Left, Right or Centre: Where Are NRL Teams Focusing Their Attack As We Approach Finals?
We've reached the