NRLW Round 1 in expected points and advanced stats

With the NRLW kicking off on the weekend, the Eye Test is going to double the site’s weekly output by producing another post on the site. After each NRLW round I’ll be posting the expected points charts (using the site’s ETXP metric) for each game and advanced statistics for the round.

Against my better judgement as someone already incredibly time poor, for the remainder of the NRLM and NRLW seasons I’ll be aiming to put out two pieces of content per week for the remainder of each competition’s regular season.

I’d posted some NRLW content previously, which got depressingly low view counts, and given how time poor I’ve been it’s something that hasn’t been a priority. Until now.

Friend of the site Liam of PythagoNRL and the Maroon Observer noted something similar in his most recent post regarding his excellent NRLW preview, which you should also read and subscribe to his newsletter.

“Which, speaking of what’s been clicked on, disgustingly few of you read. Tough luck because women’s football deserves to be written about whether you care to read it or not.”

And that’s exactly the stance I’m taking as well.

I know NRLW posts won’t generate clicks or engagement that my usual content does, but I don’t care. The women’s game in many ways is far more intriguing to me than the men’s competition. The game and the players deserve the same type of coverage as the men’s game gets and I’ll be doing what I can to help facilitate that. And you can help by reading and sharing it.

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It’s also something new for me to analyse. There’s plenty of in depth coverage of the game (not in your traditional media) breaking downplays and the strengths and weaknesses of each team, their lists and their coaches. The NRLW is still a very young league and with new teams means an introduction of new players to first grade. Are the same myths and beliefs that perpetrate the NRLM game consistent with NRLW?

We’re getting to see styles of play evolve in front of our eyes and see players grow and mature. We’re also going to see the benefits of full elite pathways for younger players, which weren’t in place when the competition started in 2018.

To me this is the exciting part, seeing the game build and become something. There is also a much healthier attitude towards the women’s competition, filled with optimism rather than the constant negativity and politics that envelop coverage of the NRL.

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That is why I’ll be putting out one piece of NRLW content on the site each week, usually on a Tuesday or Wednesday, including expected points charts for each game, advanced statistics for the round and anything else I’ve noticed while pouring over the data.

For the most part, these charts and analysis won’t be posted to the site’s social media accounts. It doesn’t get the same engagement on social media, where it will be lost in the ether after a few hours. I’ll still link to the posts on those accounts. At least by putting on the site here it exists in some sort of perpetuity and if the SEO gods are kind, it might be discoverable.

Now lets get onto the expected point charts from this weeks games.

Gold Coast v North Queensland

The first game of the season kicked off on Friday with the Titans taking on the Cowboys, which the Gold Coast won 16-6. Looking at the expected point chart, the Titans had the better of possession early but trailed 6-4 at the long break.

North Queensland started the second half with some high value possession, but it was the Titans who pushed ahead with tries in the 44th minute 63rd minutes to Evania Pelite and Zara Canfield respectively.

The expected point totals were closer than the game indicated, with just 0.17 separating them. The Titans led play the balls inside 20 metres 21-15, which we’ve established previously is where the high expected point value possession comes from. They also committed six more errors than the Cowboys, but were able to make more metres per set (44.5 to 42.0) than North Queensland to counteract the lack of possession.

Newcastle v St George Illawarra

The Knights were really never challenged by their opponents, with the Dragons score only looking respectable thanks to two tries in the last 10 minutes to Teagan Berry and Tyla Nathan-Wong.

The expected points chart shows the Dragons had some quality ball early but after the 10th minute it was all Newcastle until either side of the half time break when St George Illawarra had a mountain of possession but were unable to convert it to points on the scoreboard.

Expected scores were even after 40 minutes but the lines diverged late thanks to some possession deep inside the Dragons half for Newcastle. Again, another contest where the expected point margin (2.98) was far closer than the result.

Brisbane v Sydney Roosters

Unlike the prior two matches, by the end of the match this one wasn’t close on the scoreboard not in expected points. The Roosters scored 22 points in the opening 28 minutes, and only a try before halftime to Ali Brigginshaw kept the score close. That was the last time the Broncos troubled the scorers and the Roosters pushed on in the second half.

For expected points, the closest that Brisbane got was in the opening minute of the match and from that point on the Roosters clearly had better quality possession and field position. They led play the balls inside 20 by 31-22, including 15 to 6 in the first half.

That also means the Broncos had 16 play the balls inside the Roosters 20 in the second half and came away with the grand sum of zero points. A nice early indicator of how strong the tri colours defense might be this season. In the end an expected margin of around 7 points flattered Brisbane.

