(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 (14-5)
2) Sydney Roosters (13-6)
3) Melbourne Storm (14-5)
4) Canberra Raiders (8-11)
5) Cronulla Sharks (12-7)
6) Brisbane Broncos (12-7)
7) St George-Illawarra Dragons (13-6)
8) Penrith Panthers (12-7)
9) Manly Sea Eagles (5-14)
10) New Zealand Warriors (11-8)
11) Canterbury Bulldogs (5-14)
12) Newcastle Knights (8-11)
13) Wests Tigers (9-10)
14) North Queensland Cowboys (5-14)
15) Parramatta Eels (4-15)
16) Gold Coast Titans (7-12)
The Race For The Spoon
Having spent most of the season discussing the good teams, we thought we’d go the other way this month and have a look at the dogfight happening at the bottom of the table – the race for the wooden spoon.
Canterbury Bulldogs: The Bulldogs would have been among the raging hot favourites for the spoon, right up until they upset the Tigers on the weekend, and dragged themselves up to 13th.
The argument for the Bulldogs coming last is built mostly on their run home – a visibly difficult draw, in which 4 of their 5 remaining games are against current Top 8 sides, and every remaining game is against opponents who rank higher than them on the True Ladder. Should the Bulldogs go winless the rest of the way, their for-and-against differential advantage over Manly and North Queensland could easily be eaten up, though the Eels would likely still need to win 2 games to leapfrog them.
All that being said, we’d still argue it’s presumptuous to suggest that the Bulldogs are likely to go winless, anyway. They might, but their run home isn’t necessarily as scary as it looks on first blush. Importantly, they meet the Sea Eagles in Round 22, leaving their fate firmly in their own hands (the winner of that clash is surely safe). But also, the Top 8 teams they’ve got aren’t of the Roosters/Storm variety, and they’re almost all at home. Outside of an away trip to St George (who are in the middle of a form slide), they get to host the Broncos (against whom they got within 2 points in Round 9), the Warriors (who are barely of Top 8 standard in the first place) and the Sharks (who admittedly will probably give them a touch-up).
If the win over the Tigers wasn’t enough already, we see enough room for optimism in their remaining matches to expect them the Bulldogs to steer themselves clear of last place.
Manly Sea Eagles: Of the four teams battling it out at the bottom of the ladder, we view the Sea Eagles as easily the most talented, and as a result, the least likely to wind up running last.
Though their capitulation against the Panthers was no doubt devastating for their players and fanbase alike, there’s still positives to be gleaned from the fact that they were up 18 points against a side like Penrith at all, especially when you look at the drop in standard of opponents that they have coming up.
Unlike the intimidating draw facing Canterbury, the Sea Eagles run into just 2 Top 8 sides the rest of the way, with the remaining 3 games all against sides ranked below them on the True Ladder. Though their away trips to Cronulla and Brisbane are more likely than not to add a couple more L’s to their season tally, a home stint against the Bulldogs and Titans certainly looks winnable, while a visit to Campbelltown to face the Tigers shouldn’t be too scary either (especially if the Tigers’ season happens to have been ended the week prior).
Unlike the Bulldogs, the Sea Eagles’ points differential is barely above that of the Cowboys, and should Manly go winless the rest of the way, it could even be run down by the Eels (though the Eagles would need to get flogged at least once in order for that to happen given it’s 47 points higher than that of Parramatta). In that event, it’s conceivably possible (though unlikely) that the Eels could jump Manly with a single win; but honestly, if Manly go winless the last 5 weeks with a draw like that, they deserve to come last.
North Queensland Cowboys: Now it’s getting interesting. The Cowboys comeback win over the Knights last weekend certainly helped keep the Cowboys clear of the bottom, but the job is not done yet.
The Cowboys next three weeks see them run into Top 8 sides the Roosters, Broncos and Sharks. If we go ahead and assume that they lose all 3 of those matches (and at this stage, we haven’t seen anything from the Cowboys to suggest that they won’t), then they’d head into Round 24 at best one win clear of the Eels, though if Parramatta were to win a game over that period, they’d be tied for last; and the Eels could have even jumped them on points differential, if the Cowboys get belted in any of those games (and it’s not out of the question that they could get flogged in all three).
Which then gives Round 24 the potential for Spoon Bowl 2018 – when the Cowboys host the Eels. If there’s an upside to this scenario it’s that at least the Cowboys will be at home; and if they do lose, they get a second chance – while the Eels face the Roosters in Round 25, the Cowboys get a final winnable game at the Titans.
