Left, Right or Center: Where will the NRL teams focus their attacks in 2020?

While defence ultimately wins premierships, it's the teams scoring points throughout the regular season that tend to find themselves in the Top 8. 

With players moving around the competition, young players pushing for spots, and a handful of rule changes impacting the upcoming season, we've taken a quick look at how each club went in 2019, and how things might be different in 2020.

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Brisbane Broncos

2019 points per game: 17.3 (12th)
Total tries: 73
Left: 26% Centre: 29% Right: 45%

Despite the turnover of players on the right and inconsistencies of the spine, the Broncos scored 33 of their 73 tries down the right side. Jack Bird was starting to become a key contributor to the Broncos attack before his injury in Round 9 with 50% of their tries coming on his right side. He scored two tries and handed out three try assists in that nine-game span. Assuming he slots straight into the right side with Kotoni Staggs on the left, the Broncos will have handy attacking options in both directions.

Where things may change is with Corey Oates on the left. One of the NRL's best finishers, the regularly shuffled backline rarely completed the shifts required for Oates to display his talents. Some consistency in the faces feeding the ball should help him in 2020. Likewise, the new rule around attacking players in the air will give the 192 cm Oates an added advantage on any high balls sent his way.

Canberra Raiders

2019 points per game: 20.7 (7th)
Total tries: 94
Left: 46% Centre: 23% Right: 31%

The Joseph Leilua and Jordan Rapana combination on Canberra's right side has been a consistent source of points for years. The pair combined for 24 tries, 10 try assists and 26 linebreaks while running for 239 metres per game when the Raiders led the NRL in scoring in 2018. The following season, the Raiders scored 46% of their tries on the left side. They've unintentionally already prepared themselves for both Leilua and Rapana leaving in 2020.

Jack Wighton's shift to the left edge worked wonders. His running game demands the attention of the defence, opening up space on the outside for his centre and winger. Canberra's latest English import, George Williams, is a handy runner of the football but will surely take time to adjust to the pace of the NRL early. 

With a new combination of Curtis Scott and Bailey Simmonsson also needing to develop outside Williams on the right, anticipate another left-heavy Raiders attack in 2020.

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs

2019 points per game: 13.6 (16th)
Total tries: 56
Left: 39% Centre: 14% Right: 46%

As the worst attacking team in the NRL last season, there isn't a lot to go on in 2020 for the Bulldogs. Kieran Foran will be lucky to play the final third of the season leaving the likely combination of Lachlan Lewis and Jack Cogger to manufacture the Bulldogs attack. 

Both Lewis and Cogger have shown glimpses throughout their careers, but neither can be relied upon to command the ball and create opportunities for others every week. Cogger managed just three try assists in 17 games last season while Lewis was only a touch better with five from 15 games. To add a little more perspective to the quality and production of Canterbury's halves pairing, the Tigers scored just 19.8 points per game. Still, Luke Brooks and Benji Marshall produced 33 try assists between them.

With the Bulldogs lacking an out and out game-breaker on the edge, the percentage split of where tries were scored in 2019 is relatively consistent across the park. Unless Cogger and Lewis can make significant leaps in their development, the Bulldogs attack looks set to struggle again in 2020.

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks

2019 points per game: 21.2 (4th)
Total tries: 94
Left: 35% Centre: 22% Right: 43%

The tries followed Shaun Johnson across the ditch in 2019. He had the Warriors playing with the NRL's most potent right-side attack in 2018 before he fell out with the club. Landing in the Shire, the Sharks right side scored 41 tries last season - the most in the NRL alongside the Eels.

The Sharks went about scoring their 21.2 points per game rather quietly. Most wouldn't think of them as the fourth-best team in the NRL when it comes to points per game in 2019. Nonetheless, that's the base they're working from in 2020 and Johnson holds the keys to that number rising.

Considering he only played 18 games (16 try assists and 14 line break assists) and has admitted himself that his body wasn't up to it last season, we can expect further improvement on that side again in 2020.

Overall, the Sharks attack goes into 2020 somewhat underrated - especially if Matt Moylan can stay on the field and pop up from fullback on the left with Chad Townsend

Gold Coast Titans

2019 points per game: 15.4 (15th)
Total tries: 63
Left: 56% Centre: 14% Right: 30%

Finishing the season 15th in attack scoring 15.4 points per game, the only way is up for Justin Holbrook at the Titans - they hope.

