Alternative Models for State of Origin plus World Cup Group Stage Review

Just because we’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean their isn’t a better way of doing things

Innovation by its very nature requires change. I don’t have a degree in marketing but it seems to me that brands that keep fresh stay relevant. Even trusted brands which have been around for decades (or centuries as the case may be) have to reinvent themselves from time to time to stay relevant to new generations, especially in the entertainment industry. Sport is no different. In this day and age with immediate worldwide communication a reality, this is especially true. The market place is crowded and overseas sports like the NBA, EPL and MMA are making an impact on the Australian market place.

State of Origin, for so long the figurehead of Rugby League in Australia has hardly changed in 35 years (well the jerseys have incrementally changed each year, but that is a different story). Crowds and ratings are still outstanding, although tickets for the first game in Brisbane were slow to sell compared to previous years (I think the tickets were overpriced from anecdotal evidence). They might want to look at that for the third Origin. Suncorp Stadium was a sellout in minutes in previous seasons, so that is a bad sign. Origin is a cash cow for Rugby League in Australia and is a huge draw card for Australian based athletes. One look at how many players in the current series could qualify to represent other countries will tell you that (NSW – 6 and QLD – 3).

Wally Lewis vs Mark Geyer - Photo by Scott Maxworthy - CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0

Wally Lewis vs Mark Geyer – Photo by Scott Maxworthy CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0

Arguments for leaving Origin alone

Why fix it if it isn’t broken? The danger is if you mess with a proven winner you run the risk of ruining the whole thing. The NRL Commission is also contractually obligated to broadcasters to deliver certain content so there is a pragmatic issue as well in terms of whether change is even possible, although anything can be negotiated if there is enough merit in any proposed changes (and goodwill to implement).

Arguments for change

Once a concept loses its allure it is very hard to win back market share. The trick is to realise when a concept needs refreshing and act prior to a material deterioration in the brand. The major argument for tinkering with State of Origin is player safety but refreshing the brand could be a driver as well. The NRL definitely pays lip service to player safety but commercial outcomes are definitely a high priority for the NRL (some would argue a higher priority).

Suggestions for change

I think the timing is right for a change. I’m not advocating for a change of jersey colour (so stop panicking) but I think a schedule change is in order. Here are some ideas to chew on:

Wayne Bennett’s model

Master coach Wayne Bennett suggested the following:

JUNE 1: Pick 22 man squads for NSW and QLD

JUNE 5/6/7: Play four club games, include Origin players not in final 17

JUNE 10: Play State of Origin I

JUNE 12/13/14: Play four club games, include Origin players not in final 17

JUNE 17: Play State of Origin II

JUNE 19/20/21: Play four club games, include Origin players not in final 17

JUNE 24: Play State of Origin III

Players then stood down for minimum nine days

JUNE 26/27/28: Play four club games, include Origin players not in final 17

JULY 3/4/5: Return of Origin stars and resumption of eight club games.

Pros: Series is over in four weeks which is quicker than the current system. Stars are not forced to back up for clubs and always get a seven-day break, enhancing player welfare. Only a small variation on the current schedule. State of Origin still on Wednesday nights which will please the broadcasters.

Cons: Origin players missing for two club games but that is pretty much the status quo. Some might think Origin is over too quickly.

Alternative Model suggested by a friend

A friend of mine suggested the following model which is a paradigm shift on the current model:

Play the regular season, with the top of the table club winning the premiership and no final series. This is essentially the EPL Model. Then play State of Origin. Obviously, this doesn’t give any incentive to non-Australians, so another competition could run at the same time, including the players from all the other countries.

Australian team then selected to play either the winner of the other comp, or a rest of the world XIII.

Pros: No impact on the NRL and less wear and tear on the players.

Cons: No final series which would have a massive impact on TV and crowds.

My Model 

I raised this in a previous blog, however, it bears repeating:

The RLIF, NRL and Superleague to collaborate (if that is possible) to determine four stand alone international windows (which would be four weekends a year). Each NRL and Superleague club would have a bye on each of the weekends. This would not materially lengthen the season for the NRL as there would be 24 rounds instead of 26.

The four international windows could be Anzac day weekend and the weekend before each State of Origin.

The Pacific Cup could then become an annual event and could be played across these four weekends. It could be run as two seeded pools from Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, PNG, Cook Islands and South Africa playing round robin with promotion/relegation depending on results each year. The winner of the top pool would get an invitation to the Four Nations each time it is played in the Southern Hemisphere.

