NRL Supercoach: Does position matter?

Preface: this was written in early 2018 for NRL SupercoachTalk but seems to have fallen off the face of the internet. I’ve reposted it here as the underlying trends are still relevant even if the specific player data is slightly outdated, especially with the news about Cameron Murray moving to an edge role for Souths in 2020.

Few phrases strike more fear into the heart of a Supercoach than “Player X is set to play on an edge next season.” The thoughts of base stats dropping like Bitcoin prices starts to permeate inside their minds, sending them desperately looking for an alternate gun, a POD or a mid pricer to avoid the indignity of picking a gun who doesn’t live up to their price tag.

But just how much does a move to an edge, or any positional change affect a player’s average? Unfortunately, looking at the data available the answer is “it depends” and is situational, based on the player and their work rate as well as the coach and their teams’ style of play.

For this analysis I’ve looked at Supercoach scoring and minute averages by named position rather than Supercoach position, specifically for FRF/2RF as there’s usually a difference between playing in the middle and on an edge so splitting out front row, second row and lock makes sense.

The data is for the past three seasons (2015–2017) for players who’ve played at least a couple of games in multiple positions and excluding games where they came on as interchange. Of course, there are caveats. Just because someone is named at a position doesn’t mean they play the full 80 there as injuries and strategy will result in positional changes over the course of a game.

For the moving to an edge alarmists, there is some validity to this concern. Players named at lock averaged over 3ppg more than second rowers at a higher PPM. Both front rowers and locks have a PPM of around 1.0, while second rowers sit at 0.76ppm. This can be seen with two popular guns, Simon Mannering and Ryan James both seeing their averages drop moving out of the middle in previous seasons, which combined with an increase in minutes saw their points per minute plummet.

However, it’s not a trend that carries across all player. Martin Taupau saw similar scores in the second row in 2016 compared to his impressive 2017 playing in the middle. Knights backrower Mitch Barnett is one who has scored better playing on an edge, as are Aiden Guerra and Sio Siua Taukeiaho.

Another thing to note is that fullbacks generally score better in Supercoach than five eighths (53.2ppg vs 51.1ppg), but some players noted below perform better when playing in the halves than at the back. It’s another case of the overlying trend being true but having significant outliers with important Supercoach consequences.

Below are some players of interest — both forwards and backs — showing how they’ve fared across positions over the past three seasons and how it could impact them for 2018.

Simon Mannering — sliding over to an edge position is a huge cause for concern with one of the most consistent Supercoach guns. In 61 games named at lock he’s averaged 72.0ppg, but that drops nearly 17 points to an average of 55.6ppg in six games where he was named in the second row. Interestingly he plays slightly fewer minutes at lock (76.5mpg) than in the second row (79.4mpg). Thankfully he’s likely to stay at lock but keep an eye on team lists.

Ryan James — a hot topic currently, especially with talk of Cartwright possibly playing lock for the Titans. James played all of 2016 and 2017 as a front rower averaging 66.1ppg but averaged a very average 45.8ppg from 20 games in 2015 playing in the second row. Points per minute was the issue, at just 0.61ppm in the second row where he played 75 minutes per game. His output is much stronger in the front row (1.08ppm) and represents an absolute Supercoach trap if he’s named regularly on an edge for 2018.

Martin Taupau — The Sea Eagles hitman looked to be at home in the front row last season, with scoring 65.0ppg in 21 games, although he only averaged 52.5ppg at the same position in 2016. His other stints in the pack include 21 games at lock for an average of 57.9ppg and 65.8ppg in 12 games in the second row. He was a point per minute beast in the middle though, averaging 1.25ppm at prop in 2017 as opposed to 0.87ppm in the second row.

Mitch Barnett — One who hasn’t suffered from playing on an edge, as he averaged 57.2ppg as a lock in 19 games, and 61.8ppg from 12 appearances in the second row. Opportunity appears to be the issue, averaging 11 more minutes on the field as backrower with only a slight reduction in PPM. With a glut of backrowers at the Knights this year and the late season emergence of Lachlan Fitzgibbon he is probably a wait and see proposition.

Sio Siua Taukeiaho — A possible sleeper for 2017 if he ends up kicking goals. Despite lock seeming like the best option for him he only averages 51.7ppg from 22 games at that position in 50.0mpg. With more minutes available on an edge (70.9mpg), second row appears to be the better option for him, scoring at 58.9ppg from 12 appearances. However, his PPM at lock is 1.03 compared with 0.83 as a second rower. With Tedesco and Cronk joining the Roosters, Kane Evans departing, adding the kicking duties and increase in minutes to the 55–60mpg range at lock could result in him creeping past a 60 average.

Tyrone Peachey — a jack of all trades, but is he master of any for Supercoach? Despite playing most of his games there, it doesn’t appear to be centre, where he’s scored at 56.3ppg from 29 starts. Three games at five eighth (73.3ppg) and seven in the back row (73.1ppg) show better results, but the Panthers squad suggests he’ll be spending time at centre not passing the ball to Josh Mansour.

Bryce Cartwright — It could be a permanent Carty Party with Bryce heading to the Titans and possibly starting as a ball playing #13. If you disregard his injury riddled 2017 campaign, as a backrower in he’s averaged 69.4ppg in 14 games and 77.1ppg in 18 games at five eighth. As close to a no brainer of a selection as there has ever been in Supercoach if he’s starting at lock, but I thought the same about Jarryd Hayne last year.

