To say that Part 2 of this ongoing analytical series into Rugby League is late would be a significant understatement. Whilst I could blame the delay on the long hours associated with working as an Auditor & Data Analyst or the depressed state our team’s performances have left me in, I will cut to the chase and jump straight into this month’s topic.
As highlighted in Part 1, the data emphasised that the numbers relating to scoring opportunities for halves are not necessarily indicative of their capabilities or success during a season (or lack thereof in Season 2018).
<Table 1 – Halves Statistics> – Note: These numbers are calculated on the probability of creating at least one line break or line break opportunity per game.
Referring to Table 1, it can be seen that both Corey and Mitchell have struggled to maintain their statistical output compared to Season 2017. Most notably the Prince of Egypt has seen his ability to create line break opportunities for teammates slashed in half over the course of the current season. Not even Rameses himself could have predicted such a setback.
On a positive note for Mitchell, his running game has slightly improved on a per game basis, of which is most likely due to the lack of quality support from his back rowers and outside backs. Despite the occasional bright sparks of Manu, Brown and Co, our wide men have often looked slow and seem to be struggling with their timing this season. This has no doubt impacted the ability to create line break assist opportunities for our halves and in turn the ability to score points.
Corey has seen a decline in his ability to create a line break and line break assist since 2017. However, this is not entirely of a concern as the numbers are in line with the trend that we identified after the arrival of Moses. This is mainly due to Corey’s post Moses role of primarily focusing on steering the team around the park. Corey was a great leader last season, he was incredibly composed and would steer the team around the park extremely well allowing the likes of Moses, Gutherson et al to do the damage. This is something that he has struggled with over the course of this season, and I would argue it often looks like he is trying to do it all himself. This is an improvement point moving forward, but when the team as a collective are performing so poorly, it is going to take some time to correct.
Given the decline showed by our halves, it might be easy to point the finger at these two and blame them for the current situation, but if you delve a little deeper into the team wide statistics, you might in fact find the droids you are looking for.
<Table 2 – Team Wide Statistics> Note 1: These numbers are calculated on a per game basis.
Note 2: Refer to comment below regarding tackled in Op.20 numbers.
The Rest of the Team
The collective team are not actually performing too differently to what they were doing last season. As can be seen in Table 2, on face value, it could be argued that in some facets they are actually performing better. Whilst many would point to the numbers associated with tackles in the opposition 20 and say, that it’s the smoking gun in the case of Parramatta’s Season 2018 (or maybe that our halves are crap), there are a few reasons why this might not necessarily be the case.
The movement between most of the core team wide statistics is fairly indifferent and immaterial. Tackle Busts, Missed Tackles and Running Metres are pretty much flat when averaging our numbers on a per game basis. Completion Rates have fallen by 4% since the prior season, however this is not necessarily the reason why we are losing games. The most notable movement is associated with Drop Outs Forced and 7 Tackle Sets Conceded. The ability to Force Drop Outs has improved immensely whilst also significantly reducing the number of 7 Tackle Sets Conceded by around 50%. This would normally point to a more clinical team performance, but when looked at in conjunction with the unfavourable movement in Kick Metres (a decrease of 17%), as well as the number of Tackles in the Opposition 20 before scoring a try, it paints a different picture; highlighting that as a team we are finding ourselves in attacking positions more often yet are unable to execute and capitalise on the pressure we build.
A question needs to be asked of the fringe runners and block plays that the team are running as the number of Tackles in the Opposition 20 before scoring is a worrying sign for 2018 and the halves, based on the individual and team wide numbers appear to be controlling the game as best as they can. It is worth noting that the numbers relating to Tackles in the Opposition 20 for 2017 and 2018 were obtained from different sources as it is difficult to find specific data from a single source across seasons, as such there may be a slight difference in what the numbers actually represent.
Despite adjusting for a potential difference in the criteria between 2017 and 2018, the Tackles in Opposition 20 related numbers highlight the key area of concern for the team this season. The Eels in 2018 are on average taking twice as many possessions to score when within 20 metres of the opposition try line, whilst also increasing the average number of possessions in the red zone by roughly 12 tackles, and yet we are still scoring less tries! Whilst the number of halves combinations both through injury and form related changes have most likely had an impact on these numbers, they should not be used as an excuse. The team just seems to have forgotten how to play when they are in the opposition red zone. Having watched each of our games this season, this does not come as a surprise and in my opinion points to a team wide problem rather than just the 6 and 7. They have shown through the positive movement associated with the Kicking Game statistics as well as a somewhat maintained Running Game that they are able to build pressure, however the remaining numbers show that the team as a collective are unable to execute.
In my opinion, despite playing poorly at times, as has the rest of the team, the halves haven’t necessarily gone backwards, it’s seems to be the structure around them that has. Our wide men appear to be out of sync and our distribution, both through slow play the balls and poor dummy-half service is consistently poor, making it quite difficult for M&Ns to do their work. When adding in the at times poor discipline, the problem is compounded significantly, and makes it quite easy for the team to lose the power struggle week in week out. I personally don’t believe that we overachieved last season by a margin of a top four team to wooden spooner potential, but there were some very concerning signs during the course of last season where we showed similar issues that the team seemed to simply handle better. I guess the question remains; if the team could cope with these situations last season, why can’t they do it now?
Given that there was very little changes to the squad and that the team wide numbers are somewhat similar to that of last season, it points to both tactical and mental barriers that are holding the team back from being competitive on a play by play basis in Season 2018. In addition, not only is the lack of being able to thrive under adversity worrying, the inability to create opportunities through support play is as well. I think our service out of dummy half needs to improve, and that our outside men need to work a little harder and provide quality options for our halves, particularly in the final third. We need more of what we saw last season; Brown, Tepai Manu last season running off a Moses short ball for a try or attacking opportunity. We need more cohesion in attack; less players overrunning the ball carrier or lagging a second behind.
I just think it’s actually a case of the timing and commitment as a collective just being a little off and at times, we appear to be going through the motions. BA has a bloody tough job on his hands to get this right, both for the rest of the season and for the build up to 2019 but I, for one, consider him fit for the task.
Let’s go Parra,