NRLW Round 3 in expected points and advanced stats

We’re three rounds into the season and the competition is already starting to split into the haves and have nots.

The Eels obviously are firmly have nots, with the Dragons and Cowboys looking like they might join them and there’s some questions coming from the Sharks after their performance.

Thank you for reading The Rugby League Eye Test. Subscribe below to receive new posts in your inbox

And whilst Brisbane is 1-2, they showed enough against the Cowboys that you’d have to be very confident to predict they couldn’t make the top four from here.

Let’s get into the charts and stats.

Sydney Roosters v St George Illawarra

For a game that was never close on the scoreboard, it certainly appeared that way if you look at the expected point chart. Some of that may have been from the Roosters channelling their NRLM counterparts by committing 10 errors to just five from the Dragons. But even still they completed 30/40 sets, while St George Illawarra only had the ball 27 times, completing 22 sets.

Still, even as close as the ETXP chart is, at no stage did the Dragons get ahead of the Roosters on expected points, and it wasn’t until the 14th minute that they had some possession worth any significant point value. They managed to top and tail that by also finishing the game working the ball out of their own area in between letting the Roosters cross the line.

If you’re enjoying the posts on this site and want to support independent rugby league content, please consider donating to The Rugby League Eye Test with a value of your choosing via the link below.

And in doing so missed a disgraceful 55 tackles, which was the first time a team missed more than 50 all season. But it wouldn’t be the last because the next game was…

Brisbane v North Queensland

In his preview of this game, Liam of the Maroon Observer pointed out in one of his weekly newsletters (that you should absolutely be subscribed to) that the Cowboys will hope again to have15 straight minutes of unbroken possession, something we noted as well in last week’s review. Surprisingly, this did not happen, but they did have sufficient field position to make a game of it and actually come out ahead on expected points 14.66 to 14.15.

When the Broncos got close to the Cowboys line, they tried to work the ball to Mele Hufanga as soon as possible, as broken down by Rugby League Writers in their excellent Round 3 recap, where they break down each of Hufanga’s four tries.

If they can get even 20% of that output every week, then no one will care that she can’t defend a closed door.

Given how easily they got across the line, maybe it’s not surprising to see the expected scores so close. After all, the less time you spend close to the line, the fewer expected points you’ll accrue, which is why it’s a great measure of efficiency. This is due to the further you get away from the try line the lower the expected value of a play the ball. And given the Cowboys also missed 50+ tackles this game (Hufanga had 14 tackle breaks), the Broncos were a chance to score from almost anywhere.

Still, it’s somewhat unusual to see a game that was “close” on expected points result in a 40-12 thrashing.

Gold Coast v Cronulla

The Titans remained the NRLW’s only unbeaten team with their 10-8 victory over Cronulla. From an expected point view the game also close, with the Titans coming out on top 20.42 to 16.36. But they made things difficult for themselves, giving Cronulla plenty of early possession, enough of it in high point value position to trail 8-0 on the scoreboard and 8.02 to 4.68 on expected points.

Both teams were able to get in scoring positions in the second half but only the Titans were able to convert, with the Sharks unable to cross the line despite a wealth of late game ball. And in true Titans form they waited until the final 90 seconds for Hailee-Jay Ormond-Maunsell to cross and seal the victory.

That’s three in a row for the Titans, and as mentioned in the Maroon Observer they could break the men’s record of five if they can beat the Knights and Roosters over the next fortnight.

Parramatta v Newcastle

Another game this round where the expected point chart doesn’t tell the full story of what happened. Overall possession favouring the Knights by 53%-47% yet somehow the Eels were ahead on expected points 18.40 to 14.63.

Some of that may be due to yardage. The average set distance was close – 45 per set for Parramatta and 47.76 for Newcastle – indicating that the Eels at least matched the Knights in yardage. Parra ended up with 32 tackles inside 20 metres compared to the Knights 18, so it’s quite easy to see who won the efficiency battle in this game, if for some reason you weren’t paying attention to the scoreboard.

The Knights were expected to win and did so comfortably despite what the expected scores and possession said. Newcastle was ahead 12-0 after just 10 minutes through tries to Yasmin Clydesdale and Tamika Upton, which meant the biggest challenge they faced was the clock and not the blue and gold. They

Now with Kennedy Cherrington sitting out four weeks for a horrendous tackle that resulted in her being sent off in this game, the tissue paper thin depth of the Eels will be tested even more.

Eels fans are routinely disappointed by their NRLM team in August and September, but for the past two seasons they could at least raise their spirits by watching their NRLW entry. Now with Kennedy Cherrington sitting out four weeks for a horrendous tackle that resulted in her being sent off, the tissue paper thin depth of the Eels will be tested even more. Sadly, that won’t be the case in 2023 and they’ll have to look elsewhere for some copium.