The advantage of international windows determined by the RLIF (in consultation with the NRL and Superleague) would be that the Northern Hemisphere could also conduct internationals with the availability of Superleague and NRL players. Likewise, Superleague players who qualified for Pacific nations could be selected as well.

NZ could play against Australia in the Anzac Test, England mid-season and hold two State of Origin games during the international breaks.

Pros: It would give the international game a kick and incentivise NRL and Superleague players electing to play for their country. There would be a lesser impact on the NRL club competition as no player would miss a club game as a result of being selected for the State of Origin or any of the other countries. TV would have a number of other fixtures to add to the television schedule which would presumably improve in quality the more regularly the teams played (and the more regularly a country’s Superleague and NRL players elected to play for it). This would potentially reduce the drain of international players to State of Origin.

Cons: There is no material difference in player welfare for Origin players as they would still back up from Origin on the Wednesday to play for their clubs on the weekend after. Would potentially disrupt the momentum of the NRL with four weekend breaks interspersed during the season, however, I think given teams would be full strength in the interim the impact would be lessened. 

Verdict 

Pick your poison. They all have arguments for and against. They all have a different emphasis. I think the most important thing is that the NRL Commission show leadership on this issue and provide some direction for the game. 

Thoughts from Brazil

  • We probably say this every World Cup, but this feels like the best World Cup ever (so far at least). Plenty of goals.
  • Early form will count for nothing when the round of 16 starts. I expect more upsets to follow. It is feeling a bit like the 2002 World Cup where Senegal, South Korea, Turkey and the US were quarter finalists only for the familiar names of Brazil and Germany to fight out the final. I’m hoping like last World Cup that we have a new World Champion rather than one of the old favourites.
  • Biting. These things happen. What the?
  • You can tell when a team doesn’t really like one another that much. That’s what Uruguay looks like. Incidentally, there are a few others who look like that too – Argentina is one, England is another, Portugal is another. They’re just so “arch-enemy” in their leagues, that it’s hard to get them to bond. The teams that look like they enjoy playing together are all doing well – Brazil, Algeria, Belgium and France look terrific…The Dutch look good (so long as they are winning). Ivory Coast didn’t look very unified and consequently were bundled out in the group stage.
  • I don’t think I’ve seen a World Cup with this many nutmegs either. Every goalkeeper seems to have been beaten by at least one. Goalkeepers are getting taller. It’s harder to get down.

World Cup Grades so far

Fallen Giants

Spain

Betting Rank (utilising betting odds prior to the World Cup) – 4th (7.28)

FIFA Ranking (again prior to the World Cup commencing)  – 1st

Appraisal – Given they were amongst the favourites to take the whole thing out, calling their performance in this tournament a disappointment is an understatement. The loss against the Netherlands was particularly galling and their worse in 51 years. Saved some face against the Socceroos but it will be in to their rebuilding phase post haste after the World Cup.

Grade (this isn’t based in a vacuum and is influenced by what a team has done with the talent available) – E

Brave but outclassed

Cameroon

Betting Rank – 28th (693.43)

FIFA Ranking – 56th

Appraisal – Not much was expected of Cameroon in this World Cup and they fulfilled those expectations. Following a trend of fairly disappointing results for African nations in general, they played Mexico close but got belted against Croatia and Brazil.

Grade – D+

Honduras

Betting Rank  – 32nd (2001)

FIFA Ranking  – 33rd

Appraisal – Played hard but were ultimately outclassed by Ecuador, Switzerland and France. Weren’t expected to do well and didn’t.

Grade – C-

Australia

Betting Rank  – 27th (622.00)

FIFA Ranking  – 62nd

Appraisal – Were game against Chile (after the 12th minute) and pushed the Netherlands to the limit but were outclassed against Spain (who were only playing for pride). Given the team selected this would have to be a pass mark.

Grade – C-

Didn’t fire a shot in anger

Japan

Betting Rank  – 20th (161.43)

FIFA Ranking  – 46th

Appraisal – I wouldn’t call the Blue Samurai a minnow anymore. They have been there and thereabouts for a number of years now but apart from their performance against Greece they don’t have a lot to show for their time in Brazil.

