Now that we are six rounds into the interrupted 2020 NRL season, we’re starting to see what the game looks like under the new rules. Running metres are up overall and fullbacks are the big beneficiaries. However, one young middle forward continues to produce eye-catching numbers in a struggling team. The struggles may not last long, though. The Strength of Schedule ratings suggest the Broncos have a great chance to make a comeback over the next month.
Rising running metres
The introduction of the NRL’s new six-again rule has resulted in more football. With more football comes more running metres. Each position on the field has seen a raise in running metres since the beginning of Round 3.
Fullbacks are the big winners of the extra time the ball is now in play with a 29.6% increase in average running metres. Meanwhile, “the little man” is back (he was never gone) with halves just behind fullbacks at 29.5%. These spikes, in particular, can be attributed to increasing number of quick play-the-balls and support play required out of both positions.
With a lot of teams looking to capitalise on a six-again call by shrinking the defensive line and carting it up through the middle, it’s not a surprise to see backrowers increase their yardage production by only 7.7%. Block plays and hitting lead runners, while still very much a key part to any decent attack, isn’t such a prominent feature within the faster game.
Middle forwards (props and locks) are seeing more of the ball in general play for a 25.9% boost while wingers continue to become increasingly important with their running metres up 26.4%.
Digging deeper into fullback position, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (+27.9%) and Kalyn Ponga (+52.6%) are the big winners of the new rules. Ponga, in particular, is taking the ball at first receiver down the short side a lot more often when his Knights are getting a roll on.
James Tedesco (+17.4%), as expected, is thriving in a more free-flowing game. His support play and crabbing style with the ball in hand is made for the helter-skelter game play the increased speed of the game is trying to promote. Meanwhile, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (+6.1%) and his speed and power has allowed him to continue doing what he does best regardless of any changes to the game.
Player Proportion of Team Run Metres
Where Tuivasa-Sheck really shines is in the proportion numbers. He leads the NRL in total runs with 136 while sitting at the top of the pile in the proportion of team run metres at 12.9%. Despite the preseason chatter around Tuivasa-Sheck running the ball less and saving his energy for when the Warriors are “in scoring positions or creating scoring opportunities“, he’s maintained his spot as the most relied upon metre eater in the competition.
Perhaps now that the Warriors’ best back-three of Tuivasa-Sheck, Ken Maumalo and David Fusitu’a have been reunited for the first time in 2020, we might see the fullbacks proportion percentage dip just a little bit.
Moeaki Fotuaika continues to fly under the radar on the Gold Coast – the kid is one of the best young players in the game even though he’s rarely mentioned as such. But the name that really jumps out is Payne Haas. At just 20-years old, the prop accounts for an outrageous 11.6% of the Broncos’ running metres. The only forward (not a hooker) to win the Dally M Medal in the NRL era, Jason Taumalolo, is the only middle player ahead of Haas on the list.
There is a good chance Haas inches closer to Taumalolo sooner rather than later, too. Haas has been let down by his teammates and is averaging ‘just’ 163 running metres in 2020 compared with 185 metres in 2019.
The reliance the Broncos have of Haas is further evidenced when looking at the proportion of running metres for the team overall.
Strength of Schedule
The Brisbane Broncos are on a four-game losing streak, but there is hope. With the Titans, Warriors, Bulldogs and Tigers to come over the following month, our strength of schedule model has awarded them with the easiest schedule of all 16 teams between Rounds 7 and 10. Winning all four games will put the Broncos up to ten competition points through ten rounds. With roughly 20 points expected to be the cutoff to play finals footy in this shortened season, the Broncos can get back on track for the second half of the year.
The Raiders, however, face a tough task in getting out of their relative rut. With the Eels, Storm and Roosters over the next month, the Green Machine has the most difficult schedule up to the halfway points of the season.
Our strength of schedule ratings across the full season will come as a welcome sight on the Northern Beaches and the Shire.
The Sea Eagles have just lost Tom Trbojevic for up to eight weeks. The talismanic fullback is so often the key to Manly’s success despite their ability to get into the grind and compete with elite teams in his absence. With the third-easiest schedule through to Round 20, Manly’s spot in the Top 8 is unlikely to come under threat while their most influential player sits out.
The Sharks, on the other hand, are on the outside of the Top 8 and looking in following a poor opening six weeks. Two wins in their last three games ahead of the injury-stricken Sea Eagles this week offers hope of a turnaround. So too does the second-easiest schedule in the competition for the remainder of the season.