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Opinion

Did missing Mitchell cost the Bunnies a premiership?

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Roar Rookie
4th October, 2021
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3800 Reads

Wow. You couldn’t have scripted a better grand final.

Epic storylines. Incredible plays (Cody Walker — simply sublime). The elite discipline in defence and attack of both sides to stay in it. Souths determination.

All in all, I don’t think we’ve seen as good a grand final in years. Even with V’landysball, it seems the saying “defence wins premierships” is alive and well.

Much has been made about the Panthers’ effort and I’ll take nothing away from them. But I can’t help but think of Latrell Mitchell, and how he must be rueing his absence from the field.

I don’t think it’s that controversial to say Penrith’s defence, combined with their kicking game, won them crucial field position which kept Cody Walker and the left edge quiet. Walker and others certainly showed in the eight points they put on that, given the opportunity, they were very capable of putting the points on.

The big story is the difference Mitchell’s loss made.

Everything in the data suggests that Mitchell would have created better field position had he played for the Rabbitohs. The key numbers to look at are PCMs and tackle breaks per game; often good indicators for a fullback or winger running out of trouble and winning field position.

Latrell Mitchell of the Rabbitohs looks on

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

For reference Brian To’o is the leading PCMer statistically, followed by Daniel Tupou.

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Comparing Mitchell and Blake Taaffe we can see the story told through the numbers beautifully.

Mitchell per game generates 39.65 PCMs and 5.47 tackle breaks. This does two things: it means that often the defensive line is a number short (creating more space) due to the tackle break, and the set generates an additional 5m – 10m.

Taaffe in contrast holds 0.89 tackle breaks and 12.33 PCMs. That’s a ~25m+ difference within a game early in the set, maybe more if you count how Mitchell puts people on the back foot. In a tight match for field position, it’s ridiculous how much impact that may have had.

That’s not a criticism of Taaffe, who played admirably for eight games in the NRL.

Turning to the pointy end of sets Mitchell may also have made a difference to the end field position and the points scored. Mitchell averages 0.76 tries per game, 0.82 try assists, 1.02 line breaks and 1.35 line break assists.

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Taaffe on the other hand averages 0.11 tries, 0.22 try assists, 0.83 line breaks and 0.22 line break assists. Again, a big difference at the end of a set.

You could argue that Mitchell missing out of Taaffe cost the Bunnies around ~6-12 points in attack as a result. That’s not the fault of Taaffe (who did incredibly well for eight games). It just almost certainly influenced the game against the Bunnies.

The final ‘Mitchell’ statistic is harder to quantify – but is the issue of Adam Reynolds’ groin. Reynolds was carrying a niggle but continued to kick. But you can’t help but imagine if Mitchell was there with his 80 per cent goal-kicking ability, he might just have been able to kick that sideline conversion or the field goal.

It’s hard to know and quantify that, however, as we didn’t see enough Reynolds goal kicking to get a gauge on if he was off that night properly.

All in all it was an epic grand final. Well done Panthers. You deserved the win. If this isn’t a lesson to players about being careful with their discipline so they don’t cost their team a probable premiership, though, I don’t know what is.

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