Advanced statistic leaders for NRL season 2022

Last week saw the end of the regular NRL season for 2022, which means we can finally look at who topped the Eye Test’s advanced statistics for the year and see who were the top performers.

There’s a post on the site from earlier in 2022 for leaders from the first half of the season if you wanted to see who was leading at that point, but as the Broncos showed there’s no prizes for doing well in just the first half of the year.

Newer Eye Test readers may not be familiar with some of these metrics, and if that is the case, I’d highly recommend reading the explainers on some of them to get a better understanding of what I am trying to capture with these measurements.

I know we’re in an era where time is valuable, so I’ll give you the cliff notes here before we dive into the numbers.

Eye Test Player Contribution Rating (ETPCR)

Elevator pitch: A possession adjusted attrition metric that compares a players production to the average player.

I’m replacing Net Points Responsible For (NPRF) with ETPCR moving forward since it captures similar data but includes any statistic that has a strong correlation with winning and margin. NPRF was a useful tool but unless you were scoring tries, creating tries or conceding them, it was hard to quantify a players worth.

How does ETPCR work? There’s a detailed explainer elsewhere on the site if you have some time to read it. The short version is that accumulating statistics that correlate with winning (such as tries, line breaks, tackle busts, try assists) will increase your ETPCR, but generating negative statistics (like try causes, line break causes, errors or missed tackles) will decrease it. Each players weighted contribution is then attributed to how many points their team scored or conceded to get the final number. An average NRL player will have an ETPCR of 0.

The numbers are also possession adjusted (like most of my metrics) as a team like Penrith that holds a lot of possession has more chances to generate statistics and therefore would have a higher ETPCR than other teams. All results are normalised to 135 play the balls in attack and defense, which is the average over the past eight seasons of NRL games (excluding whatever 2021 was).

Error Rate

Elevator pitch: On average how many touches per player it takes for them to commit an error.

Relatively straight forward. This one is used to judge how frequently a player is committing an error. The rate is measured in the number of touches needed to produce an error.

The next group of advanced stats I’m going to put together as they share a common theme.

Tackle Rate / Ball Runner % / Total Run % / Involvement Rate

Elevator Pitch: The rate at which a player completes a tackle or a run with the ball, or makes a decoy or support run, adjusted by possession and minutes played.

Typically middle forwards are short changed in statistical recognition unless they’re playing big minutes. The birth of this site came from these metrics, as I wanted to see which players were getting through more work in short periods of time.

If two players made 50 tackles, but Player A did in 60 minutes and Player B in 80 minutes, Player A was completing them at a higher rate.

Similarly, if two players completed 20 runs in 80 minutes, but Player A’s team had 170 play the balls while Player B’s team had 130 play the balls, Player B would be taking on a larger amount of his teams workload.

Now to break down each one by what they show:

  • Tackle Rate (or Tackle %) looks at how frequently a player completes a tackle. Not to be confused with the NRL’s Tackle Efficiency which measures the percentage of made tackles versus missed tackles.
  • Ball Runner % indicates how often a player makes a run with the ball. Previously named Run %, was re-titled to better reflect what it was measuring once Total Run % existed.
  • Total Run % combines option runs (decoys or supports) with traditional runs to give a better picture of attacking work rate
  • Involvement Rate sums up Tackle Rate and Total Run % to give a holistic view of a players effort.

These numbers are all represented as the percentage of available plays that a player completed a tackle, run or option run on.

If you want an idea of what these metrics mean for the average player, here’s a breakdown by position from over the past seven seasons.

Total Run % is missing from this chart as I only have two seasons worth of option run stats. But from those two seasons it generally adds about 3-8% to a players Ball Runner %, depending on how often they’re used as a decoy or run support lines.

Hopefully now everyone is up to speed. Let’s take a look at who finished the season at the top of each of these measures.

Eye Test Player Contribution Rating (ETPCR)

Below are the top 20 players by ETPCR this season with a minimum of 10 games played.

Ryan Papenhuyzen led the NRL in ETPCR this season with an average of +2.837 from his 12 games, and his absence definitely hurt the Melbourne Storm’s finals chances. This number means that Papenhuyzen was (on average) worth +2.837 points per game for Melbourne this season above the average NRL player.

