Rugby League World Cup Quarterfinal Predictions

Since I will not have my quarterfinal dataviz ready before Australia vs Samoa on Friday, I want to record my predictions now. Mostly so I can say I told you so.

The four quarterfinals are:

Australia vs Samoa
Tonga vs Lebanon
New Zealand vs Fiji
England vs Papua New Guinea

I expect Australia will win, but I hope Samoa will get at least a couple of tries. Tonga vs Lebanon could get tasty but I expect Tonga to win by several tries. I am excited for NZ vs Fiji, even if I know Fiji, the team I want to win, probably won’t win.

With regard to England’s quarterfinal, I want to join everyone else in saying that it’s not fair that it is being held in Melbourne rather than Port Moresby. As Papua New Guinea are co-hosts with NZ and Australia, it is wrong that they don’t host any matches after the group stage.

It also improves England’s chances of beating them.

I am slightly torn because I want PNG to do well, but I don’t want a team featuring James Graham, James Roby, Alex Walmsley and Mark Percival to lose. I also think a close match might finally kick England’s posteriors into gear. Because that second half against France was not acceptable.

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Rugby League World Cup 2017 Data Visualization

I’ve done my usual thing of mapping what club team and nation the players play for. I should probably have done this for the last world cup but at that time I was still coping with the idea of James Graham playing for a team that aren’t Saints. Even five years on, it took me all my time not to mark him down with an asterisk. Because hopefully he will come home one day.

Ahem!

I am not going to say anything about the England team because I promised I wouldn’t if Wayne Bennett picked Alex Walmsley and Mark Percival. If neither of them gets a game, this may change.

On to the actual diagram.

 

TeamsAllStart.png

I didn’t expect to find such a sharp divide between the Northern and Southern hemisphere sides. Italy and Lebanon having been temporarily moved into the Southern hemisphere, because both of them have a lot of players who play in Australia.

England are the national team closest to the middle, this is probably because they have both players who play in Australia, and a lot of the other Northern hemisphere teams are mainly made up of players who play in England.

Salford Red Devils are the club team closest to the centre. It sounds somewhat inexplicable. It is probably because 2 of the 4 Salford players play for a Southern hemisphere team (Tonga) and the other two play for Northern hemisphere teams (Ireland and Wales).

I know PNG and the US only have 23 players not 24. Not it’s not a mistake, at least not at my end, I double checked their official press releases (http://www.nrl.com/png-kumuls-name-world-cup-squad/tabid/10874/newsid/112727/default.aspx and http://www.rlwc2017.com/news/team-usa).

Yes, that is that Mirco Bergamasco. Yes he was a union player. Yes, he is that old. But I have spent so much of my life cheering for him as he does stupid, reckless and impossible things, I will happily do it one more time.

Melbourne Storm are the team with the most players, with 13. Next are St George Illawara, Cronulla Sharks, London Broncos, Parramatta Eels and New Zealand Warriors with 12.

Interestingly, only 2 of the St George Illawara and 3 of the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks are playing for Australia. The remaining 10 St George Illawara players are playing for New Zealand (2), Samoa (2), Fiji (2), England (1), Tonga (1), Papua New Guinea (1) and Italy (1). Of the Sharks players meanwhile 4 play for Samoa and 1 each for England, NZ, Tonga, PNG and Italy.

Of the New Zealand Warriors players, despite the name, only 3 are playing for New Zealand. The remainder play for Samoa (4), Tonga (3), Scotland and the United States (1 each).

None of the London Broncos players are in the England team, they are largely playing for Wales. None of the Parramatta Eels players play for Australia. They seem to be playing for every nation except Australia.

 

TeamsAllCommunity.png

In the community view, Ireland and England as one community, ditto NZ and Australia. I think that’s because most of the Irish players play in England for teams who also have players playing for England. For Australia and New Zealand, all but two of the New Zealand players play for teams in the Australian National Rugby League.

