Goal-kicking success is an integral part of winning those close games and can be the difference between making or missing the finals for some teams.
With a few roster changes across the board heading into 2021, NRL.com Stats has run the rule over the the strength and depth of each team's goal-kicking stocks.
Half the teams in the competition will be going into the season with a top-notch marksman from the goal-kicking tee but the rest will be relying on stopgap options with players well below a 75% strike rate.
Ranking each club's goal-kickers
Rabbitohs: Adam Reynolds, 82.5% career strike rate
2020 form: Adam Reynolds 98/115, 85.2%; Latrell Mitchell 5/8, 62.5%; Dane Gagai 1/1, 100%.
Reynolds was the premier sharpshooter of 2020, finishing two goals shy of the 100-goal mark and kicking four percentage points clear of any other regular kicker. His ability to turn four into six more often than not helped the Bunnies pile on the points in the second half of the season.
Their depth is OK – Latrell Mitchell was a first-choice kicker in his Roosters days while Dane Gagai also has some experience.
Panthers: Nathan Cleary, 83.5%
2020 form: Nathan Cleary 84/105, 80.0%; Stephen Crichton 7/10, 70.0%; Jarome Luai NA; Dylan Edwards NA.
Cleary has the best career percentage of any kicker in the Telstra Premiership but wasn't quite at his peak last year. However, he still nailed a very respectable four out of five shots and Penrith will back themselves to turn four into six more often than not again in 2021.
There is no experienced back-up option but Crichton hit seven of 10 shots when called upon last year and Luai nailed eight of 11 attempts in 2018.
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Raiders: Jarrod Croker, 80.2%
2020 form: Jarrod Croker 71/87, 81.6%; Sam Williams 5/7, 71.4%; George Williams NA.
One of the premier kickers of the past decade, Croker was at his reliable best in 2020, kicking just better than his career average. Depth is an issue if the durable skipper misses much footy – as he is expected to do in the opening rounds – with Sam Williams sitting outside a fully-fit best 17.
George Williams has kicked 69 goals in the Super League but has yet to have a shot in the NRL.
Bulldogs: Kyle Flanagan, 76.4%
2020 form: Kyle Flanagan 91/113, 80.5%; Jake Averillo 12/15, 80%; Nick Meaney 22/32, 68.8%; Brandon Wakeham 4/7, 57.1%.
The recruitment of Kyle Flanagan from the Roosters bumps the Bulldogs right up the list. Flanagan hit some absolutely clutch goals and finished at slightly better than 80% for the season while the back-up kickers at Belmore are better than at almost any club with Averillo and Meaney more than capable and Wakeham also having kicked at times.
Eels: Mitch Moses, 76.7%
2020 form: Mitch Moses 57/70, 81.4%; Clint Gutherson 12/18, 66.7%; Blake Ferguson N/A.
The naysayers will bring up the costly shank into the upright from almost in front in the semi-final loss to Souths but Moses was again superb off the tee in 2020, going at over 81% through the season. Behind him, Gutherson serviced as a first-choice kicker for a couple of years and if things get dire, Blake Ferguson and Will Smith are options.
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Warriors: Chanel Harris-Tavita, 78.5%
2020 form: Chanel Harris-Tavita 27/34, 79.4%; Kodi Nikorima 17/26, 65.4%; Adam Pompey 1/2, 50%.
The Warriors are well served by Harris-Tavita whose 2020 numbers pushed his career percentage slightly higher towards that 80% mark. The loss of Patrick Herbert hurts their depth but Nikorima and Pompey are decent back-ups.
Lomax buoyed by first impressions of Hook
Dragons: Zac Lomax, 79.5%
2020 form: Zac Lomax 63/80, 78.8%; Corey Norman NA; Ben Hunt NA; Jayden Sullivan N/A.
Nobody at the Dragons took a single shot at goal last year besides Lomax, and while he was pretty reliable it does cast doubts over their depth. Hunt kicked a few at Brisbane in 2014 and Norman has also filled the role but has never been a front-line kicker - plus his spot in the starting side isn't guaranteed.
Sullivan has a good record in the juniors but has to find his way into the team first.
Broncos: Jamayne Isaako, 80.6%
2020 form: Jamayne Isaako 16/22, 72.7%; Kotoni Staggs 18/23, 78.3%; Herbie Farnworth 3/3, 100%.
There's a strong chance Staggs, who was Brisbane's best kicker last year, would have the duties but he won't return from a knee reconstruction until mid-year. Isaako's career record is much better than his 2020 stats suggest and he should get first crack, while Farnworth – who landed his three attempts last year – is also an option.
Manly: Daly Cherry-Evans, 72.2%
2020 form: Daly Cherry-Evans 12/16, 75%; Reuben Garrick 41/60, 68.3%; Dylan Walker N/A; Morgan Harper N/A.
