Tag Archives: state of origin

Diving into State of Origin 2021

It feels weird doing another Origin analysis so recently after the last one, a scant seven months ago, but here we are for another round of player analysis using statistical techniques, now including a significant amount of historical data, and Penrith bashing.

Before that, I want to take a victory lap on this prediction from last year:

Further, I expect that the ratings dip we saw through the finals will continue through the Origin series and we’ll be back to mid-week games by next winter. To keep broadcasters happy and make up for this year’s underperformance, any talk of standalone weekends will be quashed. It’ll be just like in the 80s, so that will keep the Daily Telegraph readers and ARLC chairman happy until they realise the futility of nostalgia, which will probably only happen on their deathbeds, if at all. It’s not like anyone wants to see New Zealand versus Tonga anyway.

I was off by one year but right about everything else. This is the last year for a standalone Sunday Origin. I could deal with this if the plan was to free up a weekend for internationals after Origin featuring some combination of the Kangaroos, Kiwis, Toa Samoa, Mate Ma’a Tonga, Kumuls, Bati and a third tier nation like England, perhaps playing the opening round of a meaningful international trophy but let’s face it, it’s a pipe dream. All must be sacrificed on the altar of Origin and NRL ratings.

Game 1 Lineups

Normally, I have little to offer in terms of constructive criticism for these lineups because the selection committees usually get it right, or thereabouts, and I hate trying to trace eligibility of players. This year though, with no Clint Gutherson in the centres, we must comment on the inexclipability of the following selections: Tariq Sims, Jaydn Su’A and Jake Trbojevic.

Statistically, Sims and Trbojevic have little to offer and surely New South Wales has substantially better options in these positions. David Klemmer hasn’t been at his best under the new rules but his TPR of .112 greatly exceeds that of Trbojevic at prop. Josh Schuster is sitting on an average TPR of .117 in the second row, a full 20 pips clear of Tariq Sims (a player who I didn’t realise was still in first grade), albeit Schuster is listed as a five-eighth on Manly’s website which might speak to his ball playing capability. Who can say if that would come in handy.

Stats aren’t everything and TPR doesn’t represent the full gamut of the game but really.

Queensland have fewer options at second row but surely it would have been better to shift Kurt Capewell to his club position and find another centre. Perhaps there’s one in Queensland Cup? Delouise Hoeter currently leads QCup by WARG at centre and would probably be Maroon eligible, as an alumnus of Keebra Park High. Tesi Niu has a Cup TPR of .110, predominantly at fullback. Maybe Daejarn Asi? Look, there’s a lot of low cards in the Queensland NRL deck – I briefly considered Tom Opacic (.102 in NRL this year) – but I’m sure someone can be found to do a job that doesn’t require giving a jersey to Jaydn Su’A, the Queenslander with the lowest TPR since Moses M’Bye’s ill-fated selections in 2019.

Series outlook

That the Maroons have such a substantial edge in the forwards’ production, mostly from the expected efforts of David Fifita and to a lesser extent Arrow and Welch, rather suggests that the Maroons should have the upper hand in this contest. As the old adage goes, forwards decide the result and the backs decide by how much. While Queensland’s back five is noticeably weaker than New South Wales, the Maroons should have a sufficient platform to let Munster run riot. The Blues will have to work hard to get Cleary in the game who rarely seems to have an impact in a game at rep level unless his pack is rolling.

While I’m tipping Queensland in the first meeting, it sits on a knife’s edge. Elo currently favours NSW as the superior state but only just, 1517 to 1483, a gap that overcome by home ground advantage. Indeed, Elo gives Queensland a 55% chance of winning this. The Maroons playing at Suncorp is worth +7.7 points and I would expect a similar advantage at Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville to help offset any weaknesses in the lineup.

Even if the Maroons do come out victorious, the second game should snap back to reality, especially as the Blues will have some players available for the second game that they would have preferred to play in the first. The third will then be in the lap of the gods but, as it is played at ANZ and assuming a full strength NSW side, you’d think that would be enough to get the Blues home for a series win.

Brad Fittler will make it look harder than it needs to be and if he loses this series, surely he can’t be there in 2022. Paul Green may be even sufficiently useless to fail to get the boys fired up in Townsville and Queensland will be back to giving Wayne Bennett another crack next year while they wait for one of the golden generation to put their hand up.

Historical record

The NRL has now put stats up for all men’s Origins dating back to 2004. To take the data and turn it into something useful, I’ve taken the average of the various variables used in the NRL player rating calculations from 2013 to 2021 as a basis for some Origin-equivalent player rating calculations.

