This week for ‘Your Edge’ we find positives in Parramatta’s latest loss, highlight the middle forward still not receiving the credit he deserves, cover the last remaining Burgess brother, and talk value in the favourites to end the NRL’s regular season.

Panthers run riot, but Eels can take positives

The Penrith Panthers took care of the Parramatta Eels with relative ease to win 20-2 in Round 18. Rolling up the field to earn 57 tackles inside the Parramatta 20-metre line, the Penrith back-five piled up 1,065 of the teams total 2,274 running metres for the match. James Fisher-Harris added 249 metres through the middle while James Tamou and Isaah Yeo combined for 300 metres. The Eels, meanwhile, ran for just 1,352 metres in total.

The only larger discrepancies we’ve seen in 2020 came in Round 2 when the Eels outran the Titans by 1,026 metres, a round later when they outran the Broncos by 993 metres, and another round later as the Roosters topped the lot by clearing the Broncos running metres total by 1,242 metres.

While conceding so many metres and struggling to get up the field themselves to score is a concern for the Eels (they’ve averaged just 1,653 metres per game in their last seven games after leading the competition through the first 11 rounds with 1,949 metres per game), they can take a lot of confidence out of their defensive performance. The Panthers managed just 0.35 points per tackle inside the opposition 20-metre line on Friday night. That’s a 16th-ranked mark throughout the season, significantly less than Penrith’s season average of 0.66 points per tackle and below the NRL-average of 0.69 points per tackle.

While not all that efficient in good ball areas, the Panthers are 2nd in the NRL in scoring at 25.7 points per game. To be dominated all ends up and only concede 20 points might be the confidence boost the Eels need to get their season back on track ahead of playing the Broncos and their 16th-ranked defence in Round 19.

Fisher-Harris: Very Good

Is there another middle forward in the NRL that can clear 240 running metres five times in a season and it barely rates a mention?

James Fisher-Harris is averaging 191 running metres per game in 2020. Only Clint Gutherson (3,618m), James Tedesco (3,676m) and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (3,786m) have recorded more total metres than Fisher-Harris’ 3,449 metres this season while his per game average ranks 8th. When narrowing it down to the games he has been listed as the starting prop, Fisher-Harris leads the way at the position with 187.8 metres per game.

He’s only 24-years old and has been thriving since his move to prop after starting only 12 games there before this season.

James Fisher-Harris – All run metres

As we enter awards season and begin to assign the most improved and best players in each position, don’t let Fisher-Harris fly under the radar any longer. The likes of Api Koroisau, Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai and Stephen Crichton are often credited with triggering Penrith’s improvement from 10th in 2019 to 1st in 2020, but those attacking players wouldn’t have the platform to succeed without the work of Fisher-Harris through the middle.

Burgess getting it done for the Bunnies

Quietly going about his business in a South Sydney Rabbitohs forward pack many wrote off before the season started, Thomas Burgess is putting up career best numbers.

His 152 running metres per game is the most he’s averaged throughout his eight-season NRL career. He’s doing it while setting a career-high in minutes with 47.6 per game (up from 39.8 in 2019) and tackles at 27.1 per game (up from 20.7 in 2019). With his brothers Sam and George leaving the club after last season and with questions around the size of the Rabbitohs pack for 2020, the massive Englishman is in the prime years of his career at 28-years old and has become a rather unheralded leader through the middle of the field in the season they needed it most.

While his errors per game are slightly up on 2018 and 2019, a lot of that can come down to the added minutes he’s playing and what seems to be a directive from Wayne Bennett to keep pushing through tackles. Burgess has added 25 post-contact metres per game to run for 66.5 metres after contact in 2020. They make up 44% of his total yardage compared to 34% last season.

Tevita Tatola has been excellent in 2020 while Keaon Koloamatangi has become one of the best bench forwards in the NRL. But it’s Burgess that deserves a lot of the credit for South Sydney exceeding expectations through the middle of the field at they mount a late charge at the genuine premiership contenders.

The cream rises to the top

We’ve reached the time of year where silly ideas start to pop up over how the NRL can extend the season of bad teams despite half of them already playing finals footy as it is. Dead games are talked about as though they will kill rugby league while ignoring the fact they happen every year in almost every sport. They’re also talked about as a time underdogs can pounce on unsuspecting favourites that have let their mind wander towards the finals.

However, the numbers across the final two rounds of the regular season over the last five years suggest that while some teams do rest players with an eye on the post-season, the cream rises to the top more often than not.

201420152016201720182019
Favourites Cover rate56%50%56%44%43%71%
Favouries cover rate over last two rounds of the regular season

Favourites cleared the mark at an unsustainable level in 2019 so we can expect a dip on that 71% in 2020. But as James Tedesco and Siosuia Taukeaiaho sit out this week for the Roosters while Api Koroisau and James Tamou do the same for the Panthers, bad teams are still bad, and good teams know how to fill gaps week to week.

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