Does the big screen at Allianz Stadium cause goal kickers to miss?

Twitter follower, David Olsen, posed a question to me:

Apparently, I do a reader mailbag now. Good for me.

My first thought was “How the hell am I going to do this?”, closely followed by “Can I be bothered?” The answers were “with less effort than I feared” and “yes, yes I can”.

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An open letter to the NRL 

To whom it may concern:

The ancient Romans had an important position known as the Censor. Primarily, the role involved taking the census to maintain a list of citizens. There was also a moral component, ensuring that citizens acted in line with community expectations. Punishments were meted out for those who did not comply.

I humbly suggest that the NRL would benefit from such a system. Any person whose mere presence brings the sport into disrepute should be forced out, never to return to the rugby league elite. I’ll get the list started:

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Signing off for 2017

I mostly started this blog as something to occupy my brain when work was quiet. Pro tip: spreadsheets are a great way to cover up that you’re not working. I’d actually stopped watching rugby league closely around 2004 but had gone to a few games in the last few years, reigniting a spark somewhere in the back of my head. I went to five games in the last six years and watched a handful on TV but this year, I probably watched well over a hundred games and went to seven.¬†I’ve found it a good distraction from the real world and I’m glad I did it.

Here’s how the year has panned out.

State of the (Northern) Union

The game is a lot faster, more athletic and visually spectacular than I remember. Queensland Cup is pretty good, not withstanding the Hunters’ poor performance last Sunday. Despite the Storm’s dominance, there were plenty of close games in the NRL and, unlike say AFL or NFL, the game is never quite over until the final whistle. In fact, there’s not a lot wrong with the rugby league product in 2017. Fans seem to agree with four of the year’s top six rating programmes being the three State of Origin bouts and the grand final, even if all are down somewhat off their peaks and attendances are sliding.

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NRL Tips ‚Äď Grand Final, 2017

I can finally put a woefully inadequate season of tipping behind me. For a guy that had an Elo rating system that could practically see the future last year (up around 67%), Euclid did let us all down really badly this year.

But how good has the football been? This weekend sees the fairy tale-esque giant-slaying North Queensland Cowboys take on the machine-like Terminators of the Melbourne Storm to decide which side gets to take home the 2017 premiership.


melbourne-sm Melbourne (20-4) vs north qld-sm North Queensland (13-11)

The Cowboys have ridden an improbably large share of possession to starve their opponents of the ball coupled with an improbably well-timed run in form, particularly for star players like Michael Morgan and Jason Taumalolo, to get through to what the media insists on referring to as the “Big Dance”. Why? Who knows? Wendell Sailor hasn’t done his jig on a football field in over a decade and there hasn’t been much in the way of successors.

While even their presence in the final eight was something of a fluke, there’s no doubting that the Cowboys have handily accounted for the Sharks, Eels and Roosters to annihilate NSW’s best chance of having a presence in the grand final. Peak Queenslanding that is and I’m confident that most of the state – and Sydney – has jumped on the Cows’ bandwagon.

Melbourne have won 22 games this season. They’ve lost to the Sharks, Titans, Roosters (golden point) and the Eels. Their last loss was on July 8. The grand final is played on October 1. That’s¬†three months undefeated. It’s a supremely crazy level of dominance that we ran out of superlatives to describe two months ago. The only thing that would require an even more extreme superlative is if they somehow managed to stuff this up.

The two teams have met twice this year with the Storm winning both games. The first, during Origin period, was by a single point in extra time, and the second much more comfortably in Townsville back in August. Since 1998, the two teams have met 36 times with Melbourne winning 25 of those for a winning percentage of 69%, roughly in line with their long term winning rate.

North Queensland are by no means out of this. Indeed, they are as good a shot as any team of stopping the Storm. Melbourne have their weaknesses – they don’t love being behind and aren’t quite sure what to do when challenged – and the Cowboys may get lucky enough to exploit them. The Broncos weren’t and got laughably steamrolled in the process.

But yeah, I’m tipping the Storm. Sorry, everyone.


fw4-2017-round tips


After week 3:

fw4-2017-correct tips

NRL Tips ‚Äď Preliminary Finals, 2017

We’re down to the final four. There’s the impossibly good expansion team from Melbourne, the pretty good expansion team from Brisbane, the grit-sucking, giant-slaying fairy tale machine from regional Queensland and there’s the 109 year old club of gronks that no one in their city wants to support.

