The National Rugby League, in conjunction with Precision Sourcing, joined forces with some of Australia's brightest data analysts to deliver the code's first ever NRL Datajam in Sydney last week.
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs coach Des Hasler and Fox League commentator Brett Kimmorley joined sports administrator Greg Harris on the judging panel to witness 10 teams deliver trends, insight and outcomes based on data collected on and off-field in the last three years of the NRL Telstra Premiership.
It was the first time in rugby league history the NRL's data has been made accessible for people and businesses with no connection to the game to look further in-depth and provide unique feedback on different areas within the code.
Commonwealth Bank, KPMG and Quantium were just three of the major companies present at Sydney's Facebook headquarters for the event, with each team paired with an anlyst form NRL clubs or state leagues.
Luke Gooden, NRL General Manager of Football Integration and Innovation, believes the data exposed to the public and major brands would offer all involved in the code a range of new ideas moving forward.
"NRL Datajam is essentially a data set that delves into potentially 10,000 events within a match and can branch off in different directions through, for example participation, recruitment or game strategy," Gooden told NRL.com.
"It has the opportunity to educate our fans with information in a different manner."
"Big data is something that is affecting society broadly with health care and software companies making big decisions based on their data sets.
"We've got some of the biggest businesses in the country with us who do this for a living – applying subjective information and knowledge to their models. To have the opportunity to talk to major companies who base their decisions on data is very significant."
In one of the presentations, Kimmorley made note of a group who admitted to knowing nothing about rugby league, however were able to tell the panel off the bat who the best players in the NRL Telstra Premiership were based on the data sets provided.
"That's the data talking… the hope is we use events like this to help drive rugby league," Kimmorley told NRL.com.
"As a fan you can have that power to sit at home and open a tablet or watch television and it shows you numbers that you don't know generally know.
"I think the game itself is simple but we complicate the hell out of it and confuse the world. However now we've got the numbers it's now about looking into what we can do with that.
"For a fan it opens up where the decisions on recruitment are coming from and where new supporters or fan bases are being grown from and how do we keep people involved and watching."
Theory and outcome
The panel judged IT services company Accenture the winner on the day with team captain Danny Peppou giving an insight into the way they approached the event after participating in NSWRL's data jam last season.
"We wanted to do something really simple that we could easily explain but could be replicable, and landed on what events during a game lead to which position on the field and winning a game," Peppou told NRL.com.
"We chose to narrow it down to hooker, halfback and five-eighth and looked at what specifically they do that drives a more likely chance of their team winning a game.
"We ended up with about 10 things that we could score each individual hooker's play and gave them a benchmark score.
"The good thing is you could look at a hooker over the course of a season or compare them to another. We basically came up with a benchmark of KPI's of what they need to do on a minimal basis.
"Some players we found do too much on the field and their side doesn't win as many games as a result."
Kimmorley explained the panels' decision to award Danny and his team the top prize and why they stood out from the rest.
"I think for the pure fact the guys at Accenture told us what they were going to research and the fact they could come up with a solution that had some positive results and their overall weighting system was pretty cool as well," he said.
"You've got to come up with a theory and outcome. We thought they were really detailed in the way they were able to go deep into future development and recruitment."
Nevertheless, the retired Australian international believed all the DataJam presentations would be used to benefit rugby league's development in the future.
"I was amazed at the people who had a month only with the data, to come well equipped. They are unbelievably talented with numbers and computers," Kimmorley said.
"They're not necessarily league or sports fans but just clever humans that want to be a part of it and could deliver a great outcome that will benefit the code for years to come."