Ash Taylor took time away from the game but by all reports is fit - physically and mentally - and ready to get his career back on track. At his best, Taylor can command a side and create scoring opportunities both by attacking the line and off his boot. It's worth remembering that Taylor is still only 24-years old and finished inside the top three in try assists in 2017 and 2018. 

While it's safe to assume Taylor adds to the Titans attack, by just how much depends on those around him. AJ Brimson we can trust. Brian Kelly and Philip Sami are building it up. Kallum Watkins and Tyrone Peachey enter 2020 with none, though. Zilch.

Watkins was below his best in the six games he played last season but was coming off an ACL injury. Meanwhile, Peachey's contract value and name recognition is about all that saved him from reserve grade. Inconsistent in attack and a liability in defence, Peachey needs to get his form back on track if the Titans are to exceed expectations in 2020.

Manly Warringah Sea Eagles

2019 points per game: 21.2 (5th)
Total tries: 94
Left: 37% Centre: 24% Right: 38%

Manly's surprise 2019 season came on the back of their improved defence. Conceding 25.9 points per game to finish 15th on the ladder in 2018, the Sea Eagles turned it around to finish 5th a year later conceding just 18.7 points per game.

While their turnaround is a result of their defensive improvements, it's their attack that will put them in the premiership conversation. 

Tom Trbojevic finished only ten games in 2019. The 201.5 running metres he averaged would rank 3rd across the season while his 5.8 tackle breaks per game slot in at 4th. If Trbojevic can play 20 games in 2020 with Daly Cherry-Evans also keeping fit, this Sea Eagles can bank on an improvement to their 21.2 points per game in 2019. 

Melbourne Storm

2019 points per game: 25.2 (2nd)
Total tries: 113
Left: 48% Centre: 26% Right: 27%

No surprises here. 

The Storm attack was one of the best in the NRL throughout 2019 and the majority of it came down Cameron Munster's left side. Only the Roosters scored more tries down the left side than the Storm's 54 (48% of their total tries).

There isn't a lot to suggest much will change in 2020, either. Ryan Papenhyzen looks especially dangerous when attacking the line down the right channel, but Munster will be the main man in attack once the ball leaves Cameron Smith's hands.

With Munster, Justin Olam and Josh Addo Carr down the left, and fullback cum halfback Jahrome Hughes, the inexperienced Marion Seve, and rocks and diamonds Suliasi Vunivalu on the right, the spilt in where the Storm score their tries throughout 2020 is unlikely to look much different to the season prior.

Newcastle Knights

2019 points per game: 20.2 (8th)
Total tries: 79
Left: 38% Centre: 28% Right: 34%

The Knights attack was one of the most inconsistent in the competition last season. Rounds 22-25 go a long way to summing up their 2019:

  • Beat Cowboys: 42-6
  • Defeated by Tigers: 46-4
  • Beat Titans: 38-4
  • Defeated by Panthers: 54-10

In a shock to nobody, Kalyn Ponga didn't play his best football in the five-eighth position. The Knights wasted the early part of their season trying to fit an, albeit talented square peg, into a circle hole, and from there, rotated reserve-grade quality players through the six jersey.

However, Kurt Mann has spent the off-season training in the halves and is expected to start the season alongside Mitchell Pearce. While Mann is in the bottom tier of five-eighths in the NRL, the continuity and cohesion will help the Knights.

Pearce played some of the best football in his career at times in 2019. At others, he tried to do too much on his own, and it had a detrimental effect on the team. With consistent faces around him and partnerships developing, the Knights attack should at least be more consistent if not particularly good.

North Queensland Cowboys

2019 points per game: 15.8 (14th)
Total tries: 63
Left: 30% Centre: 24% Right: 46%

Remember when the Cowboys won the 2015 premiership?

Their attack hasn't changed since then.

Scoring just 15.8 points per game, the Cowboys played with one of the worst attacks in the NRL last season. A desperation to send Gavin Cooper through gaps that aren't there, Michael Morgan unable to stay on the field and inconsistencies at fullback all contributed to a lacklustre season, but it's Paul Green's reluctance to change that makes it difficult to anticipate a turnaround in 2020.

