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NRL Telstra Premiership 2009

Stats Insider: Did the Dally M judges get it right?

Ben Everill NRL.com Thu, Sep 08, 2011 - 1:45 PM

Storm star Billy Slater was a worthy winner of the Dally M award as the game's best player, but was he the game's best fullback in 2011 according to the stats? Copyright: NRL Photos

Last Tuesday night a new Dally M Medal winner was crowned amongst much pomp and ceremony. Billy Slater earned his maiden Player of the Year gong; it was a popular choice and well deserved. Slater stopped Johnathan Thurston winning a third time. He was too good to allow Paul Gallen a huge reward for another toiling season. And he held off the great Benji Marshall, who initiated and rode the Wests Tigers’ momentum almost all the way to the bank.

The huge occasion also saw positional awards given out for Team of the Year. But what if the Dally M voting were based just on statistics? Would we get the same winners?

Each position on a rugby league field has its own core, or key, stats. For fullbacks, kick-return metres are important… but obviously a prop doesn’t need to score well here. For him it is more about general metres, minutes and tackles. Halves need to have high scores in try assists and line-break assists; centres need to make the line-breaks and score the tries. A good back-rower can pop an offload… you get the drift. Let’s find out who would be the king of their positions based on the key numbers – with the proviso a player had to start at least 12 games (half a season) in the position to qualify.

FULLBACK
Key Stats: Tries, Line-breaks, Line-break Assists, Try Assists, Tackle-breaks, Metres, Kick-return Metres, Missed Tackles, Errors
Dally M Position Winner: Billy Slater
Stats Insider Finalists: Billy Slater, Ben Barba, Josh Hoffman, Darius Boyd, Jarryd Hayne

The Discussion: Bulldogs fullback Ben Barba led the way for fullbacks in terms of tries (Nathan Merritt played most of his games on the wing) with 23 for the season, and he also led the way in line-breaks (30). The try assist king among the regular custodians was Matthew Bowen with 17 while Jarryd Hayne led the line-break assists category with 18 and the metres category while playing fullback.  Billy Slater registered the most tackle-breaks while Kevin Locke (82.8) averaged the most metres on kick returns. Darius Boyd committed just 15 errors from 20 games, Josh Hoffman had just 13 from 16 and he also averaged just 0.8 missed tackles a game.

Our Verdict: When our statistical formula was applied to the custodians Barba fell away with errors and lack of ability to set up team-mates. Hayne sored… before errors cut him back to size. Boyd’s metres were just a little sub-par, leaving Hoffman and Slater to battle it out. Statistically Hoffman had a sensational year (158 metres) and was extremely safe at the back for Brisbane but with Slater scoring high in all key components, ‘Billy The Kid’ claims the title.

WING
Key Stats: Tries, Line-breaks, Tackle-breaks, Metres, Kick-return Metres, Errors
Dally M Position Winner: Akuila Uate
Stats Insider Finalists: Akuila Uate, David Mead, Ashley Graham, Brett Morris, Jason Nightingale

The Discussion: Cowboy Graham and Titan Mead played every game this season, with Graham producing a solid 12 tries and 12 line-breaks while averaging 140.5 metres. Mead scored some scorching tries with 16 to his name, busted 15 line-breaks and some solid kick-return metres. The Dragons duo of Morris and Nightingale had their moments… Morris scored high on line-breaks (with 17) and tackle-breaks (98) while Nightingale was a beast for a winger on kick-return metres (averaging 38.2). Uate scored 19 tries, added 18 line-breaks, 148 tackle-breaks and averaged 143.5 metres.

Our Verdict: The Dally M judges got this one right. Uate streeted the field in his category and should find himself in the Australian squad for the Four Nations tour at year’s end.

CENTRE
Key Stats: Tries, Line-breaks, Try Assists, Metres, Tackles, Missed Tackles, Errors
Dally M Position Winner: Jamie Lyon
Stats Insider Finalists: Jamie Lyon, Matt Cooper, Steve Matai, Mark Gasnier, Blake Ayshford

The Discussion: Wests Tigers centre Blake Ayshford is the only centre to play all 24 games, which deserves a mention (although Dane Nielsen played every game he could also, only missing two through Origin duties). Ayshford also scored 11 tries and had 13 line-breaks but was let down by missing 2.6 tackles a match. Mark Gasnier only scored six tries this season, but cracked the triple figures for metres and also made in excess of 20 tackles a match, missing 1.5. Steve Matai was another rare centre to average more than 100 metres and the Manly enforcer also added 15 line-breaks – but he was stung by minimal tackles and a high miss rate (2.8). Cooper managed 14 tries, 19 line-breaks, six try assists, just fewer than 100 metres plus over 18 tackles. Lyon scored eight tries, seven line-breaks, 14 try assists and averaged 71 metres and just fewer than 16 tackles.

