Making Sense of the NRL Ladder During Origin
The 2014 NRL ladder has tended to reflect the tightness of the competition and the unusual run of surprises by being almost unrecognisable from one week to the next. Nothing has changed as we look at the current ladder, but that is about to change.
Highlighting the ladder volatility, it wasn’t long ago that the Titans were still on top of the ladder, before falling to 3rd, and then out of the Top 8 altogether. The writing was on the wall early given their lack of relative point-scoring ability, and below shows the progress to this point:
In the context of a close competition and then losing their halves pairing for a period of time (upon whom they rely so heavily), their fall from grace has been quite predictable by most.
After Round 6 that I surmised they only needed to win seven or so games from that point (then on 10 points and yet to receive their two Byes) to make the Finals. They were never going to remain as dominant as those first six rounds (due to a favourable early season draw), but it is somewhat disturbing that they still need to win about as many games from Round 14 onward to make the Finals as they did after Round 6.
The anti-Titans, the Panthers, began the season by alternating wins and losses for eight rounds. They were struggling to get their nose into the Top 8, and the 5-year plan was under fire in many quarters. They are the polar opposite to the Titans, benefiting from the tight knot of teams sitting on similar competition points after a string of just four consecutive wins. As a result, they now sit atop the NRL ladder. The comparison with the Titans in terms of points differential is quite striking:
The Top 8 now has a fair bit of solidity to it for the first time this season, by which I mean its constituents should become more predictable, and less susceptible to chop and change. Certainly, we don’t have the unsustainable position of a team leading with a negative points differential. Quite the opposite in fact. The Top 8 is now spearheaded by a Top 6 with robust differentials, with no clear standout now that the Bulldogs have joined the rest of the teams in having had a comfortable loss (two consecutively, in fact).
Positions seven and eight still have a negative differential, which is not unusual. So, while there will always be some jostling for positions at this back end, the cream is beginning to rise to the top, where it should stay.
That said, the Byes are needlessly muddying the true make up of the Top 8 in particular, and it won’t be until the Bye rounds have been completed that we will have a clearer picture. Notwithstanding the fact that teams facing Byes should probably not receive any points at all (they didn’t win a match), we can cut through the noise by adjusting for them.
One way of looking at this, while also paying the Cowboys their due (a massive positive points differential given their current 11th placing) is to look at the table through the lens of that differential, and you can see clearly how the current placings change:The make up of the Top 8 certainly has a different flavour when you look at it this way, most poignantly the elevation of the Cowboys from 11th to 5th. However, the obvious drawback lay over on the far right of the table – the Cowboys – despite a couple of big wins inflating their differential, they are still a few wins away from the top teams, and that’s where the rubber hits the road.
A better way to look at it is to simply take the two points awarded for Byes out of the equation to avoid the optical illusion.
For example, the Storm have had a Bye and have already received their two points for effectively doing nothing, while the Cowboys haven’t. Given those two points are guaranteed, equilibrating the two teams to reflect a single Bye each places the Cowboys 9th – easily.
Likewise, the Roosters and Rabbitohs are really in 1st and 2nd position once all the Byes are allocated (both have not had one yet). Here is how the table looks in reality, and highlights why Byes probably shouldn’t have two points attached to them:Interestingly, while there is some movement at the upper end of the ladder once these adjustments are made, the final six places remains unchanged.
Even more startling is that one of those teams is the Melbourne Storm, who are out of the Top 8 for the first time at the halfway mark of the season over the Bellamy era.