg with leadership experience don’t come along every day, and all reports suggest the captain wants to stay.
And thirdly, James Tedesco might need to be cut loose. There’s no doubt that he’s one of rugby league’s finest custodians, a genuine game breaker, and the best player among the four. But with talented fullbacks seemingly growing on trees, the supply and demand logic suggests he isn’t worth the money his agent is asking for.
Football clubs are often forced to overestimate a player’s value due to fear of that player signing elsewhere for more money. This mindset leads to impulse purchases and buyer’s remorse, sort of like going shopping when you’re hungry. If nothing else, the supply and demand approach to player recruitment may help to determine the true value of a player.
Is it time for Shaun Johnson and the Warriors to split?
For a long time I believed that the New Zealand Warriors were stunting the development of Shaun Johnson. But perhaps I had it the wrong way around. What if it’s Johnson who’s holding the Warriors back from reaching their potential?
What if New Zealand’s erratic play and inconsistent performances are a reflection of their halfback? If so, is it time for Johnson and the Warriors to part ways?
Shaun Johnson is an outstanding rugby league player, of that I have no doubt. The touch football prodigy had more views on YouTube than ‘Gangnam Style’ before he even entered the NRL. He brought a fresh feeling of hope and optimism to a team that was still mourning the retirement of Stacey Jones.
But he hasn’t kicked on. Now in his seventh season of first grade, and surrounded by more talent than Thursday nights at the Ivy, the Warriors should expect more from Johnson. And with his contract due for renewal this year, both sides should think long and hard before putting pen to paper.
Johnson is the perfect candidate for a sea change. At 26 years old, he is entering his prime footballing years, and he represents fantastic value for teams looking to spark their attack.
I would love to see him in a more structured environment, such as South Sydney, where he would have less responsibility for directing his team around the park. Paired with Adam Reynolds, Johnson could focus on running the football, something he does better than most.
For the Warriors, moving in a different direction at halfback may prove to be a godsend. As New Zealand proved in 2002, they don’t necessarily need razzle dazzle at halfback to be successful. Stacey Jones led the club to their inaugural grand final playing as a more traditional number seven and perhaps that’s the direction the Warriors need to be heading.
Luckily for the Auckland club, the answer is staring them straight in the face. If they’re confident that Kieran Foran has put his business to bed, he could be their long-term halfback. The Warriors should use the funds set aside for Johnson and go full Don Corleone on Foran, making an offer impossible for him to refuse.
Otherwise, New Zealand’s premiership hopes will continue to sleep with the fishes.
Fifth tackle option
Here are five quick thoughts on the action from Round 5:
1. At times, I feel like rugby league is transforming into the WWE, with heroes, villains, and Hollywood storylines. A perfect example played out on Thursday night. Under enormous pressure and with little form to speak of, the Bulldogs toppled the Broncos in a game no one thought they could win.
But you kind of always knew they would. I half expected Ivan Cleary to crash the press conference, decked out in blue and white, and choke slam Des Hasler through the table.
2. Vintage Mitchell Pearce. With the game on the line, he can’t get it done. There was simply no excuse for a halfback of Pearce’s talent, experience and pay packet to be missing that field goal. Laurie Daley, please take note.
3. Jack Bird’s value is increasing by the game. After another dominant performance against Newcastle, the Cronulla centre may have priced himself out of the Shire. With no vacancies in the halves, and Valentine Holmes cemented at fullback, the Sharks can only offer Bird a role in the centres.
But with cashed up clubs like the Knights circling, and able to offer Bird opportunities to play the position of his choice, his chances of remaining in Cronulla are waning.
4. Another brave performance in defeat from the injury-depleted Gold Coast Titans. I would love to see how good they could be with another $1.2 million worth of talent on the park. If only there was a way to come up with that kind of scratch…
5. Jordan Rapana does two or three things every game that leave me speechless. His speed and acceleration are incredible, and his body control puts Simone Biles to shame. Watching him tip-toe down the sideline at full pace while eluding a diving Semi Radradra was astonishing.
Canberra are blessed to have such a talent on the wing. I have no doubt that Rapana could start at fullback for at least four or five NRL clubs.
Follow Tom on Twitter @_TomRock_