Normally by this time of the year, life tends to get a bit slower. Christmas parties, summer nights, cricket on the box (More of a panel these days – Rob). It’s all part of the season where people are occasionally not pricks to each other.
This normally applies to the NRL. Generally most players are well-established with either their existing, or a new club by now. Pre-seasons are in full swing, beep tests or time trials are being completed. In short, NRL players become the ants to our proverbial grasshopper, spending their time building combinations, consistency and connections to make sure they’re ready to go for the next season.
Yet here we are, barely a week from Christmas and rumours still abound about player movements. Corey Norman is apparently on his way to the Dragons. I’ve seen respected Rugby League journalists (i.e. not the Mole or Buzz) mention scuttlebutt about Mitchell Moses moving to either Brisbane or New Zealand. All this movement, this late in the off-season, it can’t be good for building those combinations right? Shit, how are Wayne Bennett and Anthony Seibold meant to put their structures in place with two months less training than normal? I mean does no one think cohesion matters?
There’s an organisation that i’m sure your aware of that advocates the importance of continuity. Gain Line analytics argues that cohesion is a big part of sustained success. It is driven off the field through the structure and continuity of the organisation, and accumulated season by season and game by game in the on field product. The result is how Iceland beat England in Euro 2016, or why the Parramatta Eels failed to build sustained success over the past few years. Shit, the Eels haven’t been able to put together a consistent spine since they last won a premiership.
Unfortunately the Sportress doesn’t have the budget for us to pay for Gain Line’s work so we can’t tell you what it reckons will happen in 2019. You’d think the Raiders are a good candidate for such an assessment. Canberra is heading into year six of the Stuart regime, the eleventh under CEO Don Furner Junior, and a roster than has mostly just been tinkered with over the last few years.
It’s all so familiar than even this time last year David Polkinghorne over at The Canberra Times was wondering if this stability could be the ace in the Raiders sleeve for 2018. The founder of Gain Line, Simon Strachan, pointedly argued the Raiders would potentially succeed in 2018:
One thing by remaining stable, it’s not necessarily a question of whether the Raiders are going to improve because sometimes that doesn’t matter, it’s all the other clubs dropping around them.Simon Strachan to The Canberra Times
Alas, Josh Hodgson’s problematic knee and Jack Wighton’s problematic behaviour was more important than the Raiders continuity. Or was it to blame for the lack thereof?
It seems pretty common sense idea. The more you play together the better you are. The stronger the support network you operate in the better you are. And unlike 2018, when the fulcrum of the Raiders on field operation will actually be playing, rather than watching from the sidelines.
However, let’s not get carried away. Cohesion is built through training and working together, and it can go some way to covering a talent gap. But time on the field is borne from talent, and so the causality Gain Line purports can be more complicated.
Think about it like this: do Smith, Slater and Cronk succeed because they spend all those years together honing their crafts, or do they spend all that time together because they were really fucking good? Did the Raiders ‘golden age’ happen because Mal and Badge had played together for a while, or was it a unique mix of precocious local talent (Daley, Clyde, Stuart), mixed with experienced stars (Mal, Badge) and a second-choice coach that turned out to be pretty effin good.
How much from column A and how much from column b?
For every win built from cohesion, there’s also a star team thrust together for immediate success. The Roosters added Tedesco and Cronk to key parts of the spine in 2018 and it turned out great. I’d argue the Broncos had one of the more stable set ups at the start of 2017, and by the end it was a dumpster fire.
Even without the summer time shenanigans that are shifting players and coaches left, right and centre, it’s hard to build continuity in the NRL simply because of the nature of the game and the impact of injuries. Is Jordan Rapana as critical as a spine member to the cohesion of the Raiders? Or is his absence offset by the fact that Michael Oldfield has been a valued performer as a depth player?
2019 is another opportunity to test the theory of continuity, and the Raiders are a prime candidate. I’ve got my fingers crossed.