An NRL.com Stats analysis of pre-contact metres for all 16 clubs has revealed the Panthers and Roosters were 2020's best when it came to getting up off their line in defence while also getting on the front foot in attack – while the Titans were a real dark horse.
'Pre-contact metres' are essentially run metres gained before hitting the defensive line – i.e. total metres minus post-contact metres.
Much like total metres, the teams that dominate pre-contact metres are largely the ones that dominated possession and finished higher up the ladder.
But breaking it down to a per-carry basis helps shed light on which teams were best at dominating within the run of play, and could have won a few more games had they held more possession – as well as a couple of teams arguably lucky to finish as high as they did.
Minor premiers Penrith finished on top of not just the Telstra Premiership ladder but also the list of most pre-contact metres and best pre-contact metres per run differential, so the fact they lost just one regular season game all year is no fluke.
The Storm are renowned for getting up off their line quickly and they were second best on a per-run basis while a late fade-out didn't stop the Roosters from being second-best per game and third-best per run.
The numbers suggest the Eels weren't quite as good in the run of play as their third-place ladder position, finishing fifth-best for both total and per-carry pre-contact metres while the fast-finishing Rabbitohs would not have looked out of place in the top four.
Perhaps the most interesting numbers belong to the Titans, whose per-game total is 10th-best – in line with their ninth spot ladder finish – but per carry they were sixth best, which bodes well for the Gold Coast club heading into 2021. If they can continue to keep their line speed up but earn more possession they could be a serious finals chance.
If we look at just the final eight rounds, the Titans were second-best per carry and fourth best total; any replication of that form through the duration of the 2021 season will be guaranteed to cement a finals spot.
Canberra were the other outliers, finishing negative on both a per-game and per-carry basis with numbers that ought to have put them outside the top eight. This suggests they made up for a lack of dominance in the general run of play in other areas, such as staunch goal-line defence and taking what opportunities were presented in attack.
The numbers were also concerning for Manly, who finished second worst on a per-carry basis while both the Dragons and Broncos did a little better than their ladder position would indicate, suggesting if they can gain a little more possession next year then improvement is possible.