Fast? It’s all relative



A speed car racer talks about driving a car at 120 kilometres per hour, the legal limit in the UK. It was interesting for how the human brain works when trained.

He suggested it felt like he could step out of the car and run faster than it! That’s after he had been driving it at around 250 miles per hour shortly before that on a specially made track of course. The relative speeds made what was fast seem slow. We can trick our own brains sometimes.

I can’t help but feel at least some of the footy chat around over this first weekend of NRL is similarly a trick for us all to consider more carefully.

THE GAMES WERE FASTER in round one 2014.

But how and where was that speed evident. What actually caused it to go faster? Was it the whole game that was faster or the all-important play the ball/ruck speed?  Were there fewer players in the tackles? Were the players moving faster than previous seasons?

If everything in the game was faster how would we measure it?

There would be more events, on average, and particularly the most common events – tackles, runs (hit ups and carries) and play the balls. But check out these numbers.

In 2013 there was an average of 157.2 runs per team per game. In round one 2014 there was 152.3 and in round 1 2013 151.1. Looks the same to me.

In 2013 there was an average of 314.9 tackles per team per game. In round one 2014 there 305.1 and in round 1 2013 298.2. Same again.

So there seemed to be about the same amount of action on average across all games. Nothing in these to suggest that the players had a lot more to do or that we viewers and species got more action for our money.

Play the ball speed suggested the same outcomes.  The total number of play the balls per team per game also were very much the same; 2013 it was 132.6; 2014 it was 128.4.

So were those play the balls quicker? Is that what  the increased speed of this season’s 7 matches so far was about?

Again NRLSTATS says that was not the case. Although very similar in number again, if anything the ruck speed was slightly slower.

2013 matches had 15.6% quick play the balls whilst 2014 had 13.2%.

In fact there were more slow play the balls this week than last season’s average; 2013 – 14.9% to 2014 – 18.8%.

And the joy that we were to behold for all this change and speed of the game was the increased number of  1 and 2 man tackles or what was really meant in that commentary was that there was “a whole heap less GANG TACKLING” – 3 or more defenders in the tackle.

Hmmm. NRLSTATS say that on average that was not the case.

That doesn’t mean that the commentary was wrong but it might be worth checking if it was correct for those matches that the comments were made on. I will do that for you and your team later if you want to contact me in comments section, I promise!

For the record the gang tackling in round one was a whopping 0.4% more than in round one 2013!

But on 2103 season average of gang tackling there was actually a slightly higher frequency – 16.9 % to 2014’s 16.3%.

So where is this speed of the game happening?

I don’t have GPS figures to be able to tell you the actual distances and speed of the players’ movement patterns. I will try to get that for you and let you know if any differences appear there.

My doubts are strong about that being the case.

There is one other place that gives us all the feeling that the game was faster and we are right to feel like that.

The games were faster but it was not the actions that were faster and there were no more of them than we have become accustomed to.

The speed of the game came from the transition between the action stopping and re-starting. I would describe that as improving the pace of the game or it’s continuity.

Todd Greenberg and those who made the subtle but significant changes to “speed the game up” as they described it did just that.

  • No more captains or pseudo interrogators demanding explanations (see “BUYING TIME to recover“).
  • The threat of quick taps or just allowing kickers to quickly kick it downfield into touch after penalties was tremendous in accelerating the game’s pace.
  • The ZERO tackle for 20m tap restarts after balls go dead in goal worked well not only in speeding up the game but also in changing the boring kick for repeat set mentality that most teams have used ad nauseum (not premiership winning Roosters who chose to attack for immediate tries so successfully last season). This perhaps led to more enterprising play rather than negative stuff but it most definitely led to more handovers or possession errors not requiring a goalline drop out with 40 second delays everytime.
  • Even the ONE and ONLY 40/20 handover restart that we saw also added the threat of speed to the transitions.

Hey, we even saw referees decide to “become doctors”, take the ball off feigning injured players

(google Parra Players Cramp Epidemic) and restart play immediately to rid us of this boring blight also.

Big credits to the NRL officials who took these simple yet effective steps to improve the game.

Certainly on the evidence of round one our game can look forward to an improved period of entertaining footy.



Here are NRLSTATS break down of the type of tackles made and the speed of the play the balls by comparisons:


Av runs per game      one tackler only     3 or more tacklers   total tackles per team/game

RD 1 (2104)                         152.3                     4.6%                            16.3%                                          305.1


RD 1 (2103)                        151.1                      4%                             15.9%                             298.2


Total season (2013)         157.2                 5.4%                          16.85%                            314.9


And here are some more:

The numbers on play the ball speed per team per game compare like this:

Fast            Neutral          Slow          Av play the balls   Av dummy half runs


2014                   13.2%            67.9%           18.8%               128.4                               14.3

2103                  15.6%            69/5%          14.9%                 132.6                              13.8