The Tigers went across the ditch and ended the Warriors’ finals hopes. The Obstruction Rule looks at how it went down, as well as reviewing the Tigers’ performances sans-Robbie Farah and turning the microscope on their opponents’ coach, Andrew McFadden.
Setting the Scene
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(If this is your first visit to the site, you can learn about our VOA-based NRL statistics here)
The Warriors are a better football team than the Tigers. Though both sides come armed with explosive offenses, the Warriors also have a competent defense to back that up. On their day, the Warriors are a strong chance to beat any team in the NRL. Unfortunately, they’re also a strong chance of wetting the bed at the worst possible time (like, for example, when your parents have forced you to awkwardly sleep top-to-toe with your cousin, and now, years later, you’re still referred to at family events as “Puddles”). And in Round 25, at Mount Smart Stadium against the Wests Tigers with a potential finals spot on the line, they did just that. The Warriors soaked the mattress.
Some Warriors tragics might try and lay the blame for this defeat squarely on the two tries disallowed for obstruction. While the two decisions were at best contentious (and at worst, demonstrate that NRL referees have no intuitive feel for the sport whatsoever), the fact remains that the Warriors shouldn’t have gotten themselves into a tight game to begin with (as we explain here, tight games are typically decided by little more than chance). They scored 24 points, and even a remotely good defensive performance would have been enough to win, especially with the prodigiously talented James Tedesco notably absent from the Tigers team (and, depending on your perspective, Robbie Farah). However, that isn’t what they delivered.
Coming into the game, we never expected defense to be high on the agenda. The Warriors would have to contend with the Tigers exciting brand of attack, while the Tigers typically defend as though they just met each other on the bus on the way to the game. What we did not expect however, was for the Warriors’ defense to be this bad.
Above are the two sides’ VOA Ratings across several defensive stats (remember, for defensive statistics, the higher the number, the worse the performance). The numbers make for ugly reading for both coaches, but for Andrew McFadden they must feel like a punch in the stomach. All the Warriors’ defensive categories are below average, and their Line Breaks Conceded in particular are shockingly bad. To put them in perspective, the Knights LBC VOA for the season (the worst single season in NRL history) is only slightly worse at 67.25%. Yes, as they’ve been known to do so often, the Warriors saved up one of their weakest efforts for one of their biggest games.
Keen eyed observers may be looking at the numbers and thinking, “Well, the Tigers numbers are bog average as well. Why aren’t you labeling them as bed-wetters too?”. I’m glad you asked. Firstly, the Tigers won. So there’s that. Secondly, what isn’t immediately obvious from the above table is that these numbers are actually an improvement on the Tigers’ typically woeful defensive performances. For comparison’s sake, the Tigers’ season LBC VOA is 23.53%, their RMC VOA is marginally better at 6.55% and their TBC VOA is 12.75%. So no, despite their poor defensive numbers against the Warriors, we don’t regard that as a bed-wetting. If it smells a bit like they’ve wet the bed, we can assure you that it’s only because they haven’t changed the sheets from previous nights.
Someone owes Jason Taylor an apology
Longtime readers of The Obstruction Rule might remember that when the Robbie Farah saga erupted, we supported Jason Taylor’s right to select the team that he believes gives the club the best chance to win, and provided statistics that suggested that the idea wasn’t completely ridiculous (we say might remember because let’s face it, no doubt plenty of you just skim through the articles, especially when it gets a bit numbery. That’s OK, and if you need a refresher, the original article can be found here). Now, six weeks later, the Tigers find themselves still alive in the finals hunt with one round remaining, having won 4 of 6 matches since Taylor sent Farah down to reserve grade, including upsets of North Queensland and most recently, New Zealand.
In light of their recent success, and with a larger data set to work with, we’re now in a better position to judge Taylor’s decision from a football perspective. The discussion begins with the most obvious statistic – winning percentage.
With Robbie Farah = 3-6 (33%)
Without Robbie Farah = 8-6 (57%)
Needless to say, the Tigers have won more games, and at a better strike rate, without Farah than they have with him. Which isn’t necessarily to say that the offense has performed any better, but at least they’ve been winning (which should theoretically keep the wolves from the door). More importantly though, is how the spine has performed in his absence, and we can attempt to measure this by comparing the Tigers’ LB VOA with and without Farah.
LBVOA With Robbie Farah = -8.51%
LBVOA Without Robbie Farah = 31.33%
As you can see, at least insofar as that creating line breaks are representative of the effectiveness of a team’s spine, the Tigers have performed markedly better without Farah than with him. (NOTE: If you’re wondering why the With Robbie Farah LBVOA has changed since the previous article when he hasn’t played a game, the reason is that the numbers are relative to the NRL season average, so although the total numbers haven’t changed, the NRL average has, and the VOA has moved slightly accordingly)
The Tigers may yet miss the finals (they require the Titans to lose to North Queensland, and then themselves to beat Canberra at Leichhardt), however who would have guessed that the Tigers and Titans would be the last sides standing in the race to the final 8? People seem to forget that both these sides were popular choices to finish last at the beginning of the year, and yet for some reason the Titan’s coach, Neil Henry, is touted as a potential Dally M Coach of the Year, while Jason Taylor has endured relentless pressure from the media that he ought to be fired. The fact of the matter is, that what Taylor has achieved with a relatively weak and inexperienced squad is every bit as remarkable as what Henry has achieved. And he may not have done so had he not dropped Robbie Farah.
And on the other hand…
If Jason Taylor is the most unfairly scrutinized coach in the NRL, then Andrew McFadden is surely the most curiously overlooked. McFadden presides over a team containing no less than nine New Zealand internationals (yes, that’s the same New Zealand who are currently the defending Four Nations champions), as well as a further Kangaroo, four Tongans and a Queensland Maroon (the Tigers meanwhile, feature just five players who’ve represented Australia or New Zealand, and one of them’s in reserve grade). Yet somehow, McFadden has missed the finals in each of his three campaigns as head coach, and guided the club to an abysmal 43.9% win rate. By comparison, McFadden’s predecessor – former Raiders, Panthers and Warriors coach and rugby league punchline, Matthew Elliott – was fired after less than 18 months in charge – with a superior win rate of 44.8%. This is a team that is so good that anything less than finals football should be unacceptable, yet somehow McFadden has survived three seasons of abject failure, and watched on from across the Tasman as Taylor has faced News Ltd’s Spanish Inquisition.
The Warriors butcher more tries than other team in the league. This is illustrated by their try to line break ratio. The average ratio of tries to line breaks in the NRL is -0.09. The Warriors’ is -0.23 (last). Ordinarily, we would argue that this disparity is likely just bad luck, but watching a Warriors game is like a non-stop parade of missed opportunities. The Warriors lead the NRL in line breaks, but somehow find themselves placed 8th in tries scored. They then compound their problems with ill discipline, ranking 5th in the league in errors. And that’s before we get to their inconsistent defense.
The Warriors’ overall defense ranks slightly above average on the season, at -1.91%. When paired with their offense, this number should be sufficient to win more games than they lose. The issue though, is that they rarely perform to their average. They’re either wildly below average (for example, like in both their efforts against Wests) or noticeably above average. It’s difficult to explain why the Warriors are so inconsistent, and to say that “the New Zealanders are just like that” shouldn’t cut it (and frankly, is probably a little bit racist). The buck should stop with McFadden.
The Warriors’ management has done an extraordinary job of compiling a roster that should be in a premiership window. There was a time when these sorts of performances may have been considered acceptable, but at this stage in the Warriors’ development, they should ask themselves if they’ve outgrown bed-wetting. And if they’ve outgrown Andrew McFadden.