It’ll be interesting to see how this develops, especially as there is a chance, however slim, that Tonga might beat New Zealand to the top spot in group B.

Rugby League 101

As it is Rugby League World Cup time again, I felt it might be an idea to briefly cover the basics of the game for any new fans watching. The information is taken from here and here.

Somewhat worryingly, both of the rules pages start with the information that you’re trying to score more points than the other team, but I’m going to assume that you can guess that.

The very basic rules of the game are that each team is given six chances to score. Each chance ends with a tackle (a tackle is a tackle when the referee calls “held”). If, after six tackles, the team have not scored, the ball is handed over to the other team who then get the chance to score with their six tackles.

There are 4 ways of scoring:

1 – A Try – A try is worth 4 points. It is similar to a touchdown in American football, except you actually have to touch the ball down with control and downward pressure. I’ve highlighted those last words because if you don’t do them, the try will not be awarded to your team.

2 – A Conversion – A conversion is worth 2 points. They can be scored only after the team has scored a try. The kick is taken from a position perpendicular to the goal line where the try was scored. The ball must pass between the goalposts and over the crossbar. If the team scores a conversion after a try, it is referred to as a converted try.

3 – A Penalty Kick – Also worth 2 points. Often just referred to as a penalty, this is one of the two options a team captain can take when the referee awards his team a penalty. The other option is to receive another set of 6 tackles with which to try to score.

4 – A Drop Goal – worth 1 point. This is scored when the ball is kicked between the goalposts and over the cross bar in open play.

A match lasts 80 minutes, split up into 2 halves of 40 minutes. The time is kept by a separate time keeper who sounds a hooter to signal the end of each half. If you’re really unlucky and playing at one of the French stadiums, it sounds like an air-raid siren.

Both teams will have 13 players on the pitch at any one time. As in ice hockey, there are rolling substitutions with no need for a stoppage in play. There is a limit on the number of these interchanges, with a maximum of 12 per team per game.

When passing the ball, it must go level or backwards. If the ball goes forwards, this is called a forward pass and the referee will award the other team a scrum and give them the ball. The team is said to have been “given head and feed at the scrum”.

A rugby league scrum is formed of 6 players from each team. The scrum half puts the ball into the scrum, and the hooker from his team hooks the ball backwards to gain possession of the ball for his team.

Scrums are also awarded for knock-ons. A knock-on is when the ball is dropped forwards by a player and hits the ground or another player.

A 40/20 kick is one where a player standing on or behind their 40-metre line gains ground by kicking the ball into their opponent’s 20-metre area. As long as the ball has bounced inside the field of play before going out to touch (out of bounds) in the 20 metre area, the kicking team are awarded head and feed at the scrum. Therefore, they will probably six more tackles to try to score. It is very rare that the team that gets the ball to put into the scrum don’t have possession after the scrum.

If the ball goes out behind the posts after a 40/20 rather than going out in the 20 metre area, the non-kicking team are given 7 tackles to try to score a try.

Don’t worry if you’re not sure what’s happened. The referees wear microphones and have a set of hand signals that they use to indicate what is going on. These have been handily summarised here:

oFl3eY.png

The offside rule does nothing but cause everyone headaches but basically, the defending team have to be 10 meters away from the attacking team when they play the ball after the tackle, and the person on the attacking team receiving the ball from the play the ball must be directly behind their team-mate.

Obstruction is when one of the attacking team runs across the line of a defender trying to tackle their team-mate.

Tackles are not allowed to be above shoulder height. Above that it is a high tackle.

For something like that, or other foul play that is deserving of more than a penalty to the opposition, a referee can give one of 3 punishments:

1 – A yellow card – the offender has to spend 10 minutes in the sin bin. Their team has to play the 10 minutes with 12 players.

2 – A red card – the offender is sent off and cannot play for the rest of the match. Their team has to play the rest of the match with 12 players.

