The July Premiers Reprise – The Rabbitohs joined by the Roosters?

The July Premiers Reprise – The Rabbitohs joined by the Roosters?

As we draw to a close on round 20, there are two teams on clean streaks – the Roosters with an unbroken sequence of five green lights (wins), and Parramatta on red (losses). In all likelihood, both of those trends will continue with minor, if any, interruption.

As a result, the inevitable has happened amongst the information-lagging punters – they’ve bid the Roosters into premiership favouritism. Never mind they haven’t beaten the Storm or Rabbitohs yet, and are the true outsiders in the Top 4 this year. I wrote a blog way back when on ‘recency bias’, and this is what is going on here.

Now, they may well win both the minor and major titles this year (they are easily good enough), but at today’s prices, the risk/reward is poor. It doesn’t reflect the monster that is South Sydney adequately enough, meaning the Bunnies are actually a better priced if you want to take some premiership risk. And it doesn’t reflect some serious shortcomings at the Roosters.

Just consider how the Rabbitohs annihilated the Titans over the weekend without genuine superstar, Greg Inglis. Of the 53 missed tackles by the Titans, 27 of them were Burgess-related. You see why street signs and cars are in so much danger. And that was only two of them. Don’t forget what happens when they get their hands on chooks!

Further, after announcing he was going to turn to a more running game from being the absolute low bar in the NRL stats for most of the season, look at what Adam Reynolds has done:NRL avg half runs

And as referred to in last week’s Rubdown where the Rabbitohs were advised to also engage in some succession planning, they’re already a step or two ahead. Suddenly, Luke Kheary is getting a whole lot more game time. This represents a further evolution in the Rabbitohs depth and cohesion, and is already trouble-shooting potential problems for the finals. I like the way these guys (ie. Madge) are thinking their way through the season. There can be no let down this year if Reynolds’ hammy plays up right when the Rabbitohs need it most!

If they somehow fail to win the Grand Final, it won’t be because they’ve left a pebble unturned somewhere. And it won’t be because they lack a single-minded ferocity. They are going to have to be beaten by someone other than themselves. The way I look at it, their only danger is being overcome by the emotion of a Grand Final …

The conclusion is pretty clear – they are a formidable unit that should be far and away the premiership favourites.

Blowing into the Top 4

As for the Roosters, they were always going to be a force from the moment James Maloney signed, even though they had to wait a further year for his services. He is a natural footballer (as evidenced by his doodles on the Footy Show), is well organised and has exceptional peripheral vision (possibly honed while barbequing …). Fairly vital attributes for a playmaker.

Adding the big names like Jennings and SBW to the roster meant they weren’t just going to be a Top 8 nuisance either, and the early season doubters were clearly way off the mark in their analysis. You only had to look at the ‘manner’ in which they were winning those early games to realise they were better than average.

For Roosters supporters, there is a fair bit to be cocky about, but also some signs that their premiership hopes may go the same way as the last three attempts.

I’ve been meaning to focus on the holes in their stats for some time. Having procrastinated even after Alan Katzman had provided a trigger with some in-depth Roosters-centric stats some weeks back via Twitter (sorry, no link), the 26 Rounds blog has encapsulated the many obstacles the Roosters face before being a true Premiership contender. And  has done so within the confines of a single post-match summary of yesterday’s victory over the Knights. I suggest you read it.

Some of these issues were dealt with in the Round 16 Rubdown, but let’s take it to a more graphical level to highlight a few points.

Possession

For a team with title ambitions, the Roosters allow the opposition far too much use of the ball, and it has been a feature all season. Sure, their defensive record is a clear standout (allowing less than 12 points on average per game against them), but each game has a tipping point, and you don’t want one of them to be a sudden death final.

The first eight rounds had them barely above 50%, thanks largely to the Eels and Panthers matches. Other than that, they had three horrific possession counts against the Rabbitohs, Broncos and Raiders, winning just one of them.

From rounds 9-17, possession was well under a 50% average, and it was only the Sharks match last week (nearly 61%) that hauled them back above the 50% level for the season.Roosters Possession

It’s lucky they can do this:Line breaks Difference

Low possession stats are mostly fine and manageable for vastly inferior teams, but not against the Top 4 in finals matches, all of whom have dominated possession.

As you can see below, the Roosters have spent far too much time without a fair share of the ball (and the other Top 4 teams have the best numbers):Games and 50pc Possession

Penalties, Completions and Work

Of course, many of these problems can be traced to lopsided penalty counts, unlucky or otherwise. Discipline still remains an issue, and as the piece in 26 Rounds noted, many of the mammoth 14 penalties blown against them against the Knights (as an example) were entirely justified.

The Roosters aren’t just the worst in this context, they are far and away the worst. The downside of this is, despite a reliable defence, opponents in finals matches stand a better chance of wearing them down like the Raiders did in round 5. Moreover, as we saw in State of Origin 2, big games can get away from you in an awful hurry when you’re fatigued.

It’s alright to be best, on average, during a full season, but the finals are a series of stand-alone matches with sudden death consequences.Penalty Ratio

Allowing the opposition more possession than is reasonable inevitably leads to less sets for you. It makes simple sense.

For a Top 4 side, the Roosters are well down on where they would like to be as far as actual Completions go:Completions per Match

… Which means they are asked to do way more work, on average, than their opposition:Work Ratio

For the Roosters, there are a great many things in their favour as the closing charts show, and which have combined to have them in the position they’re in.Total Metres DifferenceMetres Per Run Difference

Tries Difference 1

They also have a lot to work on before the next competition begins in seven weeks.

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