Every NRL club’s opening eight weeks analysed
You've considered past form, you've assessed future opportunities and yet you cannot split the merits of two players - it's a conundrum faced by many a KFC NRL SuperCoach player.
Well fear not, we have a new statistical wrinkle that may help you split the deadlock in our Strength of Schedule (SOS) analysis where we rate the draw of every club over the opening eight rounds of the 2020 NRL season.
I have ranked each NRL team using a highly scientific approach - well sort of scientific approach - based on:
* the average PPM conceded to all opponents by a team in 2019,
* the number of times a team was able to keep an opponent under 40 KFC SuperCoach points per game,
* the number of times a team leaked 80+ KFC SuperCoach points per game to any one opponent; and
* the actual number of points conceded over the NRL regular season by that team.
And just to head off the obvious criticism at the pass, as it were, I know past performance is no guarantee of future returns, but I figured you would prefer an objective measure than my eye test so there you have it.
SuperCoach defensive rankings (worst to best):
8. Wests Tigers
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE AND SUPERCOACH
Before you scroll down to see which teams fared well and which didn't let's take a quick pause to check which players benefit most from an 'easy' draw and which players don't.
In short, SOS is far more important for playmakers and backs than it is for forwards. Now, experienced players would be nodding and scrolling, but for newer players to the game let me explain why.
Forwards are base stat beasts. No matter what jumper is in front of him Jason Taumalolo is going to make in the area of 17 hit-ups and four tackle busts. No matter who is running at them, Cameron McInnes and Damien Cook are going to make 40 tackles.
Sure, there is more likelihood of a few attacking stats against weaker teams but the aces of base will score well regardless of the opposition.
Backs and playmakers thrive on attacking stats and so the more points their team scores the better their chance of a solid return.
To put some numbers around these words let's look at the average PPM conceded at each position by the best and worst defensive teams in 2019.
|Position||Avg. PPM vs worst defence||Avg. PPM vs Best defence||Difference|
My takeaways from those numbers are:
* no position is immune from SOS
* as expected, playmakers see a significant decline in SuperCoach scores when facing the better defensive units
* fullback is the position most significantly impacted by SOS (it was in 2018 also)
* CTW was impacted far less than I expected, then I went and checked 2018 figures and once again CTW were not as beholden to SOS as I expected so shame on me for not learning I guess.
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2020 FIRST EIGHT ROUNDS STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE AND ANALYSIS
Analysis: In the first eight rounds the Eels face just one team that finished in the top eight in 2019 (and that is the Broncos who finished eighth) so there is no doubt that Parramatta players are drawn to get off to a fast start in KFC SuperCoach NRL in 2020. However, if you look past the opposition, the draw does pose its challenges, with one five day turnaround (between rounds five and six) and lots of travel. In fact I'd wager only the trans-Tasman Warriors are going to rack up more miles in the first two months as Parramatta have back-to-back trips to Queensland in rounds two and three and then play in Darwin in round seven and Brisbane in round eight.
Player to watch: Halfback Mitchell Moses is the obvious name here. Moses scored the most points of any halfback last year and he is drawn to start hot in 2020. In 2019 the Parramatta halfback averaged 63PPG across the 11 matches he played against his opponents over the first eight rounds of 2020 and I'd happily take that from my starting halfback to open the year.
Analysis: The first four rounds are particularly friendly for the Tigers who overall have the second-best draw to start the season. They have one five-day turnaround and the second part of that turnaround is in Queensland - but it's against the Titans so that helps. They do have back-to-back trips up to Queensland though with the Titans on the Gold Coast in round seven then the Sharks at Suncorp in round eight.
Player to watch: New recruit Adam Doueihi is somewhat awkwardly priced at $343,100, but the draw is a good one for any fullback with match-ups against the three teams that leaked the most points to the position in 2019 (Dragons, Titans and Eels) and two more who were not much better (Warriors and Bulldogs).
Analysis: The Raiders should get 2020 off to a fast start with a home match against the Titans and they play their two toughest opponents (Manly in round four and Rabbitohs in round seven) at home. Canberra do have one five day turnaround and unfortunately for them it will entail travel as it falls between their round two match against the Warriors in Auckland and then their round three home match against the Dragons.
