Second Year Syndrome - Myth or Fact?

Second-year syndrome is a common term in both Rugby League and sport in general. It relates to a rookie whose second year doesn?t reflect the ability they had shown in their rookie season. While the stigma associated with second-year syndrome affects some players, it manages to bypass others, so is there such a thing as second-year syndrome? Or is it a myth created to strike fear into the hearts of young players as they embark on their careers?

Second-year syndrome is basically how a rookie arrives on the scene with a hiss and roar, with big words written and said about their potential, sometimes even described as ?the best ever? and then their opponents crave the next opportunity they have to prove there?s nothing behind the hype.

One only needs to look at some of the booming rookies over the last 5 years to see that second-year syndrome does exist in some capacity. For example, in 2003 Luke Dorn was proclaimed the ?New Dorn? at Manly, but in the following season failed to impress and was subsequently released to the Sydney Roosters and is now playing for London in ESL.

Another example is Brett Firman who burst onto the scene in 2003 and was a star performer. He played his first injury free season and was the Dragon?s ?answer to their halfback problems?. However the following season, Firman got dogged by injury and was then sold to the Sydney Roosters who then passed him off to the Cowboys. Firman's once promising career has been languishing for 3 seasons and now has fallen by the wayside as he is without a club next season.

A more recent example would be that of Tim Smith. After his stellar debut season in 2005, Smith was meant to lead his Parramatta side to a Grand Final this season. Smith was touted as the next Australian halfback and Parramatta?s ?next Peter Sterling? by many ?good judges?.

?The next player to break through in the prized Test position will be Tim Smith.

It's not too early to predict the enormously talented youngster will go that far. He is definitely the new Peter Sterling for the Eels?

Much of the conjecture surrounding the notion of second-year syndrome has been created by the media. Comments such as the above about Smith placed a huge amount of expectations on his young shoulders making him a target this season. Unfortunately he has proven he was not be up to handling the immense pressure, like so many other victims including Willie Peters, Thomas Luelai, Braith Anasta and Jamie Soward.

But despite all the validations, how can one explain those who break through and succeed in their second season. Billy Slater came onto the scene spectacularly in 2003 and as such was expected to flounder in 2004. However he had a stellar season which included scoring one of the most memorable tries in Origin history. Other players such as Luke Lewis and Brett Stewart all excelled in their second seasons. Wouldn?t this suggest that second-year syndrome is just a mind game rather than fact?

But now we will turn to 2007 and ask ourselves what will happen to this year?s boom rookies? Will Jarryd Hayne and Brett Morris be targetted and analysed more in order to nullify their great attacking ability? Has the media gone too far suggesting that rookie Greg Inglis could be ?the greatest player ever??

The answer to these questions are simply ?Yes?. Despite what anyone believes, these players will be heavily targetted next season and will be expected to be better in 2007 than in 2006 as a result of media propoganda. Only days after being proclaimed the ?best ever? we have already seen the effects on Inglis in the Grand Final when he was nullified by Shaun Berrigan and rarely showed his explosive genious.

Whether second-year syndrome is fact or myth is a question many fans ponder. In my opinion it is solely caused by the ever-surmounting pressure and grossly magnified expectations that fans and media alike place on these inexperienced stars. It is time to do away with ?next big thing? and ?best ever? comments, as these place unneccesary burdens and enormous pressures on these young stars. While some may push through and succeed, many of our most talented juniors end up being lost to the game forever. This loss of talent is the greatest tragedy in Rugby League.