After 26 rounds and three weeks of finals football we have just 80 minutes left (perhaps a few more if we get a ripper decider) to decide who gets their names on the Telstra Premiership trophy.
We find out who gets the premiership rings and who becomes known as a premiership player for the rest of time (barring more unforeseen scandal).
Will it be the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, a team forged together over a number of seasons when a clean-out was needed to establish a new culture? A team that found their true voice when coach Des Hasler joined the fold, bringing with him his theories, angles and attitudes (as well as his request they all drink the same Gatorade). Incredibly Hasler is looking to become the first coach in the history of the game to win back-to-back premierships with different clubs. If he does establish this as a record, you’d be hard-pressed to see anyone ever beat it… how often does the grand final-winning coach move on!
Or will this year’s Telstra Premiership head to the Melbourne Storm? A team patched together with spare parts and bit pieces around the ‘big three’ after their former management’s salary cap rort a few years ago. A team that one figures will do a St George Illawarra circa 2010 if they win the title… in other words, after telling all and sundry the past is no motivation, they’ll probably tell the world to ‘cop that!’ when the final whistle blows.
The game really is wide open. Both sides have proven they can be unbeatable on their day. But as is often the case inside the confines of this column, I am going to show you how each side stacks up against one another statistically over the season. We will look at a few core team stats and then analyse the key positions head to head.
To be honest – there is nothing groundbreaking to come out of the core team stats from both teams… Why? Because they were the two top clubs for good reason – there is barely a struck match between them in many categories, which will no doubt mean this grand final will come down to one thing… some individual brilliance. But for the record, here are some numbers to peruse.
Points Scored & Points Conceded
Melbourne have averaged 24.7 scored a match, the best in the NRL, while the Bulldogs are just a point behind at 23.7 a game, the third-best record.
Melbourne again take top spot in the league in defence, averaging just 14.6 points against although the Bulldogs move up a ranking point to be second, conceding just 14.9 points a game. (Interesting sidenote here though: the Storm concede 2.7 tries a game on average, the Bulldogs 2.6 –in other words, the ’Dogs concede more points to conversions and penalty goals… but the whistle gets blown less in grand finals.)
Metres Gained & Conceded
The Storm average 1398 metres a match (ranked fifth in the NRL), while the Bulldogs are breathing down their neck at 1383 metres (sixth). While this is a negligible difference perhaps something can be read into the metres conceded column. Melbourne are the best team in the NRL at throttling other teams’ go-forward (forcing a side to kick-chase well) averaging just 1308 metres conceded. The Bulldogs rank down in 10th at 1362 metres. Doesn’t seem like much difference though, right? A mere 54 metres or so… but that might equate to one more real attacking opportunity… and one more try.
Line-breaks Made & Conceded
The Storm average five line-breaks a match (ranked third) and the Bulldogs 4.6 (fourth) so not much to worry about for either set of fans here. Especially when the Bulldogs turn the tables in line-breaks conceded, ranked best in the NRL at 3.2 to the Storm’s 3.7 (fourth best). There is no doubt we will see a few breaks come Sunday… it will be about who scrambles best to contain them.
Offloads Made & Conceded
Second-phase play is certainly more a part of the Bulldogs’ play than their counterparts’ as they rank first in the NRL with 12.5 a game compared to the seventh-ranked Storm at 11.2. Melbourne rate slightly better at containing offloads at 10.2 (fourth) compared to 10.5 (seventh). It is true a good offload could crack this game wide open – but the truth is offloading teams haven’t been premiership winners in a while, as minimising errors has been the name of the game in modern rugby league.
Speaking of errors, once again not much splits the sides. The Storm average 10 errors a game – the third fewest in the NRL – while the Bulldogs average 10.4 to be fourth best.
Tackle-breaks & Missed Tackles
When it comes to busting tackles the Canterbury boys are the better bunch, averaging 34.3 a match to rank fifth in the NRL. The Storm rank down at 12th, but are just a handful behind at 31.2 a match. The Melbourne boys have a slight edge on the defensive side of the coin… but it is very slight. The Storm miss 27.3 tackles each week, the best in the NRL, while the Bulldogs are second at just 27.4.
In conclusion – the Storm probably have the team stats edge, but only just, meaning an individual (or individuals) are going to need to take this premiership from the other’s grasp.
Please don’t take the singling out of the below players to mean the others aren’t important. The battle of the prop rotations, for example, will be huge in terms of who gets better field position etc… but who are the men most likely to pull out something massive?
Ben Barba v Billy Slater
Boom, baby! What a match-up between two explosive fullbacks who could quite easily be the difference at the end of the day. Can Ben Barba notch the Dally M Medal/Clive Churchill Medal double?
The season numbers for both guys are impressive. In 26 games Barba has scored 22 tries, made 25 line-breaks, 20 line-break assists, 23 try assists, 32 offloads and a massive 168 tackle-breaks. He averages 121.8 metres a match, 58.5 metres returning kicks, and makes 2.9 tackles, missing 1.1. He has made 31 errors.
In 20 games Slater has crossed for 15 tries, 21 line-breaks, 20 line-break assists, 22 try assists, 34 offloads and 100 tackle-breaks. He averages 138.8 metres a match, 38.8 metres returning kicks, and makes 5.5 tackles, missing 1.6. He has made 32 errors.
It is obvious both are integral parts of their team’s attacks. How they execute on sweep plays will be the key, as well as whether or not team-mates spot them when they are in support.