Canberra v Wests Tigers

Another game where the expected point chart probably doesn’t tell the full tale of what happened. The Raiders were expected to win this game 18.28 to 17.12 based on the point value of their field position, and they came out on top 28-22. It sounds closer than it was. Simone Taufa was dominant, and as noted by Dan from the Sportress in his match review, ripped up the Tigers for 182 metres from 14 carries, with over 100 of them post contact, and also completed 29 tackles in a massive effort.

But like their NRLM equivalent, which we dissected yesterday, there’s nothing the green machine love more than giving up a second half lead. I can only imagine how triggering this for Raiders fans. They should have sealed the game with Shakiah Tungai taking an intercept 30 metres out, but she was run down 20 metres out by the ageless Kezie Apps.

Then with a 28-12 lead and six minutes to go, Canberra let in two late tries to Leianne Tufuga which probably flattered the Tigers. The chart above shows that they weren’t from significantly high value field position either.

Eye Test Player Contribution Rating (ETPCR)

To the surprise of no one who watched any NRLW this weekend, Mele Hufanga takes top spot here with an Eye Test Player Contribution Rating  (ETPCR) of +7.148. That almost doubled second place (Newcastle’s Sheridan Gallagher, +3.742) and is easily the highest number for 2023. The prior leader was Botille Vette-Welsh with +5.960 in Round 1.

Surprisingly, Hufanga’s number wasn’t an NRLW record for ETPCR. Tamika Upton still owns that honour, with an ETPCR of +8.567 in Round 1, 2020 when she was still with the Broncos. Emma Tonegato also broke the +8.0 barrier in Round 4, 2021 with the Dragons when she posted an ETPCR of +8.186.

Hufanga’s Brisbane teammate Gayle Broughton placed third for the round with +4.142, with Isabelle Kelly (+3.910) and Jesse Southwell (+3.839) making up the rest of the top five.

At the other end of the scale, it wasn’t a great showing for either the Cowboys or Eels given the hidings both sides took.

North Queensland winger Vitalina Naikore has become the NRLW’s Morgan Harper to Hufanga’s Siosifa Talakai. The Fijian notched the lowest ETPCR of the Round at -9.269, as she was the victim every time the Bronco’s centre got near the line.

That -9.269 is the lowest single game ETPCR in NRLW history, beating out the -8.049 from the Gold Coast’s Cobie-Jane Morgan in Round 4, 2021. Interestingly the third worst ETCPR score in NRLW history is held by Jessica Sergis of all people, who had an ETCPR of -6.492 in Round 1, 2018.

Naikore’s teammate Jasmine Peters also had a bad day at the office, with an ETPCR of -5.639 and Parramatta’s Amelia Mafi also had an ETPCR lower than -5.0 (-5.509 to be exact).

Tackle Rate

St George Illawarra’s Sophie Clancy ranked first for tackle rate in the NRLW from Round 3, with a rate of 47.85% thanks to her 20 tackles in 20 minutes whilst on field. Second place went to Emma Barnes from Canberra, with a rate of 47.62% and third place went to her teammate Kerehitina Matua who posted a rate of 38.89%, indicating she completed a tackle on nearly two out of every five play the balls whilst on field.

Ball Runner Rate

The Broncos’ Filomina Hansi took top spot for Ball Runner Rate, completing a run with the ball on 23.66% of Brisbane possessions during their win over the Cowboys. Wests’ Sarah Togatuki was slightly behind Hansi at 23.33%, with another Bronco in Chelsea Lenarduzzi rounding out the top three at 20.98%.

The only other play above 20% for the week was Talesha O’Neill from the Eels, who completed 14 runs in 32 minutes whilst on field for a rate of 18.96%.

Total Run %

Once incorporating decoy and option runs, leading the NRLW for Round 3 was Togatuki, who posted a Total Run rate of 31.11% in the Tigers loss to the Raiders. That number indicates she completed a run, decoy or option run on 3 out of every 10 play the balls from in her 60 minutes on field. Usually, high minute players don’t fare well in these work rate related advanced stats.

Brisbane’s Annette Nu’uausala ranked second with a rate of 30.92% and another Tiger in Christian Pio placed third with 30.43%. These were the only three players to have a rate above 30% for the round.

Involvement Rate

Dragon’s dummy half Clancy takes top honours for Involvement Rate for Round 3, completing a tackle or run on nearly a quarter of all possessions whilst on field (24.56%). Eels backrower O’Neill wasn’t far behind at 24.39% and Matu from Brisbane ranked third at 24.20%.