As we (depressingly) wind our way toward the final four rounds of the home and away competition, not only do we enter the realm of ‘mathematical’ chances that have us summoning our inner Rene Descartes to decipher the many finals permutations, but it’s also the season of dealing with the emotional let-down of ‘if only …’
How many times have you heard the exasperated, disappointed refrain of “if only we had won a couple of those tight games, we’d be in the Top 8”, or “if only we had pulled our fingers (and Sam B’s) out and not handed the Storm 64 For & Against points, we might have had a chance”?
Clearly, reflections such as these are natural, as well as being a reminder (each year, funnily enough), that losses must be kept manageable by competing for the full 80 minutes whether the game is won or lost. A consolation try or two in the shadows of full-time can mean a whole lot more after the 26 rounds are done and dusted.
A brilliant example of this is Manly, whose For & Against stats went from +85 in Round 6 to +67 by Round 16, and almost in a straight, but gentle, line. Never at any stage were they beaten by more than 12 points and, in fact, the average loss (five of them, including a draw) during that period was just five points. It was a tough period for them as you can see below, but they kept their losses tight.
While it’s all well and good to minimise your losses, you still don’t get paid your two competition points without winning the match. Therefore, you don’t progress up the ladder and, hopefully, squeeze into the finals.
Reaching the finals has just as much, if not more, to do with prevailing in the tight contests that regularly occur throughout the season as it does reigning in the losing margins.
In fact, you would probably be surprised at how many tight games there are during the year, as defined by a converted try or less. For all teams, the average of these close games as a percentage of total is 34% !
The Dragons have literally had 50% of their matches this year decided by six points or less. For Dragons fans, then, the season hasn’t been quite as bad as the 14th place suggests.
Still, they’ve only won four of them (or 40%), and six overall, and that’s what defines the contenders from the also-rans.
The interesting point to note about the chart above is that, of the contenders for the last four positions in the Top 8, they have all played seven or eight of these matches, with varying levels of success.
But just imagine if a couple of those games had gone the opposite way. The Broncos losing 19-18 to Parramatta is an obvious example of a game that could, and should, have been won. The Knights losing to the Dragons – twice – in close contests is also an example where a position in the Top 8 could have been secured earlier.
The Sharks are a clear standout, having won five from seven close games, for a 71% winning percentage. This is probably no surprise to Sharks fans in particular. They are an extraordinarily tough and gritty side, which will make them a difficult finals adversary.
It is the reason I posed the question many months ago to all teams who had designs on a successful 2013 – What would the Storm do? What would the Sharks do? Teams that can model the approach of these two teams will have the patience, toughness and resilience to succeed.
The Bulldogs’ 43% winning percentage is lower than average, but is an example of how this measure can be misinterpreted (like all stats, it isn’t infallible!). Three of those close losses were to the Storm, Rabbitohs and Roosters, which makes them a very credible no.5 on the ladder.
For those who don’t quite squeak into positions five through eight, however, it will once again be the seasonal story of ‘what if?’