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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 (13-3)
2) Manly Sea Eagles (10-5)
3) Cronulla Sharks (11-5)
4) St George Illawarra Dragons (9-7)
5) Canberra Raiders (6-10)
6) Sydney Roosters (11-5)
7) Brisbane Broncos (10-6)
8) Penrith Panthers (6-9)
9) New Zealand Warriors (7-9)
10) Canterbury Bulldogs (6-10)
11) Parramatta Eels (9-7)
12) South Sydney Rabbitohs (6-9)
13) North Queensland Cowboys (10-6)
14) Wests Tigers (4-12)
15) Newcastle Knights (2-13)
16) Gold Coast Titans (6-10)
Penrith Panthers: It may look daft to nominate a team on a two-game slide as “trending up”, but as we did back in our April Review (when the Panthers were coming second last, before going undefeated for over a month), we’re highlighting the Panthers largely because of the relative strength of their upcoming opponents.
Before we begin, you’ll notice in our True Ladder, we have the Panthers ranked in our Top 8, so we don’t think they’re a ‘bad’ team in the first place. However, in order to make the Finals, the Panthers can likely only afford to lose 3 more matches the rest of the way. Let’s take a look at what they’ve got on the schedule for the month of July: an under-strength Sea Eagles side; a Warriors side they beat after trailing by 22 points; the Titans (who are awful); and the Bulldogs (see: the Titans). It’s entirely conceivable that the Panthers could finish July undefeated, and at worst, they’re likely to lose just two of those games – meaning they can afford to drop one in the month of August (which is a similarly soft run, but we’ll get to that in a month).
As for the form of the Panthers themselves, they’ve been playing good footy for the past 2 months (their recent capitulation to the Rabbitohs, notwithstanding). Their defense remains poor (and at it’s current level, will prevent them going far in the finals, even if they do make it), but their offense has been arguably the best in the league through the month of June.
The Panthers have made at least 4 line breaks per game in each of their last 7 matches, and in June, their offense averages a LBVOA of 48.47%, RMVOA of 3.80%, and TBVOA of 28.72%. Across the season, those numbers would be good enough for 1st, 4th and 2nd.
There’s a long way to go, and they’re placed so precariously that another bed-wetting like the Rabbitohs game is likely to put them out of contention. But of the sides currently outside the 8, the Panthers are the best placed to make a run in July.
New Zealand Warriors: While the Panthers have the easier run, the Warriors are the biggest improvers of the past month, stringing together a month’s worth of decent performances in June (you have no idea how much it pains us to admit that).
While we’ve been critical of the Warriors one-dimensional attacking style for much of this year, they’ve finally managed to find the difference between making no mistakes, and simply making nothing, period. The Warriors have loosened up just enough to get their offense going, without increasing their error count (on the season, they’re the 3rd most disciplined side in the competition for handling errors). They’ve increased their offloads by almost 3 per game (from 6.08 to 8.75), which has had the effect of boosting their run metres (they’ve made over 1400 metres per game in June, after hitting that mark just 4 times in their first 12 matches), and on the back of that, they’ve registered a LBVOA of 41.80% over that period.
If they keep this up, the Warriors are a sneaky chance to make the 8, but their future hinges on the month of July, in which they meet the Sharks (pencil that one in as a “L”), and meet two sides with whom they’ll be jostling for a playoff berth – the Panthers and Cowboys. Should they win both of those matches, they should be good to creep into 8th spot, needing to win just 3 of their last 5. Should they lose either of those clashes though, it’ll probably be a bridge too far.
St George-Illawarra Dragons: How could it be possible that we had the Dragons “trending up” a month ago, and now they’re “trending down”? It’s quite simple really: we got it wrong.
Whereas we foolishly thought that a side with a dominant offense and forward pack, paired with a typically above average defense, would make mincemeat of a soft June schedule filled with such borderline-NRL teams as the Tigers, Titans, Knights, Eels and Bulldogs; what they instead did was drop 3 out 5 games, as they plummeted from 2nd to equal-7th. Where did it all go wrong?
