This week for ‘Your Edge’ we look into which position is scoring the first try, the bench forwards doing the most damage, and how teams perform at the pointy end of the season.

First in, First served

With the introduction of ‘Edge‘ last week, finding value in anytime and first try-scorers has been made easy. Model predictions, historical odds and available odds are displayed for every NRL match.

To offer a little bit more help, we’ve looked into which position is crossing the line first the most in 2020.

As expected, wingers have crossed the line first most often this season at 34.56%. The eye test has told us that attacking players are more willing to throw the looping pass over a defence to the unmarked man on the wing early on all season. It’s become a staple of the best attacking teams in the competition. The numbers back it up too. That 34.56% for 2020 is up from just 28.86% in 2019 is the highest of all seasons since 2015.

Perhaps the most important figure here is the 8.82% for fullbacks. Usually a big name in the game and a popular pick, fullbacks don’t cross the line as often as many might think. Only five fullbacks feature in the Top 50 try-scorers this season and they score the first try at the same rate as middle forwards. With defences compacting under the stress of the increased speed of the game, it’s the players standing out on the edges (and those backing them) that are benefiting most in 2020.

Impact off the Bench

You only need to look down the list to see most of the elite teams in the competition have a metre-eater or two coming off the bench. They don’t give the opposition a chance to dominate while the starting forwards are off the field. As we’ve seen with Josh Papalii and the Raiders recently, bringing your best forward off the bench can have it’s benefits too. But, for the most part, a steady rotation and specific role in the side works best.

Few do it better than Melbourne’s Tino Fa’asuamaleaui and Nelson Asofa-Solomona. The massive pair torment the opposition middle to average over 118 running metres per game each off the bench. Brandon Smith is just behind them at 115 metres per game too.

Toby Rudolf has been brilliant off the bench for the Sharks this season. He has been named to start at lock this week with John Morris choosing to recall Andrew Fifita and his 118.6 metres per game off the bench. Lindsay Collins is proving to be a reliable performer for Trent Robinson and the Roosters. Meanwhile, Zane Tetevano and Moses Leota add plenty to the top of the table Panthers when required.

But it’s Keaon Koloamatangi that rates the biggest mention. The 22-year-old has burst onto the scene over the last seven weeks to become one of the best bench forwards in the NRL. While the above only credits him with 111.8 metres per game, he has averaged over 140 metres in the games he has played more than 20 minutes. With so many questions asked of this Rabbitohs pack throughout the preseason, they’ve exceeded expectations and are a force to be reckoned with as the finals approach. Having the 191cm and 106kg Koloamatangi come on after 24 minutes for a stint before having a break and returning to play the final 12-13 minutes has played a big part in South exceeding those preseason expectations.

The Pointy End of the Season

We’re into the final month of the regular season with finals soon to follow. Having checked in with how teams perform against the markets’ expectation before the season kicked off, it’s a good time to see which teams perform best in the later rounds and into the finals.

It won’t come as a surprise to see the Warriors and Tigers in the red toward the bottom of the win percentage column. The Warriors have been awful across the back end of the season since 2012. Although, we do know that the camp-like situations and reduced travel across the ditch helps them. They look good to buck the trend in 2020 given the circumstances. The Tigers, meanwhile, are right where you would expect them to be right now: 9th. Their late-season capitulations are often the cause of their finish just outside the Top 8.

While seeing the consistent Storm and Roosters at the top isn’t a shock, Melbourne’s 46.7% cover rate against the spread goes against what we typically see during the season. They’ve consistently exceeded expectations overall since 2013 and are an NRL-best 12-5 (70.5%) against the spread right now. However, the Storm have fallen short for punters over their last six to eight weeks of the season.

As for the top of the table Panthers, their quest for an NRL-record 18 consecutive wins isn’t out of the question given their promising recent history. Despite missing finals three times in this stretch, they’ve won 55.6% of their matches while beating the line at an NRL-best 61.1%. Their remaining schedule will help them keep the winning streak ticking over in 2020, too.

Strength of Schedule

The Tigers trend of disappointing late-season results looks set to continue with the draw they have in front of them. The Rabbitohs in Round 18, Storm in Round 19 and Eels in Round 20 make up the toughest remaining draw of all 16 teams. Lucky for the Broncos who are looking to avoid the wooden spoon, the Bulldogs face the Sea Eagles, Rabbitohs and Panthers for the third-toughest remaining draw.

Given that the Storm and Panthers have both been awarded friendly finishes to the season, we can all but lock them into the top two with three rounds remaining. With the Roosters, Eels and Raiders battling it out for the two remaining places in the all-important top four (no team has won the premiership from outside the top four on the ladder), the boys from Bondi have the hardest run home.

Predictive Analytics Applied To Rugby League: Looking At Try Scorers In The NRL

Round 18 NRL Preview