Is Anyone Else Underwhelmed?

We are now 10 rounds into the 2013 NRL season and I think that is a fair enough length of time to reflect on what we have seen overall so far. Whilst from a biased perspective as a Rabbitohs fan the season has been great, as a general rugby league fan I feel like 2013 has been quite frankly, rubbish.

Taking all bias out of consideration depending on which team you support and which teams you hate, if you simply look at the games player this year, in my opinion the quality of matches has been poor. There have simply been more bad matches than good compared to previous years.

When you look at the NRL ladder there is certainly a logjam in the middle of the table, which is something the NRL is striving for, as only the few bottom teams have been truly uncompetitive and out of contention. However does the fact that excluding the top and bottom outliers, everyone else can seemingly beat each other on any given day make the league better overall?

Obviously the entire purpose of the salary cap is to prevent overwhelming dynasties and prevent teams from not being able to compete. But so far this year, just because the league is close has not meant the matches have been good.

Many games have been blowouts, culminating in Round 10 when an overwhelming majority of games were complete massacres. Funnily enough, it ended up being the round that ended with a draw after Golden Point, but that was played between two of the premier teams of not just this season, but the decade as a whole.

After watching the Rabbitohs destroy the Tigers, in expected fashion mind you, 54-10 on Friday night, the odds you could have gotten that it would be the biggest margin or winning score of the weekend would have been very short. However Penrith then went on to beat the NZ Warriors 62-6 the following night. Adding to that, the Broncos beat the Titans 32-6, the Dragons beat the Eels 32-12 and the Knights beat the Bulldogs 44-8. All of those blowout winners were the home team.

Interestingly enough, those last three matches I tipped the losing team to win the game and I was proven to be extremely wrong. So the league is close enough and competitive enough for it to be possible to have no idea who is going to win (or least I clearly didn’t), but the individual matches have so often been uncompetitive. Why is it that teams seem to either turn up and play great or not to turn at all?
For the couple of weeks prior to their Newcastle loss, the Bulldogs started to build some ominous form, with their players returning and some impressive performances. But then the simply don’t turn up for the Newcastle game.

The Warriors have had a terrible season, but have been competitive in numerous matches before blowing late leads. But when they travel away from home, they leave all their talent in Auckland.

There have even been numerous matches this season that were close on the scoreboard but poorly played on the field. The high flying Roosters beat the Broncos earlier in the season 8-0 in one of the worst games I’ve ever watched and even my Rabbitohs have won a couple of games I’d rather forget about.

Overall, I seem to walk away after each footy weekend thinking that more than half the matches were simply bad and I know I’m not alone as numerous friends have said the same.

But why is this happening? We have a lot of great young talent coming through and there is clearly quite a lot of parity through most of the competition. The only answer I can come to is that there is a lack of age and experience shining through right now.

In an age where teams are trained to exploit any weakness in a defence, young players or defensively frail players have nowhere to hide and are being exploited over and over again.

The Holden Cup competition has given us many good young players, but the defensive side of that competition leaves a lot to be desired and the gap to the NRL has widened. This is why many clubs are now finding it smarter to have their young players play in the NSW or QLD Cup competitions where they compete against men as opposed to other boys.

Teams like Parramatta and the Warriors have brought up numerous young and talented players and on paper it seems like they should be competitive. But when they actually take the field, there are simply too many players who haven’t been conditioned to defend against quality attacks and they are being torn apart. Additionally, the pace of the game at NRL level is so much more physically demanding and it gets faster every year, so players are getting tired quicker and are being exploited for it.

I love watching the Under 20’s competition and following the young talented players, but the process of bringing them along in first grade is complex and requires patience and timing, which is something many teams either haven’t shown or are unable to show due to injuries or lack of depth.

When you compare it to the NBA, every year teams talk about the young, talented, up and coming teams full of great athletes and how they are taking the NBA by storm. Then the playoffs roll around and they get manhandled by the old pros and sent packing.

Teams need to find a way to better prepare their younger players for the NRL before they are thrown to the wolves, or else these sorts of inconsistent performances will continue.

Long term I think the NRL should change the Holden Cup from U20s to U22s or even U23s so players are given more time to develop in the NYC competition as opposed to the State competition. For right now though, I think we are simply going to have to get used to these lacklustre performances while we wait for the talented players to actually turn into good ones.

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