Stats Insider: Stepping it up a gear

When it comes to finals football you sometimes hear expert commentators and coaches talking about ‘stepping it up a gear’ to ensure winning continues – and that importance was duly illustrated during Week One of the finals. <br><br>The premise is obviously that when big-name players and teams lift and have a higher output in the important games, the results should follow. This was certainly the case last weekend. <br><br>Manly bombed out of the competition after being belted by Melbourne and when looking at the stats you can see quite clearly several Storm players lifted their intensity for finals football. Meanwhile, several Sea Eagles dropped theirs dramatically. <br><br>It was consistent across all finals in Week One, with the likes of Jamie Soward and Matt Orford down on their season averages, while the likes of Billy Slater and even the mercurial Jarryd Hayne were well above theirs. <br><br>So just who were the ‘big game’ players from Week One… and can they be relied on in Week Two and Three? Let’s take a look…<br><b><br>Melbourne</b><br>Fullback Billy Slater was awesome. Not only did he score four tries (he was averaging less than a try every two matches this year) but he also ran for 35 metres more than his average of 122 metres with 157 metres. He added four line breaks against Manly, smashing his average of 0.74 a game, and while his average tackle breaks per game was 5.8 in the regular season, he toiled for 13 against the Sea Eagles.<br><br>Others to impress for the Storm were Greg Inglis, who beat his average 119 metres with 143 metres, and Ryan Hoffman who went from a 102-metre average to 135 metres. Ryan Tandy (87 metres to 113 metres) and Jeff Lima (108 metres to 126 metres) also lifted in attack. <br><br>Captain Cameron Smith may have run less than usual but he scored a try (just his third for the year) and added two try assists in their qualifying final, smashing his average of 0.27 a game this season. <br><br><b>Manly</b><br>The Sea Eagles were obliterated off the park against the Storm and while they certainly had a disrupted preparation, several players failed to stand up and match their regular season form when it was needed. <br><br>Anthony Watmough had averaged 139 metres a match in 2009 but was contained to just 92 metres and the rest of the forward pack, save for youngster Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, were down on their regular output.<br><br>Halfback and captain Matt Orford was almost missing in action, with just one run for zero metres compared to his regular 43 metres. Additionally he kicked for just 235 metres – down from his average 313 metres – and contributed no line-break assists or try assists, despite conjuring 15 and 22 respectively in the regular season.<br><br><b>Gold Coast</b><br>The Titans rallied hard from a poor first half against the Broncos but were unable to overcome the head start they yielded.&nbsp; And while some of the outside backs gained more metres than usual, their two big gun forwards in Luke Bailey and Anthony Laffranchi failed to live up to reputation. <br><br>Bailey had been averaging 134 metres for the season but only managed 94 metres against the Broncos, while Laffranchi dropped from his average 121 metres to just 83 metres. The usual penetration and menace from the pair was missing, as was the speed of their play-the-balls, and they will need to return to their best this weekend if they are to combat Parramatta.<br><br>Scott Prince, who stayed relatively on par with his averages, would also be expected to lift this weekend. Finals are about playing to another level and Prince did not do so against the Broncos – although he wasn’t helped by the slower ruck speed and the fact his forwards were outplayed.<br><br><b>Brisbane</b><br>For the Broncos the likes of Justin Hodges, Israel Folau and Dave Taylor lifted and the end result was obviously another victory. Hodges was heavily involved against the Titans, lifting from his season average of 146 metres to 161 metres and adding nine tackle breaks when his average is six. He also punched out a couple of offloads and was generally an all-round menace for the Titans to contend with. <br><br>Folau scored three tries in the match, obviously up from his 13 in 16 games before the game, showing when the pressure is on, he can get it done while Taylor was again barnstorming, lifting from his 96-metre average to 140 metres and making 31 tackles when he averaged just 20 a match all year.<br><br>Then there was halfback Peter Wallace, who was averaging less than a try assist a game – but who managed three against the Titans in a dominant performance. <br><b><br>Bulldogs</b><br>The Bulldogs got the job done against the Knights thanks to some good old-fashioned forwards rolling up their sleeves and thundering forward, plus a young centre causing havoc and a veteran fullback supporting up the middle.<br><br>The Bulldogs’ engine room took up the challenge of playing without Brett Kimmorley by dominating their counterparts. Ben Hannant ran for 158 metres, more than his 134-metre average, Michael Hodgson pumped out 136 metres (up from his average 97 metres), Andrew Ryan managed 101 metres (up from 77 metres) and Greg Eastwood added 126 metres (up from 78 metres).<br><br>Out wide fullback Luke Patten ran for a little under his average, but managed two tries from good support play; considering he was scoring less than a try every three games this year, a double in a final certainly helped.<br><br>Then there was Dally M Rookie of the Year Jamal Idris, who still might have defensive deficiencies but was damaging in attack. Idris had averaged just 86 metres a game and 4.3 tackle breaks – but against the Knights he managed to belt out 134 metres and 14 tackle breaks to clearly lift in the big-game atmosphere.<br><br><b>Newcastle</b><br>The Knights were cruelled by injury and were getting completely dominated in the forwards, so it is actually a credit to them to have seen them stay in the game against the Bulldogs as long as they did.<br><br>While the entire forward pack was down on attacking ‘grunt’ due to a heavy defensive workload, it was still untimely for Zeb Taia to have his poorest game of the year. Taia had been very strong for the Knights in 2009, averaging 113 metres a match and leading the club with 12 line breaks – but he managed to muster just 38 metres against the ’Dogs. Richie Fa’aoso also didn’t provide his usual punch off the bench; he also made three errors when he’d averaged well less than one a game before.<br><br>Jarrod Mullen tried hard but without field position and forward dominance he was always going to struggle to be a hero.<br><b><br>St George Illawarra</b><br>As individuals the Dragons players continued to put out the numbers they have been meeting throughout a fairly consistent season, but their problems centred on a few key moments and a few key errors. <br><br>Dean Young had his worst defensive display in a long time, missing six tackles when he usually missed just 1.6 a match. Making matters worse for Young, two of the misses led to tries. <br><br>Jamie Soward has been kicking like a champion all year, averaging 532 metres, but against the Eels he kicked for just 314 metres… and then there was his intercept pass. <br><br>The likes of Justin Poore, Michael Weyman and Ben Creagh all posted reasonable numbers – but the reality is they need to be better in the big games and lift the extra gear if they are to compete.<br><br>Matt Cooper, who is battling several niggling injuries, needs to find some way to lift his input also. <br><b><br>Parramatta</b><br>The obvious place to start with the Eels is Jarryd Hayne. You would think someone who averages 172 metres a match might have trouble beating his average, but not so for Hayne as he lifted it up another notch to run for 208 metres against the Dragons. <br><br>The ever-elusive fullback has also averaged six tackle breaks a game, 1.3 line breaks a game, 0.59 tries, 0.55 try assists in the regular season – but in this sudden-death final he lifted to add 17 tackle breaks, three line breaks, a try and a try assist in a phenomenal display. His try at the death was one of the most spectacular individual efforts ever seen.<br><br>Winger Eric Grothe is next. After having the previous week off through illness Grothe came out and put up a big number against the Dragons. He ran for 229 metres, up from his average 115 metres, although this was inflated thanks to his long-range intercept. But he also made a few errors and won’t want to be lulled into a false sense of security.<br><br>Last, Fuifui Moimoi also doubled his average of three tackle breaks a game to notch six against the Dragons, and Nathan Hindmarsh continued his amazing defence with 50 tackles, up from his 43-tackle average.<br><br>Who will put in a big one this weekend? Time will tell…