ONLY true believers would dare to suggest the NRL is a level playing field.
Until such time as every team plays each other, home and away, and the premiership’s credibility is no longer undermined by the State of Origin phase of the season, then phrases like ‘‘luck of the draw’’ and ‘‘rub of the green’’ will always remain in popular parlance.
Co-ordinating fixtures for 16 clubs, spread over several states and time zones and two nations, must be a logistical nightmare for NRL executives. But surely they can do better than yesterday’s clash between the Sydney Roosters and Newcastle Knights at Allianz Stadium.
The home team’s previous match was a 28-24 loss to St George Illawarra on Anzac Day. Eleven days earlier.
Newcastle’s previous outing was a 34-14 win against Penrith last Monday night. Six days earlier.
In other words, the Roosters had five days head start in preparing themselves for yesterday’s match.
Five extra days to lick their wounds, dust themselves off and recharge the batteries.
Five days to study the Knights on video, identify weaknesses, and settle on a game plan. Five whole days.
It may as well have been a lifetime.
The Knights, meanwhile, emerged from their win against Penrith in a world of pain.
Skipper Kurt Gidley was nursing a busted shoulder. We may not see him again this season.
Danny Buderus was hobbling with a chronic Achilles injury that is expected to lay him up for several weeks.
The rest of them no doubt had assorted bumps and bruises.
By Wednesday, the Knights were back in training, but the sessions were short and the workload light. Keeping them fresh was the priority.
Given the contrasting preparation of both teams, there was always the suspicion yesterday that the Roosters would finish stronger as the visitors inevitably ran out of steam.
And so it proved.
After drawing first blood via a Jarrod Mullen try, the Knights went to the half-time interval 8-6 in arrears.
The scoreline suggested Newcastle were well and truly in the contest.
But in reality they were grimly clinging on, as the Roosters pounded them into submission through a glut of possession and field position.
That dominance started to deliver dividends after the break, and between the 58th and 71st minutes the Roosters ran in three tries to claim an unassailable lead.
Afterwards, Knights coach Wayne Bennett showed no inclination for offering excuses.
His players made too many errors to win, he said, and had nobody to blame but themselves.
Asked about the five-day variable between the two teams, Bennett replied: ‘‘I think it’s all relevant, but we compounded it all by continually putting ourselves under pressure for the whole game.
‘‘Just making error after error, penalties when we had great field position. You can’t compete with anybody at this level when we keep doing that stuff.’’
Bennett suggested there was no point complaining about things outside his control.
‘‘There are lots of things unfair in the NRL,’’ he said.
‘‘So you can’t worry about it any more. You just get on with life.’’
Opposition coach Brian Smith, not surprisingly, was in an unsympathetic mood. Given that his teams have lost three grand finals to Bennett over the years, Smith presumably felt the time for charity has long since expired.
‘‘It was a shorter turnaround for them, but to be fair I probably didn’t even shed a tear for them over that,’’ Smith said.
‘‘I didn’t even think about it too much.’’
The result left Newcastle ninth on the table with four wins from nine games. This time last year they were in the same position.
By the end of the season the two points the Roosters banked yesterday could be the difference between a top-eight berth and finishing with the also-rans.
By then, the head start they enjoyed against the Knights will have been long since forgotten.
They say a week is a long time in football. Especially if your ‘‘week‘‘ is five days longer than your opposition’s.