Our Verdict: The evergreen Matt Cooper takes the gong over fellow ‘veterans’ Lyon, Gasnier and Matai. Cooper led centres for tries and line-breaks, was up high in metres and tackles and had minimal misses.

FIVE-EIGHTH
Key Stats: Tries, Line-breaks, Line-break Assists, Try Assists, Offloads, Tackles, Missed Tackles, Kick Metres, Errors
Dally M Position Winner: Benji Marshall
Stats Insider Finalists: Benji Marshall, Darren Lockyer, Gareth Widdop, Josh McCrone, James Maloney, Jamie Soward

The Discussion: This season’s pivots have been in fine form statistically, with Marshall scoring 11 tries and adding 15 line-breaks to be the most damaging on his own, while also providing 25 line-break assists and 24 try assists to put others away. Lockyer also tallied 24 try assists, many from kicks, plus 15 line-break assists and managed 17 tackles a game compared to Marshall who made just 8.7, missing three a game. Marshall also made 45 errors this season.

Jamie Soward kicked the other five-eighths off the park with more than 10,000 kick metres and was also solid with 17 try assists and 10 line-breaks. James Maloney had a solid year all-round – except for missed tackles, producing 4.2 a game. McCrone is the real dark horse considering he played all 24 games; he scored nine tries, added 13 line-breaks, 10 line-break assists, 16 try assists and 30 offloads… he did make a ton of errors (39) though. Melbourne pivot Widdop only scored twice but made 14 line-breaks, 14 try assists as well as more than 20 tackles per game.

Our Verdict: Despite his astronomical error count and lack of defensive work Marshall has just held on to claim the stats crown. His ability to notch high numbers in individual-based attack and team-based attack helped secure him our gong.

HALFBACK
Key Stats: Tries, Line-breaks, Line-break assists, Try Assists, Tackles, Missed Tackles, Kick Metres, Errors
Dally M Position Winner: Cooper Cronk
Stats Insider Finalists: Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston, Robert Lui, Daly Cherry-Evans, Mitchell Pearce

The Discussion: Cronk led the way for No.7s in scoring with 12 tries and was solid elsewhere with seven line-breaks, 12 line-break assists, 16 try assists and more than 9000 kick metres. Johnathan Thurston was slowed by injury but still managed 10 tries, 11 line-breaks and a positional-leading 26 line-break assists and 21 try assists. However, he also led his peers for errors. Robert Lui was the best line-breaker with 13, Mitchell Pearce scored highly in line-break assists and try assists, while Daly Cherry-Evans showed solid attacking numbers while making almost 24 tackles a match! For those wondering – Chris Sandow was statistically killed by his minimal defence and massive missed tackle rate (5.8 a game).

Our Verdict: This one comes down to Thurston and Cronk. Amazingly the formula has the two almost dead even, with multiple decimal places needed to get a winner. Cronk wins more categories but Thurston’s dominance in the key attacking stats brings him back to the fore. At the end of the day Cronk’s extra defence and fewer misses, combined with his massive kick metres, have pulled him ahead by the barest of margins.

LOCK
Key Stats: Minutes, Line-breaks, Line-break assists, Offloads, Tackle-breaks, Metres, Tackles, Missed Tackles
Dally M Position Winner: Paul Gallen
Stats Insider Finalists: Paul Gallen, Corey Parker, Glenn Stewart, Shaun Fensom, Chris Heighington

The Discussion: Do we really need to go into the figures here? Those who follow the stats regularly know Paul Gallen has long been a stats guru… did anyone get close? Gallen averaged 76.6 minutes this season and ran for 183.5 metres and added 25.8 tackles, missing just 1.2 a game. For good measure he led the lock forwards in tries with six, line-breaks with nine and line-break assists with eight. He also scored high on offloads (48) and tackle-breaks. Bronco Corey Parker bested Gallen in offloads (56), minutes (78.4) and tackles (41.2) but missed more (2.7) and ran less (137.5 metres). Glenn Stewart was solid across the board but not in the league of the other two; the same can be said for Heighington, who led in tackle-breaks but nothing else. Shaun Fensom from the Raiders busted out a mammoth 50 tackles a match and led the NRL in decoy runs.

