Friday, March 30, 2007

NRL Parity - Warriors v Storm

We are now into Round 3 of what is shaping up as a scintillating NRL season 2007. A double upset in Rounds threes Friday games with the Eels knocking off the Tigers and the Panthers beating the Broncoes in OT.

For the Warriors simply making it to the starting line unsoiled by any kind of scandal or upheaval has created an atmosphere of hope and confidence at the club and amongst the fans and media that has not been seen for several years. In retrospect, it's clear that the psychological and competitive disadvantage of a points deduction at the 2006 season's outset was nigh on impossible to overcome. However, having come through that particular maelstrom, the players seem hardened and ready to prove themselves in the 2007 competition unrestrained by any handicap.

In a salary-cap era, the NRL that the Warriors compete in is becoming increasingly characterised by parity, and the early results are backing that up. This season is wide open with every game open to an upset - there are no longer games of Broncoes v Cowboys where the Broncoes pay $1.01 to win.

It may now truly be the case that a team of Rugby League stars simply cannot be maintained for a sufficient length of time for true dynasties to become established. The 2002-2004 Sydney Roosters are the only NRL team since 2000 to defy this logic, making three consecutive grand finals, but winning only one. This seems like an anomaly and questions exist about how that Roosters team managed to comply with the cap - but that's a subject for a separate post.

Of the four teams that made the grand final in 2004 (Roosters v Bulldogs) and 2005 (Tigers v Cowboys) none even managed to make the top eight the following year. Accordingly we will have to wait and see whether the same drop-off could happen for the 2006 grand finalists, the Storm and Broncos. Broncoes have now gone three rounds without a single win!

NRL parity is not something we should be complaining about - it is the natural and intended result of a salary-cap system and makes the NRL sustainable. NFL and NBA salary caps have the same effect. For the NRL, the English Super League and world Rugby Union acts like an overflow into which highly-paid players can eventually drop when their fame, talent and experience (read age) become too great for their salary demands to be satisfied by any NRL club. In this way, each NRL season a new crop of talented young league players get a shot in first-grade NRL competition and this keeps the NRL fresh and open. The salary cap has been increased for 2007 to A$4m.

A successful NRL club in compliance with the salary cap must be one formed with an eye to the future out of an ideal combination of young and improving players and established stars, together with a few "sleepers" - overlooked or underrated players who perform above their pay packet. At this moment the 2007 New Zealand Warriors look to be a club with just this sort of combination.

So with the balance of round three still to play the competition looks amazingly open - it is imaginable that virtually any permutation of the 16 teams could form the top eight who will go into the playoffs at the close of the regular season. With this in mind, the Warriors' opportunity to shine looks tantalising.

A big game this week - with a virtually unchanged Warriors side facing up to a Storm side at home that have won both their two opening games. Melbourne were 32-16 winners over wooden-spoon favourites the Raiders in Canberra last week and scraped through for an 18-16 win over Wests Tigers in Round 1. These results aren't that impressive however it looks like the margins of victory are going to be narrow this season. Go the 12 and under at the TAB. Anyway this weeks game is the true test - win this and the Warriors are contenders!


Munners said...

With all the hopes that are raised and dashed every year (more often dashed earlier than later) with the Warriors it is a brave man to be calling them genuine contenders after Round 3, but I actually agree with you.

So far the Warriors have not scraped through in high scoring games resembling sevens rugby, their defence has been pretty solid. If that can continue against the Storm, the confidence will build and even a loss or two shouldn't destroy that (so long as they keep playing well). They need to have a Crusaders style attitude where it is all about the performance whether they are playing the top team or the worst.

Also, I must add to your NFL/NBA analogy that while the salary cap has a similar effect, there is also the draft system which helps give the best up and coming talent to the worst teams. I would like to see something like that in the NRL as well.

Go the Warriors!

Matt said...

You make a good point about the draft - I really like the draft system in the NBA in particular. Assessing young untested talent is an art and its fun to wonder who the teams will pick. However you need a standardised contract system for it to work - and players lose the capacity to choose which club they play for. As you say top new players end up at the worst clubs in the competition - good for the clubs and for parity - maybe not so good for the new young talent who want to win straight away. Also no established junior NRL or college sports equivalent system for young league players to establish themselves before a draft. Nonetheless an idea worth considering!