Stats Insider Finals Edition: Stats don't lie - or do they?

You often hear a commentator say ‘the stats tell the story’. But do they really give us as much insight into a game as we think? <br><br>Stats Insider obviously has a biased opinion – but I’m sure you’ll agree, on closer inspection, they do indeed give you a great indication on the result of a match.<br><br>Then again sometimes, had you not seen the match, and only had a select few stats at your disposal, you might make the incorrect assumption on the victor. It is these games that infuriate coaches, as they are usually games their side should have won… but didn’t.<br><br>We have just witnessed four great finals matches; the first was exciting throughout, the second gave everybody watching about 32 coronaries, the third also went down to the wire and the fourth was a clinical, strangling effort by an impressive team.<br><br>So, if we break down the major statistics from each four games – what stories do we get? <br><b><br>TITANS v WARRIORS</b><br>The Titans hung on for a 28-16 victory after leading 24-6 early in the second half, a result that eventually saw the boys from New Zealand eliminated. What would annoy coach Ivan Cleary in the wash-up is his Warriors side won just about every major stat – but couldn’t transfer it into a win. <br><br><b>Completions: Titans – 25/37 (68%); Warriors – 25/35 (71%)</b><br>The Warriors completed slightly better but the difference was negligible to the result. Both sides were pretty good at getting through sets of six and giving limited chances to the opposition but obviously the scoreboard shows the Titans capped off a few more sets and turned them into points. <br><br><b>Time in possession: Titans – 50%; Warriors – 50%</b><br>Even stevens. Once again, the Titans did more with the time. <br><br><b>Run metres: Titans – 1231m; Warriors – 1292m</b><br>The Warriors were able to eat more metres than the home side but failed to capitalise on the extra field position. Three Warriors made triple figure metres – fullback Lance Hohaia (153m), winger Manu Vatuvei (153m) and prop Russell Packer (109m) – but four Titans did also. Fullback William Zillman (180m), winger Kevin Gordon (136m) and second-rowers Greg Bird (107m) and Mark Minichiello (122m) were massive for the home team. <br><br><b>Kick metres: Titans – 596m; Warriors – 572m</b><br>The Titans made a few more metres from the boot, counteracting a little bit of the extra territory the Warriors made running.<br><br><b>Line-breaks: Titans – 7; Warriors – 5</b><br>The Titans grabbed the ascendancy here by making the most of their chances: Four of the Titans’ seven line-breaks led directly or indirectly to points, while the Warriors only had three. Six more points is obviously critical in any match, but in a hard-fought semi-final, it’s even more important. <br><b><br>Tackles: Titans – 277; Warriors – 320 </b><br>Another critical stat in the wash-up because making extra tackles brings on fatigue. The Warriors made 43 more, which is like an extra seven sets in defence. Decision-making under fatigue is always much harder than when you’re fresh.<br><br><b>Missed tackles: Titans – 37; Warriors – 34</b><br>Despite making more, the Warriors missed fewer tackles… and still fell short. This would be a frustrating stat for Cleary to have staring in his face. <br><br><b>Offloads: Titans – 8; Warriors – 14 </b><br>More second-phase play came from the Warriors, but once again they failed to capitalise. <br><br><b>Errors: Titans – 16; Warriors – 12 </b><br>It just reads worse for the Warriors’ mentor… they made fewer errors than the home side.<br><br><b>Tackle-breaks: Titans – 34; Warriors – 39 </b><br>Both sides did some damage but once again the Warriors did more, but came away with less.<br><b><br>Slow play-the-balls: Titans – 11; Warriors – 10</b><br>Negligible difference here – but another ‘win’ to annoy the Warriors coaching staff.<br><br><b>Fast play-the-balls: Titans – 17; Warriors – 33 </b><br>Wow – this is a significant discrepancy for the Titans that they were able to overcome. The Warriors were able to win the tackle and get a roll on almost twice as often – but again it wasn’t enough to break the line and get the necessary points to stay alive in 2010. <br><br><b>Penalties conceded:&nbsp; Titans – 2; Warriors – 4 </b><br>A low penalty count seems innocent but this is possibly the most crucial stat of the game. The Titans gave away two penalties all match and only the first one created the field position for points. The Warriors conceded four penalties – with three of these resulting in tries not long after and the other giving Scott Prince an easy two points with a penalty goal. <br><br><b>WESTS TIGERS v ROOSTERS</b><br>Wow. What a cracker. How awesome was this match. Even die-hard Wests Tigers fans who must be really hurting can see the entertainment value this game provided. Basically it yielded 100 minutes of footy, with tonnes of chances for either side to win. In the end someone had to emerge the victor; luckily for the Roosters it was they who came back from the 15-2 deficit to win 19-15 in extra time. The Wests Tigers dominated the early stages of the match but the Roosters came home stronger.