The entertainment business: How data is crucial to keeping RL’s best players on the pitch

James Gordon
Jon Wells


The Magic Weekend will provide fans with a glimpse to some of the insights that clubs are hoping will help keep their best players on the pitch.

GPS statistics are now an integral part of a Super League club’s armoury, enabling them to analyse their players to the nth degree.

While some of the headline stats, such as top speed, distance covered and intensity levels, will capture the attention of fans this weekend its the in-depth science behind it that matters.

For every inch of turf covered and every collision engaged, clubs can monitor the impact on their players.

This in turn helps them to manage training schedules, prevent burn out and ensure player welfare.

MORE: Super League Magic Weekend: Team news, kick-off times & TV coverage

Keeping the best players on the field

It was this technology from Catapult Sports that enabled rugby league to lead the way when it came to coronavirus prevention, where they could monitor the proximity of players.

A big advocate of the work being done is Sky Sports presenter Jon Wells, who will highlight some of the data on their broadcasts this weekend.

He said: “It’s important that we get to see the best players on the field every week. You’ll always have the risk of injury. But let’s not let those injuries and accidents happen during training. We’ve come an awful long way in the last five years and that’s largely down to the data that Catapult provide.

“Most physios now will inform the length of the sessions, whereas that used to be the coach, and him making the decision not to come off the field until he was happy everybody had hit the mark.

“Whereas now, physios and doctors rightly have a lot more say in how intense and long a session can go. They try and make sure they’re not exposing the players to anything that’s not absolutely necessary.

“It’s important. Because as a product, and a product that we all make a living from, we want to try and evangelise about and get more people watching and more people through the turnstiles. You’re only going to do that with the best athletes on the field. How do you keep the best athletes on the field? Keep them safe off the field.”

Jon Wells on the business of entertainment

Wigan’s Jai Field has closed the highest speed of the year so far, at just over 36km per hour, while Huddersfield’s Ashton Golding has topped 10,000km in a single match this season.

An extraordinary feat when you consider the challenge of running a 10k in isolation – let alone with multiple impacts, tackles and changes of speed in the meantime.

Wells added: “The top speed is great, because it’s about the context. You’re not in the realms of a Usain Bolt. But these guys are doing it when they’re trying to dodge 13 other people, and then those other people are trying to crack them! And they’ve often got a ball in the hand in slippery conditions. And that can provide a wow moment.

“We’re in the business of entertainment. That’s what we do. I know clubs get caught up in the week to week ‘well I’m in the business of winning games’ and you are, but you’re in the business of entertainment too.

“That’s why people tune in. That’s why people put their hard earned money in to the turnstile because they want to be entertained.

“Of course, they want to see their team win, but they want to be entertained.

“The big challenge for us at Sky this Magic Weekend is disseminating the key information from the data and providing the context.

“You’ve got players like Sam Kasiano, who doesn’t play a lot of game minutes, but has a huge impact on the field. Now visually we know we can see that. But if we can provide data to back that up. The pictures provide what the data can’t and the data complements what the pictures sometimes don’t translate at home.

“Being a former outside back, you used to listen to the middles carry on all the time about how they were doing the grunt work, and you were providing the polish. And you’d argue that I spent my entire career getting smacked because I was taking hit up carries.

“So I always had a bias towards it because I’d played in the backs and I always thought the distance covered by full backs and the decision making made by wingers was a lot more complicated than those forwards that are just going smack in the middle.

“So seeing the data and seeing the metres made by your Alex Walmsley’s and seeing the tackles made by your Luke Yates’ reminds people like me with an unconscious bias towards the glamour positions that there’s a lot of hard work going on out there across the field no matter what position you play.

“Our core support follow us through thick and thin. But Magic Weekend is one of those rare opportunities where there’s a lot more eyeballs on rugby league than usual, so it’s a brilliant opportunity for us to get some key messages across; and one is that these guys are serious, serious athletes.”

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