Tracking how well NRL teams win – and lose

Looking at the Round 16 NRL draw, I couldn’t help but think the Tigers were the weekly special, certain to rack up a 13+ victory over the Raiders on Saturday night.

They need to, right? They are well behind where they need to be in their Points Differential (-33). So, even though they have equal competition points to the Eels and Storm, they are still behind them by virtue of that inferior differential. Not that those two teams are doing well in this respect either, I should add. It could literally mean the difference between making, or missing, the Top 8 for the Tigers, and needs urgent attention.

The scene is set for them to post a big win against a club in turmoil, and who are playing the sort of uninspired football that validates their 3rd-last position. And if they can’t do it against the Raiders, one wonders who they can do it to.

But how likely is it? Of their seven wins this year, only two have been 13+ (a 30-point margin over the Titans in Round 2 and a 16-point win against Manly in Round 5 – both quite some time ago). The rest have averaged 5.8 points, or a median of just 3pts.

(I like the median with smaller data sets because it clips off the outliers and gives us a central tendency).

Below is the median win margin of all teams over the 2014 so far:Median Win

Hmm, maybe I’d better look deeper into this before splashing out on a 13+ ticket for this match – if I even end up going there at all, as now seems unlikely! With a median of 9pts, the Tigers and 13+ results don’t seem to fall into the expected category.

As for the Raiders, their average losing margin this year is 16.8pts, with a median of 13pts, but the last five matches are somewhat better (loss average 13pts and median 11pts – with a win thrown in). So far, the Tigers 13+ isn’t quite stacking up as I’d hoped, but all is not lost yet.

Over this period, the Tigers have had three clear losses to superior teams, but only beat the Sharks by 2pts and the Knights by 3pts. Yes, the bottom two teams.

Let’s add in for good measure the record at the poorly supported Campbelltown Stadium – a 12pt win against the Cowboys, who can’t even get interested south of the border, and a narrow loss to the Broncos.

Uggh … Tigers 13+ just doesn’t stack up for risk/reward. Even if the Tigers win by 30pts tonight, I won’t be upset about not having put on the 13+ bet. It leaves a little more to chance than I would like, and I’m not that lucky! And you’re not getting paid to take the risk (13+ at 2’s? Nah ah).

Maybe we can salvage something though. The two matches played at Campbelltown were relatively low-scoring – 20pts and 30pts respectively. With the Over/Under line at around 42-44 (depending on agency), perhaps there’s an angle. The median total points of all Tigers matches this year is 42pts, and 46pts for the Raiders. So, the Over/Under looks right from an historical numbers sense, but still a little high given form and venue.

Ranking the Win & Loss Margins

Parramatta’s collection of losses (the worst in the NRL) initially motivated me to look at the margins by which teams typically win and lose, but hadn’t done anything until prompted by this Tigers match and a desire to see if having a lash was worth it.

The Eels’ loss against the Tigers in Round 7 was bad enough considering their dominance that day, but following it up with a thumping at the hands of the Cowboys was a fortnight that (I thought at the time) set their Finals hopes back and may come back to haunt them. Then again, subsequent losses have been equally as bad! How bad?

Check out the following chart, highlighting just how poorly the Eels have performed when losing matches. It’s very unlike what you’d expect from a team clinging to 8th spot.Median Loss

Even if the Eels have the attack worthy of finalists, they don’t have the defence at this point. So, while I’d personally like to see some of their champ(Hayne) best in September, I’m not betting on it.

You can lump the Tigers into that category as well. In both cases, it doesn’t auger well for Finals football against the current Top 6, who demonstrate far greater resolve when behind on the scoreboard. Cultivating that sort of attitude becomes a habit, and teams can’t draw upon it when needed if they don’t have it.

The surprise packet in the chart above is clearly the enigmatic Cowboys. A median loss of just 4.5pts (and an average of just over 8pts)? Really? Well, onsider that five of their losses have been within a 1-5pt range. Throw in losses of 8pts and 12pts, and the only big (Origin-affected) loss was the 30pt drubbing by the Raiders. As far as loss records go, that’s pretty impressive. And it’s made me rethink their match against the Rabbitohs too!

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NRL Round 11 Rubdown meets Pre-Origin Lube-up

The Broncos and the Urban Sombrero … er, Salary Cap

SombreroI’m pretty late to this, so of course I’ll lead with it at short notice in my flippant, yet serious, yet flippant way!

I’m stunned that teams can get this so wrong. It is a simple spreadsheet entry. It’s also easily recordable on a napkin. The only conclusion I can possibly arrive at is that it is an intentional and cynical breach.