Grade – D+

South Korea

Betting Rank  – 26th (364.86)

FIFA Ranking  – 57th

Appraisal – Played Russia tough for a draw but then just got blown off the park by a talented Algerian side or as I like to call them France B. Should have done better against a 10 man Belgium as well. In the end they could have been going home with so much more to show for their time in Brazil.

Grade – D+

Missed their window

Ivory Coast

Betting Rank  – 17th (147.86)

FIFA Ranking  – 23rd

Appraisal – Probably the lead contender from Africa to make the round of 16, the Ivory Coast promised much but delivered little. It is true that they defeated Japan and played both Colombia and Greece close but this was a golden generation of players and the group wasn’t the hardest, certainly not a group of death. An early exit has to be bitterly disappointing for such a talented team, especially conceding that questionable penalty against Greece. Heartbreaking!

Grade – C-

Ghana

Betting Rank  – 23rd (200.71)

FIFA Ranking  – 37th

Appraisal – Ghana were drawn in a tough group and managed a draw against one of the favourites of the tournament in Germany but narrow losses to Portugal and the US have resigned them to last place. In the end just didn’t make the most of their chances.

Grade – C

Limping Giants

Italy

Betting Rank  – 7th (25.50)

FIFA Ranking  – 9th

Appraisal – Could’ve ranked these guys as fallen giants but played better than Spain. After a first up win against England with the corresponding loss by Uruguay to Costa Rica, everything looked roses for this World power, until they lost to Costa Rica that is. In the end they were close but not close enough and another favourite was sent packing early.

Grade – C-

Punching above their weight

Iran

Betting Rank  – 29th (1282)

FIFA Ranking  – 43rd

Appraisal – Drew with Nigeria and a narrow loss to Argentina put them in contention to escape their group but fell at the last hurdle against Bosnia-Herzegovina. Given the poor preparation the team had leading into the tournament (club vs country dispute regarding availability for their lead up training camp) I think they can hold their head high.

Grade – C+

Gone but could have done so much more

Russia

Betting Rank  – 14th (95.00)

FIFA Ranking  – 19th

Appraisal – Expected to move into the second round and while they drew with both Korea and Algeria that was never going to get the job done after their narrow loss to Belgium. Early trip home is their reward for an average World Cup.

Grade – C-

England

Betting Rank  – 8th (27.13)

FIFA Ranking  – 10th

Appraisal – Given this was essentially a side picked for the future, narrow losses to Uruguay, Italy and a draw with upstarts Costa Rica was by no means a failure. Disappointing but not a failure. England shows a lot of promise and with more experience under their belts could make noise in Europe in two years.

Grade – C-

Croatia

Betting Rank  – 18th (150.71)

FIFA Ranking  – 18th

Appraisal – After leading Brazil and playing tough for their whole first match it was evident that their match against Mexico would be the key to progressing. Unfortunately they couldn’t get over that hurdle which is probably par for them (mixing my sporting metaphors).

Grade – C

Missed by that much

Bosnia-Herzegovina

Betting Rank  – 21st (171.43)

FIFA Ranking  – 21st

Appraisal – In the end Bosnia will be disappointed that they didn’t get further in this tournament. A solid win against Iran in their last match and a narrow loss against Argentina couldn’t make up for their 1-0 loss against Nigeria in the middle fixture. Given there was a possible foul by Nigeria in the lead up to that clinching goal will make that pill even more bitter to swallow.

Grade – C

Ecuador

Betting Rank  – 19th (157.86)

FIFA Ranking  – 26th

Appraisal – Were effectively 1 minute away from qualifying for the next round (if they hadn’t let in that last gasp goal against the Swiss) so will consider themselves unlucky. Played all teams hard and will be disappointed with their early exit.

Grade – C+

Still alive but not for long

Greece

Betting Rank  – 25th (274.86)

FIFA Ranking  – 12th

Appraisal – Things looked dire when they were belted by Colombia but pulled themselves together to squeeze a draw out of their fixture with Japan before squeaking ahead of the Ivory Coast. Their reward, a first time visit to the round of 16 against fellow upstart Costa Rica.

Grade – B+

Nigeria

Betting Rank  – 24th (272.86)

FIFA Ranking  – 44th

Appraisal – Given their disappointing first up draw against Iran, their next performances against Bosnia-Herzegovina (a 1-0 win) and Argentina (a narrow 3-2 loss) were a pleasant surprise. Probably not expected to travel past France in the next round I think they have exceeded expectations so far.

