Call it a numbers racket.

The extent to which sport is mining for and using numbers has gone too far. Numerals have their place but are too dominant, context often ignored. For one thing, they can obliterate the force of personality in team environments.

This is one of many bugbears - a lot of the stats which find their way into rugby and league analysis are assuming a relevance beyond their true relevance. At the very least, they need greater interpretation.

For instance, straight tackle counts take no account of the quality v quantity equation. Indeed, as the tackle-addicted former Aussie league forward Nathan Hindmarsh conceded, coaches were actually concerned that his ridiculously high counts - often lauded by commentators - were detracting from what should have been his overall game.


Moving on, but on this theme...Roger Federer's unexpected Australian Open win has reignited the discussion about who is the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) in tennis, an argument which was actually won by Federer long ago.

Most sports fans would surely agree that his Grand Slam numbers - as impressive as they are - are well short of dominating his case. Federer's greatness is very much about the way he played. His latest victory is neither here nor there in the overall assessment.

Tennis is not my first sporting love, far from it, yet Federer is so unbelievably good to watch that he has made it so at times. He remains, as in the latest Australian Open, an elegant assassin central to an amazing era of tennis rivalries stacked with epic contests.

It has actually been advantage Rafael Nadal-over-Federer for a lot of the time, yet I wouldn't cross the street to watch Nadal if he was playing another Nadal.

Before Federer, John McEnroe - from a different school of manners and results - was my tennis great. This is not a totally logical business. And it certainly isn't a numbers game.

A list of GOATS...a mix of logic and intangibles.

Roger Federer (tennis, Switzerland).
Tennis as art. Could watch him for hours, although most of his games didn't last that long. His 18 Grand Slams tell a story. Yet Rafael Nadal, second-equal with 14, wouldn't make my top eight.

Bryan Williams (rugby, NZ).
It's schoolboy hero worship that will never go away. No one will ever match BeeGee. Always the biggest poster on the bedroom wall. The legend has only grown via his subsequent contributions to Ponsonby, Auckland and Samoan rugby. Yet his try scoring record is minor compared to modern backs, and even a few forwards.


Eric Cantona (football, Manchester United).
Trickery and command. The French maestro could fool an opponent with a glance. Time has just about healed the lost hero-worship following his disgusting attack on a spectator. If a genie said which genius would you like to be...CANTONA. (Wish I'd seen a lot more of George Best though).

Wally Lewis (league, Australia).
Lewis commanded on and off the field. There has been nothing to touch the Lewis aura no matter how good Johnathan Thurston is. (Terrible commentator though).

Wally Lewis - an undisputed GOAT. Photo / Photosport.
Wally Lewis - an undisputed GOAT. Photo / Photosport.

David Gower (cricket, England).

Favourite batsman, full stop. Had that elegance which only left handed batters seem to possess. The bat was wielded like a rapier, yet the ball pinged off the middle. Why Gower? It was something not totally explainable, to do with the lazy way he peered up the wicket, a sort of quizzical nonchalance that was the prelude to an array of carefree shots. Who cares about the averages, although his were still good enough.

Wasim Akram (cricket, Pakistan).
Amazingly quick left arm produced amazing late swing. Nothing compared to Akram at his finest. In his case, the stats just about matched the magic, although not quite.

Martina Hingis (tennis, Switzerland).
Always wanted her to win. Not totally sure why. Power-packed Serena Williams, as magnificent as she can be, is the GOAT in the same way that Hollywood's highest grossing films are blockbusters. She manages to be a groundbreaker who looks formulaic.

Jack Nicklaus (golf, USA).
Thought Tiger Woods was the man before realising I didn't want him to break the Nicklaus record of 18 major victories.

Joe Frazier (boxing, USA).
Loved Muhammad Ali, except when he fought Frazier. Once again, not totally sure why. But he was so brave, so genuine. Wouldn't be many who agree on this one.

Alex Ferguson (football, Manchester United).
The finest manager or coach, ever. Fascinating man, of working class ideals. Had the rare, priceless gift of being brutally tough and genuinely caring.

Michael Jordan (basketball, USA).
The only era when I really gave a toss about basketball. Absolutely loved it then. He was phenomenal.