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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) Melbourne Storm (8-1)
2) Manly Sea Eagles (5-4)
3) St George-Illawarra Dragons (6-3)
4) Canberra Raiders (4-5)
5) Cronulla Sharks (6-3)
6) Sydney Roosters (6-3)
7) Brisbane Broncos (6-3)
8) Parramatta Eels (5-4)
9) Canterbury Bulldogs (5-4)
10) Penrith Panthers (2-7)
11) Wests Tigers (3-6)
12) New Zealand Warriors (4-5)
13) North Queensland Cowboys (5-4)
14) South Sydney Rabbitohs (3-6)
15) Gold Coast Titans (3-6)
16) Newcastle Knights (1-8)
Manly Sea Eagles: In the corresponding article a month ago, we asked the question: “are the Sea Eagles the real deal?”. One month and two-and-a-half bed-wettings later, our answer is a resounding “we think so?”.
Our major issue with Manly is their propensity to implode defensively. On average, they’re no longer the joke of a defense that they’ve long been regarded as (in fact, we have them ranked 5th in Defense VOA). However, on occasion – like against Souths in Round 2, St George in Round 6 and Melbourne in Round 7 – they can completely unravel, particularly on the edges.
So why then, do we have them trending up? Because as bad as they are when they’re bad, they’re absolutely lights-out when they’re good.
Manly’s offense is to be seen to be believed. They rank 2nd only to Melbourne in LBVOA (29.56%), but unlike the Storm, Manly do it while averaging the league’s lowest number of errors per game. The result of their extraordinary discipline is that the Sea Eagles typically win possession – they’ve had 50% or more of the ball in all but 3 of their matches. Their increased possession leads to increased opportunities with the ball, which they in turn convert into line breaks, which they typically then convert into tries. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Penrith Panthers: Suggesting that the hapless Panthers are “trending up” is likely to cause some readers to spit out their tea (after all, they currently sit below teams like the Tigers on the NRL Ladder – a team who are onto their 3rd coach this season), but bear with us, it’s not as ridiculous as it sounds.
For a start, we’re not for a second suggesting that the Panthers are Top 4 quality – that’s long-since been proven to be a myth, and after all, our very own True Ladder has them placed 10th. Rather, we’re suggesting that the Panthers are vastly better than the lowly 15th ladder position they currently occupy, and the “club in turmoil, player unrest, blah, blah, blah” Telegraph stories that come with it.
For a start, were it not for a howler of a forward pass non-call against the Roosters and a self-inflicted defeat against the Rabbitohs (a match they lost by a single point while their stars were in reserve grade), the Panthers would be at 4-5 and we wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place.
Secondly, the path forward is nothing like the journey through hell that the Panthers have just endured. Through the opening 2 months of football, the Panthers have played all of the sides currently occupying the Top 5 spots on the ladder. Going forward, their draw gets a lot softer. The month of May will see the Panthers meet two sides ranked below them on the True Ladder (the Warriors and Knights), followed by a bye. It’s conceivable that by the end of the month the Panthers would then be on 10 points, sitting around 11th or 12th, and their future will be in their own hands, if they’re good enough.
Also, against the Broncos, the Panthers finally began showing signs of a return to their 2016 happy-go-lucky style of attack. Last year, the Panthers led the league in offloads, averaging close to 14 offloads per game. This year they appear to have dialed down the second-phase play in the hopes of reducing their errors (they ranked 3rd in the league last year). However, this has simply led to a reduction in offensive success, while their errors have somehow gotten worse. Seeing the shackles come off across the Broncos was fantastic for Penrith, and we’re optimistic that a return to their high-octane offense of 2016 is right around the corner.
Are they good enough to make the Top 8? On current form, clearly not, but it’s far from impossible. Including their two games in May, 10 of the Panthers’ remaining 15 matches in 2017 come against teams who rank in the bottom half of the True Ladder. If they were to win those games, and no others, they’d likely qualify in 8th spot. Sure, it may not be likely, but for a team paying $4.50 to make the Top 8, the road is perhaps not as difficult as it seems at first glance.
North Queensland Cowboys: It’s difficult to adequately describe just how disappointing the Cowboys actually have been. Since losing Matt Scott in Round 2, the Cowboys have won just 3 matches – against the lowly Titans, Rabbitohs and Knights. The month of April saw them register disappointing losses to the Tigers and Eels, and there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. They’ll desperately need a win in Week 10 against the Bulldogs in order to keep pace with the Top 8, before a Round 11 trip to Cronulla and a badly needed bye in Week 12.
So where did it all go wrong? It’d be easy to point to the loss of Johnathan Thurston as the issue, and to view his imminent return as the cure to the team’s ills, but the Cowboys’ issues began long before Thurston tore his calf in Round 6. The Cowboys defense hasn’t looked good from the moment Matt Scott left the ground against the Broncos. People didn’t notice because they were winning (albeit barely), but the Titans in particular exposed a weakness in the Cowboys’ ruck defense that has since been abused by both the Dragons and Tigers. The Cowboys leak an unusually high number of line breaks through the middle of the field, and are particularly susceptible when defending their own line. As good as Johnathan Thurston is, his presence isn’t going to fix that.
