Round 24 of the 2022 NRL season is here and so is Your Edge. This week, we’re looking into what makes the Eels tick, previewing Storm v Roosters, and assessing the key playmakers who will determine the bottom of the Top 8.
Eels Looking To The Edges
Round 23 numbers:
Shaun Lane – 170 metres
Isaiah Papali’i – 156 metres
Ryan Matterson – 121 metres
The Parramatta Eels are at their best when playing between the tramlines and getting their big edge players heavily involved.
Lane is a huge unit at 198cm and 110 kg. He runs a superb line and gets his arms free to release 1.3 offloads per game. Meanwhile, Papali’i uses every bit of his 182cm and 108 kg frame to be one of the most destructive runners in the competition with 3.7 tackle breaks per game. They’re a key part to Parramatta’s success and their numbers are often an indicator of whether or not the Eels are playing well, or producing one of those head-scratching performances.
Lane, Papali’i and Matterson average 144.5 metres each in matches Parramatta has won throughout the 2022 NRL season. In losses, however, the trio averages just 129.6 running metres per game.
There is a little bit of a chicken or the egg situation when it comes to yardage. Still, when the Eels look wide – but not too wide – they tend to come up with the two competition points.
Offloading the ball along the way is a particularly successful avenue to the edge.
Brad Arthur’s side led the competition with 13.8 offloads per game in 2020, finished second with 12.3 offloads per game in 2021, and are back to leading the competition with 12.8 per game in 2022. It has been a hallmark of their attack for years. Similar to the yardage numbers on the edge this season, the Eels average 13.3 offloads per game in matches they win and only 9.9 per game in those they lose.
Heading to Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night, we’re going to learn a lot about Parramatta’s intent early. If Lane and Papali’i, in particular, are heavily involved and they’re at least looking to create a second phase with an offload, it’s safe to assume they’ll push Brisbane to the end. The Broncos haven’t been defending well of late. Personnel changes across the field won’t help the cohesion of their defensive systems this week either.
With the Broncos playing for a spot in the Top 8 and the Eels looking to secure a home game in Week 1 of the finals, there is plenty to play for in this one.
Melbourne Storm Host Sydney Roosters
The Melbourne Storm and Sydney Roosters won their Round 23 matches with a combined score of 132-18. They also combined to run for 1,942 more metres than the Broncos and Tigers. Both dominated from the outset and piled up the points and running metres across the full 80 minutes.
Things won’t be quite that easy in Round 24, though.
It’s back to basics for both the Storm and Roosters this week. They won’t have free passage up the field in attack and will be asked to solve much tougher questions in defence.
The most basic of all approaches is to win the middle. The net yardage list, as it tends to do every year, closely mirrors the NRL ladder. Win the middle and you’ll often win the match. Neither the Storm nor Roosters, however, have performed at an elite level in this area throughout 2022.
Melbourne ranks 7th in the NRL in yardage with 1,560 running metres per game. Meanwhile, Sydney sit a little bit higher up the list at 5th with 1,640 running metres per game.
Most notably, though, is the recent form of the Roosters. They’ve been the best net yardage team in the competition since signing Matt Lodge. While his addition doesn’t account for all of their success in the middle, he’s played a key role in sustaining it in the absence of Lindsay Collins and Siosiua Taukeiaho. With both big middles due to return this week, the Roosters are positioned well to lay a platform for their much-improved halves pairing.
The Storm are a tough team in Melbourne. Nelson Asofa-Solomona’s shift out to the edge has contributed to an improved yardage game. Despite starting in the middle 84 times and coming off the bench 81 times throughout his NRL career, the 26-year-old ran for a career-high 193 running metres starting on the edge last week.
The NRL Finals are still two weeks away, but this one is likely to act as a preview of what is to come in September.
Playmaking Into The Top 8
While we’ve already touched on the importance of winning the battle in the middle, it’s all for nothing if the playmakers can’t use that foundation to produce points.
With the Roosters, Rabbitohs, Broncos and Raiders fighting for three spots inside the Top 8, all eyes are on the playmakers and what they can do with the game, and their season, on the line.
Joseph Manu tops the list of attacking involvements. While he has been named in the centres this week, he is inserting himself into the attack across the field. He regularly sweeps to the left edge in good ball and is one of the most active centres when working out of yardage in the NRL.
Latrell Mitchell has turned South Sydney’s season on its head. They’ve won six of the eight games he has played since returning in Round 16 with the fullback making his mark with the ball in hand. Remarkably, Mitchell leads the NRL in line break assists with 21 in only 12 games this season. With only two try assists in his first four games this season, the 25-year-old has handed out 12 in just the last eight games.
Ezra Mam and Adam Reynolds both feature in the Top 12 in attacking involvements. While Reynolds was added to the team for his experience and organisation, he’s still managed to put up impressive numbers. He has equalled his career high in try assists with 19 in only 18 games (he needed 26 to set his career high in 2013). Mam, despite his rookie status, has thrived beside an experienced half to score six tries and hand out seven try assists across the first 12 games of his NRL career. With their season arguably on the line this week, the pair need to play to their strengths (Reynolds as a playmaker and Mam as a runner) and guide the Broncos into a Top 8 spot.
It’s in the key playmaking position where the Raiders have been behind the pack this season. Jack Wighton is an excellent runner of the ball and has increased his yardage to 94 running metres per game in 2022. With four tries and seven try assists, his production is roughly on par with 2021. Jamal Fogarty, however, has struggled to assert himself since returning from injury in Round 12. The Fogarty/Wighton partnership is improving, but it may be too little too late if results don’t go their way across the last fortnight of the regular season.
NRL Value Plays
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