Playing with fine margins…


So my first attempt at a blog for LoveRugbyLeague. There were some big issues in Rugby League that I could write about, like why does Stevo love a 1 pointer, why is the player coach of York City Knights the angriest person ever to grace the Rugby field or right the myth for why Gateshead Thunder and London Skolars top points scorer retired so early. Some say his head was getting too big for his jersey. (Literally). But the hot topic that is on everyone lips at the moment is Sky Sports Rugby League MARGIN METER.


As soon as Phil Clarke’s new play thing was introduced to the public at the first Super League game between Widnes and Wakefield, it got quite a bit of negative press. I for one wasn’t very impressed. It seemed to be pointing out the obvious when it was one the screen or farfetched when it attempted to say the Wigan and Leeds result would finish in a draw. With Wigan leading by 12-0 at half time and finishing 20-6 that wasn’t to be the case. 


At London Skolars we’re lucky enough to have Gus McNab helping out with some coaching and what he specialises in, statistics. Gus works for Opta Sports. A company that is known worldwide for collating sports data. Here are some of Gus’ thoughts on the Margin Meter…


“It has been a great addition to Sky’s Super League coverage this year.  Yes it has been heavily criticised but so have a lot of things in rugby league over the years.  It has been great as it has been a good tool for the Sky Sports commentary team to comment on statistics during the broadcast and pay more attention to the key performance indicators through a game.  The drive for this has unquestionably come from Phil Clarke and his work in other sports has shown him how important data can be. He has taken this on board and the margin meter is a very consumer friendly way of putting the influence of stats into context.”


Is it 100% accurate? “No, not yet, but last weekend it got a lot closer after some initial tweaks.  Players and coaches both realise the importance of stats and what this is not trying to do is take the excitement or enjoyment out of the game.  What it is doing brilliantly is creating debate on what really matters to win games – should it be possession, field position, tackles made that is the dominant factor in weighting the meter’s final calculation?  If the rugby league public get a greater insight on what the coaching staff at their club are looking to achieve and the areas of the game they pay attention to when looking at influence on a game then is this not a good thing?”


“Finally, the margin meter is team and not player based.  What’s next for it, perhaps Margin Meter 2 where it is player influenced and those take the field for a team or those missing have an impact on the final calculation? Who knows, all I’m certain off is people spoke about rugby league, margin meter trends on twitter during games and people engage with each other on social media during games.  Has there ever been such a debate about technology in the sport since the video referee. Surely the more people creating noise around rugby league is a great thing and it means more people speaking about the game and even drawing in more casual observers into a sport we all know is great but just want more people to feel the same way about.”


So that’s someone who is very pro-Margin Meter. The other side I thought I’d give the point of view on was a Super League player. I asked Castleford Tigers winger Nick Youngquest who is unfortunately injured at the moment, but has experienced seeing the Margin Meter. His thoughts weren’t as positive as Gus’. 

“I think in essence it is sort of a good idea for the viewer to get into the statistical side of the game. Having said that though, it seems stupid to a lot of viewers when it flashes up and says, ‘Castleford Tigers will win by 10’ when that is already the score. The viewer should have the option to have a side screen with all the stats there that they are using to generate the predictions. Stats definitely tell a story of a game, but not always determine the result. Stats also can’t predict individual brilliance. For example, 10 minutes to go in a tight game against Wigan and Saints that is drawn, the margin meter will predict a draw, but it can’t account for Sam Tomkins going the length to win the game for Wigan. I guess it’s a bit of a novelty and some of the predictions are quite funny, I enjoy more than anything peoples tweets about it, its gold!”


Gus and Youngy both make good points. It’s even got its own twitter account now and plenty of twitter followers. What seems to have come out most for both sides of the argument and has been proven from this blog, is that the Margin Meter has got everyone talking. Meaning more people are talking about the Rugby League. For myself I don’t think I’ll be fully converted to the Margin Meter and the use of stats to predict the results yet. But I would like to see it develop and evolve. Like showing the stats they have collated, and move onto showing how certain players can affect game.  The Margin Meter can be another effective and innovative piece of technology that has put Rugby League ahead of so many sports. If all else it does is give Phil Clarke something else to talk about other than Wigan, I’m all for it.



Photo credit: Neil Barraclough

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