Yes, Thurston’s return will make the Cowboys better; so too will the return of Lachlan Coote (we’ve pointed it out before, but since 2015, the Cowboys have won just 2 from 8 with Coote on the sidelines). But will they improve enough to be a serious threat in 2018? We doubt it. They still have to play the Storm and Sharks twice each the rest of the way, as well as dates with fellow heavyweights the Broncos and Raiders. The next month will be crucial, and they’ll need to get through Origin unscathed.
Sydney Roosters: Like Penrith above, this is a selection based on their relative ladder position. The Roosters are a decent team, sure. But are they the equal second best team in the competition? No way in hell.
You only had to sit through the excruciatingly awful Roosters/Warriors clash on the weekend to see just how flawed the Roosters are. They had the majority of the ball, they outgained their opponents by 200 metres, and they were playing a team that had won just 3 matches all season to that point, and they still couldn’t close the game out. The Roosters’ lack of composure at the business end of games is frightening. They handed the win to Manly in Round 5, and having done enough to win here, Mitchell Pearce threw the game away with a complete brain snap.
They’re not a bad football team, but they don’t hold a candle to the top sides in the competition. They have an elevated ladder position, courtesy of a soft draw that’s seen them play just two teams currently in the NRL Top 8 (they got flogged by Brisbane, and snuck home against the Dragons after Gareth Widdop did his knee).
The month of May opens with a pair of games against the middling Eels and Bulldogs, before hitting the Raiders in a State of Origin week (during which the representative selectors will no doubt follow the time-honoured tradition of not selecting players from Canberra). That’s when the draw begins to stiffen up, and June will provide a real test for Sydney. They’re certainly Top 8 quality, but we don’t see them in the Top 4.
April Premiers: Melbourne Storm
We liked the Broncos in March, but Wayne Bennett’s men have since gone off the boil. In their place, we once again have the Storm as the best team in the competition, and like we felt last year, nobody else is really close.
The Storm rank 1st in both Offense VOA (43.15%) and Defense VOA (-47.72%). That kind of says it all really.
They’re far and away the best team in the league at creating line breaks (LBVOA 44.69%), and all lead the league in run metre defense (RMCVOA -8.60%). Put simply, the Storm do everything well, on both sides of the ball. Like the Cowboys, Melbourne have suffered their own fair share of injuries to starting forwards at various times, but the Storm defense continues on like nothing happened. So, we’d probably learn more from looking at their losses than their wins.
Cronulla. That’s the complete list of teams who’ve beaten the Storm this year. They did on the back of their defense (the Storm failed to score a single try), and in all likelihood, it’s probably the only way to beat the Storm this year (the Sea Eagles tried to win a shoot-out, but couldn’t register enough points). Outside of the Sea Eagles and Dragons games (with both featured surprising second-half fades by the Storm defense, after the games already appeared won), the Storm haven’t conceded more than 2 tries in their other 7 matches. So, it should come as no surprise that the Sharks won by stopping Melbourne’s attack, rather than piling on points.
The Sharks also dominated possession, compounding loose ball-handling by Melbourne (they made 15 errors that day, and are averaging an unusually high 11 per game in 2017), by forcing repeat sets and preventing the Storm from getting any possession or field position (the Sharks outgained the Storm by over 200 metres, won possession 55:45, and forced an incredible 5 drop outs). In short, the Sharks executed a virtually flawless gameplan for beating the Storm – and still only won by 9 points.
Such is the sheer dominance of Melbourne. There’s a long way to go, but it’s daylight second at the moment.
April Wooden Spooners: Newcastle Knights
We’ll try not to pile it on too much, because life’s hard enough when you’re a Knights fan (lately they’ve had to suffer through their captain, Trent Hodkinson, running around in reserve while Jaelen Feeney is in firsts. Jaelen Feeney. Yuck.)
It’s a positive for the Knights that they’re no longer lightyears worse than every other team in the comp, but nonetheless, they’re still shit. They rank last in Offense (-43.41%) and 15th in Defense (39.55%).
To make matters worse, while we understand that coach Nathan Brown is disappointed in the lack of value for money that the Knights are getting from Hodkinson, he’s sat him at the worst possible time. The two matches Hodkinson has missed were against the Cowboys and Titans, who rank 12th and last in Defense respectively. These are matches that the Knights would otherwise have competed in, but instead they scored just 3 tries combined (they were averaging almost 3 tries per game up until that point). This has been a coaching blunder the Knights could ill-afford.
The only reason for optimism for the Knights looking ahead, is a date with the 2nd-last Panthers in 2 weeks, and the fact they get the Storm after an Origin match, so they can hope that Melbourne rest half their team. Outside of those glimmers of hope though, is nothing but an abyss of darkness.