Can you smell the finals in the air? Can you feel the nerves building? What about you Souths fans… are you really starting to believe? Or are you getting edgy? Bulldogs supporters… are you thinking the side is on their way – or are they peaking too early? Nervous or not, you can at least be confident your teams are in the finals. What about those teams still up in the air? What stats might make or break their involvement in the finals? Are the Dragons done in by their attack? Will the Knights’ inability to offload be their demise?
Let’s look at just the teams I believe aren’t yet secure and still have a chance…
NORTH QUEENSLAND (6th, 26 points, +80)
Killer Stat: Errors
The Cowboys are making 11.6 errors a game, which ranks them worst in the NRL. You read correctly: more than the Eels, the Panthers… anyone. When big games come down to the crunch one more error than an opponent can easily be the difference between winning and losing. Who are the culprits? Well, it’s no surprise the guys who try the most stuff make the most errors. Matthew Bowen has 30 for the season (equal fourth most in the NRL) while Johnathan Thurston has 25 alongside his name. These are too many, but somewhat excusable. The guys who have less of an excuse? Antonio Winterstein with 21 and Gavin Cooper with 18. The Cowboys must respect possession more or they could slide out of contention – or out the back door of the finals should they make it.
Further Concern: Nine dummy-half tries conceded (equal most).
BRISBANE (7th, 26 points, +46)
Killer Stat: Middle defence
The Broncos have conceded 20 tries up the middle of the ruck – and only two teams in the competition are worse. When you have a weak middle the clever playmakers and hookers can make waves against you – just look at the likes of Cameron Smith go about his business. If the Broncos’ markers and ‘A’ defenders don’t react well an outside/inside kill play could be used to break open a game and get the Broncos on the ropes.
Further Concern: Scored just three tries from over halfway (fewest in the NRL); averaging 48 missed tackles in their past four games.
WESTS TIGERS (8th, 24 points, -10)
Killer Stat: Metres gained & conceded
The Wests Tigers might have gotten back in the winner’s circle against the Eels but they have plenty of problems. Perhaps the biggest concern is the fact they average just 1269 metres gained each match, ranked 15th in the NRL. Currently their ability to find ways to score from anywhere is keeping them in the mix but finals get tight defensively and the Tigers aren’t getting good field position. They are also conceding 1366 metres a game, ranked 12th in the NRL, so they are allowing their opponents to get within range often.
Further Concern: Line-breaks conceded are six a game (most in the comp); 36.8 missed tackles a game (most by any side).
GOLD COAST (9th, 22 points, -6)
Killer Stat: Tackle-breaks
The Titans average just 29 tackle-breaks, ranking them 15th in the NRL. It might not sound like a big deal… and to be honest it’s not the most important stat in the competition… but in close matches, not being able to create tackle-breaks could be a huge concern. It is no doubt a factor in their below-average attack. When you don’t break tackles, you don’t create chances… and you don’t get to dictate a fast speed at the ruck.
Further Concern: They average just 18.6 points a game (ranked 12th).
NEWCASTLE (10th, 22 points, -20)
Killer Stat: Offloads made & conceded
The Knights are terrible at promoting second-phase football (to be fair this is likely by design from the Wayne Bennett do-not-make-errors playbook) and just as bad at shutting it down from opposing teams. While the ability to offload consistently hasn’t been a trait of every premiership team since the dawn of the game, it certainly helps to be able to make things happen in the clutch – and stop others doing the same. With just 8.6 offloads a game the Knights rank last in the NRL; that’s almost four offloads fewer than the NRL-best Sharks. They also concede 13 offloads a game, again ranked last in the NRL.
Further Concern: They have scored just six tries from kicks. That limits their variety.
CANBERRA (11th, 22 points, -53)
Killer Stat: Points conceded
It’s quite simple for the Raiders – they leak too many points. With an average 23.9 points getting put on them each week the Green Machine are far from well-oiled or made of steel. The stat ranks the side 13th in the NRL, with just the struggling Roosters and hapless Panthers and Eels the only sides doing worse. It is a long way from the NRL benchmark Bulldogs at 14.4. If the Canberra boys can’t tighten up over the next month they won’t be playing beyond it.
Further Concern: Line-breaks conceded – they average 5.6 to rank second worst.
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA (12th, 22 points, -66)
Killer Stat: Points scored
In the opposite problem to the Raiders, the Dragons need to find a way to score points. Pedestrian offensively for most of the season the Dragons average just 15.2 points a game to present easily the worst attack in the NRL. Even Penrith score 1.4 more a game and the Eels three points a week more! The two best attacking teams in the NRL, the Rabbitohs and Storm average 24.5. With a poor differential against them the Dragons need to average at least this over the last month… and win.
Further Concern: Line-breaks 3.6 a game (fewest in the NRL)
WARRIORS (13th, 20 points, -18)
Killer Stat: Missed tackles
The only reason the Warriors are still in the mix is they have a slightly better differential than others in front of them… but they’ll need to win every game to have a chance. If they are to do that they need to stop missing tackles. The Kiwi-based boys miss a whopping 36.4 tackles a game, ranked second worst in the NRL and putting them under constant pressure. Halves James Maloney (102) and Shaun Johnson (67) have been the main offenders.
Further Concern: Conceded 14 long-range tries.