Six contenders but the Storm, Sharks or Sea Eagles will win in 2017

Tim Gore Columnist

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    Come next Thursday all eyes will be back on the 2017 NRL Premiership. Barring major injuries, there are six sides that could possibly win the title: the Cowboys, Broncos, Rosters, Sea Eagles, Sharks and the Storm.

    However, when you look at the stats it becomes clear that the current top three are the sides most likely.

    When all the statistical categories are examined they average out the best.

    Metres gained and conceded

    Team

    Metres Gained

    Rank

    Metres conceded

    Rank

    =/-

    Sharks

    1506

    2nd

    1365

    5th

    +141

    Cowboys

    1472

    4th

    1333

    3rd

    +139

    Sea Eagles

    1374

    13th

    1306

    1st

    +68

    Broncos

    1519

    1st

    1464

    14th

    +55

    Storm

    1428

    8th

    1393

    7th

    +35

    Roosters

    1452

    5th

    1454

    13th

    -2

    NRL Avg

    1404

    1404

    As you can see, the Cowboys and the Sharks have the best metres gained to conceded aggregate. Those metres alone go a long way to winning a lot of games.

    While the Sea Eagles have a +68 aggregate, they don’t make enough metres to be genuine contenders even though their defence is superb. The Broncos are great at gaining metres but very good at conceding them, which isn’t ideal. The Roosters also concede far too many metres.

    There’s the Storm almost bang on average for metres gained and conceded. However, they are on the happy side of the average in both categories.

    Attacking stats

    Team

    Tries scored

    Rank

    Line Breaks

    Rank

    Tackle Breaks

    Rank

    Storm

    70

    1st

    83

    1st

    469

    5th

    Sea Eagles

    65

    2nd

    71

    3rd

    398

    10th

    Roosters

    60

    5th

    66

    5th

    419

    7th

    Broncos

    58

    7th

    61

    8th

    502

    3rd

    Sharks

    54

    9th

    69

    4th

    412

    8th

    Cowboys

    54

    9th

    59

    9th

    482

    4th

    NRL Avg

    55

    61

    422

    These stats really start sorting out the sheep from the goats. In regards to effective attack the Storm are towering above the other contenders. Only the Sea Eagles are close to them in regards to tries scored but, as we’ve seen above, their metres gained are well below par and they are the worst of this bunch for tackle breaks.

    Manly Sea Eagles NRL Rugby League 2017

    (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    The Roosters stats are ok. With a bit of improvement their attack could become quite deadly.

    The Broncos, Sharks and Cowboys aren’t scoring enough tries. However, as we’ve seen time and again, if a side’s defence is good enough they can still grind out wins.

    Defence

    Team Tries conceded Rank Line breaks conceded Rank Missed Tackles Rank Missed Tackle % Penalties conceded rank
    Sharks

    39

    1st

    42

    1st

    450

    13th

    8.8%

    110

    2nd

    Storm

    42

    2nd

    43

    2nd

    409

    6th

    7.4%

    119

    1st

    Sea Eagles

    46

    3rd

    48

    4th

    384

    3rd

    8.6%

    107

    3rd

    Cowboys

    49

    5th

    68

    12th

    447

    12th

    9.3%

    92

    11th

    Roosters

    50

    6th

    63

    9th

    421

    8th

    7.6%

    93

    10th

    Broncos

    51

    7th

    55

    7th

    481

    15th

    9.1%

    81

    14th

    NRL Avg

    55

    61

    422

    96

    As you can see, tries conceded is a huge factor in being successful. The six contenders are only interrupted by the Bulldogs ranked fourth best for tries conceded. However, the Storm, Sharks and the Sea Eagles are the best.

    Why are these three so much better than the others? Firstly, their missed tackle percentages are better. However, the main reason is their penalties conceded.

    They are the three most penalised sides in the NRL so far this season. When their line is threatened they conceded a penalty to give themselves more time to reset their defence.

    At the beginning of the season referees boss Tony Archer said that the sin bin was going to be brought back in to deal with repeat offenders.

    While there have been 28 sin binnings so far this season – 11 more already than for all of 2016 – only one (Clay Priest, Raiders, Round 1) has been for repeated infringements. The rest have all been for punching or professional fouls.

    Basically, the Sea Eagles, Storm and Sharks called Archer’s bluff. They knew his refs didn’t feel even vaguely supported enough by their hierarchy to do something as controversial as sin bin for repeated offences.

    That those three sides concede the least tries is no coincidence. And the NRL hierarchy know it and allow it.

    Why? Who the hell knows! But sides are being allowed to cheat and their reward is a spot in the top four.

    It once more raises the curious case of James Maloney. In 14 games so far this season Maloney has already conceded 24 penalties. At this rate he will break 40 penalties for the season. He has not been out of the top three most penalised players for the past five years. However, he has not been sin binned once.

    Does that make the referees stupid or gutless? Or both?

    Whatever… Jimmy Maloney is laughing! And the message is clear: do what it takes to hold your line. Lie on the player, go the third man flop, pull a leg, put hands on the ball, rake the ball out, pick a fight. You might be penalised but you are almost certain not to be sin binned – and you probably won’t let in a try!

