January 13, 2011

SportsFilter: The Thursday Huddle:

A place to discuss the sports stories that aren't making news, share links that aren't quite front-page material, and diagram plays on your hand. Remember to count to five Mississippi before commenting in anger.

posted by huddle to general at 06:00 AM - 18 comments

Benji Marshall - 15 minutes of awesome.

posted by JJ at 08:41 AM on January 13

Mr Marshall is usually worth the ticket price alone. My nine year old niece adores him (they live deep in Tiger country), and given the off field behaviour of many league players, she shows remarkably good taste in that respect, too.

posted by owlhouse at 08:50 AM on January 13

That man is fast.

posted by yerfatma at 09:26 AM on January 13

Underwritten but nice NYT story about Troy Polamalu's (non-evangelical, praise Jeebus) spirituality in a football context.

posted by billsaysthis at 12:17 PM on January 13

Thanks for the Marshall vids, JJ, enjoyed them. When I see rugby films like these, I wish that US football had gone in a different direction about 125 years ago. You would not have nearly as many long-term health problems among players as you see in US football today.

In an aside, owlhouse, I hope you and your family are "feet dry" and unaffected by the flooding in Australia. It's a tragedy.

posted by Howard_T at 02:53 PM on January 13

Thanks Howard. I'm actually living in Cambodia, but my daughter is at university in Brisbane. She's high and dry, and safe.

posted by owlhouse at 09:07 PM on January 13

JJ: That video made me late for class this morning. I know little to nothing about rugby, but that's freaking awesome. Just looks like he plays on a completely different level from every other player on the field, as the cliche goes.

posted by boredom_08 at 09:31 PM on January 13

Cam Newton declares for NFL draft. I assume Cecil will be his agent and shopping his services?

posted by graymatters at 09:47 PM on January 13

Joe Theisman does not know who plays running back for the Patriots. At least he left out "little".

posted by yerfatma at 09:59 PM on January 13

Benji Marshall

I'm glad he plays League. I can pretend I don't care about League. I hope he doesn't switch codes.

posted by Mr Bismarck at 10:08 PM on January 13

I used to pretend I didn't care about League, until Union just BECAME League (but with a more congested pitch and far more time spent mucking about at scrums), at which point I started watching a bit more League and enjoying it a lot. My heart is still with Union, but mine is a romantic heart yearning for the Union of yesteryear - of amateur days when a 25 stone postman might find himself trying to defend an onrushing accountant who, despite weighing only 12 stone, was made entirely out of gazelles.

The mismatch was the key to the flow of the game. Professionalism has ushered in an era where most of the best sides contain 15 flankers running headlong at each other for 80 minutes until someone cracks, which is more or less what I used to think League was all about (it isn't, and by comparison to Union these days, it's far more finessed).

Owly, glad to hear your daughter's safe. Where are you in Cambodia? I'm going to be in Siem Reap Monday and Tuesday 21/22 February and may have time to kill over the weekend prior to that if you fancy a pint. I think the cricket World Cup starts that weekend, although the opening games tend to be fairly dull. Drop me an email (see profile).

posted by JJ at 04:35 AM on January 14

Hi JJ. I'm in Phnom Penh if you're passing through, probably not able to get to Siem Reap.

The FCC at Siem Reap is a nice place for a pint (with a verandah). Don't forget to get off the golf course and see the temples! :-) I'll email you with my contacts.

posted by owlhouse at 05:03 AM on January 14

This is pretty cool, though.

posted by owlhouse at 05:19 AM on January 14

Just looks like he plays on a completely different level from every other player on the field, as the cliche goes.

He dummied the camera in a few of those clips. What beats the opposition in most of them, I think, is the unpredictability: you can defend against speed, or footwork, or dummies, or little chips, or grubber kicks, or flick passes, but not all of them together. (Wests are a good, but not a great side: they lost their preliminary final last year to the Dragons, who went on to claim the premiership.)

mine is a romantic heart yearning for the Union of yesteryear

Hawick, Neath, London Scottish.

Was in Wales briefly last month, watching the Blues play in a packed pub, and while the consolidation of the old club sides took away many long-held rivalries at the top level of Welsh rugby, there's a wide acceptance that it was necessary to maintain standards.