Grade – B+

Earned their place but still only one game away from elimination

Mexico

Betting Rank  – 16th (143.57)

FIFA Ranking  – 20th

Appraisal – Overachieving based primarily on their defence (although thumping in three against Croatia was a big tick for their attack as well). Have a tough matchup against the Netherlands next round so it doesn’t look like they will get to the quarter finals this time.

Grade – B+

United States of America

Betting Rank  – 22nd (182.86)

FIFA Ranking  – 13th

Appraisal – Drawn in one of the Groups of Death, the US got off to a bright start against Ghana and looked to have Portugal dead and buried until a last minute Ronaldo cross. In the end that was enough to get them a round of 16 face off with Belgium.

Grade – B+

Algeria

Betting Rank  – 30th (1358)

FIFA Ranking  – 22nd

Appraisal – Algeria were not expected to progress to the round of 16 and that looked to be playing out with their first up loss to Belgium, however, their emphatic win against Korea underlined the talent in this squad and they took enough points in their last game against Russia to book a next up game against Germany. What a reward!

Grade – A-

Killers of Giants

Costa Rica

Betting Rank  – 31st (1608.14)

FIFA Ranking  – 28th

Appraisal – Wow! Their upset of Uruguay transitioned into the dizzying heights of round of 16 qualification. With a winnable matchup against Greece in the next round who knows where their giant killing carnage will end?

Grade – A+

Off the radar but could get back on it with a good performance

Switzerland

Betting Rank  – 15th (105.71)

FIFA Ranking  – 6th

Appraisal – The Swiss were blasted off the park by France. When the French are on song (like the Dutch) it is hard to keep up with them. That loss was sandwiched between a narrow last minute victory against sneaky good Ecuador and a beat down of Honduras. What to make of them? They could give Argentina problems given Messi is essentially keeping their head just above water. Having said that, I would expect Argentina to narrowly edge them (as has been their custom).

Grade – B-

Sneaking under the radar

Uruguay

Betting Rank  – 10th (29.00)

FIFA Ranking  – 7th

Appraisal – Having Luis Suarez missing for the first match wouldn’t have necessarily changed their first up loss to Costa Rica but given his impact on the games against England and Italy one can only assume it may have helped. Suspended by FIFA for the rest of the finals, they would have to be underdogs to make it to the quarter finals, however, there is enough talent in this squad to push Colombia all the way.

Grade – B-

Chile

Betting Rank  – 13th (43.43)

FIFA Ranking  – 14th

Appraisal – Did well against Australia and Spain, however, not good enough to beat the Netherlands which unfortunately matches them up against Brazil in the next round. Brazil aren’t unbeatable though and Chile have played them close in the past (2-1 loss in Toronto on 19/11/13 and 2-2 draw in Belo Horizonte on 24/04/13) so anything is possible in the next round.

Grade – B

Frisky and Dangerous

Belgium

Betting Rank  – 5th (18.88)

FIFA Ranking  – 11th

Appraisal – The dark horses of the World Cup have quietly gone about their business extracting maximum points from their early games. In the same part of the draw as Argentina who haven’t been setting the World on fire so a real chance to book a semi-final spot which would be a good return for such a young squad. They will be hoping for so much more.

Grade – A-

Colombia

Betting Rank  – 11th (29.57)

FIFA Ranking  – 8th

Appraisal – Big wins against Greece and Japan to go with their narrow win against the Ivory Coast, Colombia are ticking all the boxes so far. Up next is a tricky game against Uruguay which should be easier sans Suarez.

Grade – A

France

Betting Rank  – 6th (24.25)

FIFA Ranking  – 17th

Appraisal – The French were absolutely awesome against Honduras and Switzerland and effectively played safe against Ecuador settling for a 0-0 draw. They are looking relaxed and dangerous and are poised for a deep run in this tournament. First up, Nigeria.

Grade – A-

The Box Seat

Argentina

Betting Rank  – 2nd (4.95)

FIFA Ranking  – 5th

Appraisal – I’m going to give Argentina a lower grade primarily on the basis that they are scraping by countries like Nigeria, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran when they should be looking much more comfortable. I am giving Lionel Messi an A for his legacy enhancing ways though.

