This week for ‘Your Edge’ we take a look at the Top 6 ladder, preview both finals matches, consider Isaiah Papali’i as a passing prop, and find the best value plays of the weekend.

Top 6 Ladder

Fittingly, the best six teams throughout the 2021 NRL season are the six that remain heading into Week 2 of the finals.

Prior results can mean very little at times. The Parramatta Eels caught the Melbourne Storm at the right time to beat them in Round 2. However, Parramatta gave up a game themselves by sending out a B-team to play the Penrith Panthers in Round 25. There is a lot more to assessing finals chances than wins and losses, but measuring the six teams beside each other is still an interesting exercise.

Ladder for games against top 6 opposition in 2021

There aren’t any surprises at the top; Melbourne and Penrith have been the premier teams all season. The South Sydney Rabbitohs have played out a season of two halves and it shows in just a +3 points differential against the top six.

It’s the Parramatta Eels with only three wins in ten matches with a -148 points differential that is of concern. They’ve impressed to beat the Storm twice this season, but haven’t always been able to take that attitude and application into matches against other top teams.

Past performances aren’t indicative of future results, but they do suggest that Parramatta are the biggest premiership outsiders heading into Week 2.

Sea Eagles v Roosters

All the talk following the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles’ 40-12 defeat at the hands of the Melbourne Storm has centred around Tom Trbojevic.

Plenty argued his relatively quiet performance in Round 21 was a blip and had more to do with dodgy refereeing than Melbourne’s game plan. However, Week 1 of the finals left no doubt that Craig Bellamy and his defensive staff are onto something when Trbojevic was kept to just 151 running metres, two tackle breaks and 20 touches. But flying under the radar, and a by-product of Trbojevic’s quiet night, is the output of Jason Saab and Reuben Garrick.

Saab (116 metres per game) and Garrick (154m) have ripped down the sideline and taken the Sea Eagles up the field all season but combined for just 109 metres between them last week. While nobody in the side dominated in yardage, Manly’s wingers have been a consistent source throughout the season to average a combined 260 running metres per game.

Wingers average running metres – Top 6 Teams in 2021

Much of it came down to Melbourne’s ability to push Trbojevic to the outside and not provide him with an avenue to send his wingers running down. Regardless of whether or not the Roosters are able to replicate the Storm’s defensive game plan, the battle down the flanks is one that will have a big influence on the result.

Daniel Tupou remains as one of the most underrated players in the NRL and is behind only Brian To’o in yardage from the wing with 178 running metres per game. While he’s not in the same class as Tupou, Matt Ikuvalu is a willing ball-carrier and gets through plenty of work for his 150 metres per game. It’s an area the Roosters can dominate to put themselves on the front foot.

We saw how much Manly struggled when they weren’t cruising up the field in exit sets against Melbourne. Set starts off the kick return will be crucial for both teams on Friday night.

Panthers v Eels

We’ve talked a lot about net running metres this year. The Brisbane Broncos improved massively in this area over the final third of the season and it translated into encouraging results.

“While they’re still finishing a little bit over 100 metres behind their opposition every week, their improvements in that department have translated into much closer results having increased their output from 1,503 metres per game before Round 17 up to 1,630 metres per game from Round 18 onward.”Broncos Bending The Line

Unsurprisingly, the top six teams in the NRL are all inside the top seven in net running metres this season.

Net running metres – 2021

The Penrith Panthers are the best yardage team in the NRL averaging 1,821 running metres per game. Guided around the park by Nathan Cleary and playing with 52.5% possession every week, the Panthers work their way up the field and stay there. When the opposition tries to kick themselves out of trouble, the NRL’s leader in running metres, Brian To’o, is there to start collecting his 247.7 running metres per game. It’s an area the Eels can compete in, though. Third in yardage with 1,749 metres per game, they have the cattle to generate go-forward through the middle.

Parramatta’s issue has been allowing metres back the other way to win the yardage battle by less than 200 metres compared with Penrith’s 350+ metre advantage every week. Somewhat inconsistent, the Eels have beaten their opponents by over 170 running metres throughout the matches they have won, but fallen behind by over 130 metres in the matches they have lost this season.

Brad Arthur’s side doesn’t need to beat the Panthers in running metres to win the match. They finished up 109 metres behind the Storm despite walking away with the 22-10 victory in Round 23. However, they do need to close up the gap and ensure they don’t fall too far behind a Panthers outfit that can roll up the field with relative ease once they build some momentum.

Passing Papali’i?

Isaiah Papali’i is in career-best form and running away with the Buy of the Year Award. His destructive carries on the edge throughout the first half of the season are now in the middle of the field, and while the number on his back is different, Papali’i has changed little in regards to output. However, he did pass the ball a lot more than usual in Week 1 of the finals…

Isaiah Papali’i – Passes per game in 2021

The 22-year-old has only averaged two passes per game in those he has started at prop or come off the bench. While he only released the ball four times on Sunday, it’s double his normal output and doesn’t consider the times he shaped to pass but held onto the ball.

Is his role in the team changing this late in the season? Or will we see him return his focus to tucking the ball under his arm and charging up the field on Saturday night?

NRL Value Plays

Draftstars

Kurt Capewell is the value play of the round with our predictive model projecting the Panthers forward to score 40 Draftstars points. Capable of playing 80 minutes and a utility option in case of injury, his 64-point ceiling appeals at $8,520. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves also looks set to play big minutes with Siosiua Taukeiaho out and Victor Radley a chance at spending time at dummy half. There are a lot of minutes to fill in the Roosters middle and we’ve seen Waerea-Hargreaves play 80 when called upon in the past.

Check out our NRL Draftstars Preview for Week Two of the NRL Finals.

Tryscorers

Best Value Plays for First Try Scorer markets – NRL Finals, Week 2

Kurt Capewell isn’t a try-scoring machine but there is value in his $29 price (Neds/TopSport). A possible beneficiary of a fast start in a Panthers bounce-back game and priced by the model at $27.80, he’s worth considering as a roughie in the first try scorer market on Saturday night.

While the Eels have made improvements towards the end of the season, their right edge defence is still an area of weakness and one the Panthers are exceptionally well-built to exploit. Penrith send plenty of traffic down their left edge and Matt Burton has already scored 16 tries this season as a result. His $2.30 at TAB is a value play with the Sport Tech Daily Tryscorer Model pricing him at $2.15.

NRL Week 1 Finals Draftstars Preview

IPL 2021 Preview