Sensationalist title? What ever do you mean?
It’s no secret that the NRL is ahead of Super League in terms of general standards, but I’m not sure it’s fully understood just how they go about maintaining their advantage. Phil Clarke discusses one of the many ways that NRL clubs have taken a lead, in this case in the application of Sports Science for their advantage:
The players wear a small device in a special vest at training sessions which tells the coaching staff exactly how far they’ve run, at what speeds and what effect it has on their heart rate.
Clubs are now using this information to improve the quality and quantity of training loads.
It even tells them about ‘body load’, this is the sum of all accelerations, decelerations, change of directions, impact etc indicating the physical stress placed upon a player.
Reading about all this kind of stuff is enough to make your head hurt. It’s indicative of a league that goes above and beyond the call of duty as teams try to discover what advantages they can gain over the opposition. It’s also intriguing because it allows for specialized conditioning work without overloading the athletes involved. Part of the problem with the British game is its reliance on too many games, which in turn wears down players beyond their usual levels of efficiency. If applications like these devices can stop players from over-working and allow them to keep fresh late into the season, then that sounds like a good thing to me.
Of course, you get the impression that the staff at most SL clubs would read about these devices and then go “sci… ence?” Sports Science goes beyond simple nutritional information, it goes right into testing the limits of human endeavor, and Super League clubs should be looking at any possible ways they can maximise their potential. This means getting the players at peak levels of fitness not just in pre-season but right throughout the season. Rugby League is a sport with a high attrition rate (just ask Wakefield or Bradford) and if clubs can keep as many players as possible on-deck for the length of the season, then that encourages competition within the clubs which in turn encourages higher standards.
We have a weaker level of player base in this country compared to Australia, and which in turn means that it needs more attention to get them up to a higher standard. By not indulging in scientific methodology the clubs are doing their players a disservice. I expect it’s not cheap, but what is? I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few budding Sports Science PHD students going around with interesting ideas about how to maximize player potential. Perhaps it’s worth listening to them. It’s definitely worth the RFL trying to develop a program for research into this, perhaps in conjunction with a University (I hear Leeds Met like getting involved in Rugby League).
Either that, or we need to build robots. Lots of robots.