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Statistical rankings across the first 20 rounds of the 2011 competition suggest the Cronulla Sharks are the only team currently outside the top eight that have the form to find themselves in finals football.

While the official NRL ladder ranks teams on competition points and for-and-against differential, the lack of depth with such a ranking doesn’t always reveal all. Instead, your intrepid Stats Insider has gone further into the numbers and combined core attacking-stats rankings and core defensive-stats rankings to create’s exclusive ‘Stats Ladder’.

Here’s how it works: by adding together a team’s rank for points scored, metres gained, line-breaks, offloads, tackle-breaks and errors, we end up with a comprehensive idea of their rank against their rivals’ as an attacking unit. And by adding together their ranks for points conceded, metres conceded, line-breaks conceded, offloads conceded and missed tackles, we conversely get a detailed look at their rank against the rest defensively.

Of course, add together those two totals and we get an overall score – with the lowest numbers revealing the sides in good stead.

For example: the Melbourne Storm are leading the competition for a reason. They are ranked No.1 in five categories, second in three categories, third in one, plus a seventh and a 10th. This sees them score a 31 points total. (2+2+1+10+7+2+1+3+1+1+1=31). Twenty-four of those points fall on the attacking side of the ledger, leaving them the third-best attacking unit according to our system. But their seven points from the defensive side of things stamps the Storm as the strongest tackling unit to date.

Their nearest challengers are the Dragons and Sea Eagles – no surprise really as these three teams have been the frontrunners all year.

Both the Dragons and Sea Eagles score a total of 45. Believe it or not the Red V are the No.1 attacking side in the competition based on this ranking, with an attacking score of 18 – but they fall back in the defensive side of things. While they score well in points conceded (2nd) and other main defensive stats, they are ranked 13th in the NRL for metres conceded, pushing their defensive score out to 27.

So while the Dragons’ defence is holding firm for the most part, they are inviting teams into good field position – and when that happens, freakish tries like the one scored at the death in Canberra are always on the cards. Conceding these vast amounts of territory must be a concern to Wayne Bennett with the finals just around the corner.  

The Sea Eagles tally just 11 points in the defensive bracket to be hot on the Storm’s heels but attack-wise their 34 points is only fourth-best in the league. This mainly comes down to their lowly 13th position for tackle-breaks.

So what of the above-mentioned Sharks? While several teams still have chances at the finals, only the Sharks are in our Stats Ladder’s top eight but not the NRL top eight. In fact, the boys from Cronulla are running fifth on our ladder – which screams one thing: they have failed to capitalise on good play.

Our revolutionary system sees the Sharks with an 81-point total, behind just the Storm, Dragons, Sea Eagles and Cowboys. They are seventh in attack and seventh in defence but their total pushes them up to fifth. Tragically for Sharks’ fans they fall down in the basics – points scored and points conceded. So while they are better than most at offloading, tackle-breaking, not missing tackles etc, for some reason they cannot translate the numbers into scoring or defending well. It’s a wonder coach Shane Flanagan has any hair left…

While these numbers show the potential for Cronulla, the same can’t be said for the Rabbitohs. (Bunnies fans hoping for a big run to the finals, starting against the Dragons this week, had better not read on…)

South Sydney are ranked dead last by our formula – yep, even worse than the Gold Coast! They have a massive 142 points against their name, due mainly to their almost non-existent defence. They are ranked last defensively, scoring a total of 76 points – and the maximum a team could score, if they were ranked last in every key stat, is 80. Ouch!

They fight back a little to be 11th in attack. But it’s not enough to give many confidence they can win at least five of their last six to be finals contenders.

Other interesting findings include:

•    The Cowboys might be fourth overall but they are a dismal equal 13th when it comes to defence. While the Thurston/Bowen combination worked all the way to a grand final in 2005 thanks to scoring a plethora of points, this competition has the steely defensive units of Melbourne, St George Illawarra and Manly to contend with. They will need to muscle up even more in the big games, or potentially perish.

•    The Broncos sit way down in 10th in the attacking stats. While defence wins big games they will need to find a way to penetrate their equally impressive defensive opponents in the crucial matches. Thankfully they have the likes of Justin Hodges now warming to the task, while the mercurial Darren Lockyer no doubt has a few last tricks up his sleeve.

•    The numbers confirm that the Roosters’ problem from last year to now lies with their attack. They are ranked 13th offensively but fifth in defence… if only they could recapture their thrill-a-minute football from 2010.

•    The Knights have their attack in order – ranked fifth – but defensively they’ve struggled and are ranked 12th. They are equal eighth overall and need to find steel in defence if they are to be around in September.

1. Storm              31
=2. Sea Eagles  45
=2. Dragons       45
4. Cowboys         73
5. Sharks             81
6. Wests Tigers  83
7. Broncos           84
=8. Warriors        88
=8. Knights          88
10. Panthers        106
11. Roosters       113
12. Bulldogs        114
13. Eels               122
=14. Raiders       137
=14. Titans          137
16. Rabbitohs     142

Attacking Rank
1. Dragons        18
2. Cowboys       21
3. Storm             24
4. Sea Eagles   34
5. Knights           38
6. Warriors         39
7. Sharks            40
8. Wests Tigers 43
9. Panthers         54
10. Broncos        57
11. Rabbitohs     66
12. Bulldogs       68
=13. Roosters    74
=13. Eels            74
=13. Raiders      74
16. Titans           88

Defensive Rank
1. Storm               7
2. Sea Eagles    11
=3. Dragons       27
=3. Broncos       27
5. Roosters        39
6. Wests Tigers 40
7. Sharks            41
8. Bulldogs         46
9. Eels                48
=10. Warriors     49
=10. Titans         49
12. Knights         50
=13. Cowboys    52
=13. Panthers     52
15. Raiders         63
16. Rabbitohs     76