In a massive confidence-sapper for the leading premiership contenders, statistics show reigning champions St George Illawarra have actually gotten stronger in 2011, largely on the back of their dominant running and kicking games.
As the Dragons head into the bye this week on top of the NRL ladder and four competition points clear of their nearest rivals, NRL.com can reveal they are the number one side in metres gained both running and from kicks – but more importantly, when you factor in their metres conceded, their differential laps the rest of the NRL.
The Dragons are making 226 metres more than their opponents a game, thanks to a combination of 102 extra running metres and 124 kick metres. Although the side ranks poorly in conceding both running and kicking metres, they’re so dominant with ball in hand they more than make up for it.
Considering they headed into last season’s final few games with a total differential of just 102 metres, the 15 other NRL teams have reason to be intimidated.
In 2011 the Dragons are averaging 1471 running metres each week – the most in the NRL – and while they concede 1369 metres (ranked a lowly 13th) their differential of 102 metres ranks them fourth overall.
Jamie Soward is largely responsible for their huge 760 metres from kicks per game, once again ranking them number one, but while they rank 14th in conceding metres from kicks at 636 metres, their 124-metres kick differential keeps them on top.
In a clear case of statistics telling an accurate story, the Storm rank second in go-forward differential and the Sea Eagles rank third. This mirrors their current position on the ladder. Melbourne gain 154 metres more than their opponents each week, the Sea Eagles 111 metres.
Why are these numbers so important?
Well, in order to gain more opportunities to attack an opponent’s goal line, sides need to obtain good field position. To get good field position they need to churn through the metres and restrict the go-forward of the opposition.
Also, a good long-kicking game will force opponents to start their sets from deep in their territory, limiting legitimate attacking chances.
Soward’s game is the best in the NRL, as he kicks from very deep, away from defenders, yet still finds space and length.
As for running metres, eight Dragons squad members are averaging in excess of 100 metres gained a game this year; seven are regular starters. Darius Boyd (124 metres), Ben Creagh (114), Mark Gasnier (115), Dan Hunt (109), Trent Merrin (125), Brett Morris (127) and Jason Nightingale (124) are all pushing the Dragons to dominance. (Plus Ratu Peni Tagive has knocked out 109 metres in his one game.)
Other points of interest to emerge include:
• The seventh-placed Bulldogs are performing impressively considering they are being dominated in metres gained. They are ranked second last in the NRL, giving up a total of 194 metres to their opponents on average each week, but have still manufactured a workable game. While their kicking game shows a deficit of 22 metres each week, their running game is a worry. Despite Ben Barba’s long-range bursts they are gaining just 1282 metres on the ground each week (to rank 11th) and are conceding a whopping 1454 metres (rank 15th). Their -172 differential is a concern heading into the second half of the season.
• The Eels’ woes can be heavily attributed to these statistics. They are ranked 15th in metres running with just 1207 each week and ranked last in conceding running metres – allowing 1461 a game. This means they are giving up a whopping 254 metres across the ground to their rivals every week – no wonder they are struggling to score points. Their kicking stats are only marginally better; they actually rank second in kick metres, but they can’t seem to limit other sides, conceding the second most to leave them with a -6 differential. However, their combined shortfall of -260 metres is by far the worst in the NRL.
• The Knights might be just outside the top eight but their numbers show they are capable of a move up the ladder. They rank fifth overall with 77 metres a game more than their opponents. They get a boost from 60 kick metres more than the opposition each week.
• The Sea Eagles and the Storm are the equal-best performers in running metres differential, both gaining 120 metres more than the opposing team each week. But while the Storm add to their overall success with positive kick metres, the Sea Eagles lose a little ground in this area.
• The Panthers have developed an effective running game, with 93 metres more than their adversaries each week – however their long-kicking game is weak, ranked last with just 472 metres a match. They battle hard to contain the kicks of other sides (they rank fourth) but their 87-metre shortfall each week leaves them behind the eight ball. Significantly, last year they headed into the finals series as the best team in the league in terms of total differential.
• The Warriors are falling behind in running metres but making up for it with the second-best kicking differential.
• The Knights are the only team in the overall metres gained differential ‘top eight’ who are not in the NRL official top eight. The Bulldogs are the team in the actual top eight, but not in our stats ‘top eight’.
Total Go-Forward Differential
Dragons: 226; Storm: 154; Sea Eagles: 111; Broncos: 108; Knights: 77; Cowboys: 67; Wests Tigers: 61; Warriors: 32; Panthers: 6; Sharks: -16; Titans: -56; Roosters: -89; Rabbitohs: -92; Raiders: -184; Bulldogs: -194; Eels: -260.
Average Running Metres (Gained)
Dragons: 1471; Cowboys: 1394; Storm: 1368; Sharks: 1365; Sea Eagles: 1342; Broncos: 1341; Titans: 1336; Knights: 1335; Panthers: 1334; Warriors: 1313; Bulldogs: 1282; Wests Tigers: 1270; Roosters: 1268; Rabbitohs: 1267; Eels: 1207; Raiders: 1168.
Average Running Metres (Conceded)
Sea Eagles: 1222; Panthers: 1241; Wests Tigers: 1246; Storm: 1248; Roosters: 1268; Broncos: 1268; Titans: 1275; Cowboys: 1290; Knights: 1318; Raiders: 1331; Warriors: 1355; Sharks: 1366; Dragons: 1369; Rabbitohs: 1391; Bulldogs: 1454; Eels: 1461;
Running Metres Differential
Sea Eagles: 120; Storm: 120; Cowboys: 104; Dragons: 102; Panthers; 93; Broncos: 73; Titans: 61; Wests Tigers: 24; Knights: 17; Roosters: 0; Sharks: -1; Warriors: -42; Rabbitohs: -124; Raiders: -163; Bulldogs -172; Eels: -254.
Average Kick Metres (Gained)
Dragons: 760; Eels: 633; Warriors: 623; Storm: 611; Broncos: 598; Sea Eagles: 595; Rabbitohs: 592; Cowboys: 591; Bulldogs: 590; Sharks: 584; Knights: 582; Raiders: 542; Titans: 531; Wests Tigers: 520; Roosters: 487; Panthers: 472.
Average Kick Metres (Conceded)
Wests Tigers: 483; Knights: 522; Warriors: 549; Panthers: 559; Rabbitohs: 560; Broncos: 563; Raiders: 563; Roosters: 576; Storm: 577; Sharks: 599; Sea Eagles: 604; Bulldogs: 612; Cowboys: 628; Dragons: 636; Eels: 639; Titans: 648.
Kick Metres Differential
Dragons: 124; Warriors: 74; Knights: 60; Wests Tigers: 37; Broncos: 35; Storm: 34; Rabbitohs: 32; Eels: -6; Sea Eagles: -9; Sharks: -15; Raiders: -21; Bulldogs: -22; Cowboys: -37; Panthers: -87; Roosters: -89; Titans: -117.