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!

The NRL Round 16 Rubdown

The Case of the Missing Penalties

It’s not something the average NRL fan might notice, but the declining trend in weekly penalty counts has been persistent from Round 8 onward, and dropped markedly again this weekend.

As a matter of fact, up until last night’s game, there was an average of only 9.5 per game in Round 16. Normalised for the usual eight matches, that’s only a total of 76. The 17 penalties last night blew out the number a touch (almost two matches worth!), but even then, we’re back to the period of Rounds 4-6 which were characterised by anomalously low penalties.

Clearly it’s not just Parramatta having the Bye (and Ricky/Parramatta being $15,000 richer), but I wonder if it’s a directive from the NRL?Penalties

Be gone, golden point!

The Warriors-Broncos match was notable for being a riveting contest. But even more than that, for avoiding the wretched golden point. Thank goodness we didn’t have to live through a field goal shootout that would make Rove McManus look interesting. Instead, we had a pulsating match where the outcome was uncertain until right on full-time – an entire half that counted down to a finale with intense anticipation. A kick to draw was a fitting climax.

Golden point, as it always is, would have been like eating another M&M after you’ve just had about 4,000 of them. Kind of interesting, but about as enjoyable as shaving with a cheese grater.

More on the Warriors

Also, what’s with the two point margins at Mount Smart? The Warriors lost by two against the competition front-runners, the Rabbitohs and Roosters, while taking the bikkies against the Cowboys, Manly and Broncos by the same amount.

To change things up they accounted for the Titans by the solitary point, and then threw in a couple of 30 and 56-point drubbings (away) to keep everyone guessing. This is clearly a team that can cause some damage, as mentioned right after the Panthers put 60 on them six matches ago. They haven’t lost a game since, and a big reason for that is what you see below. It’s amazing what a lot of ball can do …Warriors Completions

Even so, I cannot agree with Andrew Johns (is that allowed?) that they are some hope of winning the premiership. A place in the top eight still needs to be negotiated, and they still haven’t nailed the habit of putting in an 80-minute performance with regularity, which means being able to subconsciously draw on that experience in the big finals matches. Only the Rabbitohs and Storm have shown this trait so far.

The Premiers in July

The Rabbitohs are clearly everyone’s mid-season choice as Premiers. You can’t argue with their improving consistency and raw point-scoring ability. The point to note about a team that is playing with this intensity is that it is being done in the context of being mid-season. While Bunnies fans should be quite relaxed about a top two finish and likely Minor Premiership, the nerves will begin soon after Round 26. The inevitable comparisons to 1989 will occur, and this is the point where they are not the shoe-ins everyone seems to think.

Despite recent Origin-affected losses, the Storm is the other side that deserves to be hot favourites. Don’t forget last year’s five week streak of losses, and compare that team to the one that turned up for the finals.

The outsider here still remains the Roosters. On their day, assisted by some SBW magic, they can beat either of the top two teams. They haven’t yet, although they have achieved something almost unheard of for them – beat Manly twice.

The two major drawbacks for them are that they allow the opposition far too much ball, and that they still bomb so many tries. I can’t think of another team that has missed so many draw-and-pass opportunities (update: forgot the Sharks!) or, like Jennings last night, drop the ball cold in blue ribbon try-scoring moments.

Their defence is the best in the NRL, but it simply won’t last three or four finals in a row if they can’t get an even possession share, and bomb tries on top of it. They should have won by 20 last night (oh yeah, get a reserve kicker …).

Check out the work each team is forced to do, on average, per game. The Roosters need to change this in a major way:Work Ratio

NSW Origin 5/8 Candidates

By all accounts, James Maloney’s eye socket should be up to Origin 3, and that’s a good thing. The other two 5/8s mentioned as possibilities are quality players, but in both Mullen’s and Carney’s cases, they still don’t have the running game that is required to complement Mitchell Pearce’s style.

Mullen has run more in the last three rounds, but he still averages 3.6/game, the lowest in the NRL. Carney isn’t much better at 4/game – 3rd lowest.

Carney also put up a horrific effort in defence against the Cowboys. He made 12, but missed eight, many of which directly resulting in tries. Awful figures in anyone’s language, but which would have Sam Thaiday kneeling by his bed at night praying for his selection.

Should Maloney not be fit, John Sutton seems to me to be the obvious choice. He is a big and damaging runner, is accustomed to running often (11.6/game – and 1st place), and is a strong defender. He might lack Josh Reynolds terrier-like qualities in some respects and back-up play, but he’s the one I’d choose. I also like the left foot kicking option.Five Eighth Runs

Dear AFL, Clean up your act, no butts …

The NRL is the poster boy for the media when it comes to on-field violence, yet we are constantly reminded, sometimes with deliciously ironic timing, that the AFL has its fair share of grubs.

North Melbourne’s Lindsay Thomas only received a two week suspension for a blatant head butt, a place where the NRL players don’t even go.

In a game where punching is seen as a low act, I don’t know how they square an incident like this receiving such a paltry sentence.

I wonder if Mark Robinson has much to say about it, or whether he’d like to wax hysterical about intentional blind challenges that are designed to maim.

I dunno … I kinda like knowing what’s in store for me rather than being hit by complete and utter surprise …

Peponis the Proponent of Shoulder Charges

It’s nice to see Dr George Peponis comment in favour of returning the shoulder charge to the game.

I’ve written many times about this dreadful rule (even before it began!) and the difficulty NRL referees seem to have with it (along with their shoelaces).

Not only is it policed inconsistently and poorly, which brings referees into the game far more than most would like, but the issue is, and always has been, head contact. Had the NRL got that right, these types of discussions would not be required.

The idea that “you don’t actually have to hit the head to cause a significant concussion or head injury” is possibly the same reasoning we could use to ban the header in soccer.