(NOTE: If this is your first visit to the site, be sure to click here for an explanation of what we’re all about.)
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) South Sydney Rabbitohs (12-4)
2) Sydney Roosters (10-6)
3) St George-Illawarra Dragons (12-3)
4) Canberra Raiders (6-9)
5) Melbourne Storm (10-5)
6) Cronulla Sharks (10-6)
7) Brisbane Broncos (9-6)
8) New Zealand Warriors (10-5)
9) Penrith Panthers (10-5)
10) Manly Sea Eagles (5-11)
11) Newcastle Knights (6-10)
12) Canterbury Bulldogs (4-11)
13) North Queensland Cowboys (4-12)
14) Wests Tigers (7-9)
15) Parramatta Eels (3-13)
16) Gold Coast Titans (6-9)
Trending Up/Trending Down
Sydney Roosters: The month of June was kind to the Roosters, as they won 3 out of their 4 matches, and only missed out on finishing inside the Top 4 thanks to a narrow 1-point loss to the Storm on Friday. Not to worry. They’re playing better football at the moment than arguably every other team in the competition bar the Rabbitohs (indeed, they pumped the Panthers 32-6 just a fortnight ago), and have a relatively soft upcoming schedule, made up of a bye, followed by the Titans, Sea Eagles and Dragons. At this stage, it would appear more likely than not that they’ll finish July inside the Top 4, and be looking every bit like the title contenders they were expected to be before a ball had been kicked.
The sudden uptick in consistency can be attributed directly to their unbelievably tight defense, which has been close to perfect through their past four games. Since the beginning of June, the Roosters have yet to concede over 2 tries or line breaks in a single match; and as a result, are averaging less than 12 points per game. With a defense that strong, their hot-and-cold offense doesn’t need to be that hot to win (and for the most part, it hasn’t been). If they’re able to maintain this level of defense and get their offense firing (which it’s shown glimpses of from time to time), they certainly have the capacity to win the competition.
Canberra Raiders: We mention the Raiders here, if only to highlight what could have been. They could have easily gone undefeated through June, which would have put them just 2 points out of the Top 8 right now, with a full head of steam behind them. Instead, more late-game shenanigans cost them potential wins against the Panthers and Broncos, and now the task ahead looks almost insurmountable.
Season 2018 is looking increasingly like a duplicate of 2017 for the Raiders – a year in which they came charging home late in the season only to fall agonizingly short, with their season terminated by a disappointing loss to Penrith (the Panthers will get the chance to repeat history when the two sides meet in Round 21).
All of that being said, we don’t necessarily agree with the commonly-held assumption that the Top 8 is set in stone. Despite the Raiders being 3 wins behind 8th (and 4 wins behind the log-jam of teams in 3rd), the Raiders do have the ability to win their way into the finals. Their immediate schedule gives them back-to-back matches against cellar-dwellars the Bulldogs and Cowboys, before playing 6 of their last 7 against the teams immediately above them. Should they manage to claim half of those (plus their Round 22 clash with the Tigers), they’d have 28 points and at least some chance of playing finals footy. We’re not saying that that’s necessarily likely, but writing them off now is still probably a little premature.
Penrith Panthers: The less said about the past month, the better. The Panthers have been embarrasingly bad since their demolition of the Dragons at the end of May, with their last-gasp win over the Raiders the sole bright spot in an otherwise bleak winter. The sudden downturn for Penrith can be pinpointed to one obvious change – a spike in their error rate from 9 errors per match to 14 in their last two losses.
The word coming out of Penrith is that the disjointedness of their attack (and ‘disjointed’ is a far kinder word than we’d choose) is likely the result of being without their halves at training for the best part of the last month, due to State of Origin duties. And on the surface, they may well be right. It’s worth pointing out that many of the most affected teams from the representative weekend struggled with handling problems – the Storm and Roosters both made 14 errors as well; the Cowboys 13; while the Dragons and Warriors both hit double-digits, too. The reason it’s such a problem for Penrith though, is that they weren’t that good in the first place.
As it stands, the Panthers and Warriors are the only sides in the NRL Top 8 who don’t rank in the Top 5 for either Offense or Defense VOA (and we don’t hold the Warriors in particularly high esteem, either). Instead, the Panthers have generally just been close to average on both sides of the ball, and used a combination of a soft draw and clinical ball control to establish their lofty ladder position. This isn’t necessarily a bad strategy (the Cowboys used it to good effect to make the Grand Final last year with an injury-ravaged squad – something the Panthers have also had to deal with this season), but when their discipline deserts them (as it has lately), things have the potential to get ugly real quick. With the Origin period still two weeks away from completion, it’s not inconceivable that the side could be 4 points adrift of the Top 4 by the time the squad comes back together, and then they’ll be staring at tough road trips to Brisbane and Manly (who just beat them at Penrith) as they try to get their season back on track. July is going to be a real test.
Wests Tigers: You can’t say we didn’t warn you. We’ve been telling you since day one that the Tigers early season “form” was a mirage, as they reaped the benefits of good teams playing unusually bad games when they happened to meet Wests. Though it’s admittedly unlikely that a string of teams would play their worst game against the same opponent; if you play enough seasons, and you have enough teams, it is indeed possible – and it happened.
Now, the month of June has seen reality set in, as the Tigers went winless for four weeks; hitting rock bottom in their 18-error implosion against the Titans. The Tigers haven’t scored more than 3 tries in a game since their Round 10 win over the Cowboys (and have done it just 3 times all year), and now, their defense is going to water as well, with the team conceding 20 tries in the month of June, highlighted by their 9-try obliteration at the hands of the Raiders. For three months, Tigers sympathizers argued that their absurdly high number of missed tackles (they’ve missed 83 more tackles than the 2nd-worst team this year) was irrelevant because they don’t allow line breaks (which was true, but perhaps only by chance); but after allowing 21 line breaks in their past 3 games, it should be no surprise that their defense is starting to bleed worse than Benny Elias’ head.
There’s certainly promise in this squad for next year; when they weren’t dropping the ball, they looked to have more attacking spark with the addition of Moses Mbye, who added a line break assist and a team-high 7 tackle breaks in just his first outing for the joint-venture. The problem for this year though, is that even though they’re likely to improve, that isn’t likely to equate to wins – or at least not enough wins to return them into Top 8 calculations. After this week’s bye, they get the Dragons and Rabbitohs (who could hammer the nails into their coffin then and there), before the Bulldogs, Knights and Raiders – and then they have to play the Dragons and Rabbitohs again. It was nice while it lasted, but for this year at least, the dream’s probably over.
- For Eels fans looking for hope that they may avoid the Spoon, there’s a little on the horizon. After they return from the bye, the Eels play 4 of their last 8 against teams in the bottom half of the True Ladder, including both teams immediately above them on the NRL ladder (and the teams they’re most likely to pass the Spoon on to). Though they haven’t been great lately (or at all, for that matter), they have improved somewhat, with their Offensive VOA output in their past two games up by close to 10%. That’s not a lot, but is it enough to beat teams like the Cowboys? Possibly.
- We love the Knights, and if they’re to make any sort of noise in the run home, it needs to start immediately. In that regard, the loss of Kalyn Ponga couldn’t have come at a worse time, even though they’re expecting Mitchell Pearce back imminently. The Knights have very winnable matches against the Eels, Titans and Cowboys in July, before finishing the season off with four consecutive games against Top 8 sides. If they can come through July unscathed, then August would essentially become finals footy for Newcastle (and with both Pearce and Ponga back in the team, they certainly have upside); but if they drop even 1 game in the next month, it’s pretty much over.