This week for ‘Your Edge’ we take a look at where Dean Pay’s time at the Bulldogs ranks since he joined the club in 2018 and which other coaches might be in the firing line. We also look at which players are leaving their fingerprints on the most tries, and those that need to clean up their act in the ball-handling department.
Dean Pay Ditches Dogs
The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs didn’t intend on signing Dean Pay beyond this season and he knew it. The third-year head coach jumped before he was pushed on Monday to finish his tenure with a horror 33.3% winning rate.
In Pay’s defence, he was handed a lemon and asked to make orange juice as the front office attempted to clean up the mess left in the wake of Des Hasler’s time at the club. The list he took over is widely regarded as one of the worst in the competition and remains as such two-and-a-half years later.
Despite two late-season winning runs in 2018 and 2019, the Bulldogs still land at 15th on the NRL ladder from Pay’s debut with the club in Round 1 in 2018 to his last match in Round 9 this season.
Pay’s Bulldogs side scored the fewest points in the competition in that time and are averaging just 10.8 points per game in 2020. He’s been hard done by with the hand he was dealt, but it’s quite likely that Pay would have been moved on sooner rather than later regardless.
But looking at the ladder further, it’s Paul Green and the North Queensland Cowboys that jump out. With the Gold Coast Titans sacking Garth Brennan and the Knights doing the same with Nathan Brown, Green is the last coach standing at the bottom of the ladder. He has won just one more game than Pay in the same period and with a far superior list. With one of the toughest remaining schedules this season, Green will be lucky to still be sitting in the coaches box by the end of it.
Players Producing Points
Looking at tries and try assists doesn’t paint the whole picture of what a player does in attack. A quick play-the-ball two tackles earlier can have a bigger impact on a try-scoring sequence than the final pass or the put down. Exposing a defence’s misread can happen further in-field before the winger dots down in the corner.
However, a look down at the list of players recording the highest proportion of tries + try assists for their side can offer some insight into how important that player is in attack.
First and foremost, Tom Trbojevic. He either scored or assisted on 11 of Manly’s first 16 tries throughout the opening six rounds of the season. They’ve only scored seven tries in the three weeks Trbojevic has missed through injury, losing all three games.
While the numbers tell a bleak enough story, the vision adds another element. The threat of Trbojevic as a try-scorer or thrower of the final pass is enough for the defence to rush out and leave a gaping hole for Daly Cherry-Evans to stroll through in this one:
Make that at least 12 of Manly’s first 16 tries involving Trbojevic.
The absence of Michael Morgan and his impact (18%) on the Cowboys has clearly taken a toll, and as already touched on, may cost Paul Green his job.
For better or worse, the Newcastle Knights duo of Mitchell Pearce (16.5%) and Kalyn Ponga (16.6%) have both been heavily involved in the try-scoring since 2018. When they’re on, the pair link up for match winning-performances. When they’re not, as has been the case over the last fortnight, the attack really struggles (9ppg).
Kieran Foran’s 15.2% goes some way to explaining Dean Pay’s inability to improve Canterbury’s attack. The Kiwi international hasn’t been able to consistently recapture the form that once had him regarded as one of the best five-eighth’s in the NRL. We see glimpses, but Foran was only healthy for a little over half of Pay’s 57 games in charge.
The Possession Game
We’re still to see the true impact of the new six again rule, but the relationship between possession and margin since the beginning of 2018 has been – wait for it – a strong one.
“Turn possession into points.”
“Hold onto the football and build pressure.”
The basic offerings that coaches at all grades preach to their players tend to ring true. Although, a few at NRL level haven’t been listening.
Brent Naden’s horror 23 errors in 12 games throughout his rookie 2019 season have him at the top of the list. He has cut that down to three errors in five games this season, though. Similarly, Liam Martin is recovering from his 20 errors across 16 games last season to have seven in seven this season. It won’t be long before the Panthers pair drop down the list.
Not quite as optimistic, the Sharks will be having Jack Williams wipe the butter off his fingers following an error-ridden 18 months. He hasn’t been able to fill the void left by Paul Gallen with an error every ten times he touches the ball. His numbers aren’t improving with experience either. The 23-year-old has spilt the ball 11 times already this season (9 games).
Expectedly, outside backs make up 11 of the 15 worst culprits in the NRL. The speed and space they take possession of the football lends itself to more errors than those playing in positions in the middle of the field. However, there is a reason the best wingers in the game are recognised as such – none made this unwanted list.