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The Obstruction Rule‘s True Ladder™
The Obstruction Rule’s True Ladder™ is our take on the popular “Power Rankings” found on other sites. Unlike the arbitrary rankings of those however, our True Ladder™ ranks the teams by their expected performance against a league average opponent. It’s calculated by deducting the projected tries conceded against a league average opponent from the projected tries scored. So yes, the selection of the ranking system is equally as arbitrary. But ours uses maths!
1) Brisbane Broncos (2-2)
2) Melbourne Storm (4-0)
3) Cronulla Sharks (2-2)
4) Canberra Raiders (1-3)
5) Sydney Roosters (4-0)
6) North Queensland Cowboys (3-1)
7) Penrith Panthers (2-2)
8) Manly Sea Eagles (2-2)
9) St George Illawarra Dragons (3-1)
10) Parramatta Eels (2-2)
11) South Sydney Rabbitohs (2-2)
12) Canterbury Bulldogs (1-3)
13) Wests Tigers (1-3)
14) New Zealand Warriors (1-3)
15) Gold Coast Titans (1-3)
16) Newcastle Knights (1-3)
Canberra Raiders: Canberra fans are within their rights to feel nervous following a disappointing 1-3 start to the season, which sees them sitting in 11th spot at the conclusion of the opening month of football. Our message to the Canberra faithful: don’t be.
The Raiders are merely the victims of a horror opening stretch to the season that’s seen them play 3 of 2016’s top 5 teams. Losing three matches to the NRL’s heavyweights doesn’t really matter in the bigger picture, what matters is that they acquitted themselves well, which for the most part, they did. Critically, when they finally got a crack at one of the softer the teams on the schedule, they buried the Wests Tigers 46-6.
Like last year, they continue to boast the league’s best offense (Offense VOA: 26.54%). This is the result of a combination of being the league’s 2nd best team at creating line breaks (LB VOA: 33.66%) and tackle breaks (TB VOA: 20.50%). Unlike last year, however, their defense is holding up pretty well. In 2016, their defense improved week-on-week throughout the season, peaking just in time for the finals. This year, their defense is already pulling it’s weight (with the notable exception of their game against Cronulla), with an above average Defense VOA of -8.07%. If it improves over time like it did last year, the Raiders could easily be the best team in the competition.
The next month will see the Raiders meet 4 sides from outside our True Ladder™ top 8. We expect to see the Green Machine embedded in the NRL Top 8 by the end of it.
Manly Sea Eagles: Two weeks ago, we didn’t think we’d be writing this either, but a lot can change in two weeks (just ask Jason Taylor).
For Manly, after two underwhelming efforts against mediocre football sides, they had the sheer good fortune of running into a couple of sides who were either down on troops (North Queensland) or down on form (Canterbury). But, you can only beat who’s in front of you, and beat them they certainly did, running out winners in those two matches by a combined score of 66-8.
So are the Sea Eagles the real deal? We don’t know, but we’ll be a lot closer to knowing by the end of April. The Sea Eagles are staring down the barrel at three consecutive games against current Top 4 teams, plus the Raiders, who may well be Top 4 by the time they get there. We don’t expect the Sea Eagles to win all of these games (they may even win none), but we do see reason for hope for the Sea Eagles.
Manly can score a try from anywhere on the field, courtesy of their league-leading LB VOA of 45.02%. This is critical for two reasons – firstly, if the Sea Eagles are going to beat teams, they’ll likely need to do it by outscoring them, as their defense is average at best (Defense VOA: 0.57%). Secondly, due to the Sea Eagles’ sub-standard forward pack (RM VOA: -2.64%) the Eagles frequently find themselves in poor field position (they’ve only won net Run Metres once this year, and they required a 12 percentage point possession advantage to do it), so it’s critical that they can find ways to score from outside their opponent’s red zone. And score they can. Tom Trbojevic has been a revelation at fullback, ranking second in the league in line breaks. Add to him Daly Cherry-Evans and Api Korisau, who’ve combined for 7 Line Break Assists between them, and the incredible line-running of Dylan “Not-A-Five-Eighth” Walker and Brian Kelly, and Manly have one of the most exciting attacking units in the league. If they can just improve their defense and discipline, they could be one of the season’s big improvers.
Parramatta Eels: Parramatta were a team who entered 2017 with high expectations, but sadly, so far this year they look to be going backwards. The issue with Parramatta isn’t so much their misfiring attack – it was largely inconsistent last season as well, and with the return of Corey Norman, there’s reason to expect that should improve. The worrying problem for the Eels is their defense.
