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

Stuart Thomas Columnist

By Stuart Thomas, Stuart Thomas is a Roar Expert

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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.

    Stuart Thomas
    Stuart Thomas

    Stuart Thomas is a sports writer and educator who made the jump from Roar Guru to Expert in 2017. An ex-trainee professional golfer, his sporting passions are broad with particular interests in football, AFL and rugby league. His love of sport is only matched by his passion for gardening and self-sustainability. Follow him on Twitter @stuartthomas72.

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    The Crowd Says (15)

    • May 17th 2017 @ 8:12am
      jeff dustby said | May 17th 2017 @ 8:12am | ! Report

      nice one sir, i especially liked this
      “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.”

      my personal favourite – we picked players out of position

      • May 17th 2017 @ 1:24pm
        Steve said | May 17th 2017 @ 1:24pm | ! Report

        Well, they can’t read big league any more…

        • Columnist

          May 17th 2017 @ 3:11pm
          Stuart Thomas said | May 17th 2017 @ 3:11pm | ! Report

          Rugby League Week has ceased circulation, not Big League.

    • May 17th 2017 @ 10:31am
      Sharkattack said | May 17th 2017 @ 10:31am | ! Report

      Good article. We have what we want and that is a tough competition. It augurs well for the Tipping Comp I run because if there were clear favourites week in, week out and everybody kept tipping them and getting them, there wouldn’t be a comp.

    • May 17th 2017 @ 11:04am
      KC said | May 17th 2017 @ 11:04am | ! Report

      Oh yeah Melbourne are so consistent hey, I mean only two teams in the comp having winning streaks, and they ain’t Melbourne.

    • Roar Rookie

      May 17th 2017 @ 11:59am
      Joe said | May 17th 2017 @ 11:59am | ! Report

      Its been really easy being a Storm fan with all the consistent performances but I’m sure there will come a time soon where they will start to struggle. The band is being disbanded starting next year so a lot of change is coming. Exciting times none the less. This season as with every season there are surprises thrown up every week. Last week was the week of comebacks making a very exciting weekend of footy. There has been so many upsets and not only upsets but big win upsets e.g. Manly thrashing Cowboys at their home ground. Sharks struggling to win a game at home. Dragons coming from nowhere to be a top four team. Its just been a great season so far and am looking forward to the rest of it.

    • May 17th 2017 @ 2:15pm
      Albo said | May 17th 2017 @ 2:15pm | ! Report

      Spot on Stuart ! The NRL is a great sporting completion. Anyone can beat anyone with a small drop in one teams performance level or the influence of an extra bad officials call or a bad “bounce of the ball”. Consistency is now determined mostly by the team that can capitalise best when the momentum is with them, and the team that can best break the opposition’s momentum to minimise the damage they do. We see it every week in multiple matches played where one team runs up a big lead in the first half only to have its momentum curtailed by halftime, and seeing the other team reverse the onslaught in the second half. The teams that can best deal with the momentum factors generally win the matches. Why the Melbourne Storm stand out above others in this ”consistency”‘ stakes, is that they have had a coach and on field management group ( Smith & Cronk) who understand the momentum factors and structure effective strategies to maximise their own momentum ( via the big 3 attacking combos) and minimise the opposition’s momentum ( the wrestle, the Smith ruck factors). A decade of their momentum control puts them consistently above the rest of the teams in the consistency stakes.

    • May 17th 2017 @ 3:19pm
      Rob said | May 17th 2017 @ 3:19pm | ! Report

      Cameron Smith is the most consistent player in the history of the game. He makes almost zero handling errors, his pass is almost perfect every time and he never overplays his hand but can make a game changing play with a 40/20 or clever delayed pass or switch of play to open up a defensive line. Then he makes 45 plus tackles with maybe 1miss a game. He’s not big or fast and doesn’t have above average athletic ability but his skill and football brain are the number one reason Queensland and Storm have been consistently dominant. Because he is consistently good at his job and his team mates follow his lead.

      • May 17th 2017 @ 6:28pm
        Nanco said | May 17th 2017 @ 6:28pm | ! Report

        Did you forget about the Storm salary cap infringements for at least 5 years and then warehousing players in different codes, countries and teams before getting them back. The Storm contracts were often backended so they were always going to be in big trouble in later years but the NRL came in and drew the slate clean so they didnt have a problem. Sure they lost a couple of players but kept the nucleus with no backending problem. Meanwhile Waldron got all the blame and previous admins got off scot free

        • May 18th 2017 @ 8:56am
          Rob said | May 18th 2017 @ 8:56am | ! Report

          I think the Broncos, Roosters and Dogs have the same salary cap ethics. Parramatta have just been done. Souths won a Premiership with Russell Crowes backing? Unlike the others the Storm develloped Smith, Cronk, Filou, Inglis, Slater, Johnson, Hoffman,Chambers and other rep players through the Storms youth system. The Dogs won the GF with a side amassed by cheating the cap? Money might buy you a couple of good players but it doesn’t make you consistently good for 15 years.

          • May 18th 2017 @ 12:37pm
            Nanco said | May 18th 2017 @ 12:37pm | ! Report

            Yeah when Tim Sheens was a club coach he bemoaned the fact that the Storm could offer much more $$ to juniors ( we have since found out why). Why would junior superstars Folau, Inglis etc go to Melbourne and not the Broncs for example – the coffee/climate?? They could afford to get all the juniors and test them and then get rid of those that didn’t measure up – an unfair advantage. They started in 1998 with the remnants of 3 closed Super league clubs plus News Ltd the owners threw in Lazarus. No wonder they won a comp in 1999. That $$ advantage is now being erased.

      • May 17th 2017 @ 6:46pm
        Mike said | May 17th 2017 @ 6:46pm | ! Report

        His a great player that’s for sure. So many times you see other players get talked about for their superstar status and although some of them may win you a game or 2 here and there you also have another group of players who know how to get you into the finals year after year. Cameron Smith is definitely one of those guys and is just an awesome player all round.

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