Five Metre Gap – NRL Finals Series – Week Three 2014

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from week three of the finals series.

With Five Metre Gap looking at recent NRL matches to try to identify trends or interesting statistics we didn’t have to go back to far to assess the 2014 grand finals sides as they squared off in round 25 when Canterbury did lead South Sydney 12-6 at the interval before the Rabbitohs ran out 21-14 victors as they continued their march of premiership favouritism.

Des Hasler’s side failed to score a try in the second half of that match which is a worrying trend heading into the decider. Indeed the Bulldogs since that game have only scored two tries in the second half in the next four fixtures. Souths in the corresponding period have scored nine tries in the second 40 minutes of their games and it’s worth remembering that’s with playing one less match after they got the bye in the second weekend of the finals by virtue of their 40-24 triumph over Manly.

Our NBI (Negative Bench Impact) analysis for the decider sees Michael Maguire’s side with and edge after a score of seven made up of five missed tackles, zero errors and two penalties conceded in their ten-point triumph over the Sydney Roosters. Their opponent this weekend scored nine with their substitutes missing six tackles, making three errors but went without conceding penalties as they beat Penrith.

Looking at starting players individually Rabbitoh pivot Luke Keary was targeted in defence missing four of his 21 tackles attempts. He wasn’t the worst on his side with Bath-bound Sam Burgess missing five tackles, but his engine room work means he is always more likely to do so. Expect the Bulldogs to run plenty of traffic at 22 year-old Keary on Sunday evening.

From an attacking perspective of the grand finalists it’s perhaps not surprising at all that the afore-mentioned Burgess was the most dangerous player in the preliminary finals. The 25 year-old forward broke six tackles and laid on a try in his side’s triumph which booked their return ticket to the ANZ Stadium decider.

@hamishneal

Five Metre Gap – NRL Finals Series – Week Two 2014

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from week two of the finals series.

As the Cowboys and Manly were farewelled from this year’s NRL finals competition in pulsating games across the weekend there were some glaring errors from experienced players but both their sides managed to survive. Sydney Rooster’s Anthony Minichiello had a well-documented nightmare which was highlighted by a costly goal-line pass before Canterbury skipper Michael Ennis gifted a try to Manly the following night after spilling Kieran Foran’s kick which led to Cheyse Blair’s try. Normally a batch of errors would capture our attention but two experienced players making such mistakes had to be recognised. Will the retiree-to-be or the hooker-on-the-move be the most effected by their weekend blips?

Manly started slowly in terms of possession on Saturday evening spurning one third of their sets finishing the first half with 10/15 completions (67%.) Canterbury had five more sets in the half and completed at 80% (16/20) but were still unable to kick away in the first half leading only 16-0 until Manly scored in the dying stages of the stanza. As Des Hasler told Sky Sports Radio the following day “I didn’t think 16 (points) was going to be enough.”

Geoff Toovey’s move to shift Justin Horo into hooker with the continued absence of the injured Matt Ballin was always going to be critical and the regular back-rower alternated time there with Jayden Hodges. Hodges, 20, spent the bulk of the time playing at rake however it was his defence which was a flaw compared to the usually reliable Queenslander Ballin. Hodges in 50 minutes made 30 tackles but did miss six, the most of any player in the two games on the weekend.

Some unexpected attacking weapons starred for the winning sides on the weekend. Despite the fact Rooster James Maloney has played State of Origin he is not normally thought of as a key attacking force in the Eastern Suburbs outfit when compared to the sides speedy outside backs and star forwards like Sonny Bill Williams. The 28 year-old Ourimbah junior, in addition to potting the crucial one-pointer busted eight tackles and created two tries in the Roosters 31-30 victory. On Saturday evening, also with eight tackles breaks and like Maloney a try of his own, Bulldogs custodian Sam Perrett was a star at the back with a near flawless performance.

In terms is the closeness of the NRL finals of recent times the 2010 final series would probably come closer to the current edition in terms of drama. Played under the old McIntyre system it was a gripping month. After a two-point qualifying final win in week one over Penrith the Canberra Raiders fell 26-24 to the Wests Tigers (Jarrod Croker’s attempt at goal anyone?) in week two before the Tigers were edged in their subsequent preliminary final 13-12 by St George Illawarra. The Dragons romped away with the title beating the Roosters who have been on both sides of a one-point margin is this finals series so far.