    Repeat sets

    Team

    Drop outs taken

    Rank

    Drop outs forced

    Rank

    Dropout aggregate +/-

    Errors

    Rank

    Sea Eagles

    29

    12th

    35

    2nd

    +6

    139

    1st

    Cowboys

    24

    7th

    36

    1st

    +12

    157

    7th

    Broncos

    27

    10th

    29

    5th

    +2

    151

    4th

    Storm

    25

    8th

    22

    11th

    -3

    174

    13th

    Sharks

    17

    3rd

    30

    4th

    +13

    190

    16th

    Roosters

    20

    5th

    24

    9th

    +4

    182

    15th

    NRL Avg

    25

    25

    162

    The side that best controls the ball most often wins. Further, a side that can force repeat sets on top of that is in a great position. Given those concepts it is easy to see why the Sea Eagles are ensconced in the top three. However, that the Storm and Sharks are well down the list for these stats indicate that they may not be as vital as all that.

    Playmakers
    A side that has the most effective and settled combinations has a huge advantage over other sides. Which of the top six is best off?

    Play maker 1 Play maker 2 Play maker 3 Play maker 4 Total
    Storm Billy Slater
    Line break assists – 11
    Try assists – 12
    Cooper Cronk
    Line break assists – 7
    Try assists – 11
    Cameron Munster
    Line break assists – 13
    Try assists – 8
    Cameron Smith
    Line break assists – 6
    Try assists – 5
    Line break assists – 37
    Try assists – 36
    Sea Eagles Daly Cherry Evans
    Line break assists – 11
    Try assists – 13
    Tom Trbojevic
    Line break assists – 7
    Try assists – 7
    Dylan Walker
    Line break assists – 6
    Try assists – 7
    Blake Green
    Line break assists – 5
    Try assists – 5
    Line break assists – 29
    Try assists – 32
    Roosters Luke Keary
    Line break assists – 11
    Try assists – 13
    Mitchell Pearce
    Line break assists – 7
    Try assists – 10
    Latrell Mitchell
    Line break assists – 5
    Try assists – 5
    Michael Gordon
    Line break assists – 4
    Try assists – 3
    Line break assists – 27
    Try assists – 31
    Broncos Anthony Milford
    Line break assists – 7
    Try assists – 10
    Darius Boyd
    Line break assists – 8
    Try assists – 7
    Ben Hunt
    Line break assists – 5
    Try assists – 6
    Benji Marshall
    Line break assists – 4
    Try assists – 2
    Line break assists – 24
    Try assists – 25
    Cowboys Michael Morgan
    Line break assists – 4
    Try assists – 10
    John Asiata
    Line break assists – 2
    Try assists – 5
    Jake Granville
    Line break assists – 2
    Try assists – 4
    Lachlan Coote
    Line break assists – 6
    Try assists – 3
    Line break assists – 14
    Try assists – 22
    Sharks Ricky Leutele
    Line break assists – 5
    Try assists – 5
    Chad Townsend
    Line break assists – 4
    Try assists – 5
    Valentine Holmes
    Line break assists – 5
    Try assists – 4
    James Maloney
    Line break assists – 5
    Try assists – 4
    Line break assists – 19
    Try assists – 18

    When it comes to settled and effective combinations the Storm are way out in front.

    Surprisingly Slater is their lead creator so far this year, just in front of Cronk.

    The Sea Eagles combination of Daly Cherry-Evans and Turbo Tom Trbojevic is working out very well, and is supported ably by Walker and Green.

    Luke Keary and Mitchell Pearce have quickly formed a good combination and operate well behind a strong pack.

    The Broncos are suffering from issues with form and injury, but there is lots of quality in their playmakers.

    The Cowboys are adjusting quickly to life without Johnathan Thurston, with Michael Morgan taking the reins. However, they are some huge shoes to fill.

    Then we come to the Sharks playmakers. Who knew Ricky Leutele was their most effective ballplayer so far this season. There is plenty of room for improvement here.

    Results against top eight sides
    Beating bottom eight sides can be like chasing Uder from the Simpsons: easy. The form of flat track bullies isn’t really relevant to the pointy end of the season. The real test comes when you have to play the other top sides.

    Team

    Played vs top 8

    Won

    Lost

    Storm

    8/16

    6

    2

    Sharks

    9/16

    5

    4

    Roosters

    7/16

    4

    3

    Sea Eagles

    7/15

    3

    4

    Broncos

    7/16

    3

    4

    Cowboys

    7/16

    2

    5

    This table shows that the Storm know how to win the big games. Their loss to the Roosters was without many of their stars. Their loss to the Sharks in Round 6 was a tough one and they were missing Munster and Jesse Bromwich.

    The verdict
    If you average out each sides overall rank for each of these categories it looks like this:

    Average rank

    Storm

    2.33

    Sea Eagles

    2.5

    Sharks

    3.33

    Cowboys

    4.1

    Roosters

    4.33

    Broncos

    4.33

    So the top three are justified in their spots, with the Storm the stand out among them.

    Given this, the good money must be on the Storm being the first losing grand finalist to win the following year since the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles prevailed in 2008 – over the Storm.

    And there’s a good chance it will be against the Sharks.

    Tim Gore
    Tim Gore

    Tim has been an NRL statistician for ABC Radio Grandstand since 1999, primarily as part of their Canberra coverage. Tim has loved rugby league since Sterlo was a kid with lots of hair but was cursed with having no personal sporting ability whatsoever. He couldn't take a hit in footy, was a third division soccer player making up numbers, plays off 41 in golf and is possibly the world's worst cricketer ever. He has always been good at arguing the point though and he has a great memory of what happened. Follow Tim on Twitter.