Just a bunch of random NRL stats

After a string of team related posts, there’s no overarching theme for this week, so lets just get straight into a bunch of random stats with no common thread other than they’re things I’ve been looking at.

The Eels poor defense is masked by possession

Friend of the site Mike Meehall Wood posted a fantastic piece on the Eels last week (including some Eye Test stats) so I’d suggest reading that first.

Both myself and Mike noticed the huge numbers of metres per set being given up by both teams in the Parramatta v Manly clash on Friday night

As stated in the tweet it’s something that I noticed a few weeks ago and it’s still a huge issue for the Eels. Here’s an update of their meters conceded per set post Round 21, with first halves in green and second halves in red and the grey bar indicating the gap between both points.

They’re no longer second last in the competition, they’ve improved slightly to 12th for first halves 10th for second half metres per set conceded. For first halves, at 37.5 metres per set they give up more than the Wests Tigers (37.44) which isn’t the sort of company a team with title aspirations would want to keep.

The reason it isn’t an issue for them for most of the season is that they can control possession quite well. Here’s the number of completed sets by half.

The Eels are second in the NRL for completed sets in the first half at 16.5, only trailing Penrith’s 17.7 for dominance of possession in the first 40 minutes.

It’s also evident when you look at metres conceded per run instead of per set.

At 8.98 metres per run, Parramatta yields the 10th highest in the league for first halves. That improves slightly to 9th for the second stanza of games at 8.79 but the legitimate contenders are conceding closer to or fewer than 8.5 metres per run.

The reason for this was mentioned on Mike’s article on The Roar via another friend of the site Elliot Richardson (from the wonderful Rugby League Monthly) who pointed out the flaws in the Eels interchange rotation and that their 17th man often spends low single figures on the field.

Parramatta has the lowest percentage of total minutes by interchange players this season at just 10.3% of total, meaning their starting thirteen plays almost 90% of the game.

The Eels are a full percentage point lower than the 15th placed team, Canterbury at 11.29%. The biggest users of their interchange bench are South Sydney, who have 13.62% of minutes played by those who don’t start the game.

The ability to control the ball benefits this type of rotation as their middle forwards defend less which reduces their fatigue. But as the share of possession swings away from them as it did in the Brisbane game, their middles tire significantly faster and the game gets away from them.

As long as the Eels can come out even or ahead in the possession battle, they’ll always be in games. But when the finals roll around and teams squeeze the life out of the ball and their middles tire, they’re often found wanting and that doesn’t seem likely to change this year.

Are Canberra still awful in second halves?

This is something we’ve looked at previously in 2021, but it’s worth checking to see if it’s still the case and why.

Short answer – Yes.

Long answer – yes and here’s some charts that show it.

First lets look at the difference between first half (green dot) and second half (red dot) average margins this season.

Canberra has the third highest average margin at +2.0 after 40 minutes. But they have the 10th worst average margin in second halves at -3.6.

When we look at their average margin by minute, it’s the same trend that has been evident last season, but not as dramatic.

The decline starts around the 55th minute and continues until the last five minutes of games where they stage a small fightback. As noted above it’s a similar trend to last season, where it started earlier (almost as soon as the second half started) and just continued to drop. At least they’ve picked up a bit in the second half I guess?

The Raiders also have the highest average metres per set in the competition at 36.47 in the first half. They’re just one of three teams who have a lower metres per set average in the second half which can be seen below.

The Raiders drop just over 1 metre per set after half time, down from 37.54 to 36.47. That is in stark contrast to a team like North Queensland who thrive after the long break, jumping from 37.41 metres per set to 40.43, the highest second half average of any team. The Cowboys are also only one of two teams to have more completed sets in the second half.

Like the Eels, it just boils down to possession and Canberra just doesn’t have enough of it in either period. Here’s the same chart we showed before with the Raiders data points labelled.

