Stop your moaning Manly, you got exactly what you deserved

Tim Gore Columnist

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    “What do you say? I’ve never seen anything like it. Ever.” Manly coach Trent Barrett was clearly livid after his side’s loss to Penrith.

    Barrett’s ire in the post-match press conference was firmly directed at the match officials.

    “We played in circumstances where we couldn’t win when some of the things that went against us.”

    Here’s the problem with that Trent: your team’s game style, coming up against the Panthers, and coupled with the officials in charge and the players you were missing, should have indicated that what occurred was a definite possibility. In fact, it was pretty much a likelihood.

    The stats – which you should be constantly studying closely – tell you so. To blame your side’s loss on the officiating – possibly even suggesting bias – is pretty poor form.

    What Manly wandered into was a perfect storm of factors that meant victory was highly unlikely unless everything went right. Or unless they changed their usual modus operandi.

    Let’s look at why.

    Penalties conceded
    As pointed out last week, the Sea Eagles are one of the most penalised sides in the NRL this year. Mostly that’s not a bad thing. In fact, in this era of bin-shy referees it is a very good strategy.

    The high concession of penalties is actually an indication of a red zone defensive strategy to defend your line. The time taken through the awarding of penalties – usually for such things as offside, holding the tackled player down, hands on the ball – allow your defensive line to reset.

    If your side’s defence is good the chances are much better that your side will hold out the attacks. Don’t believe me? Have a look at this:

    Average penalties conceded Rank Average tries conceded Rank
    Storm 7.4 1st 2.7 15th
    Manly 7.2 2nd 2.9 14th

    Never mind arguments about what the referees should do, or what the rules say, or the spirit of the game. That’s irrelevant. That’s how the game is clearly allowed to run. If you don’t utilise this strategy it is harder to win.

    However, this means that the Sea Eagles – the coach, players and fans – must accept that they play a style of game that concedes lots of penalties. As stated above, this strategy relies on your side’s defence being good. Your tacklers better be up to the job. That brings us to the second factor.

    Who was missing?
    Jake Trbojevic was in State of Origin camp for NSW. This was a huge factor in the Sea Eagles’ loss. Trbojevic senior is the keystone of the Sea Eagles defence. He averages 37 tackles a game and misses just 1.2. That’s a miserly and remarkably good 3.2 per cent missed tackle ratio.

    His replacement was Darcy Lussick, who this season averages 13 tackles a match with 3.2 misses – a 24.6 per cent missed tackle ratio. Lussick missed five tackles against the Panthers and had a missed tackle ratio of 31.25 per cent.

    Further, Curtis Sironen was also out injured. This meant that the defensive line was distinctly different and that’s a definite challenge for a side that is going to give away lots of penalties. This is something that Barrett must surely have known when he sent his boys out to play their high penalty conceding style of play.

    Penalties awarded
    This is then compounded again by the Panthers being the number one-ranked side in the NRL for being awarded penalties at the home ground. The Panthers crowd sure knows how to get in the referee’s ear because the Mountain Men average nine penalties received when they play at Pepper Stadium.

    This factor – mixed with the Sea Eagles’ usual proclivity for giving away penalties – means that it is basic logic that the penalty count against Manly would probably be higher than usual, and possibly extremely high. Again, these are statistics that a first grade NRL coach should be across.

    And it is further compounded by the last factor.

    Dylan Walker Manly Sea Eagles Matt Moylan Penrith Panthers NRL Rugby League 2016

    Who was in charge?
    Henry Perenara was the man with the whistle. Perenara blows his whistle more than any other ref in the NRL. In 2017, the games he has been in charge of have seen 241 penalties awarded at a rate of just under 14 a game. That’s two over the average.

    All Black Richie McCaw was legendary for his ability to push the rules to the limit. It wasn’t just because he was a superb player though. He ensured that he did fastidious research on the referees that would control his games so he knew what they were likely to crack down on and what they were likely to let go.

    McCaw’s record is testament to how good that tactic was. In this instance all Barrett had to do was to look at how many penalties Perenara usually awards to see the risk.

    Barrett was the officer on deck in charge of the HMAS Manly and he sailed it straight into a perfect storm – seemingly without checking the weather forecast before heading out.

    Manly’s penchant for transgressing was amplified by the home side’s talent for drawing penalties. This was multiplied again by the head referee’s partiality for awarding penalties. That predictably led to an extremely lop-sided first half possession ratio in the Panther’s favour.

    It exposed the absence of usual Manly defenders Sironen and especially Jake Trbojevic, leading to points conceded. Points that Manly were not able to claw back in the second stanza.

    While there were some contentious decisions during the match, the key reason for the loss was that Manly did not adjust their playing style. That was in spite of all the signs saying that if they didn’t they would gift their opponents masses of possession that their depleted side was unlikely to be able to sufficiently repel.

    Basically, Trent, it is your job to be across this stuff and it doesn’t seem like you were. Tell your story walking.

    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.

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