I go through phases of interest in the codes: Six Nations time means paying more attention to Union, and noticing the changes; summer has me glancing at NRL in Australia, where, in all honesty, you could also assemble a 15 minute reel of relatively dull territorial play from most matches; I remain unmoved by SuperLeague.

posted by etagloh at 06:13 PM on January 14

I have some questions I hope an Aussie or someone else can answer. I am from the USA and I am amazed with rugby and how it is so similar to US football without pads, but yet so different. It seems as violent but I never, or rarely, see blood. I would think noses are broken and heads are hit and a cut would open on almost every play. How is this avoided? I'm sure by good coaching and techniques but still I would expect more physical damage than occurs. What protection do they wear if any, a cup? In regard to the film of Benji Marshall, I hope someone can help me understand his place in his sport and country.

The men in this game look smaller than the All Blacks and others, is this different style of game? A different size of field?

Is Benji Marshall the Tom Brady of your rugby league? How much would he be paid for a year and how many games would he play?

If anyone can answer these questions, I know you will help me and I hope many others. Thanks

posted by gfinsf at 07:08 AM on January 15

Maybe I can have a go, gfinsf. Some good questions.


Rugby League was a much bloodier sport a few decades ago. Rule changes, especially enforcing the ban on tackles above shoulder high by referees (and backing this up with long suspensions) means that tackling tends to be more about technique than pure force. There are two aims in a Rugby League tackle - put the guy on the ground, and lock up the arm carrying the ball, so he can't offload. This generally means two tacklers - one low around the legs and one higher up around the middle. When an accidental head high tackle does occur, you can see how opposition players get genuinely irate, and the perpetrator is (usually) very apologetic.


Shoulder pads, which are soft padding rather than the American ones I've seen which have hard plastic in them. A cup, of course, though we call them a jockstrap or just a protector. Some of the smaller players wear optional headgear, which again is made of soft padding, not a helmet.


He's a New Zealander, but plays for Wests Tigers in the Australian competition, which includes a team from New Zealand (the Warriors). He represents NZ in international games. Most teams have a couple of 'playmakers' at the positions of half back and five eighth, and Benji is probably one of the best two or three in the world at either of these jobs. Jonathan Thurston of North Queensland and Darren Lockyer (who's reaching the end of his career) of Brisbane are probably the best of the others currently playing.

The playmaker's job is to receive the ball early and decide/dictate the play - a bit like a mobile quarterback, but who gets to choose on the run whether to run, pass or kick. Everyone on the team stays on for offence and defence, so the playmakers also stand in the defensive line and are expected to tackle and be tackled.


There's a salary cap in the Australian competition (not sure about England's Superleague). Benji would be on around $700-800,000 Australian dollars per year, plus some allowance for endorsements (which he gets a lot of). Rugby Union can offer more money as they don't have a cap, so there is a possibility that the All Blacks could recruit him (that rumour never goes away). He would play 26 rounds of the regular season, plus if the Tigers make the playoffs/final eight, up to four more. Say another 5 or 6 internationals as well.

Comaprison with Rugby Union:

This is where I might attract different views. Union has more players on the field (15 a side compared with 13), and the laws of that game (especially the need to ruck and win set scrums) put a premium on pure size and the ability to barge into people and push them backwards. Union is also more structured, and you don't have to be as mobile as you do in League, which is more expansive with wider ball movement. As a result, the big men in League might be around 100 kg and have to keep running for most of the game, while in Union players can get truly massive (NFL Linebacker size), but luckily they generally only have to walk from one set piece to another.

Sonny Bill Williams (another Kiwi) was a power forward in League, and after his move to Union, he played mainly in the backline, where the smaller guys are. Benji might tip the scales at 80 - 85 kg, while it's possible to be even smaller and still play League at the highest level (Billy Slater of Melbourne was in fact a racing jockey). In Union, these guys might get squashed, and the way Union is played these days, opportunities to show skills and speed are limited, and playmakers have fewer options.

I've played both games (at school and uni), and preferred to play Union (I was a kicking five eighth so got a lot of the ball), but these days I'd rather watch a good game of League, if there's no football (soccer) on telly or the Swans aren't playing. As a kid, I went to see League live most weekends in Sydney, and still follow the teams at a distance (especially since Rupert Murdoch merged my local team - the mighty North Sydney Bears - out of existence). Am I bitter? Yes.

posted by owlhouse at 11:49 PM on January 15

thanks for the explanations and your time, very helpful

posted by gfinsf at 08:06 AM on January 16

Just got around to watching those highlights. Awesome. Thank you, JJ.

posted by tron7 at 02:45 PM on January 16

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