Incentivising Mediocrity


Rugby League is a wonderful game run by idiots.

I’m not normally so strident in these pages but the competitions latest proposal to wash the sand out of Phil Gould’s pants is disappointing that even a fence sitter like me has to come to that conclusion.

The obsequious pleading the league is engaging in is to propose that teams that lose in golden point get a extra point as recognition that they got to 80 minutes without losing. That’s about the extent of the idea. It’s sucks to lose a close one.

Update: one thing I didn’t make clear when I originally wrote this piece – there is nothing wrong with the current system. It’s not broken. It doesn’t deliver low integrity results. It creates heart-thumping exciting football. The people that don’t like are mostly just sad their team lost.

As a Canberra Raiders fan I can tell you a lot about games we’ve won and loss in golden point. It hurts, but it hurts just the same as losing in heartbreaking fashion in regular time. I was no more heartbroken when Canberra lost in round 1 to the Cowboys in 2017 because no one thought to chase back a failed field goal as I was when they gave up a 16 point lead to the Titans in round 1 in 2018. Did they deserve an extra point because they pushed a good team further? That seems a bit subjective to me.

Which is kinda the point of the win/loss system. Removing the subjectivity from it. Who makes the finals is determined by who wins or loses more. You want benefits for losing? Kudos, you’ve got a handy advantage in for and against, which is how you already benefit for keeping it close. Why are we doubling down on that?

The proposal as is randomly reported (by Danny Weidler is grain of salt, and no I’m not linking to it) is to give the losing teams in golden point a point for making it that far. This adds an extra competition point into game for reasons I can’t understand. So now a golden point game is worth three points rather than two? Would the Titans and Bulldogs playing a 9-8 golden point game be worth more than the Storm and the Roosters killing each other for 80 minutes but ending in regular time? One game isn’t worth more than another. That’s kinda the point of the regular season.

Seems a strange thing to incentivise too. One of the chief complaints about golden point is that it incentivises field goals. Which it does as much as the last 10 minutes of a tight game and I have no issue with that. That’s part of the game.

But unlike other bonus point systems (like say super rugby’s points for scoring four tries), we now would be incentivising teams to play more conservatively. We’d actually be saying in the last five minutes “don’t take any risks to score because you can get a guaranteed point if you get through the next five minutes with nothing happening”.

You know what would be worse in the last 10 than too many field goals? Not enough. Suddenly Todd Carney wouldn’t be trying a 45 metre field goal to win a game (round 12ish in 06 v the Cows). He’ll put up another mid-field bomb to ensure his team gets to 80 minutes before they get a result.

I’ve seen proposals that say 4/3/2/1 points based on win/golden point win/draw/golden point loss. Which is better in a sense. But similarly I find it hard to take that winning a game is one way is worth less than winning it in another. Aidan Sezer slotting three field goals against the Sharks was incredible. He shouldn’t be marked down because it makes Phil Gould sad – in fact if you want to randomly add bonus points into games you’d argue if it makes Phil Gould sad would be the best place to start.

There is an argument that a draw is a draw and we should leave it at that. I don’t mind that except for two bits. Firstly my view is you want to keep the game conditions across the season as similar a possible. For consistencies sake and because it stops situations where players aren’t familiar with the rules of overtime (you think it wouldn’t happen? Ask Donovan McNabb). You’ve got to have winners in finals footy, so let’s have them in regular season games as much as possible without destroying the relationship with the broadcasters.

The saddest thing is that we’re only having this conversation because prominent media idiots seem to drive Todd Greenberg’s agenda. We spend all year hearing what these people think is wrong with rugby league. It leads to crackdowns on ruck infringements. It leads to ends of crackdowns on ruck infringements. It’s not how functional organisations run. Repeatedly giving to old dudes with disproportionate access to microphones creates so many problems in our society. It would be nice if footy could avoid those pitfalls.

Of course there is a chance that this is all just a master genius story planted by Toddy to drive some rugby league news in the offseason. But that’s a very David Stern thing. And to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, Toddy, you’re no David Stern.

Hopefully this dies a quite death like the ideas of many a offseason past. Because Rugby League is a wonderful game.

If only we could be so positive about it’s administration.

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