This week for ‘Your Edge’ we check in on the Top 6 table, Parramatta’s horror upcoming six weeks, Jason Taumalolo’s quiet season and how Matthew Lodge can help the Warriors attack.
Top 6 Table Update
There comes a point in every NRL season where we begin to look at how difficult the draw has been for each team and whether or not they’ve beaten enough good teams to really contend in September. With how top-heavy the competition is in 2021, it’s best we look at how teams have performed against the Top 6 this time around.
As expected, the Penrith Panthers have beaten anybody and everybody when they’re healthy. They’ve not been at their best in recent weeks, but we can trust a return to normality when Nathan Cleary returns in the coming weeks. The rise of the Melbourne Storm has cast a shadow over Penrith’s season, too. While Craig Bellamy’s side has lost two games against Top 6 teams, those losses came in Round 2 and 3. They’ve not lost a single game since then…
The two teams that stand out the most here are the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles and Parramatta Eels.
Des Hasler’s Sea Eagles have only played five games against Top 6 teams for one win. However, it’s worth noting that three of those games came in the first four rounds, without Tom Trbojevic, and while the Sea Eagles played out their worst ever start to an NRL season in both attack and defence. They’ve kept close to the Panthers and beaten the Eels since then. Remarkably, Manly only plays two top six teams through to Round 25 – Storm, Round 21 and Eels, Round 22.
The Eels, on the other hand, need to navigate the final six rounds of the NRL season playing all five of their fellow Top 6 counterparts. They have won only two of their five matches against Top 6 teams so far, but have exceeded expectations overall to be behind the Storm on the Against the Spread Ladder.
Melbourne have covered the spread in 14 straight games in one of the most impressive streaks ever seen.
Eels Attacking September
Parramatta’s horror run on the NRL draw has been made more difficult with the news that Mitchell Moses is out for a few weeks with a back fracture. It comes at a time when Parramatta’s attack is going to come under some pressure and help them work towards finals footy where, in recent years, they’ve not been able to do enough with the ball to advance.
The Eels are scoring 27.9 points per game this season – good for 5th in the NRL. However, these six weeks were going to give us a better indication of where Parramatta sits in regards to their premiership hopes. It still might if Dylan Brown can play himself into some productive form as the senior half.
Numbers aren’t everything when it comes to productive halves play but for Brown to have just one try assist and two line break assists in 13 games this season is a slight cause for concern moving forward. Of all halves to have played three games for their club this season, only three players have contributed fewer combined tries, line breaks, try assists and line break assists per game this season than Brown.
We’re going to learn a lot about the Eels in the coming weeks. We’re also going to get a good idea of where Brown is at in his career as he tries to take control of a side that has piled up points for much of the 2021 NRL season.
If Brown begins to produce as a creator while picking up wins over Top 6 teams, Parramatta’s premiership chances will look a lot different by the time finals football rolls around.
Taumalolo To Turn It On?
The North Queensland Cowboys are a head-scratcher at the moment. They can’t seem to string more than 30 minutes of good football together in any given game. Capitulations and crumbles tend to coincide with Jason Taumalolo’s spell on the bench, too.
The hulking Tongan is one of the best forwards in the NRL. For years he has been regarded as ‘the best’ forward in rugby league. However, there is no question that his production in 2021 hasn’t been what it was throughout 2019 and 2020.
Taumalolo’s minutes have dropped over the last three seasons. His 64 minutes per game in 2019 fell to 61.5 minutes per game in 2020. He is now down to 57.8 minutes per game in 2021 after Todd Payten talked about not wanting to burn out his 28-year-old lock forward who still has six years to run on his contract after this season. Still, the expectation was for Taumalolo to play fewer minutes at a higher intensity with a longer break between spells. The reality has been a rather sharp drop in running metres from 207 per game in 2020 to 157 per game in 2021. His efficiency in yardage has dropped to below three running metres per minute while he now accounts for less than 10% of the Cowboys total running metres.
He is adding a pass to his game which leans into the developing role of a lock forward in the NRL.
Shortly after, we saw a rare pass.— Jason Oliver (@JasonNRL) July 17, 2021
He needs to close the gap between himself & the defensive line before releasing the ball. Still, it’s good to see Taumalolo at least looking to isolate a fellow forward onto a single defender. pic.twitter.com/a4cFwp8n49
Acting as more of a ball player does account for part of Taumalolo’s downturn by the numbers. Payten also mentioned his intention to run the middle forward wider of the ruck and closer to the tram lines. That hasn’t been quite so noticeable, but has perhaps thrown Taumalolo off from taking possession in spots he would have last season.
The Cowboys have looked like a Top 8 team at times this year. More recently, they’ve lost five on the bounce to be 13th on the NRL ladder. Still, they remain just one win outside of finals footy and Taumalolo returning to his destructive best might be enough to get them there.
Lodge The Ball Player?
Most of the commentary about Matthew Lodge’s impressive performance in Round 18 centred around the 80 minutes he played as the New Zealand Warriors battled injuries and an absent bench in the second half. However, there is another number that stood out and provides a better indication of what his role in this Warriors team might be in the coming weeks.
Lodge had never thrown more than 10 passes in a game throughout his 78-game NRL career and has averaged just 3.4 per game in 2021. While his passing output this week will have been inflated by the big minutes, Lodge isn’t unfamiliar with playing 60 or 70 minutes per game. He has a pass in his bag and it appears as though Nathan Brown has instructed him to use it.
There has always been signs of some ball playing there for Lodge. Although, Broncos fans will remember him throwing an intercept pass to Ben Hunt as one example of why Anthony Seibold and Kevin Walters may have steered the prop forward more towards his ball carrying.
After touching on Lodge’s yardage and the fact he isn’t quite up there with the best of the best in the NRL last week, his influence on this Warriors side may yet come through passing the ball as much as it does carrying it.
NRL Value Plays
North Queensland Cowboys debutant Kane Bradley is second on the try scorer model’s list of first try scorer value plays but Junior Paulo taking a short ball from Reed Mahoney – just as Shaun Lane did last week – appeals. Although, it would be the first time the big prop opens the scoring in a match across the last two seasons according to the Sport Tech Daily Try Scorer Portal.
Jahrome Hughes so often has a place here and is sure to be a factor against the Cowboys – especially without Cameron Munster in the halves beside him this week. Haumloe Olakau’atu running at the second-worst left edge defence in the NRL also appeals.