<br><b><br>Completions: Wests Tigers – 32/46 (70%); Roosters – 34/47 (72%)</b><br>Another game with close-to-equal completion rates, as both teams gave each other enough chances to win this game.<br><br><b>Time in possession: Wests Tigers – 51%; Roosters – 49%</b><br>The Tigers had a little more ball, but not enough to make them feel like they dominated time.<br><br><b>Run metres: Wests Tigers – 1799m; Roosters – 1745m</b><br>The Wests Tigers boys made more metres and dominated field position in this contest but couldn’t convert enough of it to points. Gareth Ellis was over the line three times without success early, and it turned out to be ultimately critical in the final wash-up. Seven Wests Tigers players made triple figure metres – fullback Mitch Brown (141m), wingers Beau Ryan (164m) and Lote Tuqiri (146m), centre Blake Ayshford (169m), prop Keith Galloway (167m), second-rower Ellis (102m) and lock Chris Heighington (180m). Six Roosters made over 100 metres, with two of them posting over 200. Fullback Anthony Minichiello (168m), centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall (212m), winger Sam Perrett (221m), five-eighth Todd Carney (107m), prop Jason Ryles (159m) and bench forward Martin Kennedy (111m) posted the big numbers.<br><b><br>Kick metres: Wests Tigers – 750m; Roosters – 514m </b><br>Another domination by the Wests Tigers, who seriously should have put this game to bed in the first half when they dominated everything but couldn’t put the Roosters to the sword. <br><br><b>Line-breaks: Wests Tigers – 8; Roosters – 5 </b><br>This is where the Wests Tigers really let themselves down. The raw number of eight line-breaks in a match is awesome – but they all happened in the first 45 minutes of the game and only two of them resulted in points being scored. The six others all ended without result, either directly or indirectly. By comparison, the Roosters made all of their line-breaks after the 65th minute; the back-end domination allowed them to steal a result. <br><br><b>Tackles: Wests Tigers – 325; Roosters – 360</b><br>The Roosters were forced to do a little more defending and in a match as long as this, it could have been critical had Kenny-Dowall not saved the day with a long-range intercept.<br><b><br>Missed tackles: Wests Tigers – 40; Roosters – 46 </b><br>Another stat in favour of the losing side… poor Tim Sheens!<br><br><b>Offloads: Wests Tigers – 14; Roosters – 12 </b><br>More second-phase, but fewer points. The story is getting stronger and stronger… the Wests Tigers should have won this match.<br><br><b>Errors: Wests Tigers – 13; Roosters – 16 </b><br>See above. Fewer errors but fewer points. Sheens is losing more hair. <br><br><b>Tackle-breaks: Wests Tigers – 46; Roosters – 40 </b><br>Wests Tigers also busted more tackles… oh what could have been!<br><br><b>Slow play-the-balls: Wests Tigers – 10; Roosters – 8</b><br><br><b>Fast play-the-balls: Wests Tigers – 5; Roosters – 8 </b><br><br><b>Penalties conceded: Wests Tigers 5; Roosters – 3 </b><br>The Tigers were penalised early on and it gave the Roosters two points, while the Roosters’ penalties should have resulted in more points but the Wests Tigers failed to get the job done… again. Blake Ayshford was held up at end of one penalty set and Beau Ryan knocked on in-goal in another. Ryan did score indirectly off one penalty though, after the side managed a repeat set with the field position and then shifted to his wing for points. <br><br><b>PENRITH v CANBERRA</b><br>The Raiders juggernaut rolled on with a gutsy 24-22 win over the Panthers in a match won by a healthy attitude towards ball control and an awesome kicking game. The Green Machine hemmed the Panthers back deep through a long kicking game and committed chase effort; it stifled the Panthers enough to allow a Canberra win. <br><br><b>Completions: Panthers – 27/37 (73%); Raiders – 33/41 (80%)</b><br>While the Panthers’ completions aren’t bad, the Raiders ability to complete at 80 per cent was a critical factor in their win. It allowed their defence to be under far less pressure and stay solid for longer periods of time. <br><br><b>Time in possession: Panthers – 51%; Raiders – 49% </b><br><br><b>Run metres: Panthers – 1280m; Raiders – 1163m </b><br>The home-side Panthers dominated the run metres against the big physical Raiders pack but this was somewhat nullified by an excellent Canberra kicking game. <br><br><b>Kick metres: Panthers – 588m; Raiders – 815m</b><br>This is just about the major stat of the game. Despite being beaten over the ground metres-wise, the Raiders kept the Panthers inside their own half for most of the contest. When the majority of metres gained come from runs off your own line, making more territory than the opposition becomes a moot point. &nbsp;<br><br><b>Line-breaks: Panthers – 2; Raiders – 5</b><br>The Raiders scored off four of their five line-breaks and managed a repeat set with the other… a huge help in their victory. The Panthers broke the line just twice all game; they both led to tries. A side generally needs more than two line-breaks to win a game of footy.