There's an argument that Cherry-Evans should formally take over the duties from Garrick, who struggled with his radar last year and faces competition for his wing spot. DCE has kicked at nearly 80% over the past four years with his career percentage only dented by a lack of success when filling in earlier in his career.
Dylan Walker and Morgan Harper (who has kicked in Canterbury Cup in recent years) provide depth options.
Holmes scores first in the decider
Cowboys: Val Holmes 72.8%
2020 form: Val Holmes 24/34, 70.6%; Kyle Feldt 23/37, 62.2%; Jake Clifford 1/2, 50%.
Holmes and Feldt have been regular kickers at times but neither has a compelling career strike rate nor a strong 2020 record. Holmes will more than likely take the duties with Clifford the third-best option if he finds a spot in the side.
The Cowboys had the second-worst strike rate in the NRL last year but a fully-fit Holmes – who kicked well in Queensland's Origin series win – should help lift them away from the bottom.
Roosters: Siosiua Taukeiaho, 70.7%
2020 form: Siosiua Taukeiaho 3/4, 75%; Drew Hutchison 0/1, 0%; Lachlan Lam 0/1, 0%; Adam Keighran N/A.
The Roosters have no player on their roster who was a regular NRL kicker last year. Taukeiaho is easily the most accomplished of those on the books but given he won't play 80 minutes regularly, that is not an ideal solution.
Rest assured, coach Trent Robinson will have a plan and it is likely Hutchison, Lam and Keighran will be spending plenty of their off-season practising off the tee. Keighran is probably the best kicker at the club but the least likely to be in the NRL 17.
Sharks: Chad Townsend 66.1%
2020 form: Chad Townsend 4/5, 80%; Matt Moylan 4/4, 100%; Shaun Johnson 56/73 76.7%; Braydon Trindall 4/6, 66.6%.
The Sharks would be higher up the list were Shaun Johnson not sidelined for the first two months of the season due to his Achilles injury. Neither Townsend nor Moylan has a compelling career strike rate though each has been a regular kicker at times.
For a club that has made a frustrating habit of losing games despite scoring the same number of tries or more over the past two years, they need to ensure this doesn't cost them too badly before Johnson returns. Trindall could be the solution but he has to cement a spot in the side first.
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Knights: Kalyn Ponga, 72.5%
2020 form: Kalyn Ponga 46/70, 65.7%; Tex Hoy 2/4, 50%; Mitch Barnett NA.
The Knights will need the up-and-down Ponga to find his radar in 2021 after the departure of Mason Lino left their goal-kicking depth looking decidedly skinny. Ponga kicked very well in 2019 at 83% but has kicked below 70% in his other two seasons at the club.
Hoy (two from four) and Barnett (three from five) have very limited experience at the top level but one will probably have to take the shots in the first round or two with Ponga unlikely to be fit for a return from a shoulder injury.
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Titans: Ash Taylor, 68.1%
2020 form: Ash Taylor 36/54, 66.7%; Jamal Fogarty 9/15, 60%; Patrick Herbert 3/4, 75%.
Given both halves are recognised kickers, the Titans should be further up this list but Taylor and Fogarty have struggled to land them when required. Gold Coast finished with the worst goal-kicking percentage in the NRL in 2020.
With the club favoured by many to push for a top eight spot in 2021, last year's ninth-place finishers can ill-afford to be leaving too many tries unconverted. Former Warriors centre Patrick Herbert has kicked at over 70% over the past two seasons but has to fend off the likes of Treymain Spry for a backline spot to be an option.
Wests Tigers: Adam Doueihi, 65.0%
2020 form: Adam Doueihi 16/24, 66.7%. Moses Mbye 29/45, 64.4%. Jock Madden N/A. Paul Momirovski N/A (75% in 2019, 21/28)
The Tigers had the third-worst goal-kicking record of any club in 2020 and there's not much in their recruitment to suggest a significant uptick in 2021. Doueihi and Mbye each get roughly two out of three shots across their careers. Momirovski kicked at 75% in 2019 but is no guarantee of a spot. Youngster Jock Madden has kicked at junior level but needs to force his way into the side to be an option.
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Storm: Cameron Munster, 59.5%
2020 form: Cameron Munster 6/8, 75%; Ryan Papenhuyzen 4/9, 44.4%; Nicho Hynes 4/4, 100%.
The great unknown when it comes to goal-kickers in 2021. With no recognised kicker on the books (unless Cameron Smith makes a shock decision to play on another year), the Storm rank last in the goal-kicking charts.
That doesn't account for the "Bellamy factor" though – the super coach will have a plan.
Whether that is forcing the enigmatic Munster to lift his career rate above 60%, or spending the summer drilling Papenhuyzen to be a top-line kicker, or pulling a different rabbit out of the hat such as Hynes if he becomes a regular starter, expect the Storm to climb this list one way or another once the season gets underway.
2021 NRL premiers
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The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.