Sunday, 15 April 2012

SBW - Not worth it eh

So Sonny Bill Williams has been made an offer by the NZRU. No doubt, it is an incredibly generous offer, packed with endorsement deals, opportunities to box and lasting only one year. Frankly, I don't see why they bother.

The NZRU is not doing well financially. This is abundantly clear, given the number of provincial sides in debt, as well as reports which suggest their cash reserves will not last many more years. Since the professional era began, player salaries have been inflated further and further, and it is starting to cost the national game dearly. I am not a critic of professionalism, players deserve to be paid for what is essentially a full time job.

However, are we forgetting something crucial about the All Blacks in the rush to sign a star like Sonny Bill? The black jersey is bigger than any one player, even bigger than any one successful, Cup winning team. There is history in the jersey. There is mana in the jersey. It is an insult to that jersey to have selfish players wearing it. What will that jersey lose if it becomes just another well marketed brand?

Furthermore, is SBW even worth the hype? He is blessed with the most gifted agent of his generation, the ruthless Khoder Nasser. Is it possible that the vast majority of the positive media coverage of SBW comes straight from the press releases of this gifted hype builder? Looking at the facts, he barely started a game in the World Cup. He is not a part of the Smith-Nonu partnership, the undisputed kings of the midfield. We have quicker wingers than SBW. Hell, he isn't even the best midfielder at the Chiefs, that would be Kahui. For that matter, this weekend was the first time he has scored all season. There is a veritable production line of talented backs coming through the ranks, wouldn't they be equally worthy of investment as players?

Lastly, Sonny Bill Williams has not given the All Black jersey the respect it deserves. To be an All Black, you should make that goal your life. Williams clearly does not think this way. To him, the All Blacks are just another team to flit through on his way to bigger paydays. Remember the Bulldogs? He skipped out on them with time left on his contract. That is exactly what will happen with the All Blacks. In my view, the NZRU should pre-empt this and offer him a bog standard contract, with no frills that wouldn't be offered to say, Cory Jane or Colin Slade. If he takes that contract, then I would eat my words willingly, because it would be a sign that he takes the All Blacks seriously enough to consider turning down vast amounts of money just for the Black jersey. My guess though is that he would spurn the offer on the advice of his manager and chase the dollars somewhere else.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

The tail wags

Australia have just shown yet again why they are such a formidable test side, after completely reversing their situation on Day 4 in Bridgetown. The West Indies were in control at one stage, with Australia 7 wickets down and behind by 199. However the tail of Harris, Hilfenhaus and Lyon combined to drag the Aussies back into the match. When the 7th wicket went down, Australia were on 250. 156 runs and two wickets later they were in a strong enough position to declare. What happened?

The answer is the grit shown by the bowlers, who cannot be expected to survive and score runs but did anyway. Australia has a bit of a knack for doing this, and many explanations for why revolve around the Australian reputation for being fighters. In this current test, all of their bowlers average over 10. The value of these runs is hard to overstate. While they are not the most significant contributions to the scoreboard, their contribution to team morale (and the sapping of the opposition's morale) is unquestionable. For a bowler it must be agonising to get through the middle order of Ponting, Clarke and Hussey, be in a position to secure a huge lead and then have it slip away thanks to bowlers scoring annoying runs. We can't know for certain of course, but I would be willing to bet that the West Indies collapse in their second innings had a lot to do with the bowlers being confident after making runs, and the batsmen being dispirited after being kept in the field for an extra 45 overs.

A team with a reputation for lower order runs is very hard to put away. New Zealand no longer enjoys this reputation. When Vettori used to bat at 8 there was always the strong possibility of an extra 100 runs being made in the last 4 partnerships, now that we have the likes of Southee and Bracewell propping up the lower order there is no such fear. Southee can smash the ball a long way, but he is yet to play a single mature innings. Bracewell can stick around for a while, but struggles to keep the score ticking over. They are each a negative stereotype of tail end batting, the slogger and the prodder. With regular lower order contributions, perhaps New Zealand would start to win tests more often.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

It's not OK

A wonderful petition has been started by an Australian league fan, calling on the NRL to ban any player found guilty of domestic violence for a season. You can sign it here. There are excellent reasons for this petition to be signed, not least because rugby league as a sport has a long history of off-field assualts, rapes and violence. There are of course players who conduct themselves well off the field, however those who commit violent offences should absolutely be singled out and punished.

Let us face facts, professional rugby league players are massive, aggressive young men. Their job is to attempt to run a ball through a line of 13 other massive aggressive young men, using pretty much any means necessary. There must be systems in place to show them that that sort of behaviour is completely unacceptable off the field, against anyone. Of course, there are those that argue that sports like league and rugby are breeding grounds for monsters, but I don't subscribe to that view. In general, rugby league players do not assault or rape. Those that do should not be welcome back on the field.

I would suggest that this petition be widened to include all sports, not just the NRL. Why ban sportspeople for smoking a joint when they don't get banned for a real crime?

Monday, 2 April 2012

Gambling with his reputation

The Prime Minister has asserted that an increase in gambling problems will not be one of the consequences of the deal with SkyCity casino. This is despite the fact that the Problem Gambling Foundation has estimated that every 10 new pokie machines contribute to 8 new gambling addictions. Between John Key and the Problem Gambling Foundation, which party is more likely to have researched this issue in depth and have full possession of all the facts? My money is on the Foundation. (no pun intended)

The SkyCity deal will allow the casino to install up to 500 new pokie machines, so we have to assume that this deal will directly contribute to hundreds of gambling addictions. Is this a price that John Key really wants to attach himself to?