Wednesday 23 August 2017 / 06:26 AM

REDEFINING THE ‘STAR’ LABEL

The gratuitous use of the ‘star’ label has been going on for a while, and it’s only getting worse. The blatant overuse has led to a complete desensitisation of the term.

Hearing the phrase “Parramatta Eels superstar Mitchell Moses” infuriates me no end. It should irritate you too.

I’m aware wider news outlets are inclined to sensationalise the story by using hyperbole to grab attention. Within the rugby league community, we need to have a higher threshold and take genuine care of the value we put on the term.

So, what is a star?

First, there are a few notions to shoot down surrounding ‘superstars’.

  • Being the best player on your team does not make you a star. You might be your team’s ‘star’ per say, but in the context of the league, that doesn’t qualify. Aaron Woods is a nice example here.
  • Being a great prospect does not make you a star. Kalyn Ponga is going to be great…he isn’t yet. Same goes for Nathan Cleary, Ashley Taylor even Tom Trbojevic (calm down). Too often we are caught prematurely crowning the next best — Anthony Milford was considered by many to be the best player in the league heading into last season, and there was outrage when Bryce Cartwright wasn’t a part of the Origin conversation. Hindsight should be enough for you to see how much of a lapse in judgement both of these assessments were.

  • Rep football doesn’t make you a star; not playing it doesn’t stop you for being a star. Naturally, there is a huge overlap, because (obviously) the majority of the best players will be selected. And playing a higher level works wonders for improvement. It is not a defining factor.
  • There are levels. There is a difference between star and superstar. This seems overly meticulous but is important. Boyd Cordner is a star, Cameron Smith is a superstar.

The essence of league as a team game makes the evaluation of players somewhat difficult. With such a focus on team success and the ever-evolving structures that tend to confine a large majority of players to specified tasks, who is impacting the game most divides opinions regularly.

Assessing performance, especially on an individual level, is somewhat objective, but there are parameters that restrict opinion and separate it from cold fact.

Position Matters: Yes, spine players are at a distinct advantage due to the importance of their position in the team construct and the heavy amount of touches they get. But the final measure is of output, not value — if you were to compile a list of each team’s most valuable player, nearly all would be spine players. By that measure, it only makes sense that the best players in the league would be the best players at the most valuable positions. That doesn’t mean stars are exclusively from these positions.

Relativity to the field: This ties nicely into the above point. ‘Elite’ is a relative measure. As such, the output required to be an elite fullback is much higher due to the depth at the position. A forward who consistently wins the battle up front (Taumalolo, Bromwich) is more valuable than a standard half (like Moses) who has all the generic skills. It’s the output in comparison to your opposition that determines your ranking. It’s the elite in their position that are eligible for star-status

There are two sides of the ball: This is a criminally overlooked factor. James Maloney is a damn good five-eighth, possessing all the elite attacking skills. He is a godawful defensive player, a complete liability highlighted by his six(!) missed tackles and two penalties a game, both league-leading by decent margins. His offensive contributions aren’t enough to look past his severe defensive shortcomings. It definitely disqualifies him from the “star” contribution, even though he is often labelled as such (and he plays Origin, catch the drift?).

On the other side, there are defensive studs who get frequently overlooked as great contributors due to their relatively dull offensive output. Aiden Tolman and Simon Mannering are great examples here, and you’d seldom hear someone put them in the same breath as Maloney.

It’s those who find the closest line between being elite in both categories that provide the most impact at their positions. Whilst there are exceptions, those who make up for being relatively average in one category by being elite in another, say Johnathan Thurston* or Josh Jackson, these are the top one percent and are pretty rare.

*Thurston makes an interesting case study here. While his defence is declining somewhat steadily, his ability to run an offence is unmatched by anyone this side of Cameron Smith. He still impacts every game and is responsible for lifting some average surrounding talent way above their ability. He is the only legitimate star who could be described as ‘deficient’ or ‘one-sided’.

Key indicators

Balance: Cameron Smith is a puppeteer of an offensive coordinator, a top-five defensive player, a pin-point kicker and an opportunistic ball-runner. The complete package.

High-level strike weapons: Guys like Valentine Holmes who offer the ability to flip a game on its head with one touch are immensely valuable. The fear they induce opens up space for other players to operate, offering value both with and without the ball. Ditto for Boyd Cordner, who presents a threatening option every time the footy comes his way. This explains the intrigue around hot prospect Coen Hess.

Output, not ability: No one is doubting James Tedesco’s top-10 talent. No one is questioning whether he is being severely hampered by a lacklustre Tigers support cast. Most likely, he’ll enter the list once he is surrounded by talent at the Roosters. Justifying him in this conversation for this season is ludicrous. Superstar ability, not superstar output.

The most important factors are…

Sustainability, dependability, impact.

The best players are those who you can guarantee, whatever their elite skill is, that they will impact the result of the game, that having them on your team will affect your team’s performance, and that you can count on them to have this impact, week in, week out.

Think of this next time you call Mitchell Moses a ‘star’.

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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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