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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) St George Illawarra Dragons (7-1)
2) Melbourne Storm (5-3)
3) South Sydney Rabbitohs (4-4)
4) Brisbane Broncos (4-4)
5) Sydney Roosters (4-4)
6) Cronulla Sharks (4-4)
7) Penrith Panthers (6-2)
8) Newcastle Knights (5-3)
9) Wests Tigers (5-3)
10) Canberra Raiders (3-5)
11) New Zealand Warriors (6-2)
12) Canterbury Bulldogs (2-6)
13) Manly Sea Eagles (2-6)
14) North Queensland Cowboys (2-6)
15) Parramatta Eels (2-6)
16) Gold Coast Titans (3-5)
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Melbourne Storm: The Storm are back, baby.
That’s the takeaway from their resurgent last three weeks of football, in which they’ve completely obliterated the Knights, Broncos and Warriors by a combined score of 124-44. After a clunky opening month, the Storm have suddenly put it all together, and for that, we owe them an apology.
We were critical of their decision to throw Brodie Croft under the bus and dump him to Queensland Cup, but that move has directly coincided with the Storm’s uptick in production, and it’s unlikely to just be a coincidence. Now, we’re not suggesting that Ryley Jacks is in any way a better offensive than Croft; he’s been only marginally better since returning to the top grade, and Croft was clearly down in form (in his four outings this year, Jacks has produced just 1 line break, 1 line break assist, and 1 tackle break – hardly numbers that jump off the page). Rather, Jacks has boosted the team with what he hasn’t brought – specifically, mistakes.
Through their tumultuous opening five games, the Storm were averaging an atrocious 14 errors per game; since moving from Croft to Jacks, that number has dropped to less than 10. And with fewer errors, it naturally follows that the Storm have obtained more possession, earning 50% or more possession in 2 of the 3 games without Croft, after failing to hit that mark in any of the opening five matches. You may be thinking that that’s just a coincidence, and in fairness, all of those errors can’t be attributed to Croft. However, a good chunk can, with Croft making a disappointing 8 errors in 5 outings, compared to just 1 in 4, from Jacks.
Add in Jacks’ superior defense (he has a higher tackle efficiency of 89% v 84%, and has conceded half as many line breaks, from just 1 fewer game), and we’re painting a picture of a half who probably won’t win the Storm many games, but who at least isn’t losing them games, and in a team this good, that’s probably all they need.
Cronulla Sharks: We mentioned in last month’s notes that the Sharks were the team most likely to improve, and they haven’t disappointed, winning their last two outings, despite missing the bulk of their forward pack.
The reversal in the Sharks’ fortunes can be immediately traced to the improvement in their offense, with the Sharks’ recording a LBVOA of 39.67% in April (good enough for 2nd in the competition), after struggling along at -57.92% in March (which put them a distant last). What’s changed? Well, Matt Moylan came back, and he came back firing.
Moylan looked out of sorts in the competition’s opening fortnight, struggling to settle in; while coach Shane Flanagan to-ed and fro-ed over his optimal spine (he’s got it nailed now, though). Moylan then missed two weeks with a hamstring injury, before returning to the team, and bringing with him an attacking spark that they badly needed. After producing just a single line break assist in an interrupted March, Moylan has added 6 in April, more than double that of any of his teammates. If you needed an illustration of Moylan’s value to the Sharks’ offense, you need only look at this past weekend’s game against the Titans, where Moylan had limited involvement, and Cronulla produced just 10 points.
With their spine finally sorted and their defense still the best in the league, all the Sharks have to do now is wait for their engine room to be back on deck, which should happen by the end of May at the latest. The good news for Cronulla is that in the meantime, their draw isn’t terribly difficult (they get the Eels, Raiders, Bulldogs and Knights), with their Week Twelve encounter with Newcastle their only outing against a team in our True Ladder Top 8; and to be fair, without Mitch Pearce, Newcastle are unlikely to remain at that standard. We tipped the Sharks to go on a tear two weeks ago, and it remains possible that May could see them stretch their two-game winning streak to six. Up, up, Cronulla.
Manly Sea Eagles: Manly are gone.
That may sound like a stupid thing to announce at the end Week Eight (particularly with regards to a team boasting an all-star spine featuring Tom Trbojevic, Daly Cherry-Evans and Api Koroisau), but really. They’re done.