The addition of Valentine Holmes offers hope. Even if the tired structures of the last five years remain, Holmes is a scintillating kick returner and will thrive off the shoulder of Jason Taumalolo.

Holmes arriving and Morgan healthy should result in an improvement in 2019, but the Cowboys lack talent out wide to go toe-to-toe with the top attacking teams in the competition.

Parramatta Eels

2019 points per game: 22.7 (3rd)
Total tries: 101
Left: 39% Centre: 21% Right: 41%

After finishing the 2018 season holding the wooden spoon with the worst attack in the NRL scoring just 15 points per game, the Eels turned it around in 2019. Their 22.7 points per game ranked 3rd in the competition.

Maika Sivo's incredible season spearheaded the resurgence, but it was a team effort. Mitchell Moses played the best football of his career while Blake Ferguson added plenty from the wing. Overall, the Eels spread the meat pies across the field with 39% scored on the left and 41% on the right.

Things should look fairly similar in 2020, if not better. Moses will continue to play a senior role in the spine and attack the short side while Reed Mahoney is growing more comfortable as a first-grade hooker. However, it's Dylan Brown that holds the keys to Parramatta's premiership hopes. If he can keep fit and begin to realise his potential as a playmaker, the Eels can take the next step. Brown taking control of the left side takes the ball out of Clint Gutherson's hands who, while handy in attack, took possession significantly more than other top fullbacks but wasn't nearly as efficient.

2019 NRL Season
Receipts Per Game
Running Metres Per Game
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
32.6
206.2m
James Tedesco
27.4
205m
Tom Trbojevic
33.5
177.5m
Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad
25.6
175.1m
Clint Gutherson
37.1
161.4m



If Brown can shoulder some of Gutherson's load, the Eels attack will once again be one of the best in the competition with Sivo, Ferguson and Waqa Blake set to benefit.

Penrith Panthers

2019 points per game: 17.2 (13th)
Total tries: 67
Left: 40% Centre: 34% Right: 25%

The Panthers never got their attack going in 2020. The Nathan Cleary/James Maloney partnership struggled to gel with Penrith's 17.2 points per game ranking 13th in the NRL.

No side scored their tries through the middle of the field at a higher rate than the Panthers. Meanwhile, no side scored fewer tries down the right side than Penrith's paltry 17.

Cleary needs to double that number down the right side if the Panthers are to threaten the Top 8. Nine try assists (Cleary's 2019 total) aren't enough from a guy who plays the high-usage and high-responsibility role Cleary does. 

Jarome Luai played well for Samoa throughout the representative period and Apisai Koroisau is an upgrade at hooker if he's healthy. However, it's all down to Cleary and how he commands the Panthers attack in 2020.

South Sydney Rabbitohs

2019 points per game: 21.2 (6th)
Total tries: 90
Left: 43% Centre: 31% Right: 26%

After dominating the left side and playing with the second-best attack in the NRL in 2018, the Rabbitohs still scored 43% of their tries on the left side in 2019, but their points per game dropped from 22.4 (2nd) to 21.2 (6th).

Souths looked set for a similar year in 2020 before Latrell Mitchell's arrival in Redfern. But now, the 22-year-old changes everything.

His combination with Cody Walker has mouth-watering potential on the left edge - Mitchell prefered side already. Once Mitchell grows accustomed to the work rate at fullback, defences will have a decision to make when Damien Cook beats the markers and has his number one running off his shoulder.

There will be teething issues to start in 2020. Mitchell won't be an elite fullback from day one. He has the potential to turn the Rabbitohs into a top-two attack at the peak of his powers, though. Souths seem to be getting brushed aside due to a perceived lack of depth in the middle. But don't count on this backline of Mitchell, Walker, Adam Reynolds, James Roberts, Campbell Graham, Braidon Burns and Dane Gagai making up the difference.

St George Illawarra Dragons

2019 points per game: 17.8 (11th)
Total tries: 71
Left: 24% Centre: 25% Right: 51%

Few teams disappointed quite like the Dragons in 2019. Sure, the Jack de Belin case had an impact. So too did Gareth Widdop's lengthy stint on the sideline. A team with Ben Hunt, Corey Norman and Cameron McInnes should be scoring more than 17.8 points per game.