In 2016, despite their salary cap disaster and subsequent fall from relevancy, their defense remained largely effective, finishing 6th in VOA. In 2017 though, this hasn’t been the case, with their Defense VOA falling to -2.34% (10th) so far. Yes, this is marginally above average, but only because the shoddy defense of the Tigers, Titans, and Knights drags the league average down. Their defensive woes, specifically, stem from their surprising inability to prevent opposition line breaks (LBCVOA: 20.24%). This was no more evident than in their shock loss to the Titans, where the Gold Coast’s otherwise inept offense tore through the Eels’ right edge, seemingly at will.
If the Eels are to be any kind of threat this year, one (or both) side(s) of the ball are going to need to get a lot better. Hopefully the return of Corey Norman brings a change of fortunes for the Eels, but it’s a lot to ask of one player.
New Zealand Warriors: Is there a more disappointing team in football than the Warriors? (The answer likely hinges on how low your expectations were for the Titans.) When you look at the Warriors’ star-studded roster, it absolutely boggles the mind how they can be performing so poorly (though choosing to hire a coach with a career winning percentage of 23.8% is probably a good place to start).
The Warriors defense has been nothing short of diabolical, having yet to contain a team to less than 22 points (and the team who reached 22 points was the Knights, owners of the worst offense in the league). The Warriors’ defense is below average in every statistical category, and with good reason. Their line speed is slow, they miss tackles, and their effort just doesn’t appear to be there. Their ruck defense last weekend against the Dragons could only be described as ‘Tigers-esque’. And that’s before we even touch on their offense.
The Warriors are a team who’ve long been regarded as one of the NRL’s great entertainers, but through the opening three weeks of the competition, watching the Warriors attack has been like watching paint dry (and not the exciting, glossy stuff). They’re the league’s worst team in line breaks (LBVOA: -42.08%) and tackle breaks (TBVOA: -38.55%). It looked as though in order to reduce their notoriously poor error rate, they chose to do absolutely nothing with the football (in that respect, it could be called a success – by the end of Week Three, they ranked 2nd in the league in errors). Then, as though the criticism had grown too loud, they threw off the shackles – and made a catastrophic 19 errors in a single game of football (for context, they’d made just 24 through the opening three matches).
There’s very little room for optimism that the Warriors’ situation is likely to improve. They get the similarly disappointing Titans and Eels the next two weeks, before a horror stretch of Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney to close out April. Good luck.
March Premiers: Brisbane Broncos
Brisbane currently sit in 8th on the NRL ladder, but don’t let that fool you: the 2017 Brisbane Broncos are the real deal.
The Broncos’ relatively low ladder position can be easily explained with a quick look at the NRL draw – through the opening four weeks, the Broncos have faced 2016’s Top Four sides. When you put their results in that context, they no longer look so bad. No other team has faced a draw as difficult as the Broncos (in fact, it would be impossible), and yet they still sit inside the Top 8. All while facing media rubbish about Wayne Bennett losing his aura, Anthony Milford getting fat, Benji Marshall being a snitch, and whatever else the commercial media concoct on any given week.
With the league’s 2nd ranked offense (Offense VOA: 24.55%) and 3rd ranked defense (Defense VOA: -38.56%), the Broncos are currently the most well balanced team in the competition. Ben Hunt is looking like his 2015 self, and their forward pack has stepped up to silence the many critics who suggested they wouldn’t be able to manage the retirement of Corey Parker (RMVOA: 6.28%).
Now, as we head into April, the Broncos will finally hope to entrench themselves deep in the Top 8. They’ll meet the lowly Bulldogs, Titans and Rabbitohs over the next month, as well as the high-flying (but beatable) Roosters. The Broncos are very good, and we think they can be even better.
March Wooden Spooners: Newcastle Knights
We don’t want to pile onto the Knights too badly because, honestly, they’re a lot better than last year.
Sure, that’s not a particularly strong statement – the Knights were historically bad in 2016. But it’s worth pointing out that although the Knights remain the worst team in the NRL at present, they’ve closed the gap dramatically.
The Knights are no longer the worst team in the competition on both sides of the ball. The status of League’s Worst Defense currently rests with the Titans (Defense VOA: 66.21%). And although their offense sits in last place (Offense VOA: -37.95%), it’s dragged down by their duck egg against Penrith, and more importantly, it’s still not that far away from the Titans (Offense VOA: -27.89%).
In 2016, it wasn’t even a discussion who was the worst team in the league – the Knights won in a landslide. However, in 2017, there’s at least room to debate. As mentioned, their numbers are comparable to the Gold Coast, who they’ve beaten, so that’s a good place to start. In their losses to the Warriors and Rabbitohs, they went down by 4 and 6 points respectively, so you could argue that the Knights are victims of bad luck as well.
In reality, the Knights are still not a good football team, however you wish to slice it. But they’re getting better, and it wouldn’t surprise us one bit to see them offload the dreaded spoon for the first time in 3 years, by the time it’s all said and done. They’re not off the bottom yet, but there’s hope on the horizon.