@hamishneal

Five Metre Gap – NRL Finals Series – Week One 2014

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from week one of the finals series.

With two particularly high-scoring matches to commence the NRL finals series Five Metre Gap delved into the recent data to see what a big win in week one meant for a team. In 2011 both Brisbane and Manly topped 40 points in their opening weekend game, in Manly’s case 42. After a pulsating win over St George Illawarra the Broncos then met the Sea Eagles for a spot in the decider with the Sea Eagles having had the week off. History shows Manly went on to win the title that season which bodes well for week one winners South Sydney.

In an NBI (Negative Bench Impact*) update threadbare Manly had their substitutes miss seven tackles and concede one penalty for a concerning NBI score of eight as they were humbled 40-24 by the Rabbitohs. Meanwhile, and perhaps a pointer to Penrith’s focus during their week off, the Panthers bench missed ten tackles in a game which the squad were responsible for 43 missed tackles. Even Manly (42) didn’t concede as many missed tackles in letting in 40 points.

However a positive one of many, for the Ivan Cleary-coached side, was the play-making contribution of pivot Will Smith. The 22 year-old ran five times and busted three tackles in the Mountain Men’s one-point triumph over the Sydney Roosters. The Wests Newcastle junior has been contributing exceedingly well for Penrith of late having ran 11 times and busted three tackles in the last two games of the regular season.

From the beaten brigade, Brad Fittler medalist Ryan Hoffman had a game to forget as Melbourne were eliminated with the NSW forward missing six tackles and conceding a penalty. His poor game was typified by Tim Lafai’s second try when the former Wigan Warrior was palmed off by David Klemmer before Bulldogs centre Lafai sped inside Hoffman’s second attempt to halt the try-scoring move. Granted his position is responsible for a lot of work in that department but the fact remains a representative player should do better. 30 year-old Hoffman is joining the New Zealand Warriors next season but perhaps the lack of a better contract offer from Melbourne was evidenced on the weekend.

The defeated but still alive Sydney Roosters were seen off by a determined Penrith Panthers outfit but an intriguing statistic out of the qualifying final was the Roosters wastefulness in possession. Given Trent Robinson’s side only completed 57% (21/37) of their sets it was surprising they were able to stay in the lead for so long in the match. Of the two beaten sides from the qualifying finals the Roosters seem to have more improvement in them.

@hamishneal

*NBI measures a sides four bench players statistically by looking at three of the significant negative statistics of missed tackles, errors and penalties conceded, thus providing a guide to ‘negative bench impact’ as the overall strength of the squad.

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 26 2014

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from round 26.

Having introduced Negative Bench Impact to Five Metre Gap last week our analysis of the final weekend of the NRL’s regular season shows it was back-to-back minor premiers the Sydney Roosters who came out top on NBI again. As a reminder, NBI measures a sides four bench players statistically by looking at three of the significant negative statistics of missed tackles, errors and penalties conceded, thus providing a guide to ‘negative bench impact’ as the overall strength of the squad. After missing two tackles in round 25 the bench of the Eastern Suburbs club accounted for no missed tackles plus only one error and penalty each in round 26 of the eight sides who made the finals.

Despite a win Melbourne, last week’s equal second best side on NBI ratings, were the worst-performing play-off side in round 26 with their four substitutes combining to five missed tackles, make one error and concede three penalties. Forward Bryan Norrie was a serial offender missing three tackles and conceding a penalty. Joint second with Melbourne on only three NBI points last weekend, Manly, as they were humbled in Townsville 30-16, clocked up seven NBI points which was made up of four missed tackle, one error and two penalties.

The championship period of the last ten minutes in games will be even more crucial in the two elimination fixtures in the first weekend of the finals series and Canterbury fans may be a little but tense given their sides habit of giving up late points in the last fortnight. The Bulldogs conceded two tries in the last eight minutes of regulation time before eventually falling to defeat in the third minute of the golden point period 19-18 to the Gold Coast on Sunday afternoon. The week prior South Sydney sealed their win over the Des Hasler-coached outfit with a try seven minutes from time to veteran flyer Lote Tuqiri secured the Rabbitohs triumph. What emphasises this problem further ahead of their knockout match in Melbourne is that the blue and whites are the least attacking side in the top eight having finished with 446 points for the season, 56 points behind the next lowest points-scoring finals side Manly (502.)