Normally, to get TPR we would factor in the time played but as we do not have this data for before 2014, I can’t do this. Consequently, instances like Cameron Munster’s two minutes in game two last year look bad, which is why it’s important to both know this context and understand that most or least production isn’t the same as the best or worst players. If you feel like you want to re-litigate the merits and shortfalls of the Taylor Player Rating system, you can read about it and make your own decisions.

We can calculate total Taylors, which accrues to the players with the most games in particular positions. To account for that, we also have average Taylors generated per game and I’ve divided each player’s Taylors by their positional average to generate a positional value over average number (VOA) and averaged that over their career.

This does mean we can finally answer the question whether Andrew Johns is a stat padding fraud or merely a fraud.

Pathetic.

Bearing the burden

As there is every year, there’s been a lot of chat about the burden of Origin unfairly impacting teams. Instead of the usual suspects, this year the Penrith Panthers’ fanbase has decided to pipe up after their regular season winning streak (*) has come to an end at the hands of an entirely beatable Wests Tigers team, allegedly because they were down seven players due to Origin commitments.

A few years ago, I wrote a piece that theorised that Origin tends to have a randomising impact on the competition. I dusted off the dataset and updated it to include the full history of Origin from 1980 through to this season, to see which clubs have borne the heaviest load of Origin selections.

These numbers should be roughly correct but I caveat it by pointing out that I scraped this from Wikipedia, which often has obscure rugby league trivia wrong and has coded the data in a difficult to parse manner, I have excluded the split 1997 season and that, like everyone, I do make mistakes

Penrith sit eleventh out of the current sixteen NRL clubs, with this year’s selections pushing them past Cronulla and sitting well clear of two clubs that didn’t exist for at least the first two decades of Origin and the one based in New Zealand that largely signs players ineligible for Origin. The other team is South Sydney.

The Panthers have less than a third of the Origin selections of the Brisbane Broncos and, coincidentally, exactly the same amount as the eight original BRL clubs, who haven’t had an Origin cap since 1987, two of which folded and a third left the Queensland Cup after an 0-23 season.

We can break it down further to see that it took the Panthers until 1995, well after they’d won their first premiership, to just catch up to the Wynnum Manly Seagulls.

If all six Panthers that are currently listed as starting play all three games, that would be the equal nineteenth biggest imposition on a single club in Origin history. This would be on par with the 90 and 04 Broncos, 03 Roosters, 83 Sea Eagles, 07 Storm and potentially, 21 Rabbitohs, who also have six players in the teams. The eighteen greater examples are the 08 Storm, 95 Bears, 90 Raiders, 83 Eels, 11 Dragons and thirteen Broncos teams. The top five are 03, 01, 02, 94 and 98 Broncos with 32, 31, 31, 30 and 29 total selections respectively.

Some might say it’s about time that Penrith started pulling their weight in Origin contributions. Others might simply point out that Panthers fans don’t seem to be able cope with the rarified air that comes with being at the top of the pile. Either way, they need to get over it.

Diving into State of Origin 2020

We’re unusually late in the year to be talking Origin but to understate it completely, 2020 has been an unusual year.

I’ve tried analysing Origin using my slate of analytical tools in previous years (2018 and 2019) with mixed success. Taking those lessons on board, I’ve reworked some of the tools and we’ll look at this year’s series through these lenses:

  • Elo ratings
  • Venue records
  • Taylors

If you just want to cut to the chase, my tips are the Blues for the men’s and Maroons for the women’s. Further, I expect that the ratings dip we saw through the finals will continue through the Origin series and we’ll be back to mid-week games by next winter. To keep broadcasters happy and make up for this year’s underperformance, any talk of standalone weekends will be quashed. It’ll be just like in the 80s, so that will keep the Daily Telegraph readers and ARLC chairman happy until they realise the futility of nostalgia, which will probably only happen on their deathbeds, if at all. It’s not like anyone wants to see New Zealand versus Tonga anyway.

Form guide

I always said it would be stupid to do an Elo rating system for a three game per year series with only two teams contesting it but here we are.

New South Wales’ current rating is 1516 and Queensland’s 1483. On neutral ground, as in Adelaide, the Blues have a 55% probability of winning (equivalent to a one point margin). In Sydney for game 2, the Blues’ chances improve to 64% (3 points) and in Brisbane for game 3, the Maroons’ would be 54% favourites (1 point). Obviously, this will change as the games are played and ratings updated.

