This week for ‘Your Edge’, we take a look at the evolution of the lock forward position, touch on how it might impact the ever-popular NRL Fantasy realm in the future, and welcome back Daniel Saifiti from injury as he looks to continue his career-best form.
Locks Looking Left & Right
As the game speeds up under the new six-again rule, teams are looking for new ways to gain an advantage. So far, strong attacking teams are stretching the defence earlier into sets and more often. Defences are closing in through the middle to counter quick play-the-balls, but that is leaving space out wide. It’s an increasing popular ploy and is proving successful. It often relies on locks acting as the link in a wide shift or mid-field line engagement, though.
With that, the importance of ball-players through the middle continues to grow.
Lock forwards are passing it 0.39 times per run in 2020 – the tip of a steady rise since 2017 and considerably more than the 0.31 passes per run in 2015.
While the best lock forward in the game in Jason Taumalolo is a monster through the middle running for 223.3 metres per game (2nd-most in the NRL) with 95.9 post-contact metres (1st), he’s the exception with just a 0.2 pass to run ratio. The rule is increasingly becoming that the best players for the position are those that can not only get up the field through the middle, but also engage the line and move the ball wide.
It’s no coincidence that so many of the best teams in the competition right now have lock forwards capable of shifting the ball to the edges.
Panthers – 1st: Isaah Yeo
Storm – 2nd: Dale Finucane
Eels – 3rd: Nathan Brown
Roosters – 4th: Victor Radley
Rabbitohs – 7th: Cameron Murray
Sea Eagles – (When healthy): Jake Trbojevic
Radley produced career-best football before suffering an ACL injury, and it was in large part due to his versatility and ability as a ball-player that he produced the form he did. The Roosters are a well-drilled team always in shape and ready to pounce. Having a lock in the middle of the field capable of shifting the ball is when they play their best football. The change to Isaac Liu’s play over the last few weeks is highlighted best in how often he’s now passing the ball compared to when he was used more as a battering ram.
The Roosters weren’t at their most dangerous throughout the middling months of the season. A lot of that comes down to injuries across the field, but none have had quite the same impact as Radley’s. Having tried Nat Butcher and Siosiua Taukeiaho at lock since Radley’s injury, Trent Robinson appears to have found his replacement as they build back up towards a third-consecutive premiership.
Finding Fantasy Value
For the NRL Fantasy players, the move towards ball-playing locks won’t necessarily translate into success. The outliers above played a lot at hooker and in the halves as well as at lock. A regular feature in the Value Plays preview as a DFS suggestion, Jake Trbojevic is the only standout ball-playing lock in the fantasy department.
Saifiti To Save The Day
The Newcastle Knights have made the leap from Top 8 hopefuls in 2019 to probables in 2020. While they’ve improved across the field under Adam O’Brien, it’s the elevation of Daniel Saifiti’s production that has been most important. It’s been further highlighted in their form while he sat out injured with the Knights losing to the Bulldogs and Storm before beating the Tigers in Round 13.
Saifiti played State of Origin football last year. It came as a surprise to many given his decidedly average yardage production throughout the 2019 season. The 24-year-olds 94 running metres per game wasn’t good enough to crack the top 50 in the NRL last season but his 160 metres per game puts him at 32nd in 2020. The upward trend starting as in Round 1 justifies his selection for the 2020 series.
As promising as Saifiti’s form is, the Knights have become somewhat reliant on his new-found production. There is a considerable difference between Saifiti’s running metres in games they win and games they lose.
Saifiti has averaged just 122 running metres per game in the three losses he’s played in this season. In his other six games, on the other hand, the Blues prop has run for almost 180 metres across five losses and one draw. Now just one competition point inside the Top 8 and with a tough battle against the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles to come in Round 14, Saifiti’s return to the side couldn’t have come soon enough.
Strength Of Schedule
Sorry, Tigers fans. We warned you last week, but the heavy loss to the Knights in Round 13 all but rules out a run to the Top 8. While they do face the 16th-placed Bulldogs in Round 14, the toughest schedule in the NRL follows. As for Saifiti and the Knights, they look good to hang on to their place in the finals with the fourth easiest remaining schedule.