That number is a huge drop from last seasons number one, Tom Trjbojevic at +5.671. Second place in 2021 was a head of Papenhuyzen as well, with Nathan Cleary posting an ETPCR of +4.058 per game.

Whilst Papenhuyzen’s ETPCR isn’t up to 2021 standards, it is in line with the #1 from 2018 and 2019 – both James Tedesco with ETPCR of +2.030 and +2.537 respectively. Again it highlights just how cooked 2021 was but does show that 2022 was closer to how rugby league used to be.

The rest of the list passes the actual eye test and most of the main playmakers in the competition are represented. Scoring tries also helps, as Taylan May, Alex Johnston and Daniel Tupou ranking highly in this list shows.

It’s also a good way of evaluating the difference between Cleary and his replacement this season, Sean O’Sullivan. The numbers for the Panthers backup halfback are still excellent at +1.401 points per game over the average NRL player. One of the downsides in the way ETPCR is calculated is that it includes an assumption that all players on a good team are equally good (and vice versa on bad teams) before adjusting by weighted production. This is inflating O’Sullivan’s numbers as he’s gaining from playing alongside a legendary team.

Whilst it might not seem much that O’Sullivan was only 1.065 points per game worse than Cleary for the Panthers this season, if we assume it scales linearly, there’s a 76% increase from O’Sullivan’s output to Cleary’s, which sounds about right.

Harry Grant is the only forward in that top 20 list, and a full point per game higher than the next placed hooker. Given that it’s hard to quantify the impact of a hooker, it shows just how special Grant is by featuring so highly. Jason Taumalolo is the next highest forward at 24th spot, with an ETPCR of +0.964.

On the flip side, here’s the bottom 20 players for the season. Again, you’ll find a lot of the usual suspects here.

I’d alluded to Jamayne Isaako having the worst ETPCR of the season in the NRLW ETPCR post a month ago, so seeing him here was no surprise. Isaako was a liability for the Titans this season to the tune of -2.585 points per game. His teammate Patrick Herbert wasn’t much better at -2.192, meaning the combination of them were costing the Titans on average nearly five points per game more than the average NRL player. Greg Marzhew was also a liability, but conceded almost 50% fewer ETPCR points than Herbert did. Yes he’s a heavily flawed player as I mentioned earlier this season, but the whole Titans backline struggled and he at least offers something that the others don’t.

Just how awful the Tigers were this season is evidenced by the only two fowrards in this bottom 20 list coming from the club, with Jake Simpkin (-1.363) and Kelma Tuilagi (1.360) taking that honour.

Lastly for ETPCR, let’s look at the top and bottom 10 individual games of the season.

It shouldn’t be a shock to see three Storm players in the top 10 from their ANZAC Day drubbing of the Warriors, with Edward Kosi bearing the brunt of it from that match. Papenhuyzen took spots one and three, with his early season performances helping to secure him the top spot overall by average as we noted above.

It also shouldn’t be a surprise to see Morgan Harper’s Round 7 as the worst game of the season by ETPCR, and was so by almost -5.0 points. What is a surprise is that the player who owned him that evening, Siosifa Talakai, didn’t even crack the top 10 with that performance. His +5.961 only ranked 22nd for the season, and almost 80% of that came from the first half alone.

Error Rate

Below are the 20 players with the highest error rates for the 2022 season, with a minimum of six games played.

For error rate I tend to use a lower threshold of games played, because players who make errors at a high rate generally don’t spend a lot of time in first grade. Case in point is this seasons leader, Bulldogs winger Jayden Okunbor who committed nine errors in six games from just 85 possessions, for an error rate of one every 9.4 touches of the ball. It’s no surprise that he didn’t see much first grade once Michael Potter arrived at the Dogs.

There’s some other usual suspects on this list, with Edward Kosi and Brent Naden rounding out the top three. An error rate of under 10 is generally considered disastrous. If you had a player on field who dropped the ball 10% of the time would you keep playing them?

There’s also a conversation needed around Xavier Coates but given that he scored three tries on a handful of touches this isn’t the week to make any progress on accurately evaluating his move to the Storm.

On a related note, Selwyn Cobbo’s existence on this list can be broken down into parts of the season. Below is his round by round breakdown of errors and possessions. Rounds Cobbo didn’t play have been removed.

