Monday Morning Halfback: Misleading stats
Rugby league is often dumbed down to its most fundamental – at times it can be a very simple game – but there is unquestionably a lot more going on underneath the most rudimentary of statistics.
Take Friday night's clash between the Broncos and the Storm and read the stats without watching the game.
The Broncos had more possession, more sets with the ball, more offloads, completed at 78 per cent and won the penalty count 8-4. Popular wisdom and everything we are told in the week to week beat of following rugby league leads us to believe that Brisbane should win the game or at the very least be ultra-competitive with that stat line.
This was last year's grand finalists playing at home at Suncorp Stadium with all these stats going in their favour and they were comprehensively ripped apart 48-6 by the Storm.
It was the Broncos' worst ever loss at Suncorp Stadium. The usual stats that are used as key indicators to a result do not add up.
There was no question watching the game that the Storm were in complete and utter control, completely out playing the Broncos.
But the stats by themselves would usually dictate a different picture. At half-time the Broncos had completed 94 per cent of their possessions and had more of the ball, yet they went into the sheds trailing 30-6!
Broncos coach Wayne Bennett was somewhat encouraged by his team's performance after the game, stating an injury to winger Corey Oates had changed the context of the contest.
"We were better than we were against the Bulldogs. I thought Melbourne were very good and they exploited our weakness when we got the injury to Corey [Oates] on the wing," Bennett said post match.
"We were better defensively this week than we were last week. Five of those tries we conceded came off kicks.
"I thought we were doing great early on and that the guys were doing their job. From then on they scored off four or five kicks."
The statistics suggest the Broncos didn't perform that badly and Bennett was quick to make the point.
"You don't complete at 94 per cent if you aren't doing something right," he said.
"I went into half-time knowing what the score was and that I couldn't change the scoreboard, but I knew we were trying hard and putting in with a lot of effort.
"The injury to Corey changed the whole course of the game."
It was a similar story the following day when the Wests Tigers beat the Penrith Panthers despite only having 42 per cent possession.
The Tigers had nine less sets, ran for 300 fewer metres, made 14 fewer offloads, missed more tackles, lost the penalty count 8-2 and still won very comfortably 34-26.
It was only two late consolation tries that made the score-line look respectable.
"Penrith had a lot of sets at our line. They had something like 27 plays in our 20 [metre zone] compared to us having eight in theirs," Wests Tigers coach Jason Taylor said.
"We won the game because we defended that really well. We got some points that we needed, but it was about defence and we're really pleased with that."
Rugby league might be a simple game, but you need to do a lot more than just hold the ball and complete your sets to win in the NRL Telstra Premiership.
These fundamental stats might be important, but there is a lot more going on than meets the eye.
Is any lead safe?
If Round 17 taught us anything, it is that no lead is safe in the NRL in the modern era. The Roosters and Panthers both led by 12 and got rundown, the Sharks trailed the Eels by 18 points and found a way to win, while the Knights led the Raiders 22-0 and still it wasn't enough.
It has made for some compulsive viewing over the weekend. Never has 'playing the whole 80' meant so much.
Will Cronulla's streak end?
The Sharks' incredible comeback victory over the Eels was a club record 12th win in a row. They only play two top eight sides in their final nine games – the Raiders in Round 22 and the Storm in Round 26 - and look favourites to take out the J.J. Giltinan Shield.
They'll be heavy favourites in all of those games except maybe the last game of the regular season when the clash with Melbourne. Only time will tell if that preparation will help or hinder them in their quest to win the club's maiden Premiership.
The Sharks' run home: Panthers (9), Roosters (15), Knights (16), Titans (11), Dragons (10), Raiders (6), Roosters (15), Storm (2).
The short kick-off
There were two successful short kick-offs in the space of one minute in a thrilling end to the Raiders' clash with Newcastle at GIO Stadium. When Blake Austin landed a field goal in the 79th minute the game looked over, until Newcastle got the ball back from a short kick-off giving Trent Hodkinson a chance to level the scores. The noted marksmen didn't waste his chance.
The Raiders then responded with a short kick-off of their own, which gave them one last opportunity to win the game in regulation time. While they would have to wait until extra-time to get the victory, the short kick-off worked successfully both times.
It would be interesting to see a team in the NRL use the tactic more often. The reward far outweighs the risk in my opinion.
Slater lends a hand
There may be speculation about Billy Slater's future, but you can't question his heart. The Storm superstar was ruled out for the season with a shoulder injury and is still hoping to play again in 2017, but in the meantime, he is doing great things in the community.
The post on his social media accounts attracted over 190,000 interactions (likes, shares, comments and retweets).
This morning I woke up and went for a run through Sydney CBD. Whilst running I saw a number of homeless people sleeping all over the city. After my jog I decided to go to the supermarket, stock up and have some breakfast with these people. They were people just like you and me, with there own stories. Yes, delivering some breakfast was appreciate but it was the time I took to have a chat that they seemed most grateful for. Thanks Ben & Lizzie for sharing your stories with me. Giving is a powerful thing and I hope this little post inspires others to do something for someone. @theresilienceproject #Gratitude