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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 (9-2)
2) St George-Illawarra Dragons (7-4)
3) Manly Sea Eagles (6-5)
4) Cronulla Sharks (9-3)
5) Sydney Roosters (8-4)
6) Canberra Raiders (6-6)
7) Brisbane Broncos (8-4)
8) Canterbury Bulldogs (5-7)
9) Parramatta Eels (6-6)
10) New Zealand Warriors (5-7)
11) North Queensland Cowboys (6-5)
12) Penrith Panthers (4-7)
13) South Sydney Rabbitohs (4-8)
14) Wests Tigers (3-8)
15) Newcastle Knights (2-9)
16) Gold Coast Titans (4-7)
St George-Illawarra Dragons: It mightn’t make a huge amount of sense on the surface to say the Dragons are “trending up”; they’re 3rd on the ladder as it is, how much more ‘up’ can they get? However, with the Saints currently bogged in the quagmire of teams battling it out beneath the Melbourne Storm, we think they deserve to be singled out as the team most likely to rise up and become genuine contenders.
The 2017 Dragons look so much like the 2015 Cowboys it’s uncanny – both are teams whose dominant forward packs laid the platform for their success, and papered over whatever weaknesses they may otherwise possess. It could be argued that the Dragons own a better defense, while the 2015 Cowboys enjoyed the benefit of one of the greatest halves of all-time (whereas the Dragons are limited to the well-intended contributions of Josh McCrone), but the overall styles of the teams are identical – run straight over the top of your opponent, then attack through a back-pedaling defense.
The Dragons have been outgained just 3 times in 11 matches – once narrowly by the equally formidable Sharks pack, and twice when giving away a 6-point possession advantage or higher to their opponent. In all other matches, they’ve destroyed their opponents up the middle, most recently running for a ridiculous 1838 metres against the Warriors.
Any questions about the Dragons’ premiership credentials are likely to be forgotten by the end of a favourable June for St George-Illawarra. They’ll face the Tigers, Bulldogs, Eels, Knights and Titans, during a run which has the potential to mathematically seal a Top 8 spot, and put them in the box seat to claim a Top 4 finish. Couple this with the imminent return of the injured Gareth Widdop and Josh Dugan, and we think things are ‘trending up’ for the Dragons, indeed.
Canterbury Bulldogs: Of the teams outside the eight, it’s difficult to make a strong endorsement for any of them. They all have warts, and in reality, whoever claims 7th and 8th spot is likely to be mincemeat in the finals. However, if we have to pick a side with the most potential to make a fist of the remainder of their season, it has to be the Bulldogs.
Yes, their offense is horrendous (they rank 15th in Offense VOA). However, their defense remains elite, and historically, an elite defense alone has been enough to secure a spot in the finals (you can read more about that here). If the Bulldogs could somehow get their offense into a state where it’s even remotely serviceable, they could actually be a genuine threat.
And it shouldn’t be beyond them. They’ve looked competent enough with the ball in hand at times, particularly in their dual losses to the Roosters, and in putting 5 tries past the Knights. However, while the Dragons have been able to build an offensive identity off the back of their impressive forwards, the more well-known Bulldogs pack has largely failed to create a platform from which to attack. They’re rank 3rd last in RMVOA (-1.75%), which has in turn resulted in their inability to generate line breaks (they rank dead last in LBVOA at a woeful -25.51%). Too often the Bulldogs are forced to attack against set defensive lines, which sees them move side-to-side without threatening the defense.
If their forwards can assert themselves better (and they certainly have the pedigree), the rest will follow for Canterbury. They couldn’t have a better opportunity to play themselves into form, facing just one current Top 8 team in the next month (the Dragons). Outside that match, they have a bye, and winnable matches against the Panthers, Warriors and Eels. If the Bulldogs are going to make a run, this has to be the time.
Gold Coast Titans: It’s no secret that here at The Obstruction Rule, we’re of the view that the Titans are rubbish. They place last on the True Ladder, and the only reason we don’t have them judged as our May Wooden Spooners is that we can’t see the Knights winning enough games themselves to catch up. Our issue with the Titans stems not from their attacking football, which, despite being pedestrian in years past, is rapidly improving and can actually be quite enterprising. Our issue is with their defense, or more specifically, their lack of it.
The Titans rank in the bottom four in all three of our key defensive VOA metrics – line breaks conceded, run metres conceded, and tackle breaks conceded – and dead last in overall Defense VOA (60.60%). The end result of that defensive ineptitude is that they’ve now conceded a staggering 292 points – just a single point less than the last-placed Knights – in just 11 matches. This gives the Titans an average points conceded of 26.55 per game. That is simply not good enough to entertain even the faintest hope of playing finals football.
