by Warren Boland
One of the first statistics a coach grabs to explain a win or loss is completion rates.
Obviously the better you control the ball to complete a set of six tackles and finish it with intent and purpose, the more likely you are to score points or back your opponent into a corner.
A superior completion rate puts you in the box seat but Round Two results demonstrate it does not guarantee victory.
Just ask the Warriors who have lost their opening matches to the West Tigers 34-26 and the Broncos 25-10. In both defeats the Kiwi team have had the better completion rate.
Against the Tigers, the Warriors had a high 82% success rate of getting to the end of a set compared to Wests’ 69%. The problem for the Warriors was 40 missed tackles. Even in the first half when the Tigers ran in five tries to lead 28-4, the Warriors completed at an unusually proficient 88%.
Last week against the Broncos who managed 76% for the game, the Warriors were again more than tidy on the stat sheet completing 31/36 sets at 86% including a remarkable 20/21 or 95% in the first half.
So what went wrong? Why didn’t the New Zealanders finish on top?
The number one factor was Brisbane’s rock solid defence. Because the Warriors either could not penetrate and or it was their match strategy, they relied exclusively on a kicking game. There were no openings for a restrained Shaun Johnson who took off only once in the game while kicking 18 times. The hot-footed Roger Tuavasa-Scheck ran the most, 25 forays with the ball, but even he was contained, breaking only 3 tackles.
The Warriors rarely threatened.The Broncos created four or five chances and made the most of them.
Along with injuries to Manu Vatuvei and Blake Ayshford, another contributing factor undermining the Warriors was their lazy chase on well-judged kicks. Twice they let Broncos winger Corey Oates escape from deep in-goal and on another occasion failed to force a drop-out.
The Warriors were not alone.
A healthy 82% completion rate did not save Penrith either. The Panthers were pipped at the post by the Bulldogs (69%) due to the 80th minute brilliance of Moses Mbye’s second try and its conversion by debutant Kerrod Holland. The Panthers were handicapped when Dean Whare was injured and they ran out of interchanges . Waqa Blake was hobbling on one leg on the wing. He needed a crutch but had to stay on the field. In the last minute scramble for the match-winning try the only Bulldog aware enough to head in Blake’s direction was Josh Morris.
The gutsy Raiders also defied conventional accounting. Completing sets at a miserable 7/12 (58%) in the first half and only 66% for the game Canberra overcame the Roosters(79%) at the death thanks to Josh Hodgson’s 40/20 and a Sam Williams field goal.
Just when you start to think that the importance of completion rates might be overblown, the Knights, Cowboys and Dragons put things right. Or wrong if you’re a supporter.
Newcastle (68%) were overwhelmed nine tries to one by South Sydney (78%) 48-6.
The Cowboys (64% ) went down 20-16 to the Eels (76%) with a penalty count of 10-4 in favour of Parramatta. The damage was done in the first half when the Cowboys could only complete 9/16 ( 56%).
Worst of all, the Dragons could manage just 50% in their 30-2 shellacking by the Sharks. In the second half the Dragons slumped to a woeful 40% with 8/20. Less completion, more capitulation.
Of course there is more to statistics on ball control than completion percentages alone. Often just as important is the simple count of how many sets you start with the ball.
Every time your team scores a try or kicks a penalty or field goal, is awarded a penalty, forces a goal-line drop-out, or kicks a 40-20, you get a repeat set. Otherwise possession would simply alternate. You get a bonus set while the opposition is denied one.
The fractions tell you more than the percentages. Your team can have a lower completion rate but still more ball than the opposition. The Broncos completed 34/45 for their 76% against the Warriors 31/36 for 86%. Why the difference in total sets started? The Broncos scored four tries to one, kicked a field goal, won the penalties 8-5 and forced two drop-outs.
Thankfully it’s not all about statistics. There is also what your team does with the ball they possess: the skill, the instinct, the effort – and that goes for defence too.
High completion rates are vital to winning but they are not the complete story.
(*Statistics according to nrl.com and nrlstats.com)
A Clarification for Footy Fans:
When your wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend or partner looks deep into your eyes and says “You complete me”, this comment has nothing to do with rugby league.