Knowing that our core American reader base is big on statistics and rankings, we want to kick off the New Year by delving into the new formula being used by the Rugby League International Federation to determine the world rankings.
The new system is designed to produce more equitable rankings and consequently teams are not penalized for losing to higher ranked opponents, nor are they disadvantaged for playing more games.
The RLIF unveiled its new ranking system in the last quarter of 2011 when global Rugby League was at a peak - World Cup Qualifiers were going on in the USA and Europe; plus the new look European Cup series and Four Nations tournaments were being played.
The Federation commissioned UK-based Opta
to develop its rankings formula. Opta is heavily involved in sports statistics, including Rugby League in Britain, and was an obvious choice.
We caught up with the man behind the development of the premier ranking system to find out what went into it and how long the process took.
“One of the challenges in Rugby League is that at the international level, teams tend to play the same opposition year after year and there is not much crossover,” Opta Product Director Rob Lowe told WeAreRugby.
“For example, Wales tend to play France quite often but hardly ever play Papua New Guinea so it becomes quite difficult to rank teams on the basis of results against each other.
“So it was decided to set the principles behind the model and then keep running and refining the model on the results of the previous four seasons until we got to a stage where we were happy. This process took around six months in all so we could test the system as further matches were played.”
Under Opta’s formula, for each match played the two participating teams are given a points value based on the result and margin of the game, the importance of the competition, and strength of the opposition (this is found by using the current ranking of the team divided by the ranking of the best team at that time).
All the games played by a team over the previous five seasons are taken into consideration with a weighting factor so that the more recent results are much more important. The total of these points becomes the team’s score.
“The effect of this is that a team can pick up more points from losing to a very good team than they would by winning easily against a very weak team,” continued Lowe.
“This means that the best way for teams to climb the rankings is to try and play stronger teams, hoping that they win but not suffering if they lose. Also it means that a team will never be disadvantaged for playing more games even if they lose them. Obviously one of the aims for the RLIF is to try and increase participation as well as excellence.
“The results so far have been quite good. Of the 14 qualifiers for the 2013 World Cup, 13 sit in the top 14 places with only the Cook Islands outside. This is mostly because they haven’t played regular fixtures for a long time. Overall it’s been pretty good so far.”
The USA, Jamaica and South Africa, all of which were involved in the Atlantic Zone RLWCQ last October, improved their rankings and all start 2012 from stronger positions.
The victorious USA Tomahawks fared the best moving up to an all-time high at #11, while their North American rivals Canada also improved their position and begin the New Year at #21.
to see the full RLIF world rankings.