The Roar
The Roar


Leniu v Jared: The young tyro wants to take on the old warrior, but who is actually top dog at Roosters?

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24th January, 2024
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If there’s one thing that rugby league fans love, it’s drama.

Sure, there’s the on-field type you get with last minute field goals and come-from-behind wins, but there’s also the soap opera type, the one that keeps four blokes sat around a table every night on TV.

The line between sports, entertainment and sports entertainment of the WWE kind is one that rugby league has claimed as its own.

It’s why the late season bust-up between Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Spencer Leniu was so compelling.

The Panthers-Roosters rivalry works, because they are usually two of the best teams, and the young pup/big dog story is one that always has legs. Throw in that Leniu is joining the Chooks for this year and you’ve got solid gold.

The narrative going into pre-season at the Roosters has been Spenny’s chance to move from an elite bench option to a full-time pack leader, especially with Jared entering into the last year of his contract.

Ostensibly, Leniu is actually arriving to take over from the departing Fletcher Baker, though he is a clear upgrade there and will see himself as a major option to start, if not this year then certainly next and from then on.


Jared could go quietly into the sweet night of bench veteran status, but he’s rarely done anything quietly before and seems committed to ending his illustrious year on top, not on the interchange.

Trent Robinson, then, has some serious succession planning to do, and his task is complicated yet further by the other options.

Lindsay Collins, now a leading light for both Queensland and Australia as well as Easts, might be inclined to think that he is now the main man in the forwards.

There’s a few questions that need answering, but we have the spreadsheets to answer them.

We’ve got a full six years of Jared, going back to 2018, when he was one of the game’s best props, plus four each of Collins and Leniu. The idea is that we should be able to track numbers across time to see what patterns emerge.

Now, as anyone with a Super knows, past performance is not an indicator of future performance, and stats can go up as well as down.

In our sample, we can look at metres, defence, rucks, discipline and more – but we have to be conscious that coaches ask very different things of their forwards depending on how long they are on the field.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 26: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves of the Roosters scuffles with Tigers players during the round 26 NRL match between Sydney Roosters and Wests Tigers at Allianz Stadium on August 26, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Jared Waerea-Hargreaves scuffles with Tigers players. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Indeed, the allocation of minutes is the main point here, so we’re trying to use the data as a guide to what happens when middles are asked to do more or less.

Our three help in that regard, because their game time has changed a lot.

Jared has gone from 40 per game in 2018 to 51 in 2019, 48 in 2020 and 2021, then down to 40 in 2022 and 45 in 2023.

Collins, as you might expect, has gone the other way. He went from 39 to 43 to 47 and then a mammoth 56 minutes last year, taking over the mantle from JWH as the big minute guy.

Leniu has only ever been a bench player for Penrith, but after three years of playing just a quarter of the game, he finished last year with an average of 32 minutes per game.

If you do a cross section of the minutes and other stats, some key trends emerge.


Firstly, and of most interest to Robbo, is that Leniu’s stats basically stay the same despite the increase in minutes.

That’s great news, because it shows that he is able to provide the short term burst for longer, which is really what you want to see from your middle forwards.

Leniu is truly elite in the Metres Per Run (MPR) metric, and has never been out of the top 15% of middles in the NRL since taking a permanent spot in the Panthers’ rotation in 2020.

For him to carry that impact on as minutes increase is highly promising, and back the idea that he should get more.

Jared’s show that he might be of more use on lower minutes.

His MPR and Post-Contact Metres (PCM) were best in the year in which he played the shortest time, 2022, and his Play the Ball Speed (PTBS) has also been fastest when he has been on the park less.

Collins has also been less effective when playing longer, but that shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a bad thing.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 18: Lindsay Collins of the Roosters looks on during the round 15 NRL match between the Parramatta Eels and the Sydney Roosters at CommBank Stadium, on June 18, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

Lindsay Collins. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

His MPR has actually declined every year since 2020, a stat that also goes in lockstep with his Hit Up Percentage (HU%) the number of his runs that are one-out.

But: Collins’ Play the Ball Win Percentage (PTB%) has gone up with his minutes, as have his offloads and tackle breaks.

Clearly, this is a player who once looked to bend the line with his carries, but now has been told to win the floor and sacrifice himself for the team.

In defence, it is the same story: tackle efficiency and tackle rate go down, but the net numbers go up, as you might expect from being on the field more.

This speaks to the central tactical point to go with the data.

Jared used to be the bulk minutes guy, and his role in the team was to lead the pack around with emphasis on repeatable, dependable actions, while the other guys were tasked with breaking the game open.


Now, that is clearly Collins’ role. Any chat about Leniu taking over from Waerea-Hargreaves is pointless, because he isn’t the leader anymore anyway.

Robinson’s plan in terms of rotation hasn’t altered that much and may not going forward.

He needs 160 minutes’ worth of prop forward, of which one guy is 50, two are 40 and another is the rest.

We know that one of Terrell May or Naufahu Whyte are going to be the shortest amount – they were both around 35 last year –  and that Collins is the longer.

The bigger questions will be if Jared, now 34, can keep his numbers up as his body declines and whether Leniu can expand his excellent production across a longer timeframe.

The best chance JWH has is to scale back his time on the field by five or so minutes per game, allowing him to be that enforcer and impact player. Notably, the last time he was down as low as 40 minutes per game, in 2022, it was his best season in years.

Leniu has moved to Bondi to be the big man, but it’s really hard to keep up his frantic energy for an extra eight minutes per game, as will have to be the case if he is to take over from the man he actually replaces in the squad, the Brisbane-bound Fletcher Baker.


Currently, he is operating at the same level of activity and running as Joseph Tapine and Addin Fonua-Blake, so pretty exalted company for a prop, but crucially, they are doing it for nearly twice as long.

He’s already shown that he can scale some parts of him game while maintaining others.

His Involvement Rate (an advanced stat that measures how much players are doing per minute of action) was unreal in 2020 and 2021, but dropped off in 2022 and 2023, years in which Leniu’s net numbers for metres and tackles went up.

His overall positive production elevated across more time on field, which is, of course, the point.

If Robinson can get that balance right, he could have one of the most balanced packs around.

He’s got his workhorse, Collins, his enforcer, Jared, a deluxe impact in Spencer and a wild horse in Terrell. On paper, it works, and you’d back Robbo to get it right in the coaches’ box.

National Rugby League player Spencer Leniu speaks during the National Rugby League – Vegas Promo Tour

National Rugby League player Spencer Leniu speaks during the National Rugby League – Vegas Promo Tour at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada. Allegiant Stadium will host 10 NRL matches kicking off with a season-opening double-header next March. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images for NRL)


And one last thing: we couldn’t leave a statistical analysis of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves without a mini-dissection of his disciplinary record.

He’s consistently been one of the worst offenders, that much is definitely true.

His Infringement Rate – the tally of how many penalties/set restarts conceded per minute – is pretty bad, one of the highest among starting props.

However – he’s sandwiched between goody two-shoes Christian Welch and Jake Trbojevic, who we all think are top blokes, and nowhere near the likes of Stefano Utoikamanu, truly an elite penalty machine.

Interestingly, it’s not foul play that does him, but the slightly more boring category of ruck infringements.

He’s not Jurbo there, though, with the Manly lock leading the way for one the floor messing, and at least he gets back onside, which is more than you can say for Welch.

There you go, then. The constant wailing that Jared is picked on by the judiciary might have legs. He’s not the worst, but when he does lose it, it tends to go big time. Just ask Spencer Leniu.