For the nerds, this system is margin-based (like Form Elo, we set a line based on pregame ratings and after the game, ratings go up for the team that beats the line) but with a low K-value (50) to make the series relatively slow moving. To maximise tips would require setting K at 225, which turns the ratings into chaos. As is, Elo has tipped the correct winner 53% of the time in the Origin era, which rises to 60% if we crank the K value up to 225. You could just tip against the winner of the last game or flip a coin for a similar success rate. We’re being descriptive, rather than predictive.

Home ground advantage and margin prediction factor is based on the whole history of interstate games, which the home team (excluding games at neutral venues) won 59% of the time by an average of 4.5 points. I had intended to generate these values on a decade-by-decade basis but there are several points in history where the away team had the advantage, which ruins the whole system. I say keep it simple.

Home ground advantage

You could do pretty well tipping Origin by simply tipping the home team. That strategy would have returned a 58% success rate over the last ten series.

Suncorp has long been a fortress for Queensland. Since 2010, the home ground advantage has been worth over ten points to the Maroons. Equally, but with far fewer games, the neutral venues have been considerably more accommodating to the Blues. Go figure. The Blues have an advantage of less than two points at ANZ Stadium but as the memory of Queensland’s golden age fades from memory, I would expect it to return to its long term advantage of approximately four points.

The advantage should be with New South Wales for games 1 and 2 and with Queensland in game 3.

Historical Taylors

I want to preface this section by saying that this is not really what the Taylor system for player ratings was designed for and that rugby league isn’t a sport where you could plug and play players and get 2 + 2 = 4, especially when you take a surplus of fullbacks and drop them into other parts of the back line. I get it, I really do, but we have to use the tools we have at our disposal.

With that in mind, I went back a looked at how the lineups from 2014 onwards would have been rated by Taylors.

For these charts, I have calculated each player’s TPR to that point in the season that the game was played and estimated the number of Taylors (xTy) they would produce at their listed position. I have also included the actual Taylors (Ty) generated by the player during the game. If you’re not interested in the detail, here’s a table summarising these charts.

The most obvious issue is that this method almost always tips New South Wales. The last six series have been split 9-9, so this may not be a great means of guessing who will win. However, the average projected Taylors per game is 865 Taylors and the average actual Taylors produced is also 865. This shows there is at least some internal consistency but we may be suffering at the hands of rugby league chaos which does not allow for nice, neat mathematical projections.

In reality, what happens is that the best players are selected from their club teams and, as there is considerable overlap between talent and production, we end up with a lot of highly productive players in too small a space. The way rugby league is actually played means that only so much can be done in a game and some players will not be as productive as they would in a club situation. Similarly, many players will be out of position and adjusting on the fly, rather than playing at their best.

Having said that, Origin produced 116 Taylors more than the typical NRL game did over the same period (749 Taylors per game). Origin means more football.

Interestingly, the Maroons have typically outperformed their projection by 20 Taylors per game. Mal Meninga was able to coax an additional 39 Taylors per game over the projections in 2014 and 2015, while Kevin Walters has only managed 13 from 2016 to 2019. New South Wales underperformed by 59 Taylors during Laurie Daley’s reign (2014 to 2017) but have outperformed by an average of 54 Taylors under Brad Fittler’s tenure (2018 and 2019). Some of those differences will be squad composition, self-belief and motivation and some of it will be coaching, although I wouldn’t care to speculate on the precise mix.

This all provides context for when we look at this fairly damning chart for game 1 of this year’s series.

[Correction: The tip should have read “New South Wales by 66%” but didn’t due to a calculation error. Still a big gap though.]

Irrespective of the merits of the tips, we haven’t seen on paper advantage like this in recent times and you would very likely have to go back to 1995 to find a similar chasm between the two sides. Famously, Queensland won that series in a clean sweep, which just goes to show that anything is possible, especially if your opposition thinks they’ve already got it won.

The most productive game in NRL history by Taylors was Souths stomping on the Roosters at the end of the 2020 regular season, which generated 1042 Taylors. Only game 1 of 2019 in Origin has exceeded that with 1049 Taylors. We are projecting 1023 Taylors for game 1 of 2020, the highest aggregate projection. Even with Vlandoball, that doesn’t leave a lot of room to exceed expectations. If one were to clutch at straws, it would be that Queensland have a lot more room to outperform, even if this is the highest projected output of a Maroons side since game 3, 2014.

