The NRL Techdown: Measuring late season dominance … or not …

I was having a look at the ‘metres’ stats the other day ahead of the Panthers/Roosters game, and noticed how poorly the Panthers have been performing over the prior three rounds.

Based on what I saw, the Panthers were never going to get close to the Roosters. The resulting resulting negative 260 metres difference between the teams had them in line for an 18 point thumping based on previous performances. As it turned out, it was far worse than that.

Up until a month ago, they had been averaging over 1400 metres per game, placing them well into the driver’s seat in their matches and conceivably well on the way to the finals. Since then, metres gained have dropped precipitously to just 1235 metres (and with very little variation around that number).

On the flipside, they have recently allowed the opposition to accumulate about 1430 metres per game, compared to a 1325 metre average prior to that.

That’s a 270-meter turnaround per game – enough to put you right behind the 8-ball.

Below is their season on a 3-game moving average to smooth it out. Look at the blue line – the difference between metres gaind per game, and those conceded:Panthers Metres Gained vs Conceded

Turning to the Panthers’ scatter plot that measures how the difference in metres relates to net points (for and against), the difference in metres in the last month equates to about 18 points per match as noted above (eyeball the chart and you will see it).

Funnily enough, the last four weeks have averaged 19 points against them.

It’s an interesting outcome, and one that argues that it almost doesn’t matter who they play – if a team is dominated to this degree, they will generally lose by a relatively predictable amount. The better teams have a far looser fit on this metric, meaning they can beat you without dominating possession and metres!Panthers Scatter

In short, the numbers don’t have the look of a team destined for the finals. They look more like a team that is spluttering and petering out. A team that has one eye firmly fixed on Mad Monday logistics.

Panther aside, how are the other teams looking?  

I’ve broken the field into the Top 4 and the ‘contenders’, in keeping with the flavour of recent posts. I’ve completely ignored the Titans, considering their draw far too difficult for them to overturn the laws of mathematics.

The Top 4 chart is characterised by the surging Roosters and Manly standing clearly above the pack, a deteriorating (but still positive) performance by the Bunnies, and what looks to be a surge from low levels by the Storm. And I only say that because, well, it’s the Storm – any other team would be ‘languishing’.Net Metres Top 4

Speaking of which, here are the contenders (ex-Panthers):Net Metres Contenders

There is nothing in that chart that tells me the Raiders will make the Top 8. Their early season dominance of possession versus their rivals has been in constant decline from about the seventh round. Moreover, it is at a season low. Is that the kind of form you want to see leading into the finals when you already face the toughest draw in the NRL?

Memo Raiders supporters: keep your expectations very, very low. It’s less painful that way.

The Sharks look surprisingly low in the area of dominance, but it was the scale of the out-of-character loss to the Roosters (or are the Roosters just that good?) that is the difference between a Raiders-type level and a more neutral one. Giving up 800 metres in one game does that, I guess …

Giving another layer of perspective on the effect of that game on the 3-game average, all the Sharks need to do is split the metres with the Knights this weekend (as they did in Round 8), and they are back in positive territory, and possibly above the Warriors.

Not much needs to be said about the constantly improving Bulldogs. Along with the Knights (whose draw is kind), they have enough dominance to take their place in the finals, while the Warriors have flat-lined. The direction of their line over the next couple of weeks will tell us whether they are a finals contender, or if they will just fall short. Manly will be tough for them, but the final four games are very winnable.

The trend for each team is pretty clear, and the momentum (or lack of it) will more than likely manifest itself in the finals.

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