Steve Deane: NRL would stump the octopus

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Paul the Octopus, you don't impress me, pal.

So you can pick eight World Cup games in a row? Big deal. Try picking eight NRL winners in a week, then we'll find out what you're made of. (Although once we've done that we may well dice you up and saute you with lemon grass, chilli and kaffir lime leaves.) We digress.

The point, Paul, is that not even you, the all-seeing oracle of the deep, could pull it off.

A good chunk of my working life is devoted to following the NRL. The other week I thought long and hard about how the round's matches would play out before submitting my picks. As usual they were bang on. Well, one of them was. The other seven didn't go quite so well. It still hurts.

Sure, a mentally impaired monkey could do better than that but, Paul, if you think you could swan over here with your tentacles waving and just pick winners willy nilly you'd have another thing coming, mate.

I'm not alone in my tipping struggles. Not one member of the Fox network's extensive panel has managed to pick above 50 per cent of the winners of Monday-night matches. They're all below random chance.

That the NRL consistency defies prediction is its greatest strength.

A friend who works for the TAB and likes a punt steers clear of the NRL. The reason is because the competition is just too tough for teams to be able to stay at their peak for more than a couple of weeks in a row. When they drop off, the other teams are all good enough to get them. You never know when the upsets are coming, but you just know they are coming.

Love it or loathe it, the salary cap is the major reason for the unpredictability that makes the NRL the most competitive and absorbing sports competition in the world. Sure, last weekend's All Black test was a good game. But how many of those do you get in a rugby season? A couple if you're lucky. The NRL throws up half a dozen more engaging matches each week.

The only club to consistently buck the NRL's unpredictability in recent years has been the Storm. After this week's revelations we know how they did it. But knowing the Storm are cheats doesn't make it any easier to pick a winner tonight. Will they fire up and re-enact the massacre of round seven, or will a Warriors side bent on revenge have the edge?

I don't know. And I'm pretty sure Paul the Octopus wouldn't either.

- NZ Herald

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