Are the Warriors the most inconsistent team in the NRL?

Despite being set an 18 point line, the Warriors managed to run the Storm close on ANZAC Day in Melbourne. Were it not for a dubious decision or two in the closing phase of the game, the Aucklanders might have left AAMI Park with the win. That led to people, including me, wondering out loud via social media where that level of play had come from, especially compared to some of the Warriors’ earlier displays this season.

Some people suggested the Warriors in Melbourne was a Thing. We only need to remember last year’s 50-10 drubbing to dispel that but also recall that the Warriors have a 7-13-1 record in Melbourne, with an average margin of thirteen points in the Storm’s favour.

So what gives?

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This is New Zealand’s results for 2019:

  1. Warriors 40 – Bulldogs 6
  2. Tigers 34 – Warriors 6
  3. Sea Eagles 46 – Warriors 12
  4. Warriors 26 – Titans 10
  5. Rabbitohs 28 – Warriors 24
  6. Warriors 10 – Cowboys 17
  7. Storm 13 – Warriors 12

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Close loses to the Storm and Rabbitohs imply that the Warriors might be OK. A big loss to the Tigers and another loss to a lack lustre Cowboys suggest otherwise. Which begs the question, are the Warriors inconsistent, indeed the most inconsistent, team in the NRL? Let’s see if we can find a way to measure it.

We’ll need to consider what we mean by ‘inconsistency’. One definition is that the team puts in the same effort week-in, week-out to generate results. A team that performs at a high level regularly will win games and generally be considered good. A team that is not as productive won’t win games and will be considered bad. A team that performs well and poorly will be inconsistent.

To determine effort put in, we can look at Production, which is the accumulation of valuable stats (tries, running metres, kicking metres, hit ups, line breaks, etc, etc) that correlate with winning, from game to game to see what the variation is.

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That, by itself, does not tell us much. We need to compare to other teams.

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Again, this is not particularly informative by itself. However, each team will naturally play within a range of performances, as teams are not robots (except maybe the Storm) and can’t precisely replicate their last game in the face of changing conditions, as evidenced here.

To measure this spread, we can calculate the variance, which is the average distance a value is from the average of the data set. The higher the variance, the wider the spread of values and therefore, the less consistent the team is.

I’ve expressed the variance as a value-over-average to make it a little clearer as a measure of consistency. A positive value means a lower variance than the league average, so the team produces more consistently, and vice versa.

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We see the Warriors are in the bottom three for 2019 prior to round 7. Considering the league average for production per game in 2019 is 263, of the four teams highlighted, all have had one particularly bad game: the Broncos against the Tigers (172), the Titans against the Raiders (152), the Eels also against the Raiders (146) and the Warriors against the Tigers (156). Parramatta’s “inconsistency” comes from their quiet showing against Canberra (145) was more than offset by a huge game against Wests on Easter Monday (417). The Titans have a similar, slightly less impressive result against the Knights (381).

But overall, from 2014 to 2019, the Warriors are slightly below average but not an especially inconsistent team. Indeed, their average production over that period is about on league average. Their record is a mediocre 55-73 with one just finals appearance in 2018 to show for it.

Perhaps therein lies the problem. For a team that’s usually has first choice on Kiwi representatives and has a healthy enough administration and finances, to have achieved so little sets expectations on the lower side of average. This also does not reflect the potential of their roster. On the rare occasion, when the Warriors actually turn up, putting in a big game reflective of their potential, we’re left surprised. “Where has that been?”

I could spend a thousand words speculating on why that might be. Coaching and culture are favourite excuses among pundits. But, over the long run, those big games are not regular enough and offset by equally poor performances. We’re left wondering why we can’t see that every week.