3 – The player is put on report – while better for the team in the short run because the player gets to stay on the pitch and carry on playing, it means the disciplinary panel will look at the offence and decide what punishment is appropriate. This can be anything from nothing to a 4 match ban.

I think that covers the important things.

This year, the women’s rugby league World Cup is taking place at the same time, so please show the ladies some love.

oFlKpF.jpg

While I am cheering for the Lionesses, please enjoy this photo of Sarina Fiso (NZ captain) and Ruan Sims (Australia captain).

Adieu To Rob Burrow

Saturday evening will see Rob Burrow’s last rugby game. He’s my favourite active rugby player. And, as per usual, I will be hoping his team lose.

Because that’s what happens when your faourite player doesn’t play for your favourite team.

Not that Castleford are my favourite team, but I’d really rather than them win than Leeds again. I have seen Burrow tear Saints apart one time too often (even the mention of the 2011 Grand Final remains painful).

I will be honest here, the reason Burrow is my favourite *is* because he’s the littlest. In a time when rugby players seem to be ever larger behemoths, that he’s 5 foot 5 and made it with hella hard work and talent is inspiring.

I believe some Youtube videos are required.

The Leeds Rhino’s official video – Tributes to Rob Burrow –

Grand Final Golden Moments: Rob Burrow’s Solo Try, 2011 –

(Also refered to as that bloody try by me)

Epalahame Lauaki Fights agiants Rob Burrow –

Rob Burrow 500 game tribute – Rob Burrow 500 game tribute –

He’s fast, sneaky, clever and brave, the littlest and the best. Why did he have to play for Leeds?

Book Review – As Good As It Gets – The Story of St Helens’ Grand Slam Class of 2006

This book is about the glorious, all-conquering Saints team that won every trophy 🏆 available to them in 2006.

It’s written by Mike Critchley who works as the sports editor for one of the local papers, the St Helens Star. He sets the team’s year in context, not just of rugby league, but also the team’s importance to the town.

It’s wonderfully one-sided. It’s also written in authentic Northern gibberish in parts, to the point that I feel like asking my London Correspondent if it makes any sense to someone not from my neck of the woods.

The pro-Saints angle actually quite nice, because it’s so common that Saints don’t get the credit they deserve. It does occasionally leave me wanting more information or analysis than the book gives. But that’s understandable because it is quite clearly designed to be an happy overview of that glorious season, not an in-depth rugby analysis book.

The book is also rather obviously pro-Daniel Anderson. Which makes sense. It was a season of success that was partly down to his tactical choices and player rotation. It should actually have been his second title. Saints would have won the title the year before if Sean Long hadn’t had his face broken in a match against Wigan. No part of that last sentence is an exaggeration.  But the book chooses to do this not just by bigging up Daniel Anderson, which is reasonable, but by putting down Ian Millward at any opportunity. I have no idea what Mr. Millward did to the author but it must have been something. (It’s Ian Millward and the author is a journalist so I presume Millward swore at him.)

That, and a couple of “I do not think it means what you think it means” word usage issues, are the only problems I found.

It was interesting to get an insight into how a successful team works, and how it really is all the little things and building things up step by step. The Ade Gardener section, and indeed Gardener’s own analysis of both season and how wing-play works in rugby league, was probably the most interesting part, but there were lots of interesting tidbits.

As for an actual number of stars, this is 5/5 for a Saints fan, 4/5 for rugby league fans and probably 3/5 for other sport fans.

Magic Weekend

Last weekend, as I was in Newcastle, I took the opportunity to go to Magic Weekend at St. James’s Park.

Magic Weekend is when all 12 Super League rugby teams play in one stadium over the course of 6 matches, 3 on Saturday and 3 on Sunday.  It’s £40 for all 6 matches, which is a very good deal.

Now, I’m not saying I had the best view in the house, but I pretty much did.

I missed the first ten minutes of Wakefield Wildcats vs Widnes Vikings.  On the way down to St. James’s I saw a couple in full Viking dress.

Complete with hat and horns.

