Monday, May 28, 2007

School yard form guides

You know how these things work - Team A beats Team B, who then go on to beat Team C, making any game between Team A and Team C a foregone conclusion. They're much beloved tools of those who like to predict results without actually having a clue what they're talking about, and those who prefer to reduce professional sport to some sort of "Top Trumps" style statistical battle. The last few weeks of engage Super League XII has pretty much exposed these things for what they're worth.

Recently, Hull Kingston Rovers have recorded victories over both Wigan and near neighbours Hull FC. Both Wigan and Hull have also beaten Leeds Rhinos in the last two weeks. Earlier in the season, Rovers also beat the Rhinos. Stands to reason then that when Hull KR welcomed Leeds to New Craven Park on Sunday the home side would emerge victorious, right?

Try again. Leeds won 18-10, with Rovers managing their only try of the game with just ten minutes left. On the same weekend, bottom club Salford beat a Huddersfield Giants side that had been in superb form over the last two months and the week before had recorded its first victory in a long time over the Bradford Bulls. Wigan, who by all accounts had feebly rolled over for their tummies tickling against Hull KR, turned around a half time deficit with 35 unanswered points against Hull FC having been equally submissive in the first half of that game.

While there are always going to be freak results in sport, much has been made in the northern hemisphere about the need for intensity in the competition and the big clubs having too many easy games against teams whose main raison d'etre is to avoid relegation. The Australian NRL has been held up as something the competition should aspire to, a league where any side is more than capable of beating any other on a given day and teams can go from cellar dwellers one year to champions the next.

11 rounds into the 2007 NRL season, there are 14 points separating table toppers Manly from bottom side 16th placed Sydney Roosters. After 15 rounds of Super League, St Helens and Salford are just 13 points apart at the top and bottom of the table respectively. Six points separate bottom from 4th on the ladder in Australia, while only one more is the difference between their Super League counterparts. There have been twice as many games where the margin has been 30 points or higher in Super League than in the NRL, and while some of that may be down to the fact that the competition up here is further in to the season than its Australian counterpart, it does show a tendency for some of the weaker teams to collapse under pressure from the big boys.

There's a definite levelling effect taking place in the Super League competition between the top and the bottom. While it may not translate necessarily into a different side winning the competition every year at least in the near future, it's certainly going to make the bookie's job harder (which is no bad thing on its own for us mere mortal punters), but it will also hopefully help drive up the standards and intensity creating players more able to compete on the international stage.

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