After just one match-up it is obviously tough to get any concrete statistical trends; however fans of the Cowboys, Roosters, Eels, Dragons, Storm, Knights, Raiders and Bulldogs can take heart from the fact that more than 72per cent of grand finalists in the past 50 years, and nearly 80 per cent of premiers, won their opening match of the season.
Guessing is fantasy; but what we can do is take a look at some of the major statistics categories to see if they correlated to a win in the opening round.
Metres Gained (Runs)
‘Run metres gained’ is one stat both coaches and individual players use constantly as a measure for go-forward. Theoretically, if you can make more metres than your opponents, you should have better field position more often – and better field position gives you a better chance at posting more points.
As support, look at the Knights, who were blow-out winners in week one. Newcastle gained 1361metres compared to Penrith’s dismal 950 metres.
Five of the eight winning teams in Round 1 made more metres across the park than their opponents. North Queensland, Canterbury and St George Illawarra bucked the trend and prevailed despite fewer metres gained. The Cowboys overcame a 104-metre deficit, the Bulldogs a small 26-metre deficit – while the premier Dragons used their renowned defence to overcome a not insignificant 220-metre shortfall.
Metres Gained (kick)
Kick metres are also very important, as a solid kicking game ensures your opponent starts their sets from deep within their territory. It is here the Dragons gave the Titans a touch-up, gaining 750 metres from kicks compared to 462 metres from the Gold Coast.
Six of eight winning teams kicked better than their foes – once again the Bulldogs and Cowboys overcame the shortfall to secure impressive, closely fought wins. The Bulldogs gained 56 fewer metres than the Wests Tigers while it was a 51-metre kick shortfall for the Cowboys.
It’s a pretty obvious theory: make more line-breaks, create more chances – and hopefully score more points.
Only the Eels managed to win their match with fewer line-breaks than their rivals when they posted two breaks to the Warriors’ three.
The Knights were the line-break kings in the opening round, with 10 against the Panthers, who managed just two.
The Cowboys had eight line-breaks against Brisbane’s four – perhaps one of the reasons they made up for metres gained.
Again, it’s not rocket science. Make fewer errors and get more ball… get more ball and have more chances to score points. Six of the eight first-up winners held onto more ball by making fewer errors. The Bulldogs and Cowboys once again defied the statistical odds to get the job done on the scoreboard… imagine how they’ll go if they get it right! No surprise the Panthers (20) made the most errors in Round 1, but perhaps a little surprising is the Wests Tigers (eight) had the least.
Miss more tackles and you are likely to have more points scored against you. North Queensland (eight more), Canterbury (three more) and Parramatta (four more) missed more tackles than their opponents yet still prevailed – but the five other winners were able to build off a better defensive effort than their rivals.
Penrith embarrassed themselves and their fans by missing 50 tackles at home in Round 1. If they do that even one more time all season, they won’t play finals footy.
“Concede penalties and perish.” Roosters coach Brian Smith made the claim after his side managed to almost blow a big lead against the Rabbitohs with a 6-0 penalty count against them in the second half.
Usually this is absolutely true – but incredibly in week one, only two teams who won their penalty counts managed to win their matches. North Queensland (6-3), the Roosters (9-6), Parramatta (7-6) and Canberra (8-3) won despite being more ill-disciplined. (Canterbury/Wests Tigers and Penrith/Newcastle tied their penalty counts while the Dragons [3-4] and Storm [4-5] turned an extra penalty into victory.
For a few years now the main train of thought pondered by coaches such as Wayne Bennett and Craig Bellamy has been to limit offloads, as they can be the catalyst to errors. Perhaps the fact only two sides who came out on the plus side of this ledger and were victorious backs this up. Canberra and (ironically) Melbourne were the only sides to throw more offloads and still win.
In perhaps the most interesting statistic out of last weekend, the Eels failed to throw a single offload under new coach Stephen Kearney against the Warriors. The Eels have been second-phase bandits over the past few years but in Round 1 they did all of their ball movement before contact. A change of plans for the western Sydney club? We’ll have to wait and see.
The competition isn’t won in March – but it sure can be lost as early as this month as confidence can take a hit in the opening few rounds of the competition. One gets the feeling Penrith or Cronulla training would not have been fun places to hang out this week, given both teams were hammered in the opening round.