General play kicking has become an art form in the game of rugby league and is often the grounds on which a team can win or lose a match.
With the game evolving towards defence-heavy tactics and structures, teams often look to their kicking games to break an opponent down.
It’s seen players like Nathan Cleary, Mitch Moses and Daly Cherry-Evans revolutionise the way kicking can be used as an attacking tactic.
Courtesy of data from Stats Perform, Sporting News has looked at three key kicking metrics – forced drop outs, long kicks finding space and 40/20 kicks – to assess which of the 16 clubs are the most effective with the boot in general play.
As we discovered, the findings are surprising.
While scoring is the ultimate objective when a team finds themselves within 20 metres of the line, the next best thing is a forced dropout to heap more pressure on the defence.
When it comes to doing that, the Sea Eagles and Parramatta (14) are the NRL’s No. 1 teams while the Roosters and Bulldogs (13) aren’t far off.
On the other end, the Dragons (6) are the NRL’s worst team when it comes to earning repeat sets.
The Sharks have also only had just six forced dropouts this season to equal 16th in the competition for this metric, but this hasn’t hindered their ability to grind teams down and come away with points, with Craig Fitzgibbon’s side ranking 4th for tries scored this season.
LONG KICKS FINDING SPACE
Kick defusal is crucial to how a team starts their sets, so when a side are looking to come out of their own end and kick long, they’re looking to find grass on their kicks to limit the time and space that the opposition’s back three have to return the ball.
According to Stats Perform, the Sharks and Warriors’ kickers have found space the most from long-range kicks (13), with the Raiders, Sea Eagles, Storm and Dragons (11) rated as the next best.
Known as one of the game’s best long-range kickers, Adam Reynolds’ departure has certainly left its mark on South Sydney. The Rabbitohs (3) are the equal-worst team when it comes to finding the grass on long-range kicks, tied with the Cowboys.
With the ability to immediately regain possession deep down in the opposition’s end in an instant, 40/20 kicks are one of the biggest plays an NRL playmaker can pull off.
Whether it be to pile further pressure on a defensive line or give their team relief after a poor set out of yardage, kickers are often looking for a 40/20 to shift the momentum of a game.
So far this season, the Dragons, Eels and Warriors lead the NRL for 40/20 kicks with two.
The Roosters, Sea Eagles, Bulldogs, Raiders and Panthers have all recorded one, while half of the competition are yet to register one 40/20 kick.
VERDICT: WHAT WE’VE LEARNED
We’ve been led to believe that general play kicking is a big marker in determining the difference between the best teams and the worst.
However, an analysis of the general play kicking stats from the first phase of the season paints quite a different picture.
Somehow, the Warriors are rated as the competition’s best general play kicking team, despite winning just three from seven games this season.
Not too far behind them in the rankings are the Raiders and Bulldogs, who themselves sit in 15th and 16th on the ladder respectively.
Likewise, the Storm sitting closer to the bottom of the rankings than the top is also surprising given their winning record and identity as a team that relentlessly grinds their opposition down.
Given Daly Cherry-Evans’ form with the boot so far this year – he currently leads the NRL for kicks taken and kick metres – it’s no surprise to see the Sea Eagles right up near the top of the kicking stats.
While the Eels, who co-lead the competition for forced dropouts and are led by the boot of Mitch Moses, are ranked third.
In summary, the fact that sides like the Storm and Cowboys are still sitting inside the top eight despite being ranked among the weaker general play kicking teams, while the Warriors lead the competition in this department, suggests it may not be as vital to winning games as first thought.
Legend: FDO = FORCED DROPOUT, LKFS = LONG KICKS FINDING SPACE, 40/20 = 40/20 KICK