Discover more from The Maroon Observer
STATS DROP: Round 20, 2023
The burden of State of Origin, Sami Sauiluma, the flammability of modern life, Form Elo, Pythagorean expectation, 2nd order wins, WARG and TPR for NRL and Queensland Cup
Welcome to Stats Drop, a weekly inundation of rugby league numbers.
Clint Gutherson missed a game for his club1 so he could play Origin for three minutes2. Eels fans are naturally outraged about the injustice of losing one of their best players for an inconsequential3 cameo last Wednesday night.
One of my favourite topics at this time of year is looking at Origin caps by club. I’m going to pick on Mary Konstantopoulos of Ladies Who League this week, not out of spite as would usually be the case but because it’s convenient for the point I want to make:
The Penrith Panthers still sit on top of the NRL ladder despite missing so many players during the State of Origin period and having players out through injury.
But the Eels and the South Sydney Rabbitohs have faced challenges during this period and it may mean they miss out on a top-four spot. We know how important that top-four spot is if you have aspirations of winning a premiership so why should this period have such a big impact?
Have the Eels, the Panthers and the Rabbitohs been unfairly burdened by the duties of state representation?
Remember that the red numbers represent a genuine concern that seems to be widely held that Origin could possibly affect the premiership aspirations of those clubs. Ignore the green numbers of clubs also competing for a top four spot (and the Cowboys). Definitely don’t look at the gold numbers and draw any conclusions.
Origin has a randomising effect on the competition as a whole and tends to bring the pack closer together. More specifically, Origin has consistenly and negatively affected the Broncos, Cowboys and Roosters, as reflected by their reduced winning percentage from pre-Origin to the inter-Origin period. These three are rarely cited as clubs for whom we should be concerned about Origin’s impact on their premiership aspirations. I can’t imagine why.
This might be my Broncos fan privilege but I’ve always seen Origin selections as a fact of life. Sometimes there’s lots of selections, which usually happens when the team is going well, and sometimes there’s not many. The results will fall where they may and life will move on. Your team is better off with the Origin-calibre players than without.
Perhaps it’s that there’s a perception that Queenslanders would prefer an Origin series win to a premiership. I don’t think that’s true but, in any case, it’s a false dichotomy, as demonstrated in 1998, 2006 and 2015. Maybe the Broncos or Cowboys or Storm or Roosters would have won more titles without Origin’s influence, but it’s also extremely likely that rugby league would have gone bust without the rivers of gold the interstate rivalry generates. People forget that rugby union was ahead of league in the early 2000s and State of Origin has been a huge factor in league overhauling and then systematically dismantling the lesser rugby code in Australia. You can’t win a title in a competition that doesn’t exist.
It is never going to change. The NRL has experimented with non-Wednesday Origins (including an end of season series in 2020) and because mid-season Wednesday night maximises ratings, that’s what Nine wants and so the NRL complies. There isn’t going to be a world in which Origin doesn’t affect the club season because, while I too would like a shorter NRL season to open up space on the calendar for other high value games in lieu of the mid-season sludge we’re served, the NRL is not going to cut inventory for fear of losing broadcast revenue. You may as well accept it for what it is.
Thanks for reading The Maroon Observer. Subscribe to receive new posts in your inbox.
The last Origin dead rubber played in Sydney in 2016 attracted a crowd of just 61,000 to Stadium Australia. The dead rubber in the Blues’ 2000 sweep brought in just under 59,000. The 75,000 that turned up last Wednesday suggests the media’s lack of access to players has had precisely zero impact on fans engagement with the sport, a truly shocking turn of events for the ‘coverage is what makes Origin special’ crowd. Dead rubbers at Suncorp tend to still crack 50k.
Sami Sauiluma is the greatest try scorer in Burleigh Bears’ history. His 72nd try, scored against the Hunters two weeks ago, pushed him past previous record holder Kurtis Rowe. He scored his 73rd against the Dolphins in Miles on the weekend, the Bears’ only try of the afternoon.
My hunch was that with 17 teams in the comp, making the top eight would require a minimum 13-11 record. With the disparity between the very bottom teams (Tigers, Dragons, Bulldogs) and the lengthy peloton strung out behind the Panthers, the price of admission to the post-season might be 14 wins (34 competition points, including three byes).
