Experts - how much do they really
know?

Rugby league doesn?t always come to us directly. Very often, it is mediated to us by commentators, journalists, presenters and other media agents. These people are often referred to as ?experts? ? we trust that they have a higher perspective game than the average league viewer. What is it, though, that makes someone an expert? Is it merely enough that they are a media agent, a professional? It would seem that such a position implies a certain amount of expertise. Surely, though, there must be something else, something more tangible, which separates the experts from the layman.

Many ex-players or coaches are now in the media, some of them having had highly prolific careers in the game, for example, Brad Fittler, Andrew Johns and Phil Gould. Is their experience alone enough to qualify them as experts? Common sense says that it is, however, time and time again we see these experts getting their predictions wrong.

You don?t have to be Nostradamus to be an expert, but predicting what will happen in a game (the more specific the better) goes a long way to building one?s credibility. Phil Gould is an example of a commentator who, being an ex-coach, is among the best at explaining past events, yet seems to struggle with predictions ? in 2003, he tipped the would-be premiers, the Panthers, to finish last.

This weakness in predicting, though, does not make for a poor commentator. Rather, predictions are just one part (albeit a very important part) of an expert?s repertoire, like a kicking game to a halfback. A top kicking game is not necessary to make a good halfback, but it certainly helps.

Hypothetically, if there was a psychic, say, Nostradamus, who knew exactly what was going to happen in every minute of every game, but knew nothing about the game itself, could they be called an expert? They would certainly lay claim to that all important characteristic: to know something which most others do not. Still, this person would fail to explain presently occurring events, as this would require an in-depth understanding of the game.

Explanation of events is the other key component of an expert commentary. When Channel 9 commentator Peter Sterling says ?freeze it there?, and draws little circles on the TV, he is explaining the events, that is, giving a detailed account of what happened, how it happened, and why. More often than not, he will point something out that the majority of us would have overlooked. Anyone can say ?Paul Gallen scored a try?. The expert, however, might tell us that Paul Gallen was the recipient of a short ball from the halfback and changed the angle of his run in order to catch the defence off guard. Better still, this scenario was made more likely to occur after a series of half-breaks and strong hit-ups in the previous plays had the defence scrambling. Here again, he is laying claim to that all important characteristic: to know something which the majority does not know (or at least, can decipher what happened in a quicker time).

Too often though, pseudo-experts write a commentary about a game after the event, as if they knew all along that it was to happen. They say things like ?Parramatta was always going to be too strong?, or ?the Rabbitohs were never really in it?. It?s rarely, if ever, true that the writer or speaker knew what was going to happen (none of us are Nostradamus), so articles biased with hindsight, and the commentators who present them, must be treated with much caution.

Another dubious area is that of judging the attitudes of the players. Surely, this is a private area which only the player himself can be the judge of, yet it is extremely common for commentators to claim they know what is going through a player?s mind. They may, for example, cite the cause of a missed tackled as the player ?not having his mind on the job?, when it could be any of several reasons why the player missed the tackle. These pseudo-experts are the quacks of the rugby league world, and are disturbingly common.

The ideal commentator has two important traits: he or she will make accurate predictions of games yet to come, and will explain, both quickly and accurately, on-field events which have already occurred. In short, a good expert can lay claim to knowledge that the majority, the non-experts, cannot claim to know.

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