The i of the beholder
Phil Clarke explains what coaches, players and fans can learn from stats and discusses the ipitch!
Last Updated: 08/02/12 2:12pm
At last, the 27-round talent competition to make the play-offs is finally under way.
Catalan sit at the top of the table and will hope to do so when they entertain Bradford in September but I've no doubt that there will be great drama along the way, not just on the field.
Maintaining the balance of the squad, keeping the discipline, fostering the right attitude and inspiring the magic moments are the constant challenges facing the coach every day.
Can he get each member of the squad to understand and accept his role within the team? Does his team have the right blend? Balanced groups allow all of the players to make a maximum contribution for the benefit of the team, and it's not that easy for a coach to convince some players to play a role that they wouldn't automatically chose.
The first weekend's action saw three new things; a new stadium, a new pitch and a new way of looking at the stats that we collect.
Our Margin Meter simply measures the momentum of the match. Based on the fundamentals of what the two teams are doing - possession, attacking play and defensive play - we can observe which team has the upper hand.
Rather than just flashing up which team has made the most metres or missed the tackles, it attempts to predict what that might mean on the scoreboard at the end of the match. The greatest players of course, can change the momentum of a match, but we tend to see a similar pattern over the course of a season.
Somebody asked me the other day "Why do you bother collecting all these stats?"
Well it's because we've found, and every coach knows, that they are very predictive of where your team will finish after 27 rounds. We try to look at the stats to understand 'cause and effect'.
We don't use the current score to calculate the end-of-game margin, if we did we could be far more accurate, we're basing our prediction of how the game is going.
Some coaches and pundits say that handling errors play a crucial part in games and that the recipe for success is to have a high completion rate. Well that wasn't the story on Saturday night at Salford where the Tigers made more handling errors than the Reds but still won the game.
The fact that they made over 450 metres more when running with the ball was probably the biggest stand-out difference. I want to make evidenced-based comments that at times contradict some of the myths that exist and are so often stated.
The other big difference for Salford and their supporters were the wonderful facilities that they now have to play in. It is a credit to the people who have faced a series of hurdles and setbacks over the last decade in their move from the Willows. Their perseverance finally paid off and I hope that it's the start of a positive new era for them.
Talking of a new era, the ipitch at Widnes is certainly that. I thought that it looked great and seemed to help produce a quick game.
There were some complaints about skin burns on the surface, but I saw worse ones on players on Saturday at Salford in the snow. In fact if you just watched the game on television and wasn't aware that it wasn't being played on grass, I doubt that you would have known.
The only thing strange about it was that none of the players were dirty at the end of the match!