Stats Insider: Is your team paying the penalty?
The other week a mate of mine named Mitch was standing on the Brookvale Oval hill, as he often does when watching the Sea Eagles go around, enjoying a cold drink and the company of a few long-time friends.<br><br>This group of “lads” have been trotting out to Manly games for as long as they can remember, dating back even to when Bob Fulton was scorching the turf! Anyway, they got to talking. It was after the shrill of the whistle went against an Eagle, again, for a high tackle.<br><br>“We’d have to be penalised more for high tackles than any other club,” Mitch said while throwing his Big League program to the ground in disgust.<br><br>“I reckon you’re right Mitch,” said another of the group, Pete. “They hate us, those refs!”<br><br>“Come off it you two,” a third, Bart, chimed in. “The Sharkies are the team getting back-pedalled for high shots; it happens all the time. Bet you a case of beer on it…”<br><br>As these old wood ducks went at each other I got to thinking… who gets penalised for what, what effect does it have, and what conclusions can be made from these stats?<br><br>We often see the basic numbers when it comes to penalties conceded – and yes, it is Manly who are getting caned the most with 106 for the season, closely followed by the Knights (105), the Panthers (105), the Warriors (104), Eels (101) and the Sharks (100). At the other end of the scale the Broncos are “cleanskins” with just 75. But we don’t often hear the breakdown for what these penalties are for.<br><br>And guess what Mitch? You were right – and Bart owes you that case. The Sea Eagles have been penalised a staggering 19 times for high shots this season, more than one a match, making them the ‘head hunters’ of the NRL. <br><br>High tackle penalties are the third most common in the game this year, with 158 blown. <br><br>Newcastle comes next on the bad boys list with 15, and the Sharks (sorry Bart) third after registering 13. <br><br>Well done to the Wests Tigers – either they love tackling low or they have a good way to slip past the ref’s ire, with just five high tackle penalties all year. <br><br>Now, it is hard to use a team’s tendency for high shots to your advantage – but don’t be surprised if you see the odd bit of play-acting if an opponent thinks they’ve been hit high-ish when playing the Sea Eagles or Knights in coming weeks. They know the referees are aware of the problems and might try to ‘milk’ the issue. <br><br>But what about the other penalty categories? The most common penalty in the game is for holding down, for which there have been 247 dished out. The Wests Tigers might stay off the head, but they also stay on the man too long, leading the way in conceding 25 penalties for holding down. <br><br>The Sea Eagles are once again up amongst the problem children, conceding 24 penalties. <br><br>The Broncos are at the low end with just eight and the Sharks and Rabbitohs are very good also with just nine.<br><br>The lesson to learn here may be to fight hard to get up when playing the Wests Tigers or Eagles. They seem to push the issue and if you fight hard opponents might just get a decision to go their way.<br><br>The second most prevalent penalty is for offside – and it is the two top sides that are soaring off their defensive lines too early. The Panthers have been pinged 21 times, the Dragons 17 as they try to intimidate with their defenders coming forward. (Meanwhile, the Titans must be very fit as they have only been offside six times this year – an incredible effort.) <br><br>Next: markers not being square. In this category South Sydney are struggling, giving up 15 penalties, while the Knights aren’t much better with 12. <br><br>This is a pointer to slower ruck defenders and shows a weakness in the armour. To get at the Bunnies or Knights, the trick might well be to make their forwards make effort-on-effort to catch them on the hop.<br>As for strips, seaside rivals Manly and Cronulla steal the ball more than anyone else – the Sea Eagles have been done 12 times in 2010, the Sharks 11. Keep a good grip when playing them… or maybe don’t, as a decision might go your way.<br><br>When it comes to hands on the ball as a team tries to play it – well the Knights love the tactic but pay the price with 13 penalties conceded, as do the Dragons (11 conceded), Titans and Cowboys (10 each).<br><br>Other category ‘leaders’ include:<br>Back Chat: Warriors (four)<br>Dangerous Throw/Tackle: Knights & Rabbitohs (five). (The Bulldogs have none and deserve some praise.)<br>Dragged when tackled: Storm (three)<br>Holding Back (defence): Broncos, Dragons & Sharks (five)<br>Late Tackle: Warriors (eight)<br>Mid-air Tackle: Eels (three)<br>Striking: Eels (four)<br>Flop: Broncos & Rabbitohs (four)<br>Leg Pull: Panthers (five)<br>Grapple Tackle: Sharks (four)<br>Second-effort after held: Sharks (10)<br>Lying in the ruck: Titans, Storm, Panthers & Eels (four)<br>Obstruction (attack): Rabbitohs (six)<br>Downtown: Storm & Panthers (two)<br><br>With NRL games getting tighter and tighter and penalties potentially being the deciding factor, it is time for sides to realise where they are struggling and fix it – otherwise the old boys on the hill will still be debating refs instead of trying to rank the best tries they have ever seen (one for another day!).