R M Cullen
MD MSc MFM BA DipStats DipProfEthics
|elite athlete development||diabetes reversal||genome topology||evolution|
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It was interesting to hear Eric Watson, owner and chairman of the Warriors, comment on the superiority of rugby league development in Australia
He is reported as saying "our weakness is in not having enough players who have been through the Australian system. You can't replicate it here" and "..there was no way to overcome the difference in standards between the Australian and New Zealand development systems."
The development of elite rugby league players is the responsibility of the professional clubs. The New Zealand Rugby League is not about developing elite 17-19 year olds. Its primary responsibility is the Kiwis, followed by running the national competitions. Similarly, Auckland Rugby League is an umbrella organisation for the 32 rugby league clubs in Auckland. For both the NZRL and ARL 'development' means development of the game, principally growing player numbers.
What Eric Watson is saying, although he may not realize it is something like, "at the Warriors we have no skills in identifying those seventeen year olds who might make the Kiwis or even play fifty or more NRL games. If we could identify those youngsters, we have no idea as to how to maximise the duration of their professional career."
His solution, which really sounds like, send the most promising boys to Australia and then try to tempt them back to New Zealand, is what the Warriors did, unintentionally, for years under Dean Bell. This year, the Warriors have got two of the best back, Isaac Luke and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, but only two. The message for young players is "Leave Zealand, go to Australia. The Warriors will be more interested in you if you have been through the Australian system." Of course, the thousands of teenagers who have already gone can tell Mr Watson that there is no system in Australia. There are fifteen rugby league clubs each with its own way of doing things.
Mr Watson's comments are hopelessly naive. The boys who leave for Australia don't leave in the hope of returning to play for the Warriors. That club has already failed to recognise their talent. Once in Australia they start to put down roots. They find partners in Australia, find that Australians make good mates, and come to terms with the whiteness and casual racism of that country. New Zealand becomes an enjoyable place to visit, and stops being home.
Sonny Bill Williams is the biggest clean miss of the Warriors talent identification system. He was introduced to the Bulldogs in 2002 in a fit of pique by John Ackland, at that time an unwanted under 20s Warriors coach, and now CEO of Auckland Rugby league. The four players in the panel at the head of this page are Shaun Kenny-Dowell (told by the Warriors he wasn't in the top 100 rugby league centres in New Zealand), Taqele Naiyaravoro ( never in the Warriors system, and earned his first test cap for the Wallabies in 2015), Peta Hiku (under 20 NZ Warriors player of the year in 2012, but not offered a contract as the club thought he would never make it in the NRL), and Sosaia Feki (unwanted by the Warriors after being part of two championship winning under 20 teams).
There is a simple solution. It's one that hasn't been tried in rugby league, but it's well established in American sport. Take talent identification and recruitment away from former footballers basing decisions on intuition and a player's attacking skills. Rely on the numbers, a scoring system. Have a think about the features shared by players who have played over fifty first grade games and test for these characteristics in seventeen year olds. At Tamaki Sports Academy we use a 0-1-2 scoring system on 25 criteria, including "off the field" things like alchol use, trouble with police, living arrangements, employment/schooling. A zero score on any criterion is a red flag and in our experience two red flags disqualify a player from first grade play.
Once again, borrowing from the Americans, hold an open entry recruitment school for two or three weeks (in October perhaps) and use this to get to know the players well enough to complete the testing. Have two or three people getting the numbers for each player. Offer this opportunity to sixteen and seventeen year olds.