Should New South Wales selectors retain Roosters halves Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney for the Origin decider on July 17, they’ll do so knowing they are drawing on cogs from the NRL’s worst team at building pressure through line dropouts.
This is the startling revelation out of the NRL’s official stats banks that should make Queenslanders smile and have Blues supporters more than a little on edge.
It should also obviously have the Roosters fans a little tentative about their grand final aspirations, considering that mounting pressure is often a vital factor in semi-finals football.
The seemingly flying-high Roosters, sitting second on the ladder, maintain their lofty position despite having forced just 16 dropouts from their 15 games this year.
Now, while you can argue it is of little consequence as long as they are winning, as mentioned above there will come a time when they will be in a grind and need to camp out in opposition territory. If their halves cannot weight the ball into the in-goal to get results on a consistent basis, it will make their life much more difficult.
The kicking game – or rather the lack of a quality one by Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney in the second Origin game – was a huge factor in why the Blues could not fashion any sort of comeback.
Applied to the NRL, if the Roosters fall back in a finals match, will they be able to claw back without the ability to mount sustained pressure?
Given that the North Queensland Cowboys lead the way with 34 dropouts forced but sit in 13th position, and the St George Illawarra Dragons are next best with 33 yet are 15th on the ladder, you could certainly also argue against the importance of this statistic.
In the Dragons’ case, it just highlights how impotent their attack has been all year… even though they are building pressure they can’t find a way through to post points.
However, it is most surprising to see Johnathan Thurston has been unable to turn his forced pressure into more victories for his team. Digging further, 21 of the Cowboys’ forced dropouts have come in first halves of games, so they are seemingly starting well but not capitalising.
(Perhaps this is the GOOD news Blues fans can cling to?)
To bring a little more focus to the discussion on the importance of building pressure we only need to look at the other best teams.
Ladder leaders South Sydney are third with 31 forced dropouts, while Canberra and Melbourne are tied fourth with 30 forced dropouts. Reigning premiers Melbourne are sitting third on the ladder and while the Raiders have slipped to 11th with back-to-back losses, many expect they could be a finals team to be wary of.
Down with the Roosters at the back end sit the Gold Coast with 18 and the struggling Parramatta Eels with 19 dropouts forced.
Analysing second halves alone, the Raiders, Storm and Newcastle lead the way, forcing 17 dropouts this season and showing they are building pressure at the back end of games, conceivably when teams are most vulnerable and tired.
Now what if we flip it? How many dropouts are teams being forced to kick and what can we read into that?
Well, the Roosters find themselves once again prominent, having been forced to drop the ball out 38 times this year. But this isn’t necessarily a negative statistic and possibly lends even more gravitas to their best-in-the-NRL defence.
Not only are they holding teams out better than anyone in the league but they are doing it having to sustain the most repeat sets from dropouts… ultra impressive.
Perhaps the Warriors’ early struggles can be attributed in part to their need to drop out 37 times this year. Have they been unable to cope with mounting pressure? With their star on the rise of late, perhaps they have found some steel and ability to deal with adversity.
Cronulla and the Wests Tigers are next with 31 dropouts, but the Sharks have played just 14 games.
At the other end, South Sydney have only needed to drop-kick the ball out 17 times. Do we assume their back three are doing a phenomenal job getting the ball back into play, or the defence to the kick is just brilliant? Or both?
Funnily enough they are joined by Parramatta on 17 dropouts but in this case it’s fair to assume the Eels haven’t been required to return the ball back into play too often because opposition teams are scoring points before they need to!
It comes as no surprise that Melbourne are next best for fewest dropouts, booting just 19 heading into this weekend’s round.
As the big games heat up, with teams vying for spots in the top eight and then the finals themselves, this stat will become even more relevant.
And for New South Wales fans? Hopefully the Roosters boys find a way to improve their numbers in the Origin decider.
*Statistics: NRL Stats