Rugby league: Huge changes in simple game

Former Wigan and Warriors rugby league captain Dean Bell (left), with former Otago and Scotland rugby midfielder John Leslie, at Forsyth Barr Stadium yesterday. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Former Wigan and Warriors rugby league captain Dean Bell (left), with former Otago and Scotland rugby midfielder John Leslie, at Forsyth Barr Stadium yesterday. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Former Kiwis captain Dean Bell sees sports science as a big part of the modern version of rugby league - even if it is a far cry from his own playing days.

Bell, who carved out a title-laden career between 1982 and 1996, winning seven Challenge Cup titles with Wigan in the process, is now the general manager of football for the New Zealand Warriors, after previously being in charge of recruitment at the club.

Bell and former Otago rugby midfielder John Leslie were guest speakers at the Otago Medical Research Foundation's Club Otago lunch at Forsyth Barr Stadium yesterday, and Bell noted the medical and scientific advances in his own sport since he ran out as the Warriors' inaugural captain in 1995.

''The game changes immeasurably,'' he said.

''Things you were doing even five years ago are so outdated now. Whether it's a good word or not, sports science has a lot to play in that.''

The era of players jogging lap after lap around the perimeter of the pitch at training are long gone, as clubs look to gain that scientific edge over each other.

''There's no secret to the fact that the two clubs who have invested heavily in the sports science area are the Storm and the Bulldogs and they both made the grand final last year,'' Bell said.

''But that's only part of it. It's a simple game, so long as you don't get too carried away with the science.''

Bell still has a part to play in recruitment at the Warriors, and believes the market is fiercer than ever, with Australian scouts making regular trips across the Tasman to raid the New Zealand stocks.

''You've got to spread the net wide,'' he said.

''We never take it for granted that anybody's just going to sign for the Warriors. We'll never keep them all, because the game produces too many good players. As long as we keep the best ones, that's really our aim.

After a roller-coaster season in 2012, which ended at the bottom of the dip, Bell has one hope from the Matthew Elliott-coached side: consistency.

''That's a no-brainer really,'' he said.

''You want your team to go out there week to week and play at a level they're proud of, and some winning football.''