Two of the biggest changes in the restructured 2020 season were the drop from two on-field referees to one and the new set restart rule for ruck infringements.
With the ARLC ratifying rule changes for the 2021 season with ruck infringements to play an even bigger role, teams that handled the new rules the best last year will want to maintain that dominance while the ones that fell afoul of the changed interpretations will urgently need to rectify the issue.
NRL.com Stats has crunched the numbers on not only which teams conceded the most and fewest infringements but which teams had the most costly infringements – such as those that led to opposition tries or those late in sets that added more additional plays.
There was very little correlation between total infringements conceded and the final 2020 Telstra Premiership ladder. Teams from both the top and bottom four, ladder-wise, featured at the upper and lower end of the infringements conceded tallies.
Among the best-behaved teams for set restarts were the Knights (56) and Rabbitohs (58), who each made the finals, along with the Dragons (59) and Bulldogs (62) who had tougher years.
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At the most-penalised end the battling Sea Eagles (86) copped more than any other club, but the Raiders (83) had almost as many and finished fifth while the Roosters (79) weren't far behind and finished fourth and the late-surging Titans (80) finished with the third-most infringements.
The other eight clubs were all clustered between 65 and 75 total infringements for the season. As to what sort of a role those six-again calls had in helping a hindering a team's chances, it's necessary to drill down further into where and when they conceded those calls.
When leading vs trailing
Minor premiers Penrith lost just one game all through the regular season but even so, to only concede three ruck infringements all year when behind on the scoreboard is remarkable. The Storm and Roosters were next best with nine each, then Souths (14) and Parramatta (17).
At the other end of the scale, wooden spooners Brisbane (38) conceded the second-most set restarts while behind – five better than eventual ninth-place finishers the Titans (43) who had a real habit of compounding their problems with ruck infringements when trailing in games.
The Panthers were more than happy to give restarts away from in front with their 64 while leading far more than the Roosters (52) and Storm (44).
Early set vs late set
Giving away an infringement on a zero tackle or tackle one is rarely consequential but getting pinged at the end of the set really hurts. It's arguably worse than a penalty because there's not even a stoppage; it effectively hands your opponents a 10- or 11-tackle set which can really sap the energy of a defensive outfit.
The Panthers once again were on the right side of the ledger here, with just 13% of their 75 total infringements given away on the last two plays of a set.
The Raiders and Wests Tigers both came in under 15% while the Eels and Sea Eagles were at around 16% each.
The most expensive set restarts in this sense were given away by the Roosters and Warriors, with just over 24% or one in four restarts given away at the ends of sets.
By contrast the "cheapest" restarts were given away by the Cowboys. In a season in which not a lot went right for them, almost half (30 out of 65) of their infringements were given away on tackle zero or one. That was well ahead of the Raiders, Tigers and Sea Eagles who were all around 36-37%.
Infringements that led to tries
The most significant outcome of a ruck infringement for any team is when the ensuing refreshed set of six leads to an opposition try, and it's not necessarily the teams that conceded the most infringements – or the most late set infringements – who were on the wrong end of this one.
For example the Warriors, despite performing very poorly for late-set infringements, still only conceded five tries all year in the set directly following a ruck infringement. Only the Panthers (two) and Storm (three) fared better.
Remarkably the Titans with just five finished level with the Warriors despite conceding the third-most total infringements and most infringements while behind as well as the equal second-most late-set infringements along with the Warriors, with 17.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the Broncos (13) performed worst, with the Tigers (12) one behind. The same two teams finished worst and second-worst respectively for percentage of infringements that led to tries.
Manly were next most with 10, though they did concede the most total infringements of any club with 86. The Rabbitohs were surprisingly high on this list at equal fourth-worst with nine tries conceded, despite being second-best for total ruck infringements with just 58 conceded, bettered only by Cronulla with 56.
That left the Bunnies with more than 15% or almost one in six of all infringements leading to a try, third-worst after Brisbane and Wests Tigers.
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Areas of opportunity
Some teams performed well or poorly across the board. The Panthers and Storm were largely the best two teams across most departments when it came to ruck infringements, and met in the grand final. Wooden spooners Brisbane for the most part fared the worst with the Tigers, Sea Eagles, Bulldogs and Cowboys not far behind, but with plenty more issues to fix up in 2021 than just their ruck infringements.
The greatest opportunity for rapid improvement appears to belong to the Sharks and Rabbitohs; each finished in the lower half of the top eight (with the late-surging Bunnies making it to a grand final play-off) but conceded too many late-set infringements and too many tries from infringements given they conceded the two lowest season totals.
Along with the Titans – who conceded far too many infringements and far too many late-set infringements, despite not conceding a high number of tries from those infringements, but still managed to finish ninth – a higher ladder finish beckons if they can tidy up this area of their games.