The ability to be underhanded when it comes to 3rd party payments is almost infinite, but the fact is that clubs cannot guarantee them, and therefore they should be made public (what sponsor doesn’t want publicity?). I covered it in the Round 5 Rubdown in the context of the Bulldogs offering Andrew Fifita a contract that was heavily overweight with 3rd party payments. The rules say (underlines mine):

Unlimited – Players can earn unlimited amounts from corporate sponsors who are not associated with the club and who do not use the game’s intellectual property (no club logos, jerseys or emblems) provided these are pre-approved. These agreements may not be negotiated by the club as an incentive for a player to sign a contract, nor can they be guaranteed by the club.

Sounds fairly straight forward to me, and I’m still scratching my head as to why the Bulldogs have not been investigated for this.

As one journalist told me, clubs can deliver on 3rd party payments, but it is a grey area. It’s not grey to me – if a club pays the money, it’s a salary cap event.

Looking forward to a few more investigative stories on this topic in coming days.

Monday Night … Foot …Ball ….

Sorry … nodded off there …

Even in a truncated abomination of a week, Round 11 of the NRL had more than enough soap opera and controversy. It also further highlighted the flawed logic in weakening the NRL in the middle of the season, simultaneously reducing the quality of matches that are actually played. So not only do we get less football, we get less for our money in each game. Enough people are onto this now to refrain from flogging a dead horse – again – and besides, it’s been said here before anyway.

But as an example of what NRL fans are being asked to endure, the Sharks vs Rabbitohs scored an 11 on a scale of 1-10 on the Soporific Scale on Monday night. The only thing saving it was that the soccer international was even worse, and not by a small margin. Some of the footwork by the Socceroos in front of goal would have had the Spaniards thinking the match was Australia’s Funniest Home Videos, not to mention making me feel better about my insipid dribbling. Not being able to beat a second string South Africa at home was a fairly pedestrian effort, but at least they scored a solitary point, which can’t be said of the gummy Sharks.

I’m sure I heard an audible sigh of relief from Laurie Daley, however, suddenly feeling more relaxed about not giving the Bunnies halves a chance at Origin. His halves selections of Hodkinson (no ‘g’ people) and Josh Reynolds will have to deal with a more even forward battle in State of Origin that will test their creativity and resolve, but are likely to surprise many people on Wednesday night.

The Rabbitohs halves against the Sharks, on the other hand, didn’t execute well or provide the type of direction and spark required of an Origin pairing. Offered the chance of taking apart a depleted Sharks outfit (the media definition of those who lose, despite the victors also being ‘depleted’), the Rabbitohs halves looked like they’d have trouble organising a Ronnie Coote in a brothel.

Reynolds made the solitary run, rendering him almost useless in attack other than as a pure distributor (which the opposition likes – a lot). The NRL average for Half Back Runs is 4.8 per match, and Adam Reynolds’ average is 4 (the last 6 weeks being 3), so the hand isn’t exactly being thrust skyward for Origin duty. And ole Johnny Sutton, despite being well above the NRL average for 5/8 Runs, which I love to see, is off the pace too.

Quite frankly, the game was embarrassingly poor, and almost like watching a reserve grade side play Amco Cup many years ago. This is what planning around State of Origin is delivering us.

State of Concussion

Andrew Webster wrote an interesting article overnight about the respective trainers for NSW and Queensland being under a different type of pressure to the players – the pressure to announce concussion, even if it harms their team’s chances.

Love yer work, Ronnie!

Love yer work, Ronnie!

As Andrew rightly notes, 15 minutes can decide a series, let alone a game, so there is the temptation for the cougar, Ronnie Palmer (NSW) and his Queensland counterpart (Troy Thompson) to look the other way tomorrow night if a key player cops a knock. That’s not to say they will, but the latter has been implicated in the use of smelling salts last year. Then again, go back 5 years, and you’d probably struggle to name a trainer who hadn’t used them.

Here’s the thing that the article doesn’t conclude, but I think needs to be discussed …

If the incidence of concussion is so great in the super-charged arena of State of Origin (which it is given the way bodies are thrust into action, and I’m not sure Dallas Johnson ever finished a game on the right side of right way up), and given the fact that no longer will concussed players be tolerated on the field, does it not make sense to have an extended bench for such matches? No increase in interchanges mind you, just an increase in the available players to cover the possibility of concussion depleting a team of player numbers, and to reduce the temptation for trainers as noted above.

We all saw what appalling refereeing did to the 2nd Origin match last year, and effectively handing the game to the Queenslanders after 25 minutes. The last thing we want to see is a team lose half to all of its bench due to concussion. The teams have 19 men – use them.

