Stats Insider: Tries take a hit as defence dominates
It's official: try numbers are on the decline this season as teams look to build success around defence instead.
St George Illawarra's blueprint to achievement – an all-conquering defence – has forced other NRL teams to get the defensive side of their houses in order first and foremost.
This focus has seen the average number of tries drop from the past two seasons.
So far in 2011 there have been an average 6.77 tries scored in each match. This is down from the 2010 regular season average of 7.39 and the 2009 regular season average of 7.32.
Of course, we aren't quite halfway through the regular season yet; the average could well lift as teams become more fluid in attack. But the old adage of 'defence wins matches' is certainly as true now as it's ever been.
No team has cracked the half century in attack this season – two sides had done so at this stage last year.
The miserly Dragons remain the defensive benchmark this year, averaging just 9.6 points against them so far – on a par with some of the best defensive teams of all time. But their real challenge heats up this weekend as the rep season takes a bite out of their energy stores and depth.
The Broncos (14.2), Storm (15) and Manly (15.1) are also posting very impressive defensive numbers.
But before any reader gets upset by this apparent defensive dominance of the 2011 competition it is important to note that the number of tries from kicks has also decreased, meaning fans are being treated to a higher percentage of tries coming through the hands.
Often a bugbear of the fans is the high number of tries scored from kicks – Penrith were almost 50:50 last season – but stats show teams are getting much better at stopping points from the boot.
In 2009, an average 1.5 tries were notched from kicks every match, and last year the number increased to 1.6 tries a match. But so far in 2011 the average has dropped to 1.4 each game.
The Raiders, who have started a mini-revival over the past two weeks, are the best side at scoring tries from kicks this season, with 13 so far – although they are one of only two sides (with the Warriors) that have played an extra match.
They lead from the Broncos who have tallied 12 and the Sea Eagles and Knights who have 10 each.
Canberra winger Blake Ferguson has the most tries from kicks (five), Jharal Yow Yeh from the Broncos has four (plus a crucial one on Origin night) and Nathan Merritt (Rabbitohs), Luke Burt (Eels), Krisnan Inu (Warriors), Michael Oldfield (Sea Eagles), Ben Pomeroy (Sharks) and Akuila Uate (Knights) each have three.
Dragon Jamie Soward leads the way with try assists from kicks, having nailed eight already this year. Raider Josh McCrone has six, while Broncos' halves Peter Wallace and Darren Lockyer each have five.
The Panthers, who scored 42 tries from kicks in the regular season last year, have really lost their mojo and have posted just six tries from the boot this year. But they are still travelling better than the Titans, Roosters and Wests Tigers who have the worst returns in the league. These three sides have managed just three tries from kicks in 2011!
As for the teams that are best at repelling aerial and grubber raids, the Sea Eagles and Eels are the standouts. Both sides have let in just two tries in this fashion to this point of the season.
The Broncos (four conceded) and Warriors (five conceded) also need commendation.
Meanwhile the beleaguered Sharks seemingly are fish out of water when it comes to defending kicks. They are by far the worst-performed team in the NRL, having conceded 14 tries.
The Titans, Panthers and Roosters aren't faring much better, each having let 10 tries past them.
Tries Scored From Kicks
10: Sea Eagles, Knights
9: Eels, Dragons
8: Rabbitohs, Warriors
6: Bulldogs, Panthers
4: Sharks, Cowboys
3: Titans, Roosters, Wests Tigers
Tries Conceded From Kicks
2: Sea Eagles, Eels
6: Storm, Rabbitohs
7: Bulldogs, Cowboys, Dragons
8: Raiders, Knights
9: Wests Tigers
10: Titans, Panthers, Roosters