Stats Insider: Will goal-kicking cost your team the title?

It’s likely flashy Wests Tigers hero Benji Marshall will shape as the difference for his side in their upcoming crucial games – but there’s a good chance it may be for the wrong reason. <br><br>Marshall’s goal-kicking is turning out to be a real headache for the 2005 premiers as they strive for glory in 2010, with his strike rate now at a dismal 61 per cent. <br><br>Every point in an NRL match is crucial but as the intensity lifts each week and the scores get closer a good goal-kicker can be the difference between playing finals football and making plans for your end-of-year trip. <br><br>How confident are you in your kicker’s ability under pressure? We have seen Kurt Gidley nail two sideline screamers in recent weeks with the game on the line – can your club’s kicker be trusted?<br><br>It’s all well and good to pop the ball over from in front when you are putting on an attacking master class, but can you pilot the ball between the sticks from the sideline when every fan is holding their breath, and hostile opposition fans are hurling abuse?<br><br>Of the competition’s regular kickers (those who have attempted 18 or more goal kicks) the top strike rate goes to Canberra’s Jarrod Croker, who is currently sitting on 87.5 per cent with 21 from 24 kicks. He is closely followed by Johnathan Thurston at 87.2 per cent (41 from 47) while Sea Eagle Jamie Lyon is running relatively hot at 85.7 per cent (54 from 63). <br><br>Of this group, only Lyon is likely to have to kick on in the finals, although Croker’s Raiders still hold out hope. But never fear, of the contending teams, most first-stringers are hitting above 80 per cent. <br><br>The only other sides joining the Wests Tigers with a genuine chance at finals football without a first-string kicker above 80 per cent are the Roosters (Todd Carney 78.9 per cent), the Warriors (James Maloney 77.8 per cent) and the Dragons (Jamie Soward 71.3 per cent).<br><br>Will this pose a problem? Could this be the crucial piece of the finals puzzle? Well, let’s delve deeper... <br><br>Kicking from in front is easy, right? Of course it is – for any trained goal-kicker, that is. The big names like Michael Gordon, Corey Parker, Carney, Soward, Lyon, Gidley, Scott Prince etc all have 100 per cent records from in front this season, with Gordon nailing the most at 27 from 27.<br><br>But some of these top-notch kickers have had hiccups from even the easiest of angles. Marshall is only kicking at 85.7 per cent from in front, having missed four (yes, four!)&nbsp; goals from in front of the sticks. And yes, I can hear you suggesting he must have been kicking from way back… well only one attempt was from longer than 40 metres. <br><br>Thurston, Issac Luke, Cameron Smith and Maloney have all missed a kick from in front this year, but perhaps all can be forgiven one indiscretion. <br><br>So what about the harder angles? Let’s start with the left side… <br><br>Thurston owns the left sideline, with six from seven and an 85.7 per cent success rate. But he won’t feature in finals footy. Eel Luke Burt is at 75 per cent (six from eight) and Rabbitoh Chris Sandow is at 83.3 per cent (five from six) – which might convince Bunnies coach John Lang to let Sandow take the left-side kicks even when Luke returns considering he is just two from eight at 25 per cent from the same spot!<br><br>Even the guy with the most goals, the Panthers’ Gordon, is kicking at just 54.5 per cent from the left touchline. <br><br>Roosters fans will be ushering their stars to the right knowing Carney is getting just 46.1 per cent of left sideline attempts through the posts. <br><br>And what of Marshall? A dismal three from 16 and 18.8 per cent success – it’s a massive problem, as Lote Tuqiri is getting plenty of ball on the left side. <br><br>Moving to the left fringe we can marvel at the feats of Bronco Corey Parker, who has kicked 16 from 16 for a perfect record. Likewise, Thurston is 12 from 12, Lyon 11 from 11, Prince 10 from 10 and Croker six from six. But Soward and Marshall are nailing just 63.6 per cent from this edge – in other words missing nearly four of every 10 attempts! <br><br>But it’s Cameron Smith who actually struggles here the most, with just 57.1 per cent going over. <br><br>Now to the right edge, what should be a preferred side for a left-foot kicker like Soward and the struggle point for most right-footers who commonly claim the edge kicks are more difficult than the sideline efforts. <br><br>Prince, Thurston and Croker are at 100 per cent, albeit from just five, five and six shots respectively. Burt and Gidley are in the 90s, having missed just one kick each. But Parker takes a significant dip down to 66.7 per cent with 14 from 21 – which should be enough to get the Broncos’ right side scorers trying to improve their position when grounding. They might even be better off running out wide where the lock forward has six from seven at 85.7 per cent! <br><br>Despite being a leftie, Soward is potting just 62.5 per cent from this edge and Marshall is again struggling at 64.3 per cent. <br><br>The right sideline has been a massive issue, with not one of the top kickers perfect from this angle. The closest mark goes to Parker’s above-mentioned 85.7 per cent. Gidley’s 77.8 per cent rates highly, too. The rest are struggling. Soward, Croker and Marshall are at 50 per cent, Gordon is at 57.1, Carney 55.6, Bryson Goodwin just 37.5, Maloney 33.3, Burt 53.8, Luke 46.2, Thurston 42.9 and Smith 37.5. <br><br>So far in 2010 there have been more than seven tries each match, so around seven shots at goal, or 14 potential points scored or missed not including penalty attempts. The Rabbitohs have scored the most tries this season and average 4.5 tries a match. If on a good day your team scores four tries, can they add the extra eight points, or will dropping four – or even just two – prove the difference to their premiership chances? <br><br>Sydneysiders, don’t be surprised to see Marshall practising kicking goals if you drive past Concord Oval in the next few weeks…