Player to watch: New recruit English halfback George Williams should get off to a fast start with his opening three opponents conceding the most (Titans), fifth most (Warriors) and second most (Dragons) points to his position last year. It's always a risk buying a player without NRL form on the board, but Williams' Super League statistics are very KFC NRL SuperCoach friendly and he is a tempting buy.
Analysis: Overall a pretty decent draw for the reigning premiers with no five-day turnarounds, one trip to New Zealand and just the one trip to Queensland. There won't be too many easy points on offer in the first three weeks but the draw definitely opens up after that with just one 'tough' opponent in five games.
Player to watch: James Tedesco is the most expensive player in the game to start 2020 and his price tag has put plenty off (including me) picking him to start and hoping to nab him later after a price drop. However, Tedesco is drawn to start well and boasted an average of 82PPG against these opponents with three triple-figure scores. History also suggests Luke Keary could get off to a flyer having averaged 76PPG against the Roosters' early opponents. Currently in less than 10% of teams, Keary could prove a POD pick.
Analysis: They may have the fifth best draw to start the season overall, however, the Storm's opening eight weeks are very much a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde situation with the opening two matches against fierce rivals Cronulla and Manly (both away in Sydney) and then they play host to the Panthers and Rabbitohs. Just to top it off the Storm have two five day turnarounds and one of those comes before their match against the Rabbitohs in round four. The second half of the period is far more promising with all four opponents falling within the bottom-five of the defensive rankings (though it should be noted that Melbourne have another five-day turnaround here between the Titans and Cowboys and that includes travel to Townsville).
Player to watch: Melbourne five-eighth Cameron Munster scored the most points and had the best average of any player at his position but he also achieved this pretty erratically as I noted in my article looking at the most reliable players in the game HERE. Normally I'd be very reluctant to pull the trade trigger early, but if your five-eighth is not called Munster, and he has not started really well then it would be tempting to bring in the Melbourne playmaker ahead of round five - hopefully after a couple of price drops due to the tough draw. For reference, Munster's career average is nearly 10PPG better against the final four teams he faces in 2020 as compared to his first four opponents.
Analysis: It's a pretty generous start for the Broncos with just the two trips out of Queensland in the opening eight weeks coming in round four to Penrith and round seven to Darwin to face the Eels. No five-day turnarounds either for Brisbane to start, and far be it from me to suggest a Queensland conspiracy but they are one of only two teams with NO five-day turnarounds in 2020 (the other is the Titans).
Player to watch: Putative fullback Jamayne Isaako was not super impressive in the Nines, but if he bounces back in the trials and is named to start at fullback then he is drawn to make the most of the opportunity. The Titans, Eels and Cowboys (plays twice) were all poor defenders against the position last year, and Isaako has a career average of 56PPG against his opening opponents.
Analysis: The Bulldogs won't rack up the frequent flyer miles early with this draw playing the first six matches in Sydney before back-to-back Queensland trips heading to Townsville in round seven and Brisbane for a Magic Round matchup against the Raiders.
Player to watch: I want to find one, but I'm struggling. Will Hopoate is the standout player and he did average 52PPG against these opponents in 2019 but that's not enough to make a buy recommendation. The likes of Aiden Tolman and Corey Harawira-Naera have some appeal but as mentioned above, forwards are not really impacted by SOS. I've got a SC crush on Jayden Okunbor and I believe that he has all the physical attributes required to become an elite SC CTW but after averaging 57PPG in 2019 he does start the year very expensive.
Analysis: The Cowboys leave Queensland just twice in the first eight weeks, but as my far North Queensland-loving colleague Dom Burke loves to point out, the trip from Townsville to Brisbane (a trip the Cowboys make twice in the opening eight weeks) is longer than that between Sydney and Brisbane. The Cowboys also make two trips down to NSW early playing away to the Bulldogs in round two and Knights in round four.
Player to watch: With a SOS rating of 26 in the first four weeks then 43 in the second four weeks, anyone who owns fullback Valentine Holmes will be hoping he gets off to a fast start because points will be harder to score against the Broncos, Storm and Roosters.
Analysis: It's a pretty brutal start for the Panthers with matches against the Roosters, Raiders and Storm within the first five weeks, and the Storm game is to be played at the SuperCoach graveyard (for visitors anyway) known as AAMI Park. No five-day turnarounds early and just one more interstate trip (Brisbane for Magic Round) balances things out a little but no team has a tougher first five weeks than Penrith.