Queensland may well alter this line-up before game day. Personally, I would have preferred to see Harry Grant at hooker. His .174 TPR would have added an additional 13 Taylors and closed 14% of the gap between the two states. However, the Maroons appear to be in big trouble with the wingers and centres chosen. In a normal year, a functional Corey Oates would add another 6 Taylors over Xavier Coates but unfortunately, Corey is broken. Valentine Holmes’ addition on the other side would be a similar improvement. Nonetheless, these changes would close the gap a little but does not eliminate it.

For New South Wales, it’s hard to imagine a better squad. Brad Fittler will get a lot of credit for his coaching genius when, in reality, he has a sizeable talent advantage to work with. Clint Gutherson, one of the better fullbacks in the game, does not seem suited to his responsibilities at centre, which could be an avenue that Origin Gagai exploits. Some of the forward selections seem a bit doughy, especially Jake Trbojevic at lock after the season he has had, but their Queensland counterparts aren’t rated much better.

Tipping 2020

We’ve already established that the Taylors lean NSW and Elo, until recently, loved Queensland, so we’re really only left with home ground advantage to separate the teams. It’s hardly a good or useful or robust system but since someone will inevitably ask for it, here’s what an Origin jury would have tipped.

Despite this, I’m inclined to agree with the Jury’s recommendation of the Blues. In fact, I voted that the Blues would clean sweep the series in the end of season fan poll. It would take an exceptional turnaround, not beyond the realms of possibility but very close to a miracle, for it to be any other way. Truly, this would be a fitting end for 2020.

Women’s Game

At the risk of this being seen as a tack-on, the reality is that records of women’s interstate games is spotty and that 21 NRLW games over three years does not give us the kind of statistical sample size that suits the kind of analysis I want to do. We are, unfortunately, left with the eye test.

Idiots will tell you that women’s Origin should have been moved from North Sydney Oval to Bankwest for this year’s edition because, somehow in a series of only two teams, most commentators forgot about the second team. Fortunately, the NRL is not that silly and has forced the coward Blues to face a hostile crowd on the Sunshine Coast. That said, bigger idiots think the women’s game should be a curtain raiser to the men’s, ensuring the women never play in front of a decent crowd.

If Queensland win this, it would be their first official Origin win and first interstate win since 2014 (2015 was a draw, after winning fourteen in a row prior according to Wikipedia). The Maroons have closed the gap that existed in previous Origins. Ali Brigginshaw, rather than being slowed by age, has had her best season yet and with Tarryn Aitken serving in the halves and Tamika Upton at fullback, Queensland have a dynamic playmaking combination. Broncos trio Tallisha Harden, Annette Brander and shot putter Chelsea Lenarduzzi will run it up the middle to lay a platform. Letting go of the pre-NRLW stalwarts and focussing on the younger talent that has come through is going to help immensely. The key ingredients are there.

The Blues’ stars, particularly those at the Dragons, looked extremely lack lustre during the NRLW season. Maddie Studdon has been dropped, Sam Bremner has other commitments and Isabelle Kelly and Kezie Apps will carry injuries in to this game. As usual, keeping a lid on Jess Sergis will be key to getting the upper hand. Hannah Southwell and Millie Boyle are a strong pair to underpin the pack. Kylie Hilder didn’t play NRLW this year or last year and is 44 years old, so I’m not sure if her naming isn’t an error. In contrast, a stack of Roosters have been named and if they can retain their cohesion from the NRLW, they may well overcome any talent deficit.

If nothing else, the women’s game will be much closer than the men’s series and should be considerably more compelling. I’m tipping the Maroons.

Like the NRLW, women’s Origin is coming along in leaps and bounds. The end goal – however long it takes – will be to have a women’s competition and representative season that is equal to and independent of the men’s side of the game. That means not having women’s games as curtain raisers but as standalone events. It will take time for the audience to grow, and women’s standalone games will likely be at smaller venues in the immediate future, but the audience will come if the product remains entertaining and is given the nourishment it needs to grow.

2019 Pacific Tests Tips, State of Origin Previews and Other Rep Weekend Stuff

For rugby league nerds, this weekend is the true rugby league Christmas. We have a phenomenal mix of men’s and women’s games, featuring top line players representing teams from all over the southern hemisphere. There’s a World Cup qualifier in Sydney between the Cook Islands and South Africa. There’s two State of Origin matches, one for each cisgender. We have two women’s internationals, featuring Samoa, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Fiji, as well as the NRL’s Pacific Invitational with the same teams, except that famously Pacific nation, Lebanon, plays in lieu of New Zealand. The Kiwis will instead be facing down arch rivals Mate Ma’a Tonga to avenge their 2017 World Cup embarrassment in the opening fixture of the new Oceania Cup.

