Not being a typical NRL round weekend, I find myself at a loss for a Thursday post so I thought I’d toss a bunch of little things out there – six, to be specific – and see what sticks. I don’t expect this to be a regular format but it might come in handy to get smaller ideas out there, especially seeing as all anyone is reading these days seems to be long form works of analysis and history.
1. Origin Game I
I said that I would do a wrap up of game the week after and I didn’t. That was partly because every wrap-up came to the same conclusions. You don’t need me to reiterate the same talking points but I did run some numbers to see if the takes stacked up.
Here’s what we have is:
- Rating – I took each player’s StatScore production number for this match only and multiplied it by 250, (normally, I would divide it by the role average and then multiply by 100). Note they are not comparable to normal StatScore numbers.
- Time Adj – For players who played less than eighty minutes, their rating is adjusted for the proportion of time played, assuming that they would’ve continued playing at the same rate.
- VOA-pos – Value Over Average-position. I divided each player’s time adjusted rating by the average of the time adjusted ratings for each position (five-eighths and halfbacks are considered the same, as are bench forwards) and expressed it as a percentage. Below 100% is a below average performance in this game.
And the takes held up well. We see that the Queensland forward pack struggled but the backline held up well. James Roberts went missing. Peachey should have come on sooner. Milford maybe shouldn’t have bothered. It was James Maloney’s game to lose. Damien Cook had a blinder and, even though McCullough has a completely different playing style, owned his opposite number. Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Paul Vaughan probably had more impact than the eye test suggested while Boyd Cordner needs to find some form. Jack de Belin underperformed expectations.
2. Ryan James vs Matt Prior vs Dylan Napa
I would never be a coach. I have enough stress in my job without the media and millions of people poring over my every move. The big selection drama in the Blues’ camp this week was that Ryan James had been left on the Gold Coast, again, and Matt Prior will get his place, coming in for Reagan Campbell-Gillard. I will happily admit that I am not much of an expert on these players or the nature of forwards in general or, for that matter, much of anything.
I do, however, know numbers and they make the case that Matt Prior has the edge. While Prior hasn’t improved as much in the last couple of weeks as James (see the delta or Δ), he was playing at a higher level already and remains there. He was also a member of the Sharks 2016 premiership winning side, so may be more familiar with high pressure situations than a Titans lifer.
Compared to the last string NSW players, Napa is a full couple of steps behind, which is concerning. The only reason I can think that Dylan Napa is playing is that Queensland’s forward stocks are so low that if we don’t play him, we’re going to have to go into the Intrust Super Cup to find players. Then again, Jai Arrow spent some time playing for Wynnum-Manly last year, so who knows what talents are to be found?
Or it could be that dreaded, anti-meritocratic word, loyalty. I do know that if I was a coach, I’d be selecting on form and on that basis, Napa shouldn’t be playing this year.
Ice hockey has a cool player stat called plus/minus. Because of the frequent substitutions in hockey, they judge each player by the number of goals their team scores while that player is on the ice and subtract the number of goals their team concedes while he is on the ice. This, to me, is a simple, neat measure of player efficacy. Of course, there’s a lot of debate as to whether the number is really meaningful but I thought it might be fun to play with.
Of course, in rugby league, a large part of each team plays the full game so instead of tries scored/conceded while on the field, I’m going to substitute that with try involvements less try causes, as judged by Fox League. I’ve only included the top twenty or so and the bottom twenty or so. I’ve excluded players that have fewer than three appearances because they tend to oscillate around zero.
As you can imagine, the top of the list is dominated by halfbacks and other playmakers. The bottom is dominated by backline players that are unfortunately sold out by their lazy teammates and marked down for the try cause. Then again, it will surprise no one to see that Kenny-Dowall, Montoya, Uate and Nightingale are right down the rankings.
This year and across all players, the average back is on +0.3, the average forward -0.1 and the average spine player is +4.3.
If you’re one of those people who needs a graph to go with, here’s all the 2017 and 2018 players scatter plotted by TI and TC.
The final Plus-Minus chart will look at a little different at the end of the year but there’s an R-squared of 0.4 and the trendline is positive, suggesting the more tries you’re involved with, the more tries you’ll cause. Interesting.
4. Unofficial NRL Premier
There’s an account on Twitter that tracks an “Unofficial World Cup”, which reminded me of the Unofficial Football World Cup, which Australia will be contesting in the near future. The idea is that instead of winning a championship in a tournament format, they borrow from boxing and you hold the title for as long as you beat all comers. If you’re defeated, the title passes to the winner and the process continues.
I doubt I’m the first but I’ve done the work for the NRL competition, dating back to it’s inception in 1998. I won’t post the whole list here, unless someone really wants it, as the title has changed hands 244 times. As of round 15, here’s what the overall table looks like:
The Broncos own the UNRLP, both in number of times that they’ve won the premiership but also the length of time as premiers. The most recent was after defeating the Tigers earlier in the year, which lasted a week until they were beaten by the Titans. Interestingly, Canterbury have the fewest stints as premier but the outright longest, which was in 2012 and stretched from round 13 to round 25’s defeat by Canberra.