The Raiders average the lowest number of complete sets in the first half at 14.4 and that drops to 13.6 after the 40th minute. The latter number is equal second worst in the competition with St George Illawarra and Canterbury. It’s not necessarily error related either, as the Raiders average around 0.3 errors per set in both halves, a number that puts them mid table.

Given the overall lack of posssession they’ve had it’s actually amazing they’re still in the race for eighth place, but their season cumulative margin of -33 points is going to be a tough hurdle to overcome.

The NRL’s most damaging runners in 2022

There’s been a number of dominant performances with the ball this season, notably Siosifa Talakai annihilation Morgan Harper earlier in the season and the whole last month of games from James Tedesco and Joey Manu.

As a way of quantifying damaging runners, the below chart plots average tackle busts against average runs per game, with the size of the data point incdicating how many touches per game they are averaging.

Most of the highlighted names standing out aren’t that surprising. Penrith’s Brian To’o absolutely owned this chart last season and still fares well despite an injury affected season His team mate Dylan Edwards is also having a tremendous season, averaging almost 20 runs per game and 3.7 tackle breaks.

Manu probably takes the cake as the most dominant runner this season, breaking a league high 6.53 per game for players with at least five appearances. You could argue for James Tedesco, who breaks nearly the same amount of tackles at 6.16 per game but takes more runs than his team mate to do so (17.21 vs 13.37).

For as damaging as Talakai was early in the season, the rest of the competition has smartened up on him and he’s only breaking 4.67 tackles per game. That’s still a very good number but not quite elite when you look at the players ahead of him. Tesi Niu also stands out from this visualization with 5.5 tackle breaks per game from 13.1 runs puts him as one of the games most dangerous runners. However his inability to defend a closed door makes him a liability in first grade and it’s no surprise the Broncos have looked dramatically better with Te Maire Martin in the #1 jersey.

I’ve highlighted Tom Trbojevic’s numbers here only to compare them to last season. In 2021 the Manly fullback averaged 7.67 tackle busts from 17.4 runs per game, at 44% rate. This season the number of runs increased to 18.57 but his tackle breaks dropped dramatically, down to 3.29 per game and an 18% rate. Injuries may have played a part but that also shows just how favourable to 2021 rule interpretations were to his game.

One player who doesn’t put up the same high numbers but does at a high rate is Latrell Mitchell, who breaks a tackle on over half of his runs – 8.2 runs per game for 4.2 tackle breaks. Manu is pretty close in that regard, breaking a tackle on 49% of his runs but at a higher volume.

This is where the argument about Latrell needing to do more makes little sense to me. If you asked him to do more, you’d likely blunt his effectiveness when he does get involved. He’s not a high volume runner of the ball, and with results like this why would you want him to be? Not everyone has to fit in the same structured player role.

The names who doesn’t get enough recognition, is Greg Marzhew. The Titans winger is putting up similar stats to Manu, but doing so on a team that is routinely getting pumped. He’s also doing it with fewer touches than Manu. Marzhew is seeing the ball 18.7 times per game, compared to Manu’s 22.0 touches.

For all the uproar over Justin Holbrook’s mishandling of David Fifita, his inability to get Marzhew involved is also worth noting. Late last season we noted Marzhew’s ability to break a tackle was elite and indicated he could be on a Brian To’o like trajectory and have a huge 2022. He might have his defensive liabilities, but every Titans outside back this year has been a disaster defensively, and Marzhew at least offers something the others don’t.

Who has the safest hands in the NRL?

Last item this week is looking at has the safest hands in the NRL. To do so, I’ve checked for players with 0 errors, and also playing at least 5 games and 100 minutes to generate enough sample size to make this significant.

If we sort by errors, the player at the top of this list is Bradley Parker, with no errors in seven games with 89 touches in 529 minutes played. That’s nearly double the minutes of second placed Ryan James, who played 296 minutes for no errors in 71 touches.

Jayden Sullivan probably deserves a mention here as well, as he has the highest number of touches at 173 of this group, although that number is artificially higher than the other players in this list due to time spent at dummy half.

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