Your Edge: NRL Round 4 Preview

Your Edge: NRL Round 4 Preview

Round 4 of the 2022 NRL season is upon us and so is ‘Your Edge’. This week, we’re looking into lock forwards, previewing Panthers v Rabbitohs, digging into the Broncos centres, and highlighting the best value plays of the weekend.

Passing Locks

The trend of lock forwards in the NRL passing the ball more is nothing new. We’ve covered it here and the best locks in the competition are considered as such in large part because of what they can offer a team as ball-players. Think Isaah Yeo who just steered the Penrith Panthers around the field for three weeks without Nathan Cleary and Cameron Murray who has been the best player on the park for the South Sydney Rabbitohs to start the season. Even the decline of Jason Taumalolo is something to consider here given his skillset.

While the six again rule certainly added to the importance of having a lock that can move the ball, it has been on the up for a few years now.

Year-on-year Pass to Run Ratio of Locks
Year-on-year Pass to Run Ratio of Locks

What we’re now looking at is how the reintroduction of penalties influences the position. The best teams put fatigue into their opposition and went around them with relative ease last season – the lock often at pivot linking the play-the-ball with the halves outside him. There already appears to be more of a grind to the game in 2022. Props are passing the ball less. Interchange players are passing the ball more as almost every team plays with a utility on the bench. Nobody could have predicted some of these names popping up in conversations around middle forwards a few years ago.

Pass to Run Ratio of middle forwards since 2019
Pass to Run Ratio of middle forwards since 2019

Tyrone Peachey, Reuben Cotter, Cameron McInnes, Brandon Smith; the lock forward position has received a makeover in recent years.

But how long until four forwards is back to being the norm on the bench?

For better or worse, the game is considerably changing year-on-year at the moment. This is one area to keep an eye on this week and as the season progresses.

Friday Night Blockbuster

We’ve got a blockbuster lined up for Friday night when the Penrith Panthers host the South Sydney Rabbitohs in a rematch of the 2021 NRL Grand Final.

The two teams look a lot different to the last time they met. Injuries are hurting the Panthers right now and they lost a few key players over the summer. Meanwhile, the Rabbitohs are still adjusting to life without Adam Reynolds and could really use the State of Origin centre who is also no longer at the club.

Still, Nathan Cleary’s return means the key men for both clubs will be out on the field on Friday night. If we look back to last season when previewing the Grand Final, we can see how influential Cleary and Cody Walker were to their teams.

Attacking Involvements - Halves, 2021
Attacking Involvements – Halves, 2021

Cleary’s ability to move his team around the field whether he be passing players into position or running to spots himself is second to none. He led all non-hookers in touches with 70.5 per game last season. Walker, on the other hand, touched the ball only 38.4 times per game. Where Cleary would set the Panthers up to throw a punch on the edges, Walker was the one to throw the punch for the Rabbitohs. But that was the NRL in 2021…

The game has changed a little on the back of yet another rule change. Or, a rule-reversal in this case. Teams can’t pin others in their own end through dark arts in the ruck quite so easily. Laying in the ruck now costs 30 metres instead of one or two extra tackles. The Panthers dominated the advantage line and became experts in building pressure (often through giving away six again) until the opposition cracked last season. Those cracks are unlikely to show as early or as often in 2022. It will be interesting to see whether or not Cleary continues to pile up touches in the name of building pressure or looks to take on slightly more of a creative role.

Walker also faces a different challenge in 2022. He has lost his organising #7 and has been forced to take a more on-ball approach to his game. His 38.4 touches per game from last season has already jumped up to 49.3 touches per game through the first three rounds.

It’s a Grand Final rematch headlined by the same two dominant attacking players we were talking about the last time these two met. Things might look a little bit different for the pair of them this time around, though.

Centre of attention in Brisbane

“Just get the ball to Staggs” they say in the commentary box every time the Brisbane Broncos show the slightest signs of struggle.

Here’s a thought: Why doesn’t he go and get it himself?

Herbie Farnworth is touching the ball 16.3 times per game this season.

Staggs, on the other hand, just 11.6 times per game. He’s one of the most destructive players in the game but he’s not breaking out of his comfort zone and searching for the football. The Broncos looked left for good reason against the Bulldogs as they looked to expose a right edge defence there to be exposed. However, like the lock position, how centres move around the field is changing. Zac Lomax, Stephen Crichton, Joseph Manu, the best centres in the game, are moving off their edge and demanding the ball. Jordan Rapana has made a career out of coming off his wing and taking a carry.

Staggs isn’t at the stage of his career or at a level in the position to receive “just give him the ball” treatment. Sure, he can produce something out of nothing and single handedly win a game, but it’s the periods in between the moments only he can produce that separate the good from the great. He only played four games throughout the 2021 NRL season. Perhaps he’s still getting up to speed? We’re still in the ‘keep an eye on things’ portion of the year and this is another area to pay close attention.

NRL Value Plays

There aren’t going to be many weak links in the best defence in the competition over the last two seasons and one of the best in NRL history, but the rookie centre/wing pairing of Izack Tago and Taylan May is one area the Rabbitohs may look to exploit when they face the Panthers on Friday night. Souths have explored down both sides of the field to start the year and found success on their right edge last week. Expect Campbell Graham to run some hard lines and try to split the gap between Tago and May in this one. Later in the week, Mikaele Ravalawa stands out in the Try Scorer Value Finder running at Waqa Blake who isn’t a noted defender and is still coming to grips with his move out onto the wing. A handful of roughies appeal as first try scorers (Harris-Tavita @ $51, Kerr @ $101 2nd half) but it’s the Saifiti brothers at $81 against a Sharks side that isn’t known for its middle defence that looks to be the value play.

Wicky’s Free Try Scorer Comparison Tool
Wicky’s Free Try Scorer Comparison Tool

The Draftstars NRL Stats Bible likes Kodi Nikorima for a revenge game against the Brisbane Broncos on Saturday afternoon. Shaun Johnson’s inclusion in the 21 means we will need to wait for confirmation, but if Nikorima starts, he’s a value play projected to score 41 points at $10,630. All eyes will be on Nathan Cleary later in the day, though. Tom Trbojevic hasn’t been able to produce his 2021 numbers to start the season. Can Cleary get close to his 124 Ceiling Range? He’s projected to score 76 points in his first game of the 2022 NRL season.

Draftstars NRL Stats Bible
Draftstars NRL Stats Bible
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