The current Unofficial NRL Premier is South Sydney, who took the title from Cronulla in round 13.
Funnily enough, the actual premier and the UNRLP have coincided seventeen out of twenty times. Admittedly, sixteen of them either picked up the title in a preliminary final or in the grand final itself. Only the 2002 Roosters held the UNRLP title in the regular season and carried it through an actual premiership.
5. Rep Weekend Tips
While we don’t have the same tools or frequency of matches to analyse these tips in the same way we do for the NRL and QCup, I’ll muddle through best I can. The Pythago World Rankings works pretty similarly to the Eratosthenes/Hipparchus series for NRL/QCup respectively, but it could use an update and some tweaks.
Women’s Origin: Queensland
I have no idea. I don’t follow the women’s game close enough (or at all, if I’m perfectly honest with my woke ass) to know who’s good and who’s not. Given that the women’s Broncos will be far more likely to win a premiership this year than the men’s, I expect to up on it by the end of the season with another Elo rating system in tow. For this game, I do know that the interstate series stands at 16-2-1 to the Maroons’ favour but we haven’t won in three years. The Blues have won the last two. I really hope Queensland wins but the recent Women’s National Championship, with an all-NSW grand final, doesn’t bode well.
Pacific Tests: Fiji & Tonga
Well, if you wanted to see Jarryd Hayne play at halfback, you’ve come to the right place. Despite this simply mind-bending selection decision (surely he’s a 6, at best), the level of each team isn’t too dissimilar. There’s a handful of not-quite-stars of the NRL, like Kevin Naiqama and James Segeyaro, buffeted with some Intrust Super talent, like Tui Kamikamica and Watson Boas, on both sides. More of the Kumuls would play together at the Hunters than the Bati in any side, so that may lend some cohesion, but the Hunters have had far from a great year. The head-to-head record is one a piece, only having met twice according to Rugby League Project but I suspect that is incomplete. The Pythago World Rankings has Fiji on 1461 and PNG on 1358, giving Fiji a 64% likelihood of victory, which I’m inclined to agree with.
If the Islander community in Sydney turns out, this should prove to be one of the more exciting contests this weekend and I say that knowing full well that State of Origin is on Sunday. Samoa-Tonga was a highlight of last year’s World Cup and we expect more of the same. Except there’s a bit of a disparity in talent. While the Samoan side is pretty darn good, and more than a match for Fiji or PNG, Tonga have assembled about as good a forward pack as it is possible to assemble with enough talent behind them to put on points. Ofahenguae, Fifita and, the Pacific Dally Messenger, Taumalolo are three of the names I expect to hear a lot as they tear the Toa Samoa line apart. On the other side, I’m interested to see if Lino gets a start for Samoa and how well he works with Milford. Tonga has a rating of 1497 and Samoa 1320, so I have the Mate Ma’a at 74% chance of winning. The line-ups don’t do much to dissuade me of this.
Denver Test: England
It’s finally here. The “controversial” test, which is journo speak for “someone powerful isn’t getting a cut, so we’re manufacturing some controversy to put doubt in the punters’ minds”, is on. Turns out, it’s even going ahead without the NRL mafia getting anything. The good people in Denver might even turn up – crowds of around 20,000 are predicted – and discover that they should be watching this when the NFL isn’t on. Against that backdrop, the game itself is almost irrelevant.
England have turned up with a team ready to go, including Gareth Widdop, two Burgesses and, my favourite English player, Jermaine McGillvary. New Zealand have seven Warriors, three Broncos and a selection of other NRL players. The Poms are clearly very keen to get on with it but we’ve heard less out of the Kiwis. Perhaps they are still smarting from being bundled out at the quarter finals of last year’s World Cup. Either way, I think England are too motivated and have shown themselves a better side of recent times. The rankings give the slightest of edges to England at 57%.
Men’s Origin: New South Wales
Both sides are fielding the same teams, one or two changes to injury notwithstanding, which is partly why I’m not bothering with a StatScore team review before game II. Then, as now, the Blues had a significant advantage statistically. I don’t see the addition of Kalyn Ponga or the subtraction of Reagan Campbell-Gillard making a sufficient difference to really change the outcome. I said as much last year before game II and I was well right for forty minutes and then the Blues folded. I can’t see that happening this year. Queensland are so far gone that we’re playing a not-exactly-fit Napa at the time of writing and New South Wales believe too much. The only people going against the Blues are diehard Queenslanders, idiots and New South Welshpeople that don’t want to get their hopes up just yet. NSW is my tip.
6. StatScore Leaderboard Update
From our last update after round 12, new entrants into the top twenty include Moses M’Bye, shown in Wests colours but yet to take the field for the Tigers, Corey Norman, enjoying the benefit of a week as fullback, and Andrew Fifita, having clawed his way into form. One wonders that if the Blues lose game II, if Fifita might be getting a call up? Exiting were Crichton (26th), Fonua-Blake (21st) and Kikau (34th). The second coming of Christ, Kalyn Ponga, has rocketed up from eleventh to fifth, adding thirty points to his StatScore. Only five players from Queensland clubs (including Melbourne) are in the top twenty, reflecting a general malaise in the state’s rugby league prospects right now.