Grade – B

Brazil

Betting Rank  – 1st (3.88)

FIFA Ranking  – 3rd

Appraisal – Looked nervous in their first game and were innocuous against the defensively minded Mexicans, however, really lashed out against Cameroon. So far so good but have a tricky match against South American rivals Chile. Although they have Neymar so there’s that.

Grade – B+

Manuel Neuer - Photo by Steindy - CC-BY-SA-3.0

Manuel Neuer – Photo by Steindy CC-BY-SA-3.0

Germany

Betting Rank  – 3rd (7.19)

FIFA Ranking  – 2nd

Appraisal – Started with a bang against Portugal and tapered off (though not devastatingly so) with a draw against Ghana and a narrow win over the USA. Still one of the favourites of the competition but on a collision course with France in the quarter finals.

Grade – A

Netherlands

Betting Rank  – 12th (31.00)

FIFA Ranking  – 15th

Appraisal – Started in unbelievable fashion against Spain and have weathered upstart Australia and tricky Chile to be in the best possible position in the round of 16, primarily not playing Brazil. Could go all the way. The next step is Mexico.

Grade – A

What was sweeter than Jelly Bread?

  • All Blacks on another World record chasing streak of victories.
  • Wallabies sweeping France. Shouldn’t be punished for playing what is in front of them.

What wasn’t?

  • The Cows. I mentioned last week that their away form had been abysmal and their match against the Knights just kept the theme going. Looks like another year of underperformance. They failed to send Matty Bowen away with a premiership and it looks like JT is going to go the same way unless they can arrest the culture of this team.
  • Chris Sandow 2.0 accusing the referees of bias. Pretty serious accusation in the heat of the moment. Might have been a good idea to keep that thought to himself.
  • Daniel Vidot declaring himself available for Queensland. I thought he just played for Samoa. I only say that because the RLIF rules preclude him playing for another country until the end of the next World Cup which would mean Queensland wouldn’t pick him because he isn’t eligible for Australia. Am I missing something? They were talking about Tim Sheens picking Semi Radradra for Australia the other day but I don’t think he fulfils the Origin criteria (arrived in the country before your 13) and so by reverse logic wouldn’t qualify for Australia. Oh and I’m pretty sure he played for Fiji the other day against Vidot. If the players are confused what chance do the punters have?

Other random thoughts 

  • Rumours continue to emerge about the future of Wayne Bennett. Time for the Cows and the Warriors to get the cheque books ready. Even if they brought him in as coaching director. Given they both have young coaches he could do what he did for Stephen Kearney in the 2008 World Cup….fill in the gaps. I don’t think Bennett would want to go out on this note. I think he has a little music left in him still. Newcastle has been a hard slog for him. This year was going to be a good year for them until McKinnon’s injury. That has made a huge impact, and Tinkler’s demise as well, obviously. 

Bill James Award 

Billy Slater – Run Metres – 137m, Tries – 2, Try Assists – 2, Tackle Breaks – 4, Tackles – 5, Offloads – 0, Line Break Assists – 0, Line Breaks – 2, Errors – 1 and Fullbacks who could’ve got this award this week – 5 (Darius Boyd, Jarryd Hayne, Brett Stewart, Michael Morgan and Super Bill). 

Tips for Round 16 

Home teams first

Sea Eagles vs Roosters – Sea Eagles (When DCE and Kieran Foran go head to head with Pearce and Maloney I’m going with the Eags especially at Brookie)

Broncos vs Sharks – Broncos (As previously advised Sharks are dead until further notice)

Tigers vs Raiders – Tigers (Raiders not good away from home. Come to think of it, Raiders not good anywhere)

Cowboys vs Rabbitohs – Cows (I think they are playing for their season this weekend. Starting to lose touch with the 8 given their abysmal form away from home)

Warriors vs Panthers – Warriors (This is a tricky one as the Panthers match up well against the Warriors (as the last 3 results will attest to), however, the Warriors are playing better, especially at home)

Eels vs Knights – Eels (Knights playing better but are a week by week proposition. Eels to bounce back)

Dragons vs Storm – Storm (Dragons middle of the pack. Storm bouncing back after an Origin induced swoon)

Last week – 4/6 

Season so far – 64/110 

Question for you

Is Origin broken? Does it need fixing, and if so, what would you do?

Stay Tuned

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode on Thursday, 3 July 2014 titled ‘Holden Cup – What is it good for?’

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