What’s with Klemmer and feet?

I wouldn’t be surprised if David Klemmer has a foot fetish. They seem to follow him and hunt him down, and while I’d prefer mine in a lacy high-heel, all evidence points to the fact that David likes the hairy variety covered in studded leather. That didn’t come out right …

David Klemmer 'on the burst'

David Klemmer ‘on the burst’

If it’s not planting a kiss on Billy Slater’s boots, he’s now trying to make Frank Paul Nuisala do the same with his. His ungainly and inexplicable barge into the Roosters’ line on Friday night was worthy of at least a week on the sideline. There are some things that just aren’t done in rugby league. Given that squirrel grips have made an almighty comeback, you’d be correct in asking exactly what is not allowed! Eye gouging is one. Kicks to the face are another.

Earlier on, Klemmer had sparked a melee by hitting Jared Warea-Hargreaves in the chops with the type of tackle that had JWH suspended last year. The game was tough and engrossing, even if lacking a bit of panache (dare I say ‘depleted again?), and the physicality added to the drama. At the same time, the NRL can’t be sending people off and not charging others for the same offence.

For Roosters fans, though, they should be thanking David Klemmer for waking up the JWH beast. Up until his manhood was challenged by Klemmer, he had the appearance so far in 2014 of having just fallen out of bed. This could be a turning point.

The Kasiano Bodyslam

It’s all seems a bit anti-Bulldogs, doesn’t it? It’s unintentional, I assure you.

I’ve mentioned the Cumberland throw, or use of the leg in tackles before. It’s a type of tackle I’ve detested for a long time because of the possibility of serious injury. You won’t see it often, like the McKinnon injury, but when it happens, well, you get the picture.

The very same JWH who was clobbered by Klemmer on Friday was finished off by Kasiano when his head hit the ground as fast as I can remember any other when thrown over the supporting fulcrum of Kasiano’s leg. I’m sure he didn’t mean for injury to occur, but I don’t like the leg being used as a fulcrum in a tackle, even with a single defender. It accelerates the ball carrier with centrifugal force toward the ground. But using it with two or more defenders is a recipe for disaster. Remember what a fulcrum actually is – a way of increasing force by using a support. Does there need to be a broken leg for the NRL to outlaw a completely unnecessary tackle?

Cut Price D-D-Dragons

I had to laugh at this article which led with the header The News Came Quickly for Dragons Coach Steve Price

Which part of the end came quickly?

This has been a saga from Round 1 2013. And even though Price’s contract was extended to cover 2014 on Anzac Day that year, it was clear that it was only buying time for a 2015 coach to be found. That’s what the club’s option on his services for 2015 is all about. It’s an option that was undervalued, as it is in Rugby League all the time.

In the financial world, you pay to buy an option because it has value – in this case, a put option (right to sell) on Steve Price. Was Steve Price paid for granting that option? Doubt he even thought to ask. All of us have put options on our houses – that’s what the insurance premium is – it’s not free!

Anyway, the heat was on from Round 1 again, and only early victories kept him in the job this long. Powerful forces were aligned against him from Day 1, which must be an awful environment in which to work. So must an environment of incompetent recruitment. Does the Dragons management just sit in corners counting chromosomes and staring at walls or something? Whatever management does, it doesn’t seem to have a forward-looking element at all, and then they have the hide to blame their unsupported coach, a man who supported so many players through the years, only to have them turn their back on him (I wrote that prior to the reported chatter on The Back Page, which I can’t wait to watch a bit later).

The Dragons need a good dose of discipline!

The Dragons need a good dose of discipline!

I’m pretty unimpressed with the idea of player power amassing behind a coach (unless he’s a right so-and-so), particularly when they are paid to play. If you look at the structure of rugby league matches, it is fairly difficult to discern one game plan from another. There are player targets and instructions around aggression in certain matches to be sure, but completing sets, playing for territory with a good kicking game, all the way through dummy half settlers and identical block plays are observable in all teams. Where Steve Price has failed is not so much in his tactical nous, but in his ability to motivate the team, a subject dabbled in previously with respect to Matt Elliot.

Given the impediments he has faced, it’s hard to know whether he’s a good coach or not. What a disgrace.