<br><b><br>Tackles: Panthers – 333; Raiders – 318</b><br>Negligible difference.<br><b><br>Missed tackles: Panthers – 32; Raiders – 27</b><br>Both sides missed some easy and tough tackles… pretty even here. <br><br><b>Offloads: Panthers – 11; Raiders – 11 </b><br><br><b>Errors: Panthers – 12; Raiders – 9 </b><br>Playing at home in a semi-final you need to have more discipline with the ball in hand. The Raiders knew they needed to win the error count to win the game. They did it and they are alive another week. <br><br><b>Tackle-breaks: Panthers – 27; Raiders – 33 </b><br>As you’d expect given the missed tackle count.<br><br><b>Slow play-the-balls: Panthers – 3; Raiders – 13 </b><br>One of the positive Penrith stats in the game: They managed to slow down the big Raiders forwards on a number of occasions… but not enough to stop the points. <br><br><b>Fast play-the-balls: Panthers – 8; Raiders – 9 </b><br>Negligible.<br><br><b>Penalties conceded: Panthers – 6; Raiders – 5</b><br>The home-side Panther’s gave away six penalties – of which half transformed directly into tries for Canberra. The Raiders gave away one less and also conceded one less try off the back of their indiscretions. The final result was just a difference of two points… you do the math.<br><br><b>ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA v MANLY</b><br>Clinical. Overpowering. Strangling. The Dragons rolled over an under-strength Sea Eagles side with percentage play, statistical efficiency and a defence second to none this season. The 28-0 result and style of taking points on offer is a warning to other teams… get in front early or expect the Dragons to grind you into the dust.<br><br><b>Completions: Dragons – 27/39 (69%); Sea Eagles – 23/31 (74%)</b><br>The Sea Eagles actually completed at a better percentage but the key here is the amount of sets. The Dragons had 39 sets of six in the match, the Sea Eagles just 31. Give the Dragons that much more ball, and it’s goodnight.<br><br><b>Time in Possession: Dragons – 52%; Sea Eagles – 48% </b><br>For the Sea Eagles to mount an upset this needed to be at least reversed, if not closer to 55-45, or certainly more in their favour. <br><br><b>Run Metres: Dragons – 1461m; Sea Eagles – 1017m</b><br>This is a monumental difference between two sides in one match, and would be a great indication as to what the score might be. Four Dragons in centres Matt Cooper (134m) and Mark Gasnier (170m) plus prop Neville Costigan (116m) and bench man Matt Prior (102m) cracked the century, while for the Sea Eagles just Ben Farrar (113m) and Tony Williams (119m) managed triple figures.<br><b>&nbsp;<br>Kick metres: Dragons – 393m; Sea Eagles – 380m</b><br>Similar numbers here, which are way down on Dragons average, but they dominated running metres so much they had little need to kick long. The Sea Eagles did need to kick long but still couldn’t get more from the boot than the Dragons.<br><br><b>Line-breaks: Dragons – 7; Sea Eagles – 1 </b><br>One line-break in a finals match, or any match, is likely to give you a chance to win the game. When the Dragons put seven on you as well, you can see why the scoreboard read 28-0 at game’s end. <br><br><b>Tackles: Dragons – 262; Sea Eagles – 293 </b><br>Less effort, more petrol in the tank.<br><br><b>Missed tackles: Dragons – 28; Sea Eagles – 39 </b><br>It could have been worse for the Sea Eagles in this department, so we can’t be too critical. They had a dig and were in the match early. <br><br><b>Offloads: Dragons – 18; Sea Eagles – 7 </b><br>Just another way the Dragons looked to go for the kill in the back end of the match. <br><br><b>Errors: Dragons – 15; Sea Eagles – 10 </b><br>A little surprising… but then again not really as the Dragons opened up their shoulders a little in the second half, and with that, errors sometimes flow. <br><br><b>Tackle-breaks: Dragons – 39; Sea Eagles – 28 </b><br>See missed tackles.<br><b><br>Slow play-the-balls: Dragons – 21; Sea Eagles – 15</b><br>Perhaps a stat for the Dragons’ next opponent to enjoy… it didn’t help the Sea Eagles. Although many of the penalties they conceded were for slowing down tactics.<br><br><b>Fast play-the-balls: Dragons – 27; Sea Eagles – 38 </b><br>As above. This is the little green light for either the Raiders or Wests Tigers when they meet in Week Three. Providing they don’t gift the Dragons penalties, that is! <br><br><b>Penalties conceded: Dragons – 5; Sea Eagles – 10 </b><br>Oh dear… The Sea Eagles gave away twice as many penalties and paid in some form almost every time. They even ended up with a man in the sin bin… You cannot win finals with poor discipline. And the Dragons, well they just kept potting over the two points extending a 6-0 lead to 14-0 without much effort at all. <br><br>So there you go. While every stat here is important, perhaps the most crucial thing to jump out of Week One finals matches was penalties: If you give them away, you better be ready to defend – as those who didn’t were beaten in the sets after infringements.