Of the three Bottom 4 sides who aren’t named the Eels, the Cowboys appear easily the most likely to snatch the spoon off Parramatta, though their fate may be more tied to the Eels’ other results than anything else. If Parramatta can’t beat anyone except North Queensland, then even losing that game may not see the Cows finish last. But if the Eels can win over the next three weeks, the heat will be well and truly on.
Parramatta Eels: While the spoon remains firmly the Eels’ to lose, there’s still plenty of time to offload it. More than anything, this weekend’s home clash against the Titans looks vital. If they win there, they likely need only to beat the Cowboys in Round 24 to lift themselves off the bottom (and if they can flog either of those teams, it’d really help). But if they lose either of those clashes, they’ve few remaining opportunities to find wins.
Their best other bet would be in their Round 22 meeting with the sputtering Dragons, although as bad as St George-Illawarra have been lately, they’ve still been better than Parramatta. Outside of that, their other matches – against the Storm and Roosters – are only likely to see their points differential cop a further hit.
In short, the entire four-way battle likely hinges on how the Eels fare this weekend. If they beat the Titans, the race is thrown wide open. If not, they’d likely need a convincing win over the Cowboys to get clear, and even then, it might not be enough.
- Though the Warriors‘ dusty month of July – in which they won just 1 game – came as a surprise to many, you can’t include us in that; we’ve rarely had them even near the True Ladder top 8 all season, and we’ve been patiently waiting for their house of cards to inevitably fall down (why they keep being referred to as premiership contenders is beyond us). That said, the next question becomes: could they miss the 8 altogether? Honestly, as little as we think of them, we’d still have to say it’s not likely; though it does remain possible. With a 2-win buffer over the Tigers, New Zealand need only to win 3 games in order to force the Tigers to go undefeated the rest of the way (and in any case, if they win 3 games, they may well jump a team above them, anyway). So how many are they likely to win? Their final month will see them face the Dragons, Knights, Bulldogs, Panthers and Raiders. They’re likely to be hot favourites in at least 2 of those (Newcastle and Canterbury), though it’s not inconceivable that they could go unbeaten the rest of the way or could even go winless. We’d fancy they should make it, but if someone is going to fall out of the 8, it’s probably them.
- And if they did, someone would need to replace them. Based on the True Ladder, you’d guess that that team would be the Raiders, although their heartbreaking loss to the Sharks probably put paid to that. Now, if the Warriors win just 2 games (or the Panthers, Sharks and Broncos win at least 1), the Raiders would need to go undefeated the rest of the way just to qualify. Given their remaining schedule is filled exclusively with teams above them on the NRL ladder (3 of whom have already beaten the Raiders this year), and includes heavyweights the Roosters and Rabbitohs, Canberra look pretty well toast.
- Which puts the Tigers into the box seat. Wests may only need to win 4 games to make it (their horrendous points differential means that 3 is unlikely, unless the Warriors implode), which is doable – their remaining schedule includes just 2 current Top 8 teams, who are the Dragons and Rabbitohs – the very two sides they beat in July. Outside of those, they get Newcastle, Canberra and Manly. We’re not saying that a Top 8 finish is likely for Wests (and they probably still need some help from other results), but we’re not ruling them out yet, either.
- We’ve made several references of late to the Dragons, usually using adjectives like ‘sputtering’, or something similarly negative. That view mightn’t be common (given their consistent presence in the NRL Top 4), but is definitely deserved. Through July, they won just 1 game (against the 2nd last placed Cowboys), and before that, had narrow wins over stragglers the Eels and Bulldogs. In truth, the Dragons haven’t been good for a while now, and their ladder position is being propped up entirely by their early season dominance. We’re not prepared to rule them out (they were unbelievably good early in the season, and if they can return to that level, they’ll be a genuine contender), but in reality, their recent form is closer to that of fringe-Top 8 sides like the Tigers and Knights, than that of the Roosters or Storm.
- Finally, if we were to pick a potential Top 8 X-factor for the playoffs, we’d have the Panthers (this is built on the assumption that popular opinion finally agrees with us that the Sharks are, in fact, good). While Penrith may be a bit on the nose at the moment after winning just 2 games in July themselves, it’s worth pointing out a couple of things about the Panthers. Firstly, after a horror run with injuries for most of the season, the Panthers are finally as close to full-strength as they’ll be the rest of the year. Reagan Campbell-Gillard is the last player due back in 2018, and with a reasonably full-strength squad, there’s certainly reason to expect their numbers to improve (and in some ways, they already have – in July they posted an insane LBVOA of 70.32%; for comparison, the Rabbitohs rank 1st in the league, and theirs is 42.88%).