The Broncos winger had 18 errors in the first seven rounds of the season, including 10 in rounds three and four alone. But he cleaned up that aspect of his game, not committing an error from rounds 8-11 and only one in round 12. The errors did creep back into his game as the season concluded but other than Round 22 they weren’t at the same rate as earlier in the season. If he continues to clean up his handling issues then there won’t be any second guessing about Brisbane’s retention choices.

Tackle Rate

Here’s the top 20 players by tackle rate for 2022.

Penrith’s Matt Eisenhuth takes first place for Tackle Rate this season, at 33.42% meaning he completed a tackle on one third of every possession the Panthers faced. He was an important part of the Panthers squad this season, given the loss of Moses Leota early in the season and their rotation policy at the back end. He played just ahead of the Titan’s Jaimin Jolliffe (31.44%), who placed highly in these metrics since his debut in 2020. Third place went to the Roosters Fletcher Baker with a tackle rate of 31.37%

Reuben Cotter stands out from this list. He’s always placed highly in my advanced statistics, and was first in Tackle Rate for 2021 at 33.77% from six games. However that was playing just 45 minutes per game. In 2022 he upped his minute average to 57.3 per game, yet still maintained a tackle rate above 30%, or completing a tackle on three out of every ten defensive possessions.

There’s only two other players in this list above 50 minutes per game, Jacob Liddle and Connor Watson, and the latter barely scraped in a 50.1 minutes. Cotter is one of those unique forwards whose work rate doesn’t decrease as his minutes increase, as you can see below.

Cotter posted some his highest tackle rates of the season in high minute outputs – 35% in Round 12 playing 65 minutes is a notable example, and even in Round 8 he still tackled at a rate of 29% despite playing 80 minutes.

Ball Runner Rate

Brisbane’s Rhys Kennedy takes out top spot for Ball Runner % this season.

Kennedy squeaked through the minute restriction, playing 256 minutes for the season and completing a run with the ball on 15.81% of Brisbane possessions. His Broncos teammate Corey Jensen wasn’t far behind him, completing a run on 15.54% his side’s plays. Manly prop Taniela Paseka rounded out the top three with a ball runner % of 15.49%.

Last year’s winner, Spencer Leniu, dropped out of the top 30 altogether, down to 12.67% after posting 15.98% in 2021. This came despite Leniu playing almost the exact same amount of minutes (23.32 this season, 23.71 last season) as the Panthers used him in a slightly different role this season.

Total Run %

Next we’ll look at run rate but also include decoy and support runs to give a better picture of work rate.

The Cowboys impressive young forward Griffin Neame comes out in first spot for the season, completing an decoy, support or run with the ball on 23.38% of Cowboys possessions. South’s Hame Sele placed second with 21.74% from an average of 28 minutes in 11 games, with just 0.03% separating Sele and Toafofoa Sipley in third at 27.71%.

Special mention needs to be made of St George Illawarra’s Blake Lawrie, who notched 203 option runs (decoys and supports) in 24 games for the Dragons this year.

Involvement Rate

Lastly, lets combine the run and tackle metrics and look both sides of the field with Involvement Rate.

Sydney Roosters middle Fletcher Baker ranks first for Involvement Rate this season, completing a run or tackle on 26.45% of possessions in the 14 games he played this season, or completing a run

By virtue of his strong running performance noted above, Neame places second for Involvement Rate at 25.27%. Other high placers like Eisenhuth, Kennedy and Jolliffe take up the next three spots, while Tigers workhorse Alex Twal placed 6th at 24.12%. Twal’s absence was felt late in the season as the Tigers allowed an absured amount of tries through the middle of the field as teams kicked goals at an astonishing rate.

I mentioned earlier in the year that depth of players being an excuse against expansion doesn’t really hold any water when you have someone like Makehesi Makatoa hiding in plain sight in NSW Cup last season and being one of the Eels best 17 this season. His work rate has continued to be strong, placing 10th for the season. Like Cotter above, his high work rate isn’t always affected by minutes played, which is somewhat unusual for a bench middle.

Last year’s #1, Corey Horsburgh (22.68% in 2021) ranked just outside the top 30 this season with an involvement rate of 22.23. The fact he’s dropped over 30 spots by rank since 2021 with a similar involvement rate again shows that last year was a struggle for middle forwards. With a more sensible (but not perfect) set of rules, props and locks aren’t running out of gas early and having to decrease their on field effort.

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