Of course, they won’t be mathematically done until some time in June at the earliest, but it’s incredibly hard to see them recover from here. They were never a great defensive team to start with, but with shockingly limited depth and an increasing injury toll, the Sea Eagles defense has completely given up on anything resembling competence, conceding 132 points in the month of April alone (for context, five teams have yet to concede that many points all year).
To make matters worse, their offense (which was previously among the best in the league) has completely fallen off a cliff as well, with Manly being just one of two teams who’ve failed to score more than 3 tries in any game in April (the impotent Bulldogs share that honour, and nobody thinks their offense is any good, either).
But neither their offensive or defensive issues alone are the reason we’re sticking a fork in Manly (there’s no way they can continue to play this poorly for the remainder of the season – they just can’t). Our problem is that they’ve unfortunately timed their implosion to line up with the softest section of their draw. You see, they haven’t just been getting flogged – they’ve been getting flogged by a procession of some the league’s biggest powderpuffs (no disrespect intended to the Knights, but without Mitch Pearce, they’re not intimidating anybody). Having failed to cash in on a run of the Titans, Tigers, Eels and Knights, they now face a stretch of the Roosters, Broncos, Storm and Raiders in May; and all away from home. By June they face being potentially 3-9 (at best), and buried in the bottom 4. Short of a minor miracle in the next month (and trying to be positive, they’ve won 5 of their last 6 against Sydney, so they’ve got that going for them), they look like dead men walking.
Gold Coast Titans: If you ever wanted to see an example of why you can’t rely on tries from kicks to score all your points, you need only look as far as the Titans and their miserable April.
Though their fans didn’t want to hear it, both their wins in March were the direct result of streaky tries from kicks, and their inability to create line breaks was inevitably going to catch up with them. We didn’t have to wait long, with the Titans turning in a single decent attacking effort against Manly (that should probably be accompanied by an asterisk, in light of the Sea Eagles’ other defensive efforts since then), before resuming their typical offensive output – turning in a LBVOA of -29.26% over the last three weeks (good enough for dead last, and right on pace with their season average of -29.21%), but this time producing just 35 points combined (2nd last over that period, behind Manly).
That said, it’s not all doom and gloom for the Titans. They put in arguably their best defensive effort of the year so far against the Sharks, and could consider themselves unlucky not to have gotten away with an unlikely win. However, with away trips to Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney coming up, their most likely win looks like coming in Round 11, when they host the Knights (but we’d stop well short of calling them favourites; at this point, at least). We’ve had the Titans as our wooden spooners since day one, and have yet to see anything to change that. If the Sea Eagles maintain their current trajectory they could possibly surpass them, but at this stage, we’re sticking with the Titans.
- The Knights look a bit out of place in the 8 following the loss of Mitch Pearce, and we expect that they’ll have fallen out by next month (the rankings are based on output so far, and Pearce has missed just one game – those numbers will adjust soon enough). That said, it’s a credit to the Knights that they’ve managed to climb into out Top 8 at all, considering how poor they’ve been over the last three seasons, and Pearce or not, they should remain well clear of the spoon.
- If the Knights fall out of our Top 8, who would take their place? It’s tough to say, with all the teams below Penrith in the True Ladder having obvious warts – that is, being conspicuously weak on either the offensive or defensive side of the ball (or, in many cases, both). We’d probably back either the Raiders or Warriors to make the jump, with both sides boasting capable offenses (Canberra rank 7th in Offense VOA, and New Zealand 4th), and recently having had decent defensive outings (specifically, the Raiders against Parramatta and North Queensland; and the Warriors against the Cowboys and Dragons). Both sides have struggled for consistency with their defense, but if either can maintain those sorts of levels, they could easily join the top tier of sides.
- The Panthers have done a fabulous job to keep winning in the face of a seemingly insurmountable injury toll. The news for Penrith is mixed. The bad news is that their fortunate run through the draw is coming to a close, with a Round 12 meeting with the Dragons looming on the horizon. The good news is that they should have a host of players back by then, including Nathan Cleary, Peter Wallace, Tyrone May and Tyrone Phillips. If the Panthers can keep building momentum – and stop losing key players – they have the potential to give it a real shake. They just need to keep winning.