The gap between the top six NRL sides and the rest of the competition is growing weekly and it begs the question as to what truly separates the best from the rest.
Up-and-coming sports podcast, Bloke In A Bar, brought up the theory in their Round 18 review episode that the premiership contending teams are playing a different game than everyone else. When analysing the statistics, a majority of the six teams atop the competition dominate in outside back metres.
The top 50 players in running metres are usually composed of fullbacks, wingers and forwards from all teams, but this year more than others, there have been multiple players from the higher-ranked teams.
The Melbourne Storm who are currently first on the ladder have four out of their five outside backs featured on this list, more than any other team in the NRL.
Not surprisingly, the team with the equal-second-most running metres for outside backs is the Penrith Panthers, who are – you guessed it, second on the ladder. The Panthers however, have relied heavily upon their Origin winger, Brian To’o, who is averaging a record breaking 248 metres per game.
The Eels and Roosters are also tied with Penrith on three outside backs inside the top 50 players in total running metres. Former Broncos winger and now host of the Bloke In A Bar podcast, Denan Kemp, couldn’t help but be amazed by how this statistic lined up with the ladder.
“It’s crazy to think that the outside backs metres has come out Storm one, Panthers two… the best teams in the comp, they rely on their backs making the metres,” Kemp stated during his podcast with former NRL star, Brett Finch.
When comparing this statistic between the majority of the top six and the sides battling for the final two positions inside the eight, it’s clear to see how crucial it is to rely on your outside backs. In total, the top six have accumulated 15 players in those positions inside the top 50 and the teams currently placed seventh to 12th have only seven.
So why are these teams relying on their smaller, outside back players instead of their forwards? Well, with the implementation of the six again rule, teams are utilising their agile backs to carry the ball more often in order to get quick play the balls and catch their opposition offside.
Kemp backed this up by explaining that due to these recent rule changes in the league, the role of outside backs has evolved.
“It seems like the way the game is played has changed, where the backs are now your metre makers and your forwards are your defenders,” he said.
Although this is the case for most of the successful teams in the 2021 season, the South Sydney Rabbitohs are currently third and have zero outside backs in the top 50 running metres. This proves that it’s still possible to win over 50 percent of your games without this statistic on your side.
However, when the Rabbitohs have faced the premier outside back dominant sides, namely Melbourne and Penrith, they have lost by a combined margin of 102-points and fallen 476 metres short of matching them in outside back metres.
So as we get to the pointy end of the season, it will be very intriguing to see whether this statistic carries sides through to prelim finals or even a grand final. Only time will tell, but this gives a clear indication as to what truly separates the best, from the rest.