Other important Widnes information includes the fact that the Viking fanclub is called the Stronghold.  Because of course it is.

The Widnes mascot was fantastic fun.  In between hitting the Wildcat mascot with his axe (don’t worry, they hugged and made up

), and lending a Widnes fan in a wheelchair the axe and running her up and down the side of the stadium so that she could hit people with it, he was fun chaos. Trust me, if you’re anything to do with Widnes, you need your fun from somewhere.

I did figure out what Widnes’s problem was.  They’ve got nothing going forward, so they have to defend constantly.  That leads to them tiring, their opposition scoring late on and Widnes losing.

Then came Saints vs Hull FC.

Now, I am a Saints fan.  I had no hopes going in.  I mean it, if they’d only lost by 10 points, I would have been happy.  They had been that bad.  It was also the new manager’s first game.  Low expectations were the order of the day.

They won.

45 – 0.

No, I can’t explain it either.

(The ever wonderful Saints team lining up)

I have no idea how Justin Holbrook did it.  At the time, I wasn’t sure if he’d just told them that he didn’t mind them playing badly he just demanded that they play like professionals, or if it was Saints being their usual inconsistent selves and being awful one week (vs Castleford, I have legitimately never seen them play worse) and good the next.  Since then, it seems to be that it’s Holbrook being a damn fine coach because Saints won the derby this week.  (The Saints vs Wigan derby is often held up to be the origin of the phrase “derby match”.  It’s a big thing locally, and the first official one was 122 years ago.)

The last match on the Saturday was Wigan (them, the great sporting evil) vs Warrington (who are so perpetually the bridesmaids that even they make jokes about “this being their year”).

It was a 14-14 draw.

Warrington had the lead, but they blew it.  Because they are Warrington.

(Stefan Ratchford who is my favourite Warrington player)

I think Warrington’s problem is that their line is too high up the pitch when they
attack so it just needs one good kick or one line break to completely destroy their defence.

The first match of Sunday was Catalan Dragons vs Huddersfield Giants.

It was always going to be the least well-attended match of the weekend because Catalan are, obviously, a foreign team so, understandably, they have fewer travelling fans.  I still say that there were more Catalan fans than Hull fans though.

Half time and between the matches entertainment included mini rugby, touch rugby and various sets of dancers.

And the St. James’s house band.  I discovered that “Take Me Home, Country Road”, “Wonderwall”, “Seven Nation Army” and “Chelsea Dagger” are universal rugby league songs.

There was also a Mushy Pea mascot because one of the Super League’s sponsors is a brand of mushy peas.

The Huddersfield Giant mascot was very good and shook the hands of the mini rugby players as they left the pitch.

The next match was Leigh Centurions vs Salford Red Devils.  I’m not sure why the Leigh mascot is a pig, but here he is doing one armed push-ups.

I am impressed.

Last match of the weekend was Castleford Tigers, league leaders, vs Leeds Rhinos, their local rivals.

Rob Burrow, who is my favourite player, despite the fact that he plays for Leeds, was playing. Now, for reasons, some of the teams were wearing superhero-branded
kit.  Wakefield were wearing a Spiderman inspired kit, Hull an Incredible Hulk one, Warrington a Thor one (which makes sense because of all the Ashton Sims is Thor jokes), Catalan Dragons wore an Iron Man themed one and Leeds got Captain America.  This is a problem because Rob Burrow looks like Steve Rogers pre-serum, in comparison to the other players.

Tiny Rob Burrow’s vital stats are he is 5 foot 5 (165 cm) and 10 stone 6 (66 kg).  And he’s a pro rugby player.  His lack of size may have some bearing on my love for him.  That he is also awesome also does.  Despite the final where he came on at half time and stole the championship from my team by hustle and moxie.