Predictable in scoring a whopping 51% of their tries down the right side of the field, a genuine lack talent of put a lid on the Red V's attacking potential. The list they're taking into 2020 suggests much of the same, too.

A backline made up of Zac Lomax, Tristan Sailor, Euan Aitken, Tim Lafai and Jordan Pereira isn't striking fear into anybody. This combination of inexperience and poor form threatens to derail the Dragons in 2020. While their pack can hold their own and the halves create chances, the Dragons don't have the players to cash in on those chances consistently.

There is a bit of the 2018 Wests Tigers about the Dragons this season. Their defence will need to be up there with the best in the NRL if they're to sniff finals football. 

Sydney Roosters

2019 points per game: 25.4 (1st)
Total tries: 118
Left: 49% Centre: 24% Right: 27%

This high-profile Roosters backline lived up to the billing in 2019 to lead the NRL with 25.4 points per game. By the end of the season, it was their defence winning games.

The Chooks may be calling on their defence a little more regularly in 2020 with Mitchell no longer in Bondi. As expected, the Roosters found plenty of success down Mitchell's side. Accounting for 49% of Sydney's tries, the Roosters kept going back to the well on the left with Mitchell and James Tedesco causing havoc for opposing defences.

With Cooper Cronk also no longer with the club and replaced by Kyle Flanagan, the Roosters right side has just as many questions around it. 

Trent Robinson can be trusted to put the pieces together. Joey Manu is arguably the best centre in the game and provides Flanagan with an excellent option on the edges. Tedesco will continue to pop up everywhere, too. The Roosters may not be their 2019 best this season, but they'll still boast a high-powered attack.

New Zealand Warriors

2019 points per game: 18.0 (10th)
Total points: 72
Left: 44% Centre: 26% Right: 29%

Playing with the best right side attack in the competition throughout 2018, the Warriors sent the most important piece on that side of the field packing. As a result, David Fusitu'a went from the NRL's leading try-scorer with 23 tries to scoring just five in 2019. Ken Maumalo picked up the slack with Peta Hiku's shift to the left proving a masterstroke. However, the Warriors attack struggled for the most part. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck can only do so much on his own.

With only 29% of their tries coming down the right side in 2019, the new rules around attacking players in the air should see an increase to that number in 2020. Fusitu'a glides through the air when a ball is kicked his way. Now that defenders can't wrap him up in the air, the Warriors winger should be back towards the top of the try-scorer list in 2020. 

Where Kodi Nikorima slots in could also change things for the Warriors. He's not an effective half. Better suited to a utility and impact role off the bench, using Nikorima at times the opposition is tiring can provide the Warriors with an attacking weapon either side of halftime - a period of the match they concede tries all too often. 

With perhaps the best back-three in the NRL, the Warriors shouldn't have a problem scoring points. Emphasis on the "shouldn't". This is the Warriors, after all. 

Wests Tigers

2019 points per game: 19.8 (9th)
Total tries: 83
Left: 46% Centre: 19% Right: 35%

Improvements in attack look set to continue in 2020.

As one of the worst attacking teams in the NRL scoring 15.1 points per game in 2018, the Tigers bumped their output up to 19.8 points per game in 2019.

Now, they have a game-breaker in one of the NRL's great characters, Joey Leilua

He's the sort of player that can win a game in one moment of brilliance. One extra moment in 2019 could have seen the Tigers play finals football. Linking up with his brother, Luciano, and Kiwi international Benji Marshall on the right side we can expect the 2019 splits to swap in 2020.

Wests scored 46% down Luke Brooks' left side last season with 35% scored on the right. With Leilua's underrated work rate sure to attract plenty of attention during Wests attacking raids, the right side will be their key point of attack in 2020. Brooks can't allow himself to go missing, though. Walker made a habit of popping up on the right side for the Rabbitohs last season. There is no reason Brooks shouldn't do the same.


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Jason Oliver

As far as Jason is concerned, there is no better time of year than March through June. An overlap of the NBA and NRL seasons offer up daily opportunities to find an edge and fund the ever-increasing number of sports streaming services he subscribes to. If there's an underdog worth taking in either code, he'll be on it.

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