Interesting Stats for Round 11

The Knights a nd Wayne Bennett’s future (or folly) will have to wait given the time and length of this Rubdown already, so let’s just finish with a few tidbits:

  • Missed tackles – What a week for defence! 6 of the 10 teams playing Round 11 congregated in the 3.1% to 5.2% range for Missed Tackle Percentage. That’s abnormally low, and the Raiders missed only 7.6% into the bargain. The Bulldogs (9.1%) and the Titans and Cowboys (just over 10%) rounded out a pretty solid defensive week.
  • The Warriors’ Missed Tackle % of only 3.6% was by far their best performance, contrasting with a prior average of 8.2%
  • The Warriors’ Possession was up almost 10 percentage points on their average to 57.2%
  • How much did the Cowboys miss their origin stars? Well, they recorded their lowest Metres reading all season of 1127m (well down on a prior average of 1417m). They’ve only had a metres deficit twice this season, and been flogged both times. The Cowboys’ 3 prior matches were all victories averaging a positive Net Metres of 357m. Round 11 was negative 494m, and a 1188m turnaround from last week indicates they struggle more than most without Origin players available.
  • The Tigers finally recorded a match where their Metres were roughly shared. It only took 11 rounds, but the result was within what you’d expect from them.Tigers Scatter
  • How influential are the Titans halves, Kelly and Sezer? You’d expect the answer to be ‘quite a lot’ given their running stats. Their game is built around it. Half Runs

Their absence has been a massive disruption, and their tumble out of the Top 8 is no surprise (it was less than 2 weeks ago where I pointed out they were within 2 weeks of dipping out of the Top 8).They have given up Metres in 3 consecutive games now (at an average rate of 429m), and predictably lost the points battle as well (by an average 15 points).

Half Back runs have plummeted from an average 11.3 per match to 2 in the last 2 weeks. And 5/8 Runs have dropped from an average 6.5 to 1.5 in that time. See what I mean?

  • The Raiders followed 2 weeks of giving up 54 points to the opposition by then recording 2 consecutive weeks of 54% possession! But they only won one of those games. They’ll 54% and more on Saturday against the Roosters.
  • Thanks to the Bye, it was the first week in the last 5 that the Knights’ For & Against hasn’t deteriorated!

How You Doin? Updating Your Team’s Draw Strength

An earlier (pre season) blog on the subject of each team’s draw strength sought to highlight who had the best chance of getting off to a good start in season 2014.

Using last year’s Minor Premiership results and making some allowance for Home and Away matches, it looked like this:Draw Strength 1st 8 rounds adj

Now that we’re one sixth of the way through the 2014 draw, how is it looking? More importantly, given the surprises that have marked the early rounds and the odd look of the NRL ladder, how does the next group of games look?

The Cowboys are the notable failure so far on this metric. They haven’t even left Queensland, and won’t until Round 6, yet have won just the solitary game. They’re off to a slower start than the 40 year old virgin, and that’s with a fantastic draw. I likened their Auckland 9s success to teh US Masters par 3 tournament, but didn’t think they’d fall out of contention this quickly. The only positive thing to say is that there is still 20 games to go … there’s time to resurrect this abomination of a start.

Of course, based on any metric at all, favourable draw or not, the Bunnies have stunk up the joint, and are beginning to resemble the North Sydney Bears and the 2007 Dragons all in one. The former couldn’t win finals matches and were boring with boring jerseys (yes, I choose my wine based on the label), and the latter began to drop off the face of the earth after failing in two consecutive Preliminary Finals. What you will see below won’t give their fans any cheer whatsoever!

The Dragons and Bulldogs have managed to overcome what appeared to be a fairly tough draw for the first two months of the season, though it must be said, of that eight week span, the Dragons’ first half was monumentally easier than what they are about to face in the next four weeks. Put it this way, if they are on top of the table after the Roosters match in Round 8, I’ll do a lap of Coogee beach in my birthday suit! The Bulldogs’ performance is far more meritorious, and for that matter, so is that of the Titans.

Using the same approach to measuring draw strength, here is how the adjusted period from Round 5 through 8 looks:Draw Strength Rounds 5 to 8 adj

As if the Melbourne Storm needed a good run, right? Along with the Sea Eagles, they have been the best performing of last year’s Top 4, and now both appear to have a rails run into Anzac Day. At the other end of teh spectrum, the Dragons (as noted) and Bulldogs will find it tough to maintain their positions on the ladder, as will the Broncos.

But here’s the thing – the 2014 form guide is so different to last year’s, even the latter half ot the season, that it makes sense to recalculate the strength of draws basd on this year’s form. Looking at it this way, the next four weeks looks like this:

Draw Strength Rounds 5 to 8 2014 form adj

If you thought the Rabbitohs were up against it, check out their draw! It’s the most difficult of any team for the next month, much of it due to having three of their four games away from home, but also in recognition of the form of their upcoming opponents. Sitting 13th now might not be getting a whole lot better in a hurry.

The Warriors didn’t take full advantage of their early draw (surprise, surprise(, and now face a difficult task to tread water if 2014 form continues across the NRL field.