The NRL could not have set it up better with the four major TV markets represented. I’m assuming that the twenty or so in Melbourne that will watch this weekend would have out-numbered the theoretical audience in Auckland should the Warriors ever get their act together.

In the meantime, and with my tipping record now falling behind people who haven’t bothered to tip since July, here’s my preliminary final tips.


brisbane-sm Brisbane (16-8) @ melbourne-sm Melbourne (20-4)

I think everyone in Brisbane wanted to avoid this scenario but here we are. In fact, had the Broncos done a better job in their qualifying final, they wouldn’t be here and would instead be facing a Cowboys outfit that, while good, is not once-in-a-generation good. The good news is that Oates and Boyd are back and Brisbane are as close to full strength as they’re going to get in a year where just about every player has had some time off. If only Adam Blair would pull a hamstring, we could get him on a plane to New Zealand by half time and he’d stop being a deadweight. That is unless he scores the winning try in which case I never doubted him but that’s about as likely as Brisbane being in the position to score a winning try. I guess what I’m saying is, anything’s possible.

Here’s some fun facts: Melbourne have won 64% of their games since their founding in 1998. They’ve led the NRL all-time winning percentage since 2007. The previous decade saw four clubs top that list at one point or another. At home, Melbourne have won 75% of their games and their record at home against Brisbane is 68%. That’s before we even get into the stats about this year’s team, like they’re the first NRL team to get to 44 points without breaching the salary cap. Yet.

I could go on about the Storm and while I hold out a little hope for the Broncos, it’s going to be a Melbourne win.

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NRL Tips ‚Äď Semi Finals, 2017

I was right at least that my bracket was destroyed within fifteen minutes of the first game as the Roosters went to an early lead against the Broncos that they only briefly gave up. I finished the round one tip from four, meaning that the only thing I got right was that I got my bracket wrong.

Fortunately, a new week of finals brings new opportunities to get things wrong.


penrith-sm Penrith (13-11) @ brisbane-sm Brisbane (16-8)

The Panthers rode Nathan Cleary like Hannibal crossing the Alps (sixteen of them riding one elephant somehow) through yet another game that somehow resulted in victory. I just looked up the team list to see if he had any teammates and the only name I recognised was Josh Mansour and that’s only because he looks like he should be robbing stagecoaches in 1890s Ballarat. Penrith did a good job of turning around the fixture that they lost only a week before, particularly having to come from behind in the last ten minutes, which is roughly the amount of time that the Panthers’ premiership chances have left.

Brisbane and Sydney played their usual roles on the stage of rugby league, the Broncos as Brisbane and the Roosters playing the role of Sydney. It was practically a spec script: the Broncos went behind early, the Roosters lifted their foot off the pedal too early and Brisbane stormed back to take an unlikely lead with ten minutes to go, capitalising on the unlikeliest of Roosters’ errors. Painfully weak Broncos defence saw the Roosters’ superstar-in-the-making Latrell Mitchell get through for the game winning try. It was a fun time while it lasted, even if it was only five minutes, which is roughly the amount of time that the Broncos’ premiership chances have left.

I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if the Panthers win it, just because Brisbane haven’t been that reliable, but I think that the Broncos are really itching to cop a hammering from the Storm.

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Club Report ‚Äď Melbourne Storm


The Melbourne Storm were founded in 1998, in the immediate aftermath of the Super League-ARL dispute. Getting a team in Melbourne was a priority for Newscorp in order to expand the footprint of the game.

Early financial concessions meant that the Storm won their first premiership in only their second season in 1999. Thereafter, more sustained success arrived, with three minor premierships in a row from 2006 to 2008, four grand finals in a row from 2006 to 2009 and two premierships in 2007 and 2009. Melbourne, and rivals Manly, were the most dominant teams of this period. It all came apart in 2010 when massive salary cap rorts were uncovered. The Storm were stripped of the minor and major premierships from the 2006 to 2009 period and lost all their competition points in 2010, ensuring the club’s only wooden spoon.

The Storm bounced back quickly, winning a legitimate minor premiership in 2011 and a premiership in 2012. Since then, they’ve kept winning with two more minor premierships in 2016 and 2017.¬†There’s not a lot of superlatives left to describe the Storm – even their cheating was monumental and they’ve had more NRL titles stripped than most clubs have won – and the 2017 team could make an excellent case for being the best vintage produced in the last twenty years.

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