Our Verdict: Parker put up a decent fight in the stats but Gallen gets the nod based on mammoth metres and better attacking output.

SECOND ROW
Key Stats: Minutes, Line-breaks, Offloads, Tackle-breaks, Metres, Tackles, Missed Tackles.
Dally M Position Winner: Sam Thaiday
Stats Insider Finalists: Nathan Hindmarsh, Sam Thaiday, Feleti Mateo, Alex Glenn, Ben Creagh, Dave Taylor

The Discussion: As expected, this position throws up plenty of contenders with the likes of Simon Mannering, Andrew Ryan and Trent Waterhouse not even getting a finalist spot – despite leading or nearly leading a key stat. Hindmarsh once again set the defensive standard with more than 1000 tackles at 49.9 a match, with just 2.1 misses. He also averaged 77.1 minutes. Thaiday led the way in running metres with 116.8 a game and also pumped out 32.1 tackles. Feleti Mateo cranked the offloads as usual and Ben Creagh was another to crack triple digits on average running. Alex Glenn started every match, averaged 73 minutes, added seven line-breaks, 67 tackle-breaks but limited offloads and metres. Dave Taylor was a wrecking ball with seven line-breaks (and seven try assists and line-break assists) multiple offloads and tackle-breaks. He was just under 70 minutes, averaged triple figures running but just 25 tackles with 4.3 misses.

Our Verdict: This is the hardest position to quantify, as players are either usually defensively orientated or offensive orientated. Both types of players give great value to teams. Mateo may be the unlucky one, as he had multiple starts from the bench, which take away valuable points. The formula anoints Dave Taylor the winner despite making some 25 fewer tackles than Hindmarsh a game; but had the Eels’ skipper just added a bit more in attack he may have come over the top of Taylor and Thaiday, who also scored highly.

FRONT ROW
Key Stats: Minutes, Metres, Offloads, Tackles, Missed Tackles.
Dally M Position Winner: Matt Scott
Stats Insider Finalists: Luke Bailey, Fuifui Moimoi, Aiden Tolman, Petero Civoniceva, Matthew Scott, Luke Douglas

The Discussion: Another position full of great stats guys. Luke Bailey toiled hard all year in a poor side, averaging 60 minutes, 122.8 metres and 33.3 tackles. Moimoi was a metre machine averaging 134.6 in just 50 minutes. Petero was solid all-round with 27 offloads, 122 metres and 22 tackles. Douglas played every game and cracked the 100-metres and 30-tackles average; Tolman cracked the 35-tackle barrier and was barely under 130 metres a game, while Scott contributed 115 metres and 25 tackles from 50 minutes.

Our Verdict: One of the rare times the Dally M judges got it ‘wrong’. Matt Scott’s output was beaten by a few of his peers and while he caught up on offloads he couldn’t overtake Aiden Tolman who worked his butt off each week. His ability to make more tackles while missing fewer sees him take out our award.

HOOKER
Key Stats: Line-breaks, Line-break Assists, Try Assists, Tackle-breaks, Minutes, Metres, Tackles, Missed Tackles, Kick Metres, errors
Dally M Position Winner: Cameron Smith
Stats Insider Finalists: Cameron Smith, Issac Luke, Robbie Farah, Andrew McCullough, Jake Friend

The Discussion: First shout out to Robbie Farah, as the Wests Tigers hooker averaged more than 80 minutes a game thanks to golden-point efforts… he also led all hookers with nine line-breaks, 15 line-break assists and 17 try assists. Cameron Smith scored solid numbers across the board with high minutes, good metres at 77.1 and 43.4 tackles. Perhaps the most amazing stat for Smith though is the fact he had just two errors all year (when starting – he had a further error in a game coming from the bench). Issac Luke posted some massive numbers, like 114 tackle-breaks and 122.1 metres (also huge in offloads). Andrew McCullough cracked the 40-tackle mark and Jake Friend almost hit 50 tackles a match at 49.1.

Our Verdict: It looked like Issac Luke might steal the prize with his metres and tackle-breaks so high, but he came back to earth with a thud due to missed tackles (4.7 a game) and errors (31). The same could be said for Farah whose attacking nous shows up on the numbers he led. But Smith is by far the ‘King’ – even though most of his work doesn’t always get shown in stats categories.

So there you go… the Dally M judges were pretty close to the mark. Only a few discrepancies when you look simply at pure numbers. Big Dave Taylor, Matt Cooper and Aiden Tolman – keep an eye on the letterbox for your Stats Insider medals!