The answer to that question lies with their forward pack. Forget how highly they’re ranked on the True Ladder – that’s a measurement of their season performance, and is skewed upwards by their dominance through the opening three months of the season. Let’s instead look at what they’ve done since the beginning of June. The Dragons’ effectiveness is built entirely off the dominance of their forwards – it’s what’s allowed their offense to be so effective, despite being steered around by Josh McCrone (who we’re sure is a nice person, but is simply not an NRL-calibre halfback). However their pack has been a shadow of it’s former self over the past 5 weeks. While they won the net Run Metres in 8 of their first 11 games, they’ve been outgained in 3 of their last 5 (and unsurprisingly, those were the three games they lost).
This is partly due to a downtrend in their own metres gained (though it’s only down a few percent), but it’s mostly a defensive issue, where their RMCVOA for the month of June is 8.62% – good enough for last in the NRL (which explains how they managed to be outgained – albeit slightly – by the god-awful Titans pack).
We still think their offense is decent, but if they can’t get back to winning between the 20s, they simply don’t have the talent to win many football games. They’ve built their season on taking advantage of overwhelming field position, and now that they’re not getting it, the weaknesses that everyone suspected have been exposed. They leak line breaks at a similar pace to sides like Penrith and Sydney – two teams who aren’t known for being particularly good at defending their own line. If the Dragons aren’t camped in opposition territory, they don’t win games. They need Tyson Frizell and Paul Vaughan healthy, ASAP.
North Queensland Cowboys: If you think that the Cowboys have ‘turned a corner’ with their recent wins over the Panthers and Raiders, you’re mistaken. The Cowboys weren’t the better side in either match, and snuck home on the back of overwhelming possession advantages in both encounters (58:42 and 60:40). Despite having 50% more ball than their opponents on both occasions, the Cowboys made:
- Less line breaks;
- Equal or less offloads; and
- Less tackle breaks against Canberra (and just 1 extra against Penrith).
Against the Panthers, they were the beneficiaries of a lop-sided second half penalty count; against the Raiders they enjoyed their opponent making a diabolical 14 errors. Regardless, we struggle to respect a side that produces so little with such an overwhelming advantage (compare them, for example, to the Sharks, who had a 61:39 possession advantage against the Roosters on the weekend – they piled on 7 tries and 8 line breaks, in a merciless display against one of the league’s best teams).
If they can’t convert opportunities into points, they’re not going to win many games, and certainly not with the run home they’ve got. In July, they face the Rabbitohs, Warriors and Roosters. They need to win at least one of those matches to be comfortable of making the finals, as they still have the Storm, Sharks and Broncos on their schedule. We expect they probably make the playoffs, but only through the points that they’ve already accumulated. They’ll be crushed when they get there, and it’s still not beyond the realms of possibility (though it’s unlikely) that they could miss out altogether.
June Premiers: Melbourne Storm
There’s not much to add about the Storm – we’ve had them penciled in as the Telstra Premiership winners since April, and nothing’s going to change our minds. There may have been a time at which we’d have added the qualifier “as long as the Big 3 stay healthy”, but we’re not even sure that’s required any more. In the month of June they:
- Beat the Knights without Cameron Smith;
- Beat the Sharks without Cooper Cronk;
- Beat the Cowboys without Smith, Cronk and Billy Slater;
- Took the Roosters to Golden Point without Smith, Cronk and Slater;
- Got all their troops back, and thumped the Broncos 42-12.
Quite simply, the Storm are so much better than everyone else they don’t even need their best players (and when they have them, it’s not even a contest).
This is Melbourne’s to lose.
June Wooden Spooners: Newcastle Knights
We told you a month ago that the Knights’ wooden spoon future hinged on the Tigers game. At this point, you know how that went.
It’s a shame really. The Knights have shown glimmers of competitiveness, but are incapable of doing much of anything because they’re playing behind the worst forward pack in the league. They’ve been outgained in a shocking 14 of 15 matches (the one game in which they won the net run metres, they actually won). That’s appalling. They don’t break many tackles, they don’t make many line breaks, and they struggle to get out of their own end.
Their best chance to win came on the weekend against a Tigers side who had lost 7 matches in a row, while averaging 5 tries conceded per game.
They lost, 33-12.