Penalties cruelling teams like never before
“Disgraceful,” fumed Jarryd Hayne after his side’s heartbreaking Round 3 loss to Manly.
“Unacceptable,” seethed Trent Robinson when the Roosters went down in last week’s Grand Final rematch.
And “Disgraceful,” again, Robbie Farah spat in the aftermath of the Tigers 42-18 shellacking at the hands of the Warriors in Wellington.
All three were letting fly over what they perceived was an unfair penalty treatment dished out to their teams.
But a look at the NRL rap sheet shows Parramatta, the Roosters and Wests Tigers are three of the four most penalised teams in the competition.
The Eels, along with the Gold Coast, have infringed 38 times so far this year, with their average of 9.5 penalties a game the highest in the NRL, closely followed by the Tigers with 36 penalties (9 per match), and the Roosters with 35 (8.75 penalties per match).
In 2013 the Roosters swept all before them in winning the premiership despite being the most penalised side in the competition, conceding 223 in 27 games (averaging 8.26 a game). Earlier this year, James Maloney reiterated the belief that drove the premiers all the way to the title when he responded to questions over the club’s discipline woes.
“If you call it a problem it’s a problem,” said Maloney.
“We don’t like giving away unnecessary ones… but if we get penalised for doing the wrong thing we’ve just got to make the tackles afterwards to make sure it doesn’t affect the result.”
Last year the Roosters made an art form out of winning matches despite being on the wrong end of the penalty count, recording two of their best wins of the season – the 24-12 triumph over Souths to secure the minor premiership in Round 26 and their 4-0 semi-final shut-out of Manly – while losing the penalty count 5-11 and 5-12 in those games.
But with the NRL’s new rules resulting in a more stringent policing of the ruck, it’s becoming harder for sides to win when the whistle blows against them.
Stats Insider can reveal that of the 32 games played across the opening month of the NRL, 11 have been won by the side that lost the penalty count – or just 34.4 per cent of all games this season.
Compare this to the 203 games played in 2013, where 94 matches (or 46.3%) were won by the team that gave away more penalties, and essentially there is an extra game per round where the victors have been the ones who have kept the referees on side.
Of the teams conceding the fewest penalties this year, the Dragons (22), Manly (23), North Queensland, Brisbane and Penrith (all 24) are all conceding less points than they did last year, and with the exception of the Cowboys are all sitting in the top eight with a positive points differential.
The Titans and the Roosters are the interesting cases here, as they have been two of the more impressive defensive sides so far despite being among the most ill-disciplined teams in the competition.
The Roosters possess the third best defence in the league (66 points at an average of 16.5), while if the Titans' Round 2 meltdown against the Tigers – when they conceded 42 points in 40-degree heat – is taken out of discussion, the Gold Coast club is conceding just 14 points a match.
Whether these clubs can keep up their stellar defensive records if they continue to bear the weight of lopsided penalty counts remains to be seen, but addressing the issue could be as simple as pulling a few of their worst offenders into line.
For the Roosters, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (7, equal most penalties given away in the NRL) and Maloney (5) have conceded a third of their team's 36 penalties between them.
Up at the Gold Coast, star forwards Ashley Harrison, Nate Myles, Dave Taylor (all 5), Greg Bird and Mark Minichiello (both 4) between the five of them have given away 60 per cent of the Titans 38 penalties.
And out at the Tigers, the trio of Aaron Woods (7), Robbie Farah (6) and James Gavet (4) have accounted for almost a half of their side's 36 infringements.
Clearly coaches need to send the message out to their prime offenders: cut out the silly penalties and we'll stay in the game.