While many are aware of the fact that injuries cost games, it seems to get more important every single year in the NRL. The least injured team generally has the best chance of winning the premiership, as they have the depth and consistent combinations to keep winning.
Just take St George Illawarra in recent times, they have been choc full of talent and while some may point to their forwards of the past and perceived softness – ultimately the bad run of injuries to their glittering roster continued to hinder them at crucial times.
Down in Melbourne it seems the exact opposite, while there have been injuries at times to a key player – rarely has the Storm lost multiple stars consistently to injury. Origin may have had an effect, and an Inglis may be out occasionally with an injury – but over the past 3 years this side has generally remained fit and possessed good depth from that fact.
In recent years, when a club has only used 26 players or less for the entire season (Manly 08, Melbourne 07 and Tigers 05) – they have been victorious. Most teams over the past few years have used up to 33 and that’s where the problem is. You can see from those statistics that an injury free season gives you a much greater chance at winning the comp.
Lets roll back to Week 1, 2009 –
Cronulla had recruited well, hoping to add attacking flair to their team. In only 3 weeks, they have lost Brett Kearney, Ben Ross, Brett Seymour (Suspension) and Trent Barrett (possibly 1 week). When things are stretched, you need to consider suspension too. As the Sharks felt the pinch injury wise, the loss of Seymour and Talupapa to suspension makes things even harder.
But the biggest example of this killer injury scenario, is the New Zealand Warriors.
They were the form team of the first few Rounds, possessing the experience of Steve Price and Brent Tate and the genius of Stacey Jones off the bench. Many tipping them early to be a Top 4 prospect.
In only a week, the NZ Warriors side has now lost Brent Tate (knee), Steve Price (throat), Manu Vatuvei (knee), Lance Hohaia (knee), second rower Ben Matulino (ankle), and props Leeson Ah Mau (shoulder), Mataupu Poching (ankle) and Evarn Tuimavave (neck).
A shattering prospect and one that will immediately test their depth.
It can certainly mean that an outsider could not only sneak into the Top 8, but could win the NRL Premiership much like the Wests Tigers did in 2005. Without disrespecting Wests, they stayed healthy and that played an enormous part in their late charge to the finals as other teams struggled to field specialist players in positions.
In 2009, outsiders such as the Canberra Raiders and Penrith Panthers will firm considerably and should see more wins if they can keep the same squad together for several weeks. While losses are inevitable, the consistency and fluency of the same group cannot be denied.
What will be even more worrying for coaches and fans, could be suspensions in 2009. With the grapple rule extremely strict now and the fact that kickers cannot be touched during or after executing a kick – we could see offenders outed for several weeks quite easily.
This is something that can be controlled and no doubt coaching staff would be working hard to prevent this.
So as 2009 continues, you cannot write off your teams chances – as injuries could be the great leveller of all.
May he who has the best doctor win.