(Also worth a look this weekend in boring old club football: London Broncos vs Hull Kingston Rovers in a relegation battle. Kickoff 4.45AM AEST on Friday)

It’s a feast of rugby league and significantly more tantalising than what the NRL has served up lately. Here’s a bit of insight into each.

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Mitchell Pearce saved Nathan Brown’s career

Scene: C-Bus Stadium, Gold Coast. It’s the twenty-first of April and we’re in round 6 of the 2019 National Rugby League season. At around a quarter to three in the afternoon, the referee blows the whistle for half time.

The Newcastle Knights are down 22 to nil after the worst forty minutes of football in recent memory. The Knights conceded three long range tries to the Titans off the back of errors, compounded with extremely lazy defence.

The Knights fervently loyal fanbase has endured years of failure since the financial demise of Nathan Tinkler in 2014. The club’s ownership was turned over to the NRL and a horror run followed, including three straight wooden spoons and fielding an historically bad 1-22-1 side in 2016.

The club, under the new ownership of the Wests Group, signed Kangaroos prop, David Klemmer, in the 2018-19 off-season. His acquisition was seen to be the last piece of the puzzle to bring the Novocastrians back into contention, joining young superstar Kalyn Ponga and premiership winning halfback Mitchell Pearce.

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Rating the 2019 State of Origin teams

It’s that time of the year again. The weather has just turned cold and the NRL season has built just enough momentum to be interesting and has now been brought to a screeching halt. It’s State of Origin time, the world’s only all-star game that the players actually care about. Naturally, the first question anyone needs to consider is: which team looks stronger on paper?

When it comes to assessing representative games, we don’t have access to the usual team rating tools and, even if we did, the gaps between matches and changes to the teams are so significant that Elo ratings aren’t particularly useful. This year, we can evaluate the Origin teams using Production Per Game (PPG), which is a player rating tool.

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NRL Tips – Round 25, 2018

And we made it. It’s last the tips post for 2018. I plan to do a finals preview, once the top eight is actually decided, and maybe one more recap and then that’s it for a while.

Let’s not delay then and get into it.

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NRL Tips – Round 24, 2018

We’re in the penultimate round of the regular season and can definitely feel the approaching finals footy. There’s still some unfinished business to be resolved, specifically ensuring that the Tigers finish ninth as they are destined to do until the heat death of the universe, or maybe when Jeremy Marshall-King’s backended contract at the Bulldogs forces a transfer to Wests and history can try to repeat with the lesser relative. Or maybe they will have to wait until Benji’s and Robbie’s kids grow up?

In the meantime, my tipping has gone to crap so maybe you should ignore me and go with the Greeks.

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NRL Tips – Round 23, 2018

I kind of liked last week’s format, so I might try to hybridise it with the typical 2018 format. Originally, I wanted to cut down on the time these took to put together but unfortunately I also like to type a lot of garbage. Instead of the Other Games paragraph that I was throwing together and didn’t add much insight, I’m going to flesh those out a bit more but at the expense of making the top three games by MVR a little shorter.

It’s amazing that I’ve been doing this for nearly two seasons and still haven’t settled on a format I really like. Might need to follow the crowd and do a reader survey post-season to help inform it.

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NRL Tips – Round 22, 2018

I’ll be honest, I’m extremely short on time this week, so consider this an express post of tips. If you prefer this format, let me know and I’ll stop wasting my, and your, time every week.

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NRL Tips – Round 21, 2018

By now, you’ll probably have processed last night’s Immortals announcements. Pre-war superstars Frank Burge, Dally Messenger and Dave Brown were joined by Norm Provan and Mal Meninga in receiving Australian rugby league’s highest honours. This of course means that the Souths Magpies have an Immortal. Finally. Everyone in the QCup, except for Wynnum Manly and Redcliffe, can suck ovarian genitals. Hmm, cloacae actually, I guess. Norths, please, Churchill doesn’t count for you guys. That’s like the Gold Coast Seagulls claiming Wally Lewis. You’re embarrassing us all.

Anyway, I’m not sure where the #crisis angle will come from but I’m sure the usual suspects will have a multitude of think pieces about how there were too many and too few Immortals inducted, which simultaneously offers long overdue recognition for greats of the game but also overlooks other obvious and more deserving selections. I’m sure we’ll get over it by kick off tonight.

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