Parramatta v Wests Tigers

The biggest blowout of the opening round on the scoreboard and it was reflected in expected points as well. Wests Tigers had some high value field position early, which the Eels then matched but from the 30th minute the Tigers controlled the ball and field position.

They ended the game with 36 tackles inside the Eels 20 metre zone, compared to Parramatta’s 10. To show how in control the Tigers were, Parramatta had just one tackle insidetheir opponents 20 metre zone in the second half.

This is clearly shown in the expected points chart where the Eels line (blue) barely moves vertically after the 35th minute. A final expected score of 22.03 to 8.21 in favour of Wests Tigers was a true representation of the game. As usual, Rugby League Writers has an excellent breakdown of some of the key plays from this game.

Canberra v Cronulla

The final match of Round 1 involved the Raiders getting too far behind on the scoreboard early and not having being able to convert high expected point value possession late in the second half.

Cronulla led the game 14-4 at half time, but neither team saw much ball deep inside their opponents territory until late in the half. In the second half the Sharks scored a double in the first 10 minutes, and the Raiders couldn’t capitalise on a 19-10 advantage after the break for play the balls inside 20 metres.

This was the only game of the round where the team with the higher expected point total didn’t win the game, something that Raiders fans are probably used to from the men’s side.

Let’s move on to the advanced stats portion of the post .

ETPCR Top & Bottom 20

The quick version is that Eye Test Player Contribution Rating (ETPCR) is a possession adjusted attrition metric that compares a player’s production to the average player.

The slightly longer 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. These statistics are then weighted by how their team performs in attack and defense, and normalised for possession so that statistics amassed with high possession can be accurately compared with those from low possession. An average NRL player will have an ETPCR of 0. If you want an even longer explanation, there is one available on the site here.

With that clarified, here’s the top 20 for Round 1.

Wests Tigers’ Botille Vette-Welsh was dominant in the opening round, with an ETPCR of +5.960, indicating she was +5.960 points better than the average NRLW player. The Roosters Jessica Sergis wasn’t too far behind at +5.479. Cronulla’s Emma Tonegato was the only other player above +3, with her ETPCR reaching +3.822 in the Sharks win over the Raiders. The Sharks dominated the top half of this list, with 4 of the top 8 ETPCR numbers for the Round.

Now here are the bottom 20 players for Round 1.

Unsurprisingly with their team on the wrong end of a 36-8 hiding, Parramatta has four of the bottom six ETPCR scores for the Round. Eels winger Cassey Tohi-Hiku ranked lowest, with a score of -5.687, with Amelia Mafi (-4.023) and Mahalia Murphy (-3.519) also having substandard games.

The number for Mele Hufanga also matches up with the actual eye test, with her ETPCR of -1.867 indicating that no matter what impact she had with the ball she was rightfully targeted in defense. Fox Sports stats has her down for two line break causes, two try causes and four missed tackles.

Tackle Rate

Filomina Hansi led the competition this round with a tackle rate of 44.87%, meaning she completed a tackle on over two of every five play the balls the Broncos faced on the weekend. Second place was Madeline Jones from the Eels, with a rate of 38.55%, the only other player above 35%. Chloe Saunders from Cronulla rounded out the top three with a tackle rate of 34.80%, or three and a half tackles completed every ten play the balls faced.

Ball Runner Rate

April Ngatupuna from the Cowboys had the highest Ball Runner Rate for Round 1, at 31.01% meaning she completed a run with the ball one in every four play the balls whilst on field. Sarah Togatuki from the Wests Tigers was second with a Ball Runner Rate of 26.19%, with Kalosipani Hopoate from the Sydney Roosters (23.91%) taking out third spot.

Isabelle Kelly from the Roosters was the only non forward to make this list, with a rate of 14.53% despite playing in the centres.

Total Run %

When including option runs (support and decoys), the top three players stay the same but the order is slightly different. Togatuki takes top spot, with an additional five option runs pushing her into first with a rate of 31.88%. Ngatupuna drops to second due to making zero option runs, at 31.01% and Hopoate still remains third at 28.72%.

Involvement Rate

Hansi led the NRLW in Round 1 with an involvement rate of 27.34%, indicating she completed a tackle or run (including support runs) on nearly one in four plays the during the game whilst she was on field. Saunders of the Sharks again placed second with a rate of 26.66%. Madeline Jones of the Eels and Folau Vaki from the Tigers tied for third, both with an involvement rate of 23.84%.