Castleford won.  I think the Castleford fans won for loudest fans of the weekend.


~~~~

It was great fun.  I recommend going to Magic Weekend if you get the chance.

It’s an amazing experience getting to be around so many people who love rugby. For example, there was a try-saving tackle by a Widnes Vikings player that got cheers from all the crowd (except the Wakefield fans, justifiably) because it was an excellent piece of play.

Seeing all the teams play, particularly from the vantage point I was at, meant you could get a much better feel of how they played than you can from the TV.  On TV, you often don’t get to see off-the-ball play as much. I got to see some marvellous rugby, both attacking, such as Tommy Makinson’s try, and a lot of the tackling.

The atmosphere was great too.  I’m 5 foot 3 and a woman and I went on my own but I knew there wouldn’t be any trouble despite all the fans sitting together, not being separated by team affiliation.

There was a fair bit of banter, such as the Wigan Warriors fans walking round the pitch with a banner saying “We came, we conquered, we ate all the pies”, which got the expected response (and the Widnes mascot giving them the thumbs down).  Or the Warrington banner saying “it’s always our year”.  Then there was the back and forth “stand up for St Helens,” “stand up for the champions” and “stand up if you hate Wigan” chants.  Or the Wigan and Saints fans joining together to taunt Warrington.  Or the Wigan and Saints fans having a throw football match. The stewards were most disapproving, because they are used to football fans but the supervisor steward knew rugby fans are mostly harmless and threw the ball back.

On Sunday, there was an adorable child Leeds fan who ran round a group of Castleford fans when Leeds scored and just got chuckled at.

I love how much colour and sound there was.  Fans of every team took the idea of striking the colours seriously, repping their team.  This included fans of teams that weren’t at Magic Weekend, like the Crusaders fans in front of me or the Toronto
Wolfpack fans to my left.

St. James’s facilities were excellent, except they could do with a better PA system because it was full of fuzzy reverb.

I had a fantastic time, would recommend going, and plan to go again as soon as I have the time and money again.

Why UK NFL fans should be cheering for Toronto Wolfpack

Dear UK NFL fans (who don’t already have a rugby league team to support),

Support Toronto Wolfpack.

Why?

Because Toronto are trying to do what any NFL franchise based in the UK would have to do.

Now admittedly there are differences between the two: size of squad, overheads and relegation into and out of various leagues for a start…but you can bet your bottom dollar the NFL are keeping an eye on what happens to the Wolfpack, and they will include it in their calculations about whether a UK-based franchise would succeed.

The hurdles Toronto are having to overcome would also be a problem for a UK franchise:

  • The distance (although, as several commentators have pointed out, the flight time between several US NFL teams is just as long as the US/UK flight time)

 

  • Getting homegrown players into the team.  Toronto have done something sensible and clever, they’ve run trials in Canadian and US cities to find people who haven’t quite made the grade in the NFL or CFL (Canadian Football League) but who could transfer their skills to rugby league.  The homegrown player thing is obviously less of a thing in the NFL because of the whole draft thing (and the franchise thing), but I think it would help embed the putative UK team better in the UK.

 

  • Transport, although that’s not a problem for an NFL team as the NFL pay transport costs.  But because the RFL don’t, Toronto have done another clever thing.  They have signed a sponsorship deal with an airline, Air Transat.  The airline are covering the cost of Toronto’s flights and, and here’s the clever bit, the flight costs of the UK teams that are playing Toronto.  Toronto are also being nice and covering some of the travel costs for the UK fans coming over.  Presumably to keep costs low, the matches are being played in sets of 5, so Toronto have 5 games over here, and then five home games back in Toronto.  The putative NFL team won’t need to do that.

 

  • Competition from other sports teams.  Toronto is a good proxy for London (and the UK in general) because it already has a lot of sports teams.  The Maple Leafs, the Blue Jays, the Raptors, the Argonauts and Toronto FC are just some of the teams that the Wolfpack will need to compete against to gain fans and an audience share.

If Toronto show that a transatlantic franchise could succeed, they might well be a stepping stone to getting the London Jaguars.  

So get cheering for them, UK NFL fans.