Did anyone else notice the dominant attacking plays triggered by renowned long kickers Cooper Cronk, Todd Carney and Jarrod Mullen in successive Round 1 fixtures last weekend, with their telling 40/20s leading to immediate points for their sides after strolling down-field with the scrum-feed advantage? Not to mention rejuvenated Eels halfback Chris Sandow’s two unlucky, narrow misses?
It certainly wasn’t lost on Stats Insider.
Which got me thinking, and also doing a little research. Three 40/20s might not seem a lot but after digging around through the stats for the past three seasons, I believe we could be in for a watershed year of 40/20s – all thanks to the referees’ new rule interpretations.
Clearly the game is already a lot faster in 2013, with the speed of the ruck picking up pace as the refs crack down on illegal spoiling tactics and the overall slowing down of the play-the-ball.
Obviously a quicker play-the-ball will reduce the time defences have to re-set their structures and also for key individual defenders to get up quickly in the face of the opposition’s tactical and attacking kickers.
Like Cronk, Carney and Mullen.
It’s no surprise these guys – proven masters of the long, diagonal punt – reeled off their 40/20s – heck, Carney’s was more like a 26/4 kick!
I know it’s early days yet but here’s why we could see more 40/20s this season than ever before.
In 2010, 25 different players booted a total of 44 40/20s; in 2011 it dipped by 25%, with 20 players booting 32 40/20s; and last season 24 separate players combined to kick a total of 42 40/20s.
Running a rule through last season, that equated to one 40/20 being kicked every 4.5 games (given 192 games through 26 rounds) – clearly three from the first week of the 2013 Telstra Premiership has us on track to crack the 50 mark at least by the time we head into the first week of the semi-finals.
Knights assistant coach Rick Stone agrees a quicker game will play into the hands of fast-to-react kickers such as Mullen.
“I do think that the speed of the ruck was quicker and generally if the speed of the ruck is quicker it does give you a little bit more time,” Stone told NRL.com.
“Generally Jarrod is pretty good at 40/20s for us and it’s not uncommon for him to get one but definitely it’s going to help if the play-the-ball is quicker. There will be less pressure on them and will give them a little bit more time to sum it all up.
“I mean, Jarrod practises his kicking a couple of times a week and sometimes he will have a particular focus on 40/20s. His yardage stuff is pretty consistent and has been for a while now.
“Sometimes it doesn’t matter how little pressure there is on a player – he might only kick four out of 10 – but there is still a skill and accuracy in executing that kick and as I said, any little bit of time is an advantage.”
Melbourne assistant coach Kevin Walters agreed that ruck speed was a factor but said he expected the number of 40/20s kicks each season to continue to rise as players became better versed in the benefits of long and accurate kicking.
“These days the players are far more aware of the benefits of kicking a 40/20 and they’ve got the skills to do it too,” he said.
“They spend hours watching video and learning where the opportunities are – I know because I do the video with the blokes down here every week! And at the end of the day, the 40/20 kick is one thing that you can’t defend against. Even if the winger or fullback is standing in the perfect place, there is nothing they can do if the kicker puts the ball where he wants to.
“The good kickers know this and they spend hours doing it at training so that they can put it into practice in a game situation.”
Let’s see what unfolds over the coming weeks... and don’t forget to follow me on twitter@NRLstatsinsider
*Footnote: Chris Sandow booted a 40/20 in Thursday night’s Eels v Bulldogs game, making it four 40/20s from the opening nine games of the 2013 season.
Leading 40/20 kickers
Cooper Cronk (4)
Terry Campese (4)
Robbie Farah (3)
Todd Carney (2)
Jarrod Mullen (2)
Jarrod Mullen (4)
Chris Sandow (4)
Cooper Cronk (3)
Darren Lockyer (2)
Benji Marshall (2)
Cooper Cronk (5)
Daly Cherry-Evans (4)
Andrew McCullough (4)
Todd Carney (3)
Jarrod Mullen (3)
*Statistics: NRL Stats