Jack Bird — Five eighth looks to be his prime Supercoach scoring position with an average of 57.8ppg in 21 games. The returns from playing at centre (50.4ppg in 35 games) are less impressive and the jury is still out on him at fullback (49.0ppg from 2 games). Hasn’t played a game at lock in his three NRL seasons yet is a CTW/2RF dual which is appealing, contingent where he’s named when he returns from injury.

Cameron Munster — It doesn’t appear that position matters for Munster, especially if you discard his one game in the centres in 2016 where he only scored 35. In 41 games at fullback, he has averaged 67.0ppg, with a strong average of 62.3ppg in 13 games at five eighth. There’s a bit of drama

Tohu Harris — With a move to the Warriors hopefully the days being named in the backline to cover injuries are over. Three games at that position produced a less than impressive 52.2ppg. In three games when named at five eighth he’s posted an average of 63.7ppg, not far off his 65.0ppg average from 49 games in the back row.

Manu Ma’u — Similar to Harris, Ma’u has spent a few games as a stop gap centre for the Eels to cover injuries or rep duties. He’s performed consistently in those games, posting 56.6ppg in 5 games playing 80mpg, which isn’t too dissimilar from his time on the edge (54.3ppg, 75.3mpg in 61 starts).

surrounding his attitude, but few have the point scoring ceiling he has regardless of where he lines up.

Cody Walker — Five eighth seems to be the preferred position for Walker, scoring at 66.5ppg in 25 games in the #6 jersey, as opposed to 57.7ppg in 18 games at fullback. His underwhelming middle stretch at fullback in 2017 was concerning (average of 50.0 with a score 101), but did start white hot with an 83 average in the first six games of last season at five eighth.

Greg Inglis — Appears to be position agnostic when it comes to Supercoach scoring. Inglis has averages of 63.5ppg in 2 games at centre, 62.5ppg in 6 games at five eighth and 62.8ppg from 32 starts at fullback in the last three years. If fit and engaged he’s a certified gun no matter where he plays.

John Sutton — Continuing the run of Souths players, Sutton has performed similarly at five eighth or in the second row. He has an average score of 50.6ppg in 17 appearances in the #6 jersey and 52.7ppg in 36 games as a backrower. Historically an option for Origin coverage, likely to be less relevant in 2018 with the reduction in byes.

Dane Gagai — The last Souths player in this article, I promise. His scores at fullback in 2017 for the Knights (58.3ppg in six games) were a vast improvement from 2016 (38.3ppg in 12 games). Yet over the past three years combined, there’s practically no difference in his overall Supercoach output at centre where he’s averaged 51.3ppg from 43 games, and the 51.7ppg he posted in 23 games at fullback.

Clint Gutherson — His scores as an outside back in 2015/16 (and one lone appearance in the centres for the Eels last season) are nothing to write home about — 39.9ppg in 11 games on the wing and 44.7ppg in 7 games as a centre. He was a Supercoach revelation though at either fullback (69.1ppg in 9 games) or five eighth (65.7ppg in 8 games) and hopefully will retain the #1 jersey when he returns from an ACL injury a month into the season.

Josh Dugan — Another big name switching clubs this year, yet it doesn’t seem like he will be playing his best position for Supercoach. Seven games in the centres has yielded a 47.7ppg average, while 47 in the #1 jersey have Dugan averaging 59.3ppg. With Valentine Holmes and Moylan around, will he even get a sniff at the back? And if he does, are you willing to take the risk that he picks up a knock and spends some time on the sideline?

Tui Lolohea — Like Peachey, he has popped up in a number of positions over the past three seasons. Stints at centre (44.0ppg from 4 starts), wing (47.0ppg in 13 starts), halfback (46.2ppg in 5 starts) and fullback (46.7ppg in 22 starts) have all produced average results. His 15 outings at five eighth though have been more impressive, with a solid 58.2ppg, which is disappointing since he looms as the favourite for the Tigers #1 jersey in 2018.

Matt Moylan — The former Penrith junior is likely to suit up for the Sharks this year at five eighth, where he averaged 55.4ppg in eight games. Fullback appears to be his best scoring position, with an average 62.1ppg from 40 games but there’s competition for that spot.

Jamie Buhrer — Looks more at home in the second row for Supercoach with an average of 58.0ppg from 26 appearances. His time at hooker with the Knights resulted in him scoring 53.0ppg in 9 games. Another Knight who will be fighting for minutes in a crowded backrow rotation.

Mitch Aubusson — A Supercoach non-event at centre where he averages 40.3ppg from 21 appearances. He’s slightly more interesting as a dual position mid-pricer in the second row, where he’s scored 54.5ppg in 38 starts and could be running off Cronk, Keary and Tedesco.

Aiden Guerra — The new Knights recruit has split time between lock (48.6ppg in 11 starts) and second row but has better results playing on an edge (60.0ppg in 36 starts). Could be another victim of the backrow logjam in Newcastle, and his points per minute at lock in 2017 wasn’t much better than has output in the backrow (0.92ppm vs 0.79ppm)

Connor Watson — I was hesitant to include him due to a very small sample size, but the promising scores for a very appealing cheapie were too good to ignore. 10 games at five eighth with an average of 56.4 (which includes a two-game average of 31.5 in 2017), as well as 4 games at fullback with an average of 57.3. It’s likely that his price and Supercoach positions have made him a must own already but likely being named at five eighth for round one is icing on the cake.