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Apparently modern-day rugby league is all about the ‘wrestle’ – at least that’s what you’d be left thinking after reading any newspaper over the past few weeks. There is no doubt that if a side wins the ruck it goes a long way to their winning a match. But this is nothing new. Rugby league, broken down into its simplest element, is a game of territory. If you make the metres up the field, you give your attacking dynamos a chance to weave their magic from close to the try line. And if you restrict your opponent from getting good field position, they will have limited quality opportunities to hurt you.

Certainly the speed of the play-the-ball is crucial: if you play the ball quickly you can catch out retreating defenders – and of course you make more metres. Conversely if the play-the-ball is slow it gives the defensive line more time to set; the tacklers will be advancing, making it tough for even the most skilful players to crack the line.

So which teams are winning the territory battle? Let’s have a look at how things sat after Round 7…

It’s one thing to average the most metres – which is part of the explanation for the Sharks’ good form – but you also need to restrict your opponent (still a problem the Cronulla boys must rectify if they are to continue their purple patch).

The big winner of the metres battle is Brisbane. The Broncos have had a great start to the season, bettered only by the undefeated Storm, and their ability to win the yardage contest is a huge part of the equation.

The Broncos rank second in the NRL when it comes to metres gained, busting out an impressive 1426.6 metres each week. Perhaps more impressive is the fact they concede the fewest metres too – just 1211.9 metres on average. This leaves Anthony Griffin’s men with a healthy 214.7 combined metres differential each week – that’s a huge advantage over their opponents.

It might sound trivial but only one winning grand finalist since the NRL was formed in 1998 has overcome a negative metres differential. That was the 2005 Wests Tigers, who had the attacking genius of Benji Marshall, Robbie Farah and Scott Prince in rare form late in the year, helping them to the title. (And it was only a slight negative differential anyway.)

Already this season the Roosters, the reigning premier Sea Eagles, 2011 grand finalists Warriors, Knights, Eels and Wests Tigers face negative metres differential… something they must turn around as quickly as possible.

As stated above, the Sharks’ streak can be attributed to their impressive number of metres gained. At 1499.4 a match they are flying well out in front… it helps when you have a man like Paul Gallen with a motor more reliable than even your granddad’s old Ford that has run like clockwork for 50 years.

However, the Sharks let themselves down defensively: they rank second last in the NRL for metres conceded, which drops them to seventh overall in the territory differential stakes.

If Shane Flanagan’s boys are going to continue to shine they need to tighten up in defence because as Gallen goes missing through the representative season, their output will drop. Gallen leads the NRL with an average 217.6 metres a match. The next-best Shark is Bryce Gibbs at 116 metres… it doesn’t take a degree in mathematics to see they need to learn to rely on their skipper less.

The Dragons rank second (remember, this was prior to their miracle finish on Wednesday) in metres differential with a mark of 117.3. It is the hallmark of their good play. They rumble down field, then rely on a good Jamie Soward kicking game to hem opponents in their own territory. Choked in their own end, teams invariably try to push the envelope and make the mistake the Dragons are waiting for… then the Red V look to manufacture points.

Somewhat surprisingly given their positions outside the top eight at this point, Canberra, Penrith and the Titans have the three next-best metres differentials.  The Panthers and Titans are particularly good defensively stopping metres so far – yet they are struggling. What we can garner from this is these teams’ red-zone attacks are failing to fire. They are getting good position but not capitalising. In fact, the Panthers are 11th and the Titans 14th for points scored.

The team struggling the most in the battle for territory are the Wests Tigers, ranked last in metres gained and 13th in metres conceded, leaving them with a metres deficit of 238.5 each week! Even Marshall’s brilliance struggles to overcome this – and you can bet it was the reason the club entertained the idea of signing Willie Mason to help with their go-forward.

And it is precisely the reason Wayne Bennett did buy Mason for the Knights. Newcastle’s metres differential sits at -137, 14th in the NRL, and the supercoach knows he needs a heap more grunt.

Meanwhile, for those Eels fans hoping for a miracle this season… things don’t look good. And while it is certainly true Chris Sandow hasn’t been at his best so far the nuggetty halfback could point to some damaging numbers to prove his side hasn’t laid a platform for him in the first place. The Eels are 15th in the NRL with a negative differential of -169.3. They rank last in conceding metres, letting by a whopping 1461.6 metres every week. It’s no wonder they have leaked 27.6 points a match!

So as the season progresses, keep an eye on your side’s metres differential… as long as it stays in the negative you should hold off putting the champagne on ice!

Combined Metres Differential*
1. Broncos: 214.7
2. Dragons: 117.3
3. Raiders: 86.2
4. Panthers: 74.6
5. Titans: 71.7
6. Storm: 68.6
7. Sharks: 60.3
8. Cowboys: 50.7
9. Bulldogs: 40.3
10. Rabbitohs: 34.2
11. Roosters: -46.4
12. Sea Eagles: -124.9
13. Warriors: -127.9
14. Knights: -137
15. Eels: -169.3
16. Wests Tigers: -238.5

Metres Gained*
1.    Sharks: 1499.4
2.    Broncos: 1426.6
3.    Dragons: 1415.9
4.    Raiders: 1393.3
5.    Bulldogs: 1383.3
6.    Cowboys: 1371.1
7.    Storm: 1340.6
8.    Titans: 1330
9.    Panthers: 1309
10.    Roosters: 1297.3
11.    Knights: 1294.7
12.    Eels: 1292.3
13.    Rabbitohs: 1259.6
14.    Sea Eagles: 1242.7
15.    Warriors: 1232
16.    Wests Tigers: 1163.6

Metres Conceded*
1.    Broncos: 1211.9
2.    Rabbitohs: 1225.4
3.    Panthers: 1234.4
4.    Titans: 1258.3
5.    Storm: 1272
6.    Dragons: 1298.6
7.    Raiders: 1307.1
8.    Cowboys: 1320.4
9.    Bulldogs: 1343
10.    Roosters: 1343.7
11.    Warriors: 1359.9
12.    Sea Eagles: 1367.6
13.    Wests Tigers: 1402.1
14.    Knights: 1431.7
15.    Sharks: 1439.1
16.    Eels: 1461.6

*Denotes average

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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