Stats Insider: Anatomy of an upset
Okay, be honest: raise your hand if you tipped the Sharks to take down the Dragons last Monday night. Put your hands down, you fibbers! Even the most ardent Sharks fans would have been hard-pressed finding the confidence to back their boys. But, the beauty of modern day rugby league is that every week every clash is a two-horse race and every week any NRL team is capable of beating another.
Forget the fact the Sharks were murdered by Canberra the week before and were coming off a dismal 2010. Forget the fact the Dragons are the reigning champions, they had smashed Souths in the Charity Shield, busted up the Bulldogs in a trial, beaten Wigan for world supremacy and then taken down the Titans methodically in Round 1. Sometimes form counts for nothing – because the reality is you have to play at your best each week… or you can get tossed.
With a few exceptions, Round 2 was a week of upsets; it often is each new season, as fans and pundits get carried away on the vision of just one performance. But last weekend Penrith, Brisbane, Newcastle, Manly and Cronulla all won against the odds.
Without a doubt though, the Sharks’ 16-10 win over St George Illawarra was the most surprising. So how did they do it? Well, let’s break it down statistically to get a clearer picture…
This is the most crucial stat to come out of this game and the final score line can be directly attributed to it.
Despite the fact it was pelting down with rain and the surface was wet and greasy, the Sharks completed 34 of 40 sets for an 85 per cent success rate. That’s a phenomenal effort even in dry conditions! Conversely, the Dragons managed 31 of 44 – a fair 70 per cent rate, although well down on their opponents.
The favourites made 13 errors – an uncharacteristically high number – while the Sharks tallied just eight. Matt Cooper, who averaged less than one error a game the whole of 2010, made three on the night.
Darius Boyd blundered his way to two, Brett Morris made two also, and six other players made one apiece.
In Round 1 against Canberra, Cronulla produced 16 errors and completed just 18 of 32 sets for a dismal 56 per cent rate. Obviously, hanging on to the footy makes a huge difference.
The Sharks ran strongly for 1388 metres against the Dragons – an impressive 207 metres more than their opponents. Amazingly, they also outkicked the Dragons, with 800 metres gained off the boot compared to the 688 metres from the usually dominant Jamie Soward.
Six Cronulla players gained more than 100 running metres, with skipper Paul Gallen charging out a massive 213 metres. But in Round 1 the Sharks made just 1120 metres across the ground, and kicked for a paltry 219 metres.
While the Sharks still had trouble scoring points against the Red V, despite their dominant field position, it did provide them with enough chances to stay in front.
What do we conclude? If the Sharks can start to capitalise on good field position in future weeks, they might not be headed for another dreary season after all.
Consider this: all three of the Sharks’ tries in their upset win came after they received back-to-back sets. In the lead up to Ben Pomeroy’s first try, the Sharks received a penalty on their first set. On their second set in succession, they dropped the ball on the toe on the last tackle and earned a line drop-out. At the end of the third set Pomeroy scored off a cross-field kick – the pressure certainly told.
Their second try, to Anthony Tupou, came right on halftime after once again the Sharks had multiple sets of possession. It began with a penalty on their line, was continued with another penalty – and a 10-metre march downfield – and culminated with Tupou diving over. Too much pressure again.
Their final try was a similar story. Their first set ended with a kick into the in-goal, which forced a drop-out. They received a penalty and kicked a penalty goal. Then they marched downfield on their next set and hoisted the ball high to get another four-pointer – albeit from a questionable video referee decision.
For the record, one of the Dragons’ two tries came from a repeat set also.
They say rugby league is a simple game – and it certainly can be. If teams complete their sets, do the hard yards to earn field position and then turn it into points or repeat sets, then they are on track for a likely win.
Meanwhile, the usually disciplined Dragons now know a drop in intensity and discipline with ball in hand – no matter who the opposition might be – could result in another loss. Perhaps it’s an early wake-up call for the premiers – they must be ruthless every week… or all thoughts of going back-to-back will slip away quickly.
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