Intrust Super Cup players at their peak match NRL players at their peak.
There is little difference, according to new Australian Catholic University research, between the peak movement demands of NRL players and those playing semi-professionally in Queensland’s elite statewide competition.
The study tracked 26 semi-professionals from Norths Devils, three with NRL contracts, and 24 players from Souths Sydney Rabbitohs across the 2018 season.
Researchers used wearable microtechnology devices to measure the peak periods for speed, average acceleration and accelerometer load (change in acceleration across three planes of movement) for each player.
"If you look at the most intense periods of the game, between NRL and Intrust Super Cup, they are very similar," ACU School of Behavioural and Health Sciences researcher Rich Johnston said.
"The only difference is the forwards in the NRL have slightly higher intense periods over one to five minutes, but once you get longer than five-minute periods of those really intense periods of the game, then they're not too much different to be honest.
"It did surprise me. If you think about the NRL, it's probably higher quality, so you get the ball in play for longer periods of time and therefore those longer peak periods, the 10-minute peak periods, you think that'd be higher in the NRL than Intrust Super Cup, which we showed it actually wasn't. Which was surprising because generally they're more skilled, full-time contracted players, but we didn't see that. Which I was surprised about.
“That's it in a nutshell. Peak demands, or the most intense periods of play, are very similar across the competitions.
“It shows us that the most demanding arm wrestles in a game are similar across competitions, they might just happen more regularly in the NRL.”
Johnston said it proved the Intrust Super Cup competition was the perfect stepping stone for players to the NRL.
“I think this shows the Intrust Super Cup is a really high standard. This was from a team that finished just outside the finals. When I was looking at them, there wasn't much variation between games which suggests you're getting high quality games across the board,” Johnston said.
“I think if you'd done this study maybe five or six years ago you would have seen a stark difference between NRL and Intrust Super Cup.
“But I think the standard has definitely improved. The standard across the board, between the best teams and the worst teams, has definitely gotten closer. I think we've seen that with different winners over the past few years.
“It is good for NRL-contracted players not playing top grade, they're getting a decent hit-out in Intrust Super Cup.
“In terms of the physicality of the game, it is a viable stepping stone to NRL. If players can excel at this level physically, they will certainly be capable of making the step up to NRL. I think they should work towards that through their training and match play.”
Published in the international open access journal, Frontiers in Physiology, the research documents for the first time the peak movement demands of semi-professional competition and is the first to quantify the peak accelerometer loads of any level of rugby league.
The key findings
- There was no difference in the peak demands for backs between playing standard, and only small differences in peak speed for forwards
- Forwards display greater acceleration and accelerometer load compared to backs
- There was only a small difference in the peak running speed between NRL and Intrust Super Cup forwards
While the study did not incorporate the significant energetic cost of rugby league’s often brutal collisions, it illuminates the narrowing match intensity between the NRL and Intrust Super Cup, which provides a direct pathway to the top grade.