This week for ‘Your Edge’ we take a look at an Origin bolter dominating as an impact forward off the bench, the outrageous number of points scored in Week 1, which spine is involved most in the attack, and the yardage of the remaining back-three’s with the expectation of a much tighter Week 2 of the Finals.
NSW: Klemmer dumped
With news that David Klemmer has been dumped from the New South Wales State of Origin side circulating over the weekend, discussions around his replacement soon kicked off. While the usual names and a handful on the fringes popped up throughout, one came from nowhere.
The 25-year-old has been outstanding for the Penrith Panthers this season. He played a blinder in Week 1 of the Finals to run for 120 metres on 12 carries in only 32 minutes. His footwork got the Panthers up the field, and when the Roosters defence tried to rush out on him, he skipped past with his silky footwork.
Leota’s Week 1 finals performance highlights the impact he can have off the bench and might be exactly what Blues coach Brad Fittler is looking for in his side.
The 25-year-old’s total numbers don’t jump off the page. He averages 107 running metres per game – roughly the same as, say, Marata Niukore. Leota’s 15 tackle breaks hardly paint him as a destructive ball-carrier either. However, it’s what Leota can do in limited minutes that makes his possible inclusion in the Blues side so intriguing. Averaging a little under 3.2 metres per minute he’s on the field at over ten metres per carry, Leota has made the most of his 33 minutes per game in 2020.
Fittler didn’t play his props for extended periods all that often throughout the 2019 series. Outside of Klemmer’s first stint of the series, he didn’t play the sort of minutes he’s capable of in Game 3. No prop – other than Jake Trbojevic – did so for the remainder of the series.
Haas is already in the squad and can be relied upon to play at least 60 minutes if required. Daniel Saifiti is in career form and can expect more minutes on the field this year. Given Fittler’s propensity to carry just one prop on the bench along with a utility and more versatile forwards, it’s not outrageous to imagine a bolter of Leota’s playing style to be used as a high-intensity 20-minute middle.
Week 1 Finals Flips
As pointed out last week, history was not on the side of the underdogs. Winning only 33.8% of their regular season games across the last seven seasons, that number dropped to 30.1% in finals matches.
All four games offered hope of an upset, but the favourites completed the sweep:
- Roosters led 10-0 before losing 29-28
- Sharks led 14-6 before losing 32-20
- Eels led 12-0 before losing 36-24
- Knights led 14-0 before losing 46-20
While the potential for the round to be one for the underdogs was there, the favourites eventually proved their position on the ladder to take the chocolates. However, with all four underdogs scoring 20+ points for Week 1 the average total hit 57.75 points per game. It’s an incredible number after pointing out an average of just 36.8 points per game in the finals between 2014 and 2019. Albeit under different rules and with points up in 2020 compared with previous years, a 21-point increase came as a surprise and will be something to monitor through to the Grand Final.
To make matters worse for the underdog Raiders, in particular, the team coming out of the bottom half of the Top 8 and into Week 3 has only one three times since 2012.
Spine’s produce the goods
The spine players of the winning teams had a major influence on the result in Week 1. Outside of Luke Keary’s three try assists for the Roosters on Friday night, the victorious spine significantly outplayed their opposite.
As defences begin to close up and concede fewer points (we assume), capitalising on limited opportunities is paramount. The pack needs to get the spine into attacking areas. The defence also needs to hold up without the ball. But ultimately, it comes down to the #1, #6, #7 and #9 to manufacture points and win the match.
The below shows the total tries, line breaks, try assists and line break assists of the spines named this week and the Panthers and Roosters line up we expect to see in Week 3.
Melbourne and Sydney, as expected, perform well in both departments. Outside of Kyle Flanagan, there isn’t a weakness in either spine. The Raiders, meanwhile, rely heavily on Jack Wighton and George Williams to cross the chalk or break the line. Wighton, fresh of a double last week, leads all halves in tries (12) and is only behind Cody Walker in line breaks (9).
Parramatta’s position can be somewhat explained away by Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown both missing time. Although, Moses’ three tries and seven try assists in 18 matches isn’t all that promising heading into a do-or-die finals match.
A product of Penrith’s variation in attack and with the options the spine have to produce points, Dylan Edwards, Jarome Luai, Nathan Cleary and Api Koroisau aren’t required to do it all themselves quite so much. Cleary (15) and Luai (22) have combined for 37 try assists with Stephen Crichton (16 tries), Brent Naden (12), Josh Mansour (11), Viliame Kikau (7) and Liam Martin (5) the beneficiaries.
That variation is now coming through for the Rabbitohs with Adam Reynolds, Corey Alan and Walker playing both sides of the field. Damien Cook has found some form in his darts out of dummy half recently too. While they’re trying to climb into the preliminary final from 6th on the NRL ladder, Souths will enter Week 2 with the form spine of the competition.
Back three bringing the metres
Again, we’re assuming more of a ‘finals feel’ in Week 2 and beyond. The 57 points scored per game in Week 1 surely can’t keep up through to October 25…
Should things tighten up as expected and lengthy arm-wrestle’s ensue, the back three becomes a vital part of the yardage game. The extra time the ball is in possession makes things difficult for middle forwards already. Add a back and forth through the centre-third and we’re going to see some tired bodies. It’s at that moment the back-three gets to work to drag a team out of their own end.
The Panthers have been excellent in that department all season. While slow to start the year from a try-scoring point, Mansour’s carries for 180 metres per game have been irreplaceable. Daniel Tupou’s 181 running metres per game have offered the same to the Roosters along with James Tedesco’s 230 metres.
Clint Gutherson has done a lot of the heavy lifting for the Eels. While running metres are up across the NRL in general, both Maika Sivo and Blake Ferguson are averaging fewer metres in 2020 than they did in 2019. Their drop is an underrated aspect of Parramatta’s struggles across the second half of the season.
While the back three of the Storm and Raiders offer roughly the same as each other, it’s an area the Rabbitohs lack when measured against the remaining finals teams. For all of his tries (22 in 2020), Alex Johnston doesn’t provide Souths with too many tough carries. Nor does the slightly built Jaxson Paulo. Cory Allan is improving as a metre-eater, but like Latrell Mitchell, his most positive impact comes on the end of shifts as a ball-player.
There is no doubting the Rabbitohs attack. As mentioned already, their spine is one of the most dangerous left in the NRL. It’s whether or not they can get up the field should matches tighten up from here on in that is worth keeping an eye on.