Indulge us for a moment while we put that figure in some context:
- Last season, the Titans qualified for the finals in 8th spot, with the worst defense of any side in the Top 8. They conceded just 20.71 points per game.
- When the Titans last won a wooden spoon, in 2011, they conceded just 26.21 points per game – 0.34 better than the current side.
- In order to win matches, it goes without saying that you need to score more points than you concede. Even the league’s highest scoring offense so far, the Dragons, have averaged just 24.45 points per game. There simply is not a team in the competition who could consistently score enough points to win games with this defense.
That said, there’s still time for the Titans to become competitive. If they can get that defense in order, the rest of their game is good enough to see them compete for a finals spot. But as it stands, they’re the worst team in the comp.
Brisbane Broncos: The drop-off in form for the Broncos is perhaps even less obvious than the Titans, with Brisbane currently placed in the Top 4.
Since they hammered the Roosters in Round 6, they’ve been on a steady decline, despite continuing to win football matches. They got out of jail against the Titans and Rabbitohs in matches they arguably deserved to lose, and bled line breaks and missed tackles against the Panthers and Sea Eagles. The only match in the last 6 weeks in which they’ve looked dominant was against the hapless (and injury-riddled) Tigers, before they themselves copped a belting without their Origin stars.
Over their past 4 games, the Broncos have averaged a LBCVOA of 37.86%, RMCVOA of 7.08%, and a TBCVOA of 37.54%. Projected over the course of the season, those numbers would be 15th, 15th and last (and bizarrely, that terrible RMCVOA number is actually an improvement for them – they currently rank last).
And it’s not about to get any easier. They have an away game against the Roosters this week, and also face a trip to Canberra and a clash with the Storm before the month is out. Couple this tough draw with their typical fatigue through the Origin period, and we don’t think things look as rosy for the Broncos as they may appear.
May Premiers: Melbourne Storm
If we were in charge, we’d crown them now.
At this stage, the Storm look comfortably better than every other team in the competition, with all the other sides essentially just jostling to finish 2nd.
The Storm sit 2 points clear at the top of the ladder, having lost just 2 matches this season. They rank 1st in the league in Defense VOA, and 3rd in Offense. They’re the most consistently high-performing team in the competition.
Typically, the Storm would be entering a danger period right now, as they struggle to win games without their Origin stars. However, this year they oddly had just 3 players selected for Origin, leaving them fresher than they’d likely have expected.
They have a difficult run through the next month (which will be even more difficult if Billy Slater is selected for Origin 2, as he should have been in the first place), facing the Sharks, Roosters and Broncos, as well as the Cowboys without each side’s Origin stars (who scheduled that??). It’ll be a good test for the Storm, and will give the teams beneath them a chance to catch up (if the Storm roll the Sharks, the minor premiership might be just about sealed already).
But they’re still setting the pace, and it’s up to everyone else to try and reach them.
May Wooden Spooners: Newcastle Knights
It’s somewhat disappointing to have to slap the Knights in here again, as they’re actually not the lowest ranked team on our True Ladder any more (as we mentioned, that dubious honour falls on the Titans).
Unfortunately, the reason we have them here isn’t so much because they’re the worst, but because their record is so bad, that it’s hard to imagine a way for them to offload the spoon to someone else.
As the ladder currently stands, the Knights sit 1 win behind the Tigers, and 2 behind the Titans, Warriors and Panthers. Assuming the Tigers win one more game the rest of the way (which you’d say is more likely than not), then the Knights will probably need to win at least 2 more games to have a chance to get off the bottom (this scenario also assumes that at least one of the aforementioned teams goes winless the rest of the way – obviously, we’d pick the Titans for that).
Fortunately, the Knights have a date with the Tigers in Round 17, which they absolutely must win if they’re to avoid coming last. The issue then becomes where the next win comes from.
The next softest match on the schedule is a meeting with the Warriors in Round 22 – who place 10th on the True Ladder. The ONLY other game against a team outside our True Ladder Top 8 is the Eels a week later. Other than that, all their remaining games are against teams we rank in the top half of the competition, including two dates each with the Storm and Dragons – our two best teams in the competition.
So that’s why we have the Knights placed to finish last (again). Each week, the Knights seem to get a little bit better. Unfortunately though, they’ve already played all the worst teams on their schedule. And they only won 2 of them.