Pro­gram col­lec­tors

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - SPORTS -

A TOP-SE­CRET com­puter pro­gram is help­ing the Mel­bourne Storm find and sign the NRL’s next stars on bar­gain­base­ment deals.

Based on NFL and English Premier League tech­nol­ogy, the hi-tech soft­ware has al­ready de­liv­ered the club some of their big­gest names, in­clud­ing a Bron­cos re­ject named Cameron Mun­ster for just $5000.

This high-level ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence sys­tem has them poised for more fi­nals suc­cess this sea­son. Un­of­fi­cially called the “Nee­dle in a Haystack’’, a po­ten­tially mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar al­go­rithm within the pro­gram sorts through data be­fore pre­dict­ing which rugby league no­bod­ies will be­come fu­ture stars.

Tui Kamikam­ica, Tom Eisen­huth, Mar­ion Seve and Su­liasi Vu­ni­valu were all un­wanted play­ers who signed on to play for the Storm for free. The com­puter pro­gram is so se­cret that “few’’ out­side Mel­bourne coach Craig Bel­lamy knew of its ex­is­tence un­til to­day.

“Its proper name is the Mel­bourne Storm De­ci­sion Mak­ing Sup­port Sys­tem,’’ Mel­bourne re­cruit­ment man­ager Paul Bunn said. “We gave it a real bor­ing, cum­ber­some name so that no­body takes no­tice of it. We don’t want any­one else look­ing at it and we have never shared it with any­one.

“Only a few peo­ple even know it ex­ists and only a cou­ple have seen it.’’

As part of an ex­clu­sive be­hind-thescenes look at the Storm, the Mel­bourne re­cruit­ment guru revealed the se­cret soft­ware had de­liv­ered the Storm the likes of Mun­ster, Ryan Papen­huyzen and Josh Addo-Carr.

“The pro­gram iden­ti­fies tal­ent for us,’’ Bunn said. “It is a de­ci­sion-mak­ing process sys­tem that picks the nee­dle in the haystack. It helps us find that onein-a-thou­sand kid.’’

Kept un­der mil­i­tary-grade en­cryp­tion on just three com­put­ers, the sys­tem has taken al­most a decade to de­velop.

“It is some­thing we have done our­selves,’’ Bunn said. “We de­signed and de­vel­oped it af­ter sev­eral trips over­seas to re­search what the best had.

“It is based on NFL tech­nol­ogy and Premier League. It has a bit of Liver­pool and Manch­ester City.’’

Statis­tics on every rep­re­sen­ta­tive rugby league player aged over 15 are kept on the sys­tem.

“It holds three years of data on all those play­ers and the rest is up­loaded to the cloud,’’ Bunn said. “We have stats on ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­one. Ev­ery­one has ac­cess to the stats but you need to know how to read them and com­bine them.’’

The soft­ware uses a com­plex al­go­rithm to work it all out, Bunn said.

“It is con­nected to edit video and gives us the names and in­for­ma­tion we need,” he said.

Bunn’s sign­ing of Mun­ster for just $5000 is the Storm’s great­est coup.

“No one wanted Cameron,’’ Bunn said. “And he came down here on a re­ally cheap rate. He never made a lot of rep sides as a ju­nior. They are the ones we like be­cause we know they have had to fight hard to get to where they are.”

Bunn and his three-man re­cruit­ment team — which in­cludes his son and soft­ware code­vel­oper Ge­ordie — have de­fied the salary cap to give Mel­bourne yet an­other mi­nor pre­mier­ship­win­ning team. No-names such as Papen­huyzen and Jahrome Hughes were re­cruited to the team as re­place­ments for Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk.

“We don’t have a ter­ri­tory to de­fend so we track and target,” he said

Coach Craig Bel­lamy in front of a paint­ing of the great Storm play­ers from the club’s his­tory. Pic­ture: Michael Klein

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