Raiders players celebrate after Elliott Whitehead scored in extra time to win against the Dragons.
Raiders players celebrate after Elliott Whitehead scored in extra time to win against the Dragons. DAVID MOIR

Raiders keen to put Darwin's theory to the test

CANBERRA has a plan to ensure long-term football success and it's drawn on Darwin's theory to help build it.

No, not Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

Rather, former Wallaby Ben Darwin's theory that finds sports teams perform best when they have cohesion between players built over a period of time.

Former international rugby star Darwin co-founded Gain Line Analytics, and his "teamwork index" rates a team's chances of success based on the shared experiences of individuals within that group - rather than looking at the raw talent or drive of individual players.

It's this idea that is the foundation for Canberra's push to strengthen its junior pathways and, hopefully, ensure success for the NRL club.

Not for success over the next year or two, but for decades to come.

Raiders recruitment manager Peter Mulholland witnessed this cohesion in action when he watched Hastings Boys High School play schoolboy rugby during a trip to New Zealand.

"They set these kids together as a little academy at 13 of years of age, and I have never seen a more complete rugby union side anywhere," Mulholland said.

He explained to the Fox Sports' Market Watch podcast how Canberra hopes to establish a core group of players it can keep together for years down the track.

"We're trying to work very hard in the Group Nine area which we've probably disregarded, or not (utilised) as intensely as we should have done," Mulholland said.

"We've reintroduced our development squads from 13s all the way through, which some people say is not in the interests of the game, but we've got to fight the AFL.

"Wagga's always produced a Peter Sterling, a Greg Brentnall, a Steve Mortimer ... we've got to come back to that and push back into those areas.

"We've set up a couple of little academies around the regions and hopefully we will bare fruit from that."

The idea that a sports team performs better when the players share a personal bond is not a suggestion too extraordinary.


Storm teammates Billy Slater and Cameron Smith with Cooper Cronk (front).
Storm teammates Billy Slater and Cameron Smith with Cooper Cronk (front). DAVID CROSLING

Discussing Darwin's theory with Mulholland on Market Watch, NRL 360 host Ben Ikin pointed to the success of Melbourne and Queensland over the past decade as evidence it works.

"If you're looking for an example in the NRL go no further than the Melbourne Storm, which of course feeds into Queensland's success," Ikin said.

"Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith, three of the all-time greats of our game, have been playing together since their teens.

"I'm not going to say they wouldn't be great players playing separately - Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith - but I believe they are better together.

"They have a compounding effect on one another, and they should be the model that most teams, if they're capable ... try to replicate."

Keeping a group of players together in today's market of professional rugby league is close to impossible, given the salary cap restrictions and lure of big-money offers from rival clubs.

But Mulholland knows a strong team can be built around a core of three or four top-end talents.

It's then a matter of keeping those players together to form the cohesion that is the basis for Darwin's theory.

"What (Melbourne) can do with that system then is they can introduce a Tim Glasby, a Dale Finucane, who then go to that next level with the tutelage of these senior players," Mulholland said.

"The same coach and the same three or four players in vital positions ... that's the reason for their success, albeit two or three of the best players to play the game.

"It's about combinations and length of combinations."

News Corp Australia

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