By the Numbers: NRL Round 1
Interchange rule changes, players make an immediate impact at their new clubs and an unlucky losing trend continues. The key numbers that defined the opening round of the 2016 NRL Telstra Premiership season.
Impact of reduced interchange on the front row
There was plenty of talk among NRL fans and NRL Fantasy coaches alike over the off-season as to how coaches would utilise their benches with the number of interchanges reduced from 10 to eight. While Round 1 is a very small sample size, and we did see a number of injuries wreak havoc with planned interchanges, some trends are beginning to emerge.
Let's start by looking at the minutes played by every starting prop across the round.
Eels: Junior Paulo (37), Tim Mannah (41)
Broncos: Josh McGuire (53), Adam Blair (39)
Sea Eagles: Jake Trbojevic (58), Nate Myles (47)
Bulldogs: Aiden Tolman (63), James Graham (72)
Raiders: Shannon Boyd (33), Frank-Paul Nuuausala (32)
Panthers: Sam McKendry (27), Reagan Campbell-Gillard (48)
Wests Tigers: Aaron Woods (70), Tim Grant (58)
Warriors: Jacob Lillyman (39), James Gavet (36)
Cowboys: Matt Scott (50), James Tamou (41)
Sharks: Andrew Fifita (49), Matt Prior (32)
Roosters: Kane Evans (43), Dylan Napa (55)
Rabbitohs: Sam Burgess (53), David Tyrrell (39)
Titans: David Shillington (45), Agnatius Paasi (41)
Knights: Kade Snowden (28), Sam Mataora (41)
Storm: Jesse Bromwich (68), Jordan McLean (46)
Dragons: Leeson Ah Mau (41), Russell Packer (46)
We can see there isn't a massive difference between the minutes starting props played in Round 1 as compared to 2015. James Graham, Aaron Woods and Jesse Bromwich appear to be the exception to the rule, however injuries to Bulldogs forwards may have inflated Graham's minutes slightly. We can't tell whether Snowden's limited minutes were planned or down to the performance of other players in the Knights side, likewise Sam McKendry. Neither player appeared to be injured, so we'll monitor their progress with interest.
The change we have seen appears elsewhere in the pack, as it appears starting second-rowers are generally expected to play 80 minutes (or close to it) now, meaning any interchange edge forwards might be seeing very little gametime this season. We'll take a closer look at each side's back row next week.
An impressive 10 players crossed the stripe in their club debut in Round 1, with Roosters winger and England international Joe Burgess scoring twice. In that same game, former Storm and Titans centre Hymel Hunt bagged a try in his first game in cardinal and myrtle. New Panthers duo Trent Merrin and Peta Hiku crossed against the Raiders, while Canberra's marquee man Aidan Sezer also scored two tries in front of the GIO Stadium faithful, seemingly unfazed by the eye socket injury which will see him miss the next four to six weeks. Clint Gutherson and Will Hopoate also scored one each, as did returning Sharks half Chad Townsend, while Titans pair John Olive and Zeb Taia also crossed in Gold Coast's win over the Knights.
Better late than never
As the saying goes, good things come to those who wait. And that was very much the case for Rabbitohs playmaker Cody Walker, who made his NRL debut in Souths' massive 42-10 win over the Roosters at the age of 26 years and 56 days. While fellow NRL debutant Elliott Whitehead (26 years and 183 days) has a few months on Walker, the England international has of course already enjoyed several years in the UK Super League, unlike Walker who excelled in his first taste of top grade action.
One player who didn't have to wait nearly as long to crack first grade was Roosters rookie Latrell Mitchell, the youngest player to make his debut in Round 1 at the age of 18 years and 264 days.
An unfortunate record
With Brett Stewart out through injury, Brayden Wiliame was a late inclusion in Manly's Round 1 side as young gun Tom Trbojevic moved to fullback to cover the loss of the experienced custodian. With Manly losing their season-opener, Wiliame's barren run in the top grade continued. After making six appearance for the Eels in 2013 and a further five for Manly in 2015, Wiliame is yet to taste victory in first grade from 12 attempts. Here's hoping he gets another shot against Wests Tigers in Round 2.