Since the NRL moved to a 24 game schedule in 2002, the highest barrier to finals entry was 2018, with a minimum 15-9 record required to the make the top eight. That year, the Tigers finished 12-12 in ninth, which would normally be enough, although their points difference of -83 makes that hypothetical more marginal.
The minor premier in 2018 (Roosters) only had 16 wins, the lowest number in the NRL era, equal with 2014 (also Roosters) and 2005 (Eels). In ‘14 and ‘05 only two teams finished 16-8. In ‘18, four teams finished 16-8.
NRL Stats Drop
Scroll to the end for the explanatory notes or visit How It All Works.
Queensland Cup Stats Drop
Elo ratings are a way of quantitatively assessing teams, developing predictions for the outcomes of games and then re-rating teams based on their performance, home ground advantage and the strength of their opposition. Form Elo ratings are optimised for head-to-head tipping and tend to reflect the relative strengths of each team at that particular point in time, although there are many factors that affect a team’s rating.
Pythagorean Expectation and Winning Percentage Comparison
The black dots on the winning percentage comparison are each team’s actual win-loss record to this point in the season. The coloured dots represent what the stats say about the team’s underlying performance, i.e. how many games they should be winning. Wins and losses are binary and can be prone to good and bad luck in a way that other stats that correlate to wins are not, so we have other metrics to help see through the noise to good teams, rather than just good results. While each metric has strengths and weaknesses, it helps paint a more complete picture of team performance.
Pythagorean expectation (gold) relies on points scored and conceded by estimating a team’s number of wins based on their for and against. Where there is a deviation between a team’s actual record and their Pythagorean expectation, we can ascribe that to good fortune, when a team wins more than they are expected to, or bad fortune, when a team wins less than they are expected to. 2nd order wins (silver) relies on metres and breaks gained and conceded. Elo ratings (maroon) rely on the margin of victory and strength of opponent.
Dots should tend to gravitate towards each other. If a team’s dots are close together, that means their actual results are closely in line with their underlying metrics and represents a “true” or “fair” depiction of how good the team is. If a team’s coloured dots are clustered away from their actual record, then we should expect the actual and the coloured cluster to move towards each other over time.
If the black dot is well above gold, that team is suffering from good fortune and may mean regress to more typical luck in the future (vice versa also holds). The silver dots will tend to hover around .500, so if gold is between silver and .500, the team could have an efficiency issue. On the balance, I would expect more often the actual percentage will move towards the cluster but the opposite is also possible.
Production the amount of valuable work done by a team as measured in counting statistics that correlate with winning. These statistics are converted to a single unit called Taylors. Taylor Player Ratings (TPR) are a rate metric that compares an individual player’s production, time-adjusted, to that of the average player at their position, with a rating of .100 being average (minimum 5 games played). Wins Above Reserve Grade (WARG) is a volume metric that converts player’s production over a nominal replacement level into an equivalent number of wins they contribute to their team.
A chart that tabulates each team’s WARG, both as a team total and broken down into platoons by listed position, to identify each team’s relative strengths and weaknesses.
The WARG is the sum produced at the position, not by specific players, e.g. if Kalyn Ponga produces a total of 1.5 WARG comprising 1.0 WARG while named at fullback and 0.5 WARG named at five-eighth, then the WARG produced while named at fullback will be added to the 1-5 platoon and the WARG created while named in the halves will be added to the 6+7+9 platoon.
The top team in each category is rated 100, the bottom team is rated 0 and every team in between is scaled accordingly.
This table compares the SCWP produced and conceded by each team (a product of their metres and breaks gained and conceded) against the actual points the team scores and concedes to measure which teams are most efficiently taking advantage of their opportunities. A lack of efficiency here could be the result of bad luck and poor execution - sometimes you have to watch the games.
Thanks for reading The Maroon Observer. If you haven’t already, you can subscribe below to receive all the latest about Queensland rugby league.
If you really enjoyed this, please forward the email on to someone who might also enjoy it.
The Eels lost by 36 points.
And collect a $30,000 match fee.
For them, not for Gutherson’s bank balance or professional pride.