Passionate Rugby League Fan’s Journey Working with Rugby League Statistics

Passionate Rugby League Fan’s Journey Working with Rugby League Statistics

Josh Spigelman has a unique relationship with rugby league. From moving to Newcastle in 1997 (what timing!), completing a Sports Management Degree to working in a broad range of roles around rugby league since 2016. He talks about his journey and his interest in growing the role of sports data analysis in the Newcastle Rugby League!

Tell us about your background

I was born in London, England but moved to Newcastle, Australia at a young age and currently residing in Sydney for work. I hold a Bachelor of Business degree majoring in Sports Management obtained at Swinburne University. My first break into the sports industry was at a small local company called Sports Data. Unfortunately, they were on their way out of the industry when I arrived, but I managed to use my experience gained there to secure a position at Fox Sports as a casual Statistician/Logger. Soon after, I obtained entrance into the NRL Business Academy, where I was employed by the Sydney Roosters as a Membership Assistant for a six-month internship.

While you were completing your Sports Management Degree you were involved in various roles within rugby league. What were some of the key takeaways from those years?

My time spent at Sports Data and Fox Sports helped me further my passion for sports statistics, specifically rugby league. I was able to gain an in-depth understanding of how rugby league statistics are captured both live and reviewed post-match, while developing a keen eye for the nuances of rugby league statistics. Soon after employment, I was able to live call a match from a statistics point of view (imagine regular commentary but based purely on statistics unfolding on the field). For example, one hit up would consist of saying the player’s name, metres gained and all defensive tacklers, whilst also being prepared for second phase play eventuating from an offload, or broken play from line-breaks or turnovers. This occurred at an extremely fast pace, with live statistics sent to stakeholders in real time. This helped develop my composure and confidence working in a high pressure, fast paced environment.

During my time at Fox Sports, I also contributed statistical analysis to a number of NRL-related fan made podcasts, while also providing the Newcastle Knights analyst with weekly analysis in order to help as best I could prepare the team for upcoming matches.

My internship with the Sydney Roosters through the NRL Business Academy allowed me to develop in a highly professional environment and gain invaluable experience inside the inner sanctum of a football club. Whilst membership did not end up being my chosen career path, I was extremely grateful for the opportunity.

You’ve worked with the Newcastle Rugby League competition for the last couple of years as a casual statistician. Talk us through your involvement there?

While I’ve had a successful and enjoyable career, I have always wanted to remain involved in the capturing and analysis of Rugby League Statistics. As such, I reached out to my junior rugby league club South Newcastle in early 2018 to gain an understanding of their first grade set up and interest in team and player statistical analysis. What I found was a high level of interest and a market outside of the regular Rugby League statistical providers, who service only higher tiered competitions (NRL, NSW/QLD Cups etc.), as they have far more funds and are able to commit to large paying contracts. As such, I managed to secure the services of South Newcastle, Central Newcastle and Maitland Pickers, all of which I have provided services to since.

Prior to the postponement of the 2020 season, I was in talks with a couple of other clubs who were interested in taking up my services also. While this is not a lucrative service, I enjoy every minute of it – and being able to watch most of the games is an added bonus. There are some great players in the Toohey’s Newcastle Rugby League!

I imagine the statistics they receive give the coaches and management a great insight to both team and individual performance. Clubs have also asked for my opinion regarding fighting judiciary charges, based on video analysis.

How much time does this take out of your schedule
As I do this in a post-match capacity via BarTV Sports YouTube uploads (great service – they deserve a shout out for their excellent grass roots coverage of sports), the process of free hand recording an 80 minute match can take upwards of three hours. I also provide analysis of these statistics and present it in document format, which may take me an extra hour or so to complete. If two of my clients are playing each other in the same match, the recording process will take longer, as two sets of statistics are required (each club provides me with their preferential statistics to record)

How receptive are clubs and coaches to the work you’re doing

As I provide the option for each club to select the team or player statistics that will assist them the most, I imagine the statistics they receive give the coaches and management a great insight to both team and individual performance. Clubs have also asked for my opinion regarding fighting judiciary charges, based on video analysis.

How would you like to evolve your work over the next couple of years

I would like to continue to take on more secondary Rugby League statistic work as well if time permits. Contributing to podcasts, or websites such as this also interests me. I have also looked at using my stats capturing ability to other sports here in Australia, such as the local Gridiron league (as American football is my other passion). However, the league is not at a level yet where clubs can afford to hire a statistician – maybe one day!
A full time return to this industry down the track would be something I would consider if the right opportunity presented itself.

Which team do you support in the NRL

I was fortunate enough to move to Newcastle from England midway through 1997, so my first year was a glorious one in Newcastle and I have been hooked on the red and blue ever since.

Are you involved with Rugby League in any other ways

I am a long time player of NRL Fantasy. I used to prioritise the classic format, but have since transferred to draft mode, which is similar to NFL fantasy, which I have been playing since the mid-2000s. 

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