The Titans have done what was asked of them in the first four rounds, and if they can remain in the Top 8 after Round 8, then they are well on the way to securing a finals spot (Origin period notwithstanding).

The bolter here could be the Panthers. Sitting mid-pack and faced with a relatively kind draw (it’s never easy, it’s NRL after all!), it’s not inconceivable that these pokie-playing mountain men will be a Top 4 proposition, and won’t that set the cat amongst the media pigeons. Phil Gould might even go to a game!

When all is said and done, though, I’d expect Manly to be leading after Round 8 from the Storm and Roosters, with a remaining Top 8 that no one would have picked pre-season.

Introducing Positions 5-8 for the NRL Semi Finals … I think

For supporters of the Top 4, you’re ridin’ high and sleepin’ easy. Apart from some possible jostling at the top for the Minor Premiership (and I expect the Roosters to go hard, preferring to play Manly in Week 1), the teams and order is pretty much settled.

For supporters of the Knights, Bulldogs, Sharks, Raiders, Panthers, Warriors and Titans (positions five through 11), there will be a few more anxious moments over the last seven rounds. Sleep will be harder to come by, stress levels will rise, and life will be a little bit less fun. You may even scream uncontrollably at the TV screen on occasion.

Don’t despair. This is why the Dr is here – to provide you with some literary stilnox to solve this problem (and I am aware how that reads …). Then again, I did pick the Cowboys for the Top 4 before the season began, so read on at your own risk!

Surprisingly, even though these seven teams are separated by a solitary game, positions 5-7 appear to be almost straight forward (yes, famous last words). The 8th finalist, however, is harder to pick than a broken nose. Let me tell you who, and why.

Using highly UNsophisticated modelling techniques that cover the form through Round 19 and the upcoming strength of each team’s draw, we can make a relatively simple, yet logical judgement about each team’s fortunes.

Ranking each team’s opposition over the final seven rounds using the Dr’s 11 secret herbs and spices, a distinct hierarchy emerges. Clearly, the Bulldogs have the ‘easiest’ draw, followed by the Knights etc. But look at the difference between the Bulldogs’ draw ranking and the Raiders! 49 vs 72 – that’s quite a hurdle for the Raiders to overcome.Race to the finals

The second column of numbers looks back at the way each team has performed at home and away, and actually how well they’ve performed as measured by their winning margin (1-12 or 13 plus, with losses scoring zero).

The rankings change marginally across the group, but the top two teams remain the Bulldogs and Knights, in that order. Looks like we know who will be hosting the first finals in this part of the draw!

The Sharks have done well enough to rank 3rd and 4th respectively, so on the balance of probabilities (ASADA effects aside), we may well have found our 3rd finalist. I’m assuming we don’t have a Jana Novotna-like collapse here in all cases!

The remaining spot is the one open to more conjecture.

At this stage, the teams most likely to battle out this remaining spot are the Panthers and Warriors. This hurts me to say, in a way, because I always love seeing the Raiders in the finals, but given their run home, it’s going to be nigh on impossible! Having said that, the Warriors and Panthers are just awesome to watch when they get it right, particularly the Warriors.

The Panthers are in an enviable position here with respect to For & Against. They are currently ahead of the Raiders by 91 points despite being a game behind. Further, they are 118 points ahead of the Warriors, meaning as long as they can keep their form up, they can shut them out of the finals.

As far as the Warriors are concerned, For & Against is currently their major obstacle as you can see in the graphic below. Whilst I place them 4th best in terms of their draw ahead of the finals (just pipping the Panthers), their form to this point is the equal worst of this group alongside the Raiders.

The good news for them is that they have hit a rich vein of form now that the ‘structure overload’ seems to have been removed from their game. They need to take advantage of this and simply keep winning to make up for lost time and points, and hopefully throw a huge margin in there somewhere to improve the For & Against, and therefore their chances of squeaking into the Top 8. Who doesn’t want to see the Warriors in the finals?

I noted after the earlier mauling by the Panthers that the Warriors were good enough to turn their season around, and that it was in their hands. Almost poetically, they play the Panthers at home before the finals, and must win that game. It really is in their hands!For and Against_Contenders

The Titans’ draw is almost equally as appalling as the one facing the Raiders, and includes the Warriors, Roosters and Storm on consecutive weekends to round out the season. Along with a performance record so far that is insignificantly different to both the Warriors and Raiders, the door is hardly even ajar for these guys.

So, while the mathematical ruler has already put a line through the Eels, and will soon do so for the Broncos, Dragons, Tigers and Cowboys, the Titans look to the be the first of this group of seven to face the same fate.