Player to watch: Halfback Nathan Cleary averaged 72PPG against these opponents last year, though that number is hugely inflated by his final round score of 186 against the Knights. If you take that score out of the equation (and take out his lowest score of 34 against the Storm for fairness) then he averaged 64.5PPG which is probably more reflective of what owners can expect over the opening eight rounds.
Analysis: With no five-day turnaround and just one trip outside NSW, the Knights have some positives in their opening draw. There are plenty of tough games though with Manly and the Sharks down in Sydney and the Raiders in Wagga Wagga.
Player to watch: Kalyn Ponga averaged 57.6PPG against opening round opponents last year though three of those games were early in 2019 when playing five-eighth and his average against the remaining five when playing fullback was 64.5PPG. I expect Ponga will have to be at his best to maintain that average over the early rounds with the final four opponents finishing fifth, third, eighth and fourth for best in the NRL in regards to points conceded last year.
Analysis: It's a tough start for the Rabbitohs with matches against the other three teams to finish inside the top four in 2019. There's plenty of travel too with away trips to the Storm and Raiders and two trips to Brisbane.
Player to watch: Five-eighth Cody Walker has been remarkably consistent over the past three seasons passing 1,400 each year and surpassing 60 points in better than 60% of games in 2018 and 2019. Walker averaged 63PPG from his 11 2019 matches against his opening eight 2020 foes with a, somewhat surprising, low of 23 against the Bulldogs and somewhat more predictable high of 108 against the Dragons. If you pay the price for Walker to start 2020, don't jump off him if he has a slow start as his draw opens up nicely after that tough opening month.
12. SEA EAGLES:
Analysis: Manly fans will certainly know how their team is travelling early, with matches against the minor premiers and the two 2019 grand finalists all within their opening four games of 2020.
Player to watch: Fullback may be a position which is significantly impacted by SOS but Manly custodian Tom Trbojevic is almost match-up proof. Boasting a career average of 73PPG across his opening 2020 opponents, Tommy T is priced just a smidgen above that and has a history of starting well, currently in only 12% of teams he is a POD pick for the brave.
Analysis: No team travels more than the Warriors and they will rack up the miles early with five trips to Australia in the opening eight rounds. Just like the Sea Eagles they have to play the minor premiers (away) and both grand finalists (home) within the first two months with a particularly tough fortnight being round six (Roosters) then round seven (Storm in Melbourne).
Player to watch: Skipper and fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was sublime in 2019 scoring 1633 points at an average of 71PPG. However, in the 11 games in 2019 against his opening opponents RTS was held below 50 points five times and a total average of 61PPG. Warriors coach Stephen Kearney has said he wants Tuivasa-Sheck to reduce his workrate bringing the ball back and that worries me from a SuperCoach perspective. I'm tipping Tuivasa-Sheck to drop in value over the first two months.
Analysis: The Sharks have just one 'easy' game to start the season and that's against the Bulldogs - who beat Cronulla in their one game in 2019. With no five-day turnarounds and just the two interstate trips to Queensland (rounds six and eight) the Sharks will at least enjoy the comforts of home - even if 'home' is Jubilee Stadium not Shark Park in 2020.
Player to watch: Cronulla playmaker Shaun Johnson had a poor start to 2019 but finished on a roll averaging 80PPG over his final eight games of the season. However, with such a tough draw to start 2020, Johnson will be doing exceptionally well to average in the low 60s across the first eight rounds of this year. 'SJ' gets a rough time from fans at times, but when on song there are no better at his position and it is his injury history not ability that has me looking elsewhere to start the year.
Analysis: The only team to play all four of the 2019 semi-finalists (all away from home) in the opening eight rounds, the Dragons also have a five-day turnaround between rounds one and two.
Player to watch: Young Zac Lomax is currently the second-most owned CTW in the game and after his impressive performance both in general play and as a goalkicker in the trial last weekend his ownership rate will only go one way. Lomax looks to have locked in the starting fullback role for St George and while that's a SC plus, this draw is anything but. Fullbacks are particularly subject to SOS ratings and Lomax may get off to a slow start in 2020.
Analysis: Away trips to the three toughest defensive units in the Raiders, Roosters and Storm within the first five weeks should leave you worried if you were planning on buying any player in the Gold Coast spine.
Player to watch: I can't, I really can't.