This week for ‘Your Edge’ we take a look at two talking points from the Preliminary Finals, the outcry following Jack Wighton’s Dally M Medal win, and preview the 2020 NRL Grand Final between the Penrith Panthers and Melbourne Storm.
Preliminary Talking Points
Storm: Another game at Suncorp Stadium, another win for the Melbourne Storm. Their 30-10 victory marks their ninth consecutive win at the venue and 16th in their last 17 games. In fact, their only loss at Suncorp this decade came against the Gold Coast Titans in 2017. The 36 points Melbourne scored on that day equals the most points scored by a losing team in NRL history. While impressive, Melbourne is a different team on the fast Suncorp track. It could be a different story this week with rain forecast for Sydney over the course of the Grand Final weekend.
Panthers: The Penrith Panthers were forced to work hard for their 20-16 win over the South Sydney Rabbitohs last week. Typically dominant in the yardage game, Penrith only outran Souths by 93 metres. It’s in stark contrast to their season-long numbers which have seen Penrith lead the NRL in yardage at 1,879 metres per game while conceding the fewest at 1,465 per game for an NRL-best average metres advantage of 414 metres per game. While the 13 errors and 45% possession aren’t quite so appealing, Penrith’s ability to win in a different way is encouraging.
Dally M Drama
Ah, the Dally M Medal.
Famous for its flimsy voting system, the judges have finally landed on a winner most concede isn’t quite the calibre of winners past. The signs of this sort of winner have been there for years. Luke Brooks and Mitchell Moses, for example, have sat awfully high on the Dally M leaderboard to look out of place among other names in recent years. It was only a matter of time before a controversial winner that has already inspired talks of a change to the system would be named.
Jack Wighton has been incredible throughout 2020. When the Canberra Raiders have needed a lift, he has been there with a strong carry or a try – often two. He’s undoubtedly been Canberra’s most influential player. When measured up against the pre-awards favourite Nathan Cleary, Wighton leads in numerous counting stats:
Wighton led all five-eighths (min. 10 games) in tries with 13 this season while also landing inside the Top 10 in other areas.
- Running metres (3rd): 101.3m
- Line breaks (2nd): 11
- Tries (1st): 13
- Try assists (10th): 8
- Tackle breaks (2nd): 65
- Line break assists (8th): 8
They’re all impressive numbers. But the Dally M Medal – while judged under a poor system that allows good players on average teams to gather points as elite players on better teams miss out – has consistently ended up around the neck of a player at least in the conversation for the best in the game. That’s because the judges, all former players for a reason, are meant to be able to see beyond the numbers. Wighton – as well as he has played in 2020 – isn’t in that conversation.
Cleary’s control of the Panthers can’t be displayed through standard statistics. We’ve mentioned the number of times Cleary touches the ball here before. While others can be ineffective and inefficient with their touches, Cleary passes his teammates into areas of the field he wants them. From there, Penrith have been able to pile up their points, often without Cleary receiving the recognition in the tries, try assists and line break assists columns. There is no breakdown of how many of Cleary’s tempoed runs across the field to shrink the defence have lead to tries out wide.
Cleary is a more consistent performer. He doesn’t have bad games and his good ones don’t always produce three Dally M points given the talent on display around him. Instrumental to Penrith’s 17-game winning streak and Grand Final appearance, Cleary is in the conversation for the best player in the game right now. He’s at the very least the best in his position.
It’s not fair to Wighton that he is the player that has exposed what is a poor system, but his win may yet trigger the necessary changes to the Dally M Medal process.
2020 NRL Grand Final Preview
Penrith Panthers v Melbourne Storm @ ANZ Stadium – 7:30 pm AEST
Team List Notes
- Panthers: Viliame Kikau returns from his one-game suspension to start to the back row with Kurt Capewell dropping to the bench. At this stage, Brent Naden has been named to start in the centres. Tyrone May will come off the bench.
- Storm: Craig Bellamy has named the same Storm side for this week. Although, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Dale Finucane start with Nelson Asofa-Solomona to join Tino Fa’asuamaleaui on the bench.
Key Factor: Bench Mob
When looking down the two team lists from 1 to 17, there isn’t a lot splitting the two sides until we hit the bench: Tyrone May, Kurt Capewell, Moses Leota and Zane Tevevano v Brandon Smith, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Dale Finucane and Nicho Hynes.
We touched on the yardage of bench forwards last week but it’s worth mentioning again, particularly if Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Finucane swap places before kickoff on Sunday. Should that happen, Melbourne will carry three of the top four bench forward metre eater’s in the competition on the pine.
Asofa-Solomona and Fa’asuamaleaui have worked in tandem superbly at times this year to average 239 metres per game off the bench between them. Melbourne are at their best when they can release their giant interchange players to cause havoc either side of halftime. Smith, meanwhile, is a menace and can be asked to provide lengthy stints in the middle or short, chaotic bursts throughout for his 108 metres per game. Penrith, on the other hand, don’t carry quite the same impact.
Leota is an Origin bolter and one of the best bench forwards in the competition when it comes to metres per run and metres per minute. Tetevano has also found a home on the Panthers bench to average 108 running metres per game in 2020 – a career high. However, Capewell (52.3 metres) and May (38.2 metres) fill utility roles more than impact roles. While excellent if Ivan Cleary is forced to make an injury change early on, it’s an area Melbourne will carry a significant advantage into Sunday night.
Value Plays: Anytime Try-scorers & DFS
Outside of James Fisher-Harris, a lot of the names you would hope to see sitting at the top of the model’s value summary are present. Jahrome Hughes is an excellent try-scoring option while running at Jarome Luai. Melbourne also looked left plenty last week with Josh Addo-Carr a likely candidate on Sunday. Expecting Nathan Cleary to handle the ball early and often, Brian To’o also shapes as a promising option on the Panthers right side.
The usual suspects – Nathan Cleary and Cameron Smith – top the predicted scores and present as value plays while James Fisher-Harris is a must-play for his 51 points at $11,510. Nelson Asofa-Solomona appears on the list while named at lock for now, but questions around his minutes and Isaah Yeo’s 58 points make for a simple – yet likely to be very popular – pick at lock.