Speaking of the peninsula side, as they get set to face South Sydney it’s a quirk of the finals draw that as a home game of sorts the Sea Eagles are playing at the bigger, central Sydney, venue of Allianz Stadium. The two sides did meet in round two of the competition with Manly the ‘home’ side, but the match was played at Central Coast Stadium. That game was a two point triumph to Geoff Toovey’s team before Michael Maguire’s side turned the tables in round 22 winning 23-4.

Looking further at home bases and two sides (Sydney Roosters and North Queensland) head into what will be their third consecutive match at home as they face Penrith and Brisbane respectively. A month ago the Roosters did leave Australia to travel, and beat the New Zealand Warriors 46-12, and four weeks ago the Cowboys were beaten in Penrith 23-22. The following run of home games should give both sides plenty of preparation time leading into the finals as their travel factor has been very much reduced to this point.

@hamishneal

Five Metre Gap – NRL Round 25 2014

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence, reviewing the points from the NRL you may have missed from round 25.

With key injuries across many top sides and one weekend remaining in the regular season it’s noteworthy to look at the impact of bench players who can have plenty of influence when they enter the fray. In addition to a positive impact it is worth looking at the mistakes such players make when they are added to the play in an endeavour to give their side fresh legs or an edge. On the weekend two sides clocked up double figures when you look at ‘negative bench impact’ – a measure I have collated taking into account missed tackles, errors and penalties conceded. Like all statistics context is needed but it provides an insight into teams which have a true squad of 17 effective players. Despite a comprehensive 42-0 victory New Zealand was the most profligate side with 11 NBI points (made up of five missed tackles, four errors and two penalties conceded.) Eighth placed Brisbane conceded ten in the ranking of NBI (5,2,3) in defeating St George Illawarra 30-22. Granted a lot of this may be accounted for in the period when Matt Gillett was sin-binned. However interestingly this match also provided the worst offending player on the statistics with Broncos forward Sam Thaiday missing three tackles and conceding two penalties. (Maybe the 29 year-old’s suspension could have a useful impact for Brisbane this weekend.) The best match for the NBI ranking provided two of the three highest ranked sides as the Sydney Roosters triumphed over the Melbourne Storm 24 -12. In doing so the Roosters bench missed only two tackles whilst Storm’s bench also missed two but Tim Glasby conceded a penalty. Equal with Melbourne on a total figure of three (1,1,1) was Manly who prevailed in dramatic fashion 26-25 over Penrith.

Third-placed Sydney Roosters surprised in defeating the Storm on Saturday evening at Allianz Stadium given their poor completion rates. In the first half alone with the score level at 6 all after 40 minutes Trent Robinson’s side had complete 63% (10/16 sets.) The Victorian outfit completed 19 of 21 in the same period but lacked a cutting edge in their latter stages of attacking sets.

After falling to defeat by South Sydney on Thursday evening at ANZ Stadium Canterbury, currently seventh, is amongst the host of sides walking the tightrope to make the NRL finals. If they do it will be with a marginal points difference. Currently the Des Hasler-coached side has a plus eight differential and a win over the Gold Coast will see them make the playoffs however it will still be well short of the next best team. Failing a big turnaround the Panthers at plus 64 are the next closest side so 56 points better. The Bulldogs’ attack (438 point) is the lowest of any current top eight side and 12th overall.

Four points away from a nine-game winning streak North Queensland appear to have started playing finals football already. Ahead of their Saturday night encounter with Manly, which will see the Cowboys hunting for a top four spot, Johnathan Thurston inspired the Paul Green-coached outfit to a dramatic 20-19 triumph over Cronulla. It was a game they were expected to win comfortably but had all the hallmarks of a finals encounter given the contest whilst gripping wasn’t great in terms of skills execution. In nearly three months the Cowboys have suffered two losses of one point (Penrith round 23) and three points (St George Illawarra round 17) and could easily be ensconced in one of the coveted spots in the top quartet.

Finally, it will be interesting to see if the finals results will mean a quick re-match for Penrith against Manly after the Panthers, it would seem rightly, were aggrieved at the timekeeping late in the loss to the Sea Eagles. Manly currently sit atop the ladder with the Panthers fourth and should that stay the same they will meet in the first week of the finals.

@hamishneal