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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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.