This week for ‘Your Edge’ we’re diving into the yardage game to find the most efficient middle forwards, checking in on expectations, previewing Bulldogs v Dragons, and finding the best value plays of the weekend.
The Yardage Game
The best teams in the NRL pile up running metres and do it through a strong middle. We can look at any number of statistics to assess the premiership hopes of a football side, but a dominant yardage game is always a feature of those lifting the Provan-Summons Trophy in October.
Total running metres give us a decent indication of who the most consistent and regular individual runners of the football are each week, but breaking it down into metres per run and metres per minute highlights the most efficient middles in the NRL.
Metres Per Run In 2021
You could give somebody 100 guesses and they would still struggle to land on Jaimin Jolliffe topping the list of metres per run by forwards throughout the opening eight rounds of the 2021 NRL season. He only averages 103 running metres per game off the bench for the Gold Coast Titans, but he makes each of his nine runs a week count to average over 11 metres per carry.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles fans will be pleased to see Toafofoa Sipley second on the list given their injury issues in the middle at the moment. They are without Josh Aloiai and Marty Taupau against the New Zealand Warriors with Sipley likely to shoulder more of the load and increase his current 87 running metres in 23.2 minutes of action per game.
Isaiah Papali’i has gone a long way to ending any conversation around the Buy of the Year already thanks to his destructive 153 metres per game. He’s piling up the metres and doing it at an effective rate to average over ten metres per carry.
Isaiah Papali’i ran for 1,209 metres in 15 games for the Warriors in 2020.— Jason Oliver (@JasonNRL) May 4, 2021
Isaiah Papali’i has run for 1,228 metres in 8 games for the Eels in 2021. https://t.co/rjCUZR0JVG
A lot of the names towards the top of the list are bench forwards. They have the luxury at running at tired defensive lines and pushing through the tackle for an extra metre or two. That is what makes Payne Haas so impressive. We talked about him last week, but to average 11 metres per carry given the minutes he plays is incredible.
Metres Per Minute In 2021
There you go again, Sea Eagles fans. Tof Sipley is second in metres per minute too. It’s going to be interesting to see how much that changes in the coming weeks. After playing 19, 18 and 18 minutes in his first three games this season, the 26-year-old has cleared 30 minutes in his last two and could see that bumped up further against his former club on Sunday.
Jolliffe is up there again when it comes to metres per minute while Jared Waerea-Hargreaves is producing the goods in his new role. A regular starter before this season, he has come off the bench every round to average 133 metres in only 37.5 minutes per game.
It’s Addin Fonua-Blake that really needs to be pointed out, though. He was just warming into his new Warriors jersey to average a whopping 173.6 running metres per game before his injury. In the Top 7 in both metres per run and metres per minute, Fonua-Blake is one of the most efficient forwards in the NRL and a player this somewhat inconsistent Warriors forward pack is sorely missing right now.
Bulldogs v Dragons: Where It Will Be Won
To really drive the point about the yardage game home, we’re looking at the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v St. George-Illawarra Dragons clash that wraps up Round 9.
Paul Vaughan is the only player from these two teams to feature in the Top 30 lists above in metres per run and metres per minute. It’s not a surprise given the fact the Bulldogs are 16th in yardage with only 1,447 metres per game while the Dragons are only marginally better to be 14th at 1,516 metres per game. But it’s not the lack of go-forward that hurts these teams the most. It’s the running metres they’re allowing back the other way that is the biggest cause for concern. Trent Barrett and the Bulldogs, especially.
The Dragons are coming back down to earth following their hot start to the NRL season. While 6th on the ladder, they’re there for the Bulldogs to beat this week. Neither has offered a lot in attack. The Dragons had their moments early but have averaged only 10.6 points per game over the last three rounds. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs rank 16th in scoring with only 10 points per game this season.
This is unlikely to be an end-to-end try fest with patient football the better approach. Whichever team can close things up in the middle and come out of an early arm-wrestle on top will go a long way to taking the chocolates on Sunday evening.
Every fan thinks their side is better than they really are, so checking in on what the bookmakers are saying can provide us with an unbiased perspective.
The Parramatta Eels could have gone either way this season. Their squad suggested premiership contention but history caused some reluctance to really buy into them as a top tier side. At 7-1 against the spread and with a +61 net line to start 2021, they’ve exceeded expectations and look every bit like a top-four side through eight rounds.
The Canberra Raiders, on the other hand, have fallen grossly short so far this season. Losers of four on the bounce straight up and covering the spread only twice in eight games, Ricky Stuart is losing control of the Green Machine. This team should be flirting with the minor premiership. Instead, they’re on the outside of the Top 8 and looking in while already six competition points behind 5th on the ladder.
Blake Lawrie isn’t often a name associated with possible try scorers but the model has identified the Dragons prop as a value play in the first try scorer market. He is yet to score a try in 65 first-grade games, but against the worst middle defence in the NRL that has already conceded 16 tries this season, this is Lawrie’s best chance to end the drought.
Nathan Cleary is an excellent option in the any time try scorer market this week. With his sideways weaving runs against this Sharks middle defence that struggles for lateral quickness, it won’t be a surprise to see Cleary sell a dummy and skip through the line to score.
In fact, it will come as less of a surprise if it is late in the game and the last try of the match. Per the Sport Tech Daily Try Scorer Portal, Cleary has scored two tries in 2021 – both the last in the game.