Josh Morris v Will Chambers
The man on the left edge for the Bulldogs, up against the man on the right for the Storm: how these two contain each other will be a fascinating match-up. Chambers was pretty impressive against the Sea Eagles last week; Morris has been brilliant all year.
Morris has played 25 games and has 17 tries, 22 line-breaks, three line-break assists, four try assists, 26 offloads and 90 tackle-breaks. He averages 117.3 metres, 9.6 tackles, 1.8 missed tackles, 0.6 ineffective tackles and has 21 errors while conceding 11 penalties.
Chambers has played 17 games and has 13 tries, 15 line-breaks, four line-break assists, three try assists, 16 offloads and 39 tackle-breaks. He averages 99.1 metres, 15.1 tackles, 2.1 missed tackles, 1.5 ineffective tackles and has 12 errors while conceding five penalties.
Josh Reynolds v Gareth Widdop
Two young pivots who are vital cogs in their teams’ make-ups. Reynolds has had a fantastic season, playing in every game, and is the main man in the halves for the ’Dogs. The two teams differ slightly in this regard. The No. 6 for the ’Dogs takes ‘the lead’ –while for the Storm the No.7 takes control.
Widdop is often overlooked for the other big names in the Storm line-up but he is the perfect foil. Take your eyes off him and he’ll hurt you, spend too much attention on him and the others will capitalise.
Reynolds has played 26 games for 10 tries, 10 line-breaks, 10 line-break assists, 20 try assists, 42 offloads and 88 tackle-breaks. He averages 68 metres, 19.3 tackles, 3.8 missed tackles, 1.5 ineffective tackles and has 26 errors while conceding 14 penalties. He has one 40/20 this season and averages 230 metres a game from the boot.
Widdop has played 25 games and has four tries, 13 line-breaks, 15 line-break assists, 14 try assists, 16 offloads and 83 tackle-breaks. He averages 83.8 metres, 14.6 tackles, 2.9 missed tackles, 1.2 ineffective tackles and has 20 errors while conceding just two penalties. He hasn’t kicked a 40/20 this season and averages just 43 metres a game from the boot.
Kris Keating v Cooper Cronk
As stated above it’s almost a little unfair to match Keating against the Queensland and Australian halfback, as one is the main man and the other plays second fiddle – but we will anyway. The numbers here show just how big a role Cronk has within this Storm unit. Certainly, the ’Dogs need to limit his input if they are to get it done.
Perhaps put Reynolds’ and Cronk’s numbers, and Keating’s and Widdop’s, side by side to get a good comparison.
Keating has played 20 games and has three tries, four line-breaks, five line-break assists, 11 try assists, 13 offloads and 27 tackle-breaks. He averages 37.2 metres, 15.5 tackles, 1.4 missed tackles, 0.8 ineffective tackles and has eight errors, while conceding six penalties. He has zilch 40/20s this season and averages 238 metres a game from the boot.
Cronk has played 25 games and has 10 tries, nine line-breaks, 25 line-break assists, 30 try assists, 16 offloads and 40 tackle-breaks. He averages 51 metres, 18 tackles, 2.3 missed tackles, 1.4 ineffective tackles and has 20 errors, while conceding five penalties. He has five 40/20s this season and averages 428 metres a game from the boot.
Michael Ennis v Cameron Smith
Two of the best hookers in the business come at each other here. It kind of reminds you of the old Steve Walters v Benny Elias days… Walters was the better hooker and it irked Elias no end. Benny was a downright champ in his own right but just wasn’t quite as good as his Queensland counterpart. The numbers tell a similar story here with Smith the dominant force… but Ennis cannot be underestimated. The two skippers will play a huge role.
Ennis has played 25 games and has zero tries, zero line-breaks, four line-break assists, four try assists, five offloads and 28 tackle-breaks. He averages 74.9 minutes, 24.2 metres, 37.8 tackles, 3.4 missed tackles, 1.9 ineffective tackles and has 21 errors while conceding 20 penalties. He has zero 40/20s this season and averages 74 metres a game from the boot.
Smith has played 24 games and has two tries, two line-breaks, 10 line-break assists, 11 try assists, 28 offloads and 49 tackle-breaks. He averages 77.8 minutes, 67.9 metres, 40 tackles, 1.8 missed tackles, 1.7 ineffective tackles and has nine errors while conceding five penalties. He has one 40/20 this season and averages 146 metres a game from the boot.
Frank Pritchard v Ryan Hoffman
Each side has a left-side-edge running forward who can do major damage. They are either perfect decoys for the likes of Barba and Slater on the sweep play, or they are go-to men when they isolate smaller defenders one on one. These two are unlikely to come into much contact with each other, but they will perhaps be a key part in a game-winning play.
Pritchard has played 25 games in 2012 and has four tries, five line-breaks, five line-break assists, four try assists, 33 offloads and 41 tackle-breaks. He averages 65.9 minutes, 96 metres, 17 tackles, 1.6 missed tackles, one ineffective tackle and has 23 errors while conceding nine penalties.
Hoffman has played 26 games and has 10 tries, nine line-breaks, five line-break assists, three try assists, 26 offloads and 65 tackle-breaks. He averages 74.7 minutes, 114.3 metres, 22 tackles, two missed tackles, 1.2 ineffective tackles and has 16 errors, while conceding six penalties.
So the stage is set for a huge match. For what it’s worth, I believe the stats point to a Melbourne win. But good luck to both teams!