Your Edge NRL Round 1 Preview

Your Edge NRL Round 1 Preview

NRL Round 1 is upon us and so is ‘Your Edge’. We’re looking into how a couple of 2021 trends might translate into 2022, previewing Cowboys v Bulldogs, and highlighting the best value plays of the weekend.

Net yardage

The NRL has chopped and changed the rules in recent years and 2022 is no different. They’ve reacted to defending teams slowing down the opposition in exit sets by awarding full penalties for infringements inside your own 40-metre line. It’s going to help struggling teams get out of their own half whether it be by quicker ruck speed or a kick to touch, and we can begin to see how important that is to winning football games based on the net running metres from 2021.

Just look at those teams at the top of the net running metres list:

Rabbitohs – Grand Finalists
Storm – Minor Premiers
Panthers – Premiers

They were the three best teams overall and their dominance on the ladder started with their dominance in the middle.

NRL Stats
NRL Stats 2021

Then we look at the teams towards the bottom:

Cowboys – Lost 11 of their last 12 games
Dragons – Lost their last eight games
Warriors – Struggled for consistency all season
Broncos – Never rose higher than 14th on the ladder after Round 5
Bulldogs – Wooden spooners

You don’t win games if you don’t win the middle no matter what the rules are at the time. It’s something to follow throughout the early rounds of the season not only to see which teams are trending the right way, but also to see whether or not the gap between good and bad teams close as a result of yet another adjustment to the rules.

Can Cody Keep It Up?

Cody Walker played out an incredible 2021 NRL season.

His 33 try assists and 43 line break assists are always going to stick out when looking at the stats pages. That is, unless, he somehow does it again…

Adam Reynolds’ departure to the Brisbane Broncos has removed a key element of the South Sydney Rabbitohs attack and there is a world where Walker takes on MORE responsibility and puts up BIGGER numbers.

We can see just how dominant Walker was in 2021 averaging almost five attacking involvements (Tries+Try Assists+Line Break + Line Break Assists) per game.

NRL Stats 2021
NRL Stats 2021

The 32-year-old was involved in everything as his decision-making created points for those outside him, or he put his head down and took the line on himself. Walker touching the ball put everybody on both sides of the field on notice in 2021.

He’s without Latrell Mitchell this week and running against a Brisbane Broncos side that conceded 29 points per game last season (fourth-most in the NRL). With some new defensive combinations on the Broncos right edge and Walker the primary Rabbitohs playmaker, there’s a good chance he starts this season in the same fashion he finished the last.

Spoon Bowl Rematch

It’s all about defence for the North Queensland Cowboys ahead of NRL Round 1.

They finished up the 2021 season as the worst defensive team in the competition conceding a whopping 31.2 points per game while losing 11 of their last 12 matches. It’s an area coach Todd Payten is desperate to fix. Despite Scott Drinkwater acting as the primary Cowboys creator to have 17 try assists and 19 line break assists last year, he has been left out of the side to make way for Tom Dearden.

Payten has said the decision is based on defensive ability and you can see how he may have landed on Dearden when you look at the missed tackle numbers. Missed tackles doesn’t always mean bad defender, but Drinkwater is bad.

On the other side, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs are looking to improve on the worst attack from last season averaging a measly 14.2 points per game.

The new names come with the 2021 numbers. It’s whether or not that can all come together and start scoring points in blue and white that is the great unknown right now.

Player Games Tries Try Assists Line Breaks Line Break Assists
Matt Dufty 15 10 11 10 14
Brent Naden (2020)
17 12 3 6 7
Josh Addo-Carr 24 25 8 31 1
Matt Burton 22 16 13 24 8

Adding some fresh faces to the side is one thing. Developing a game plan that is not only actionable but puts the new players in positions to succeed is another. The Bulldogs offered next to nothing with the ball in 2021 and didn’t show any signs of a consistent plan with the ball. We can’t read too much into trial matches, but their second trial with Matt Burton in the halves didn’t look a lot better.

This is a bludger of a game on paper. The 16th-placed side from last season against the 15th-placed side wrapping up the round on Sunday evening isn’t a coincidence. Still, footy is footy at this time of the year and the attack v defence nature of this one will be interesting to follow.

NRL Round 1 Value Plays

Jahrome Hughes became one of the best halfbacks in the NRL last season and will be licking his lips to start this one. An elite runner of the ball and regularly challenging the line, he’s going to fancy his luck against an unproven Wests Tigers edge defence. AJ Brimson is another of the Try Scorer Value Finder’s appealing shorter priced options. Moving into a new position at five-eighth, expect him to rely on what he does best and to run the football early and often.

Wicky's Free NRL Try Scorer Odds Comparison Tool
Wicky’s Free NRL Try Scorer Odds Comparison Tool

The Draftstars Stat Bible has highlighted Toafofoa Sipley as the value play of the round. Named to start for the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles on Thursday night, the prop forward is projected to score 40 points at only $9,900. Chris Randall’s $13,200 sticks out given he is going to be asked to make a lot of tackles in the middle against a Roosters side expected to dominate in Round 1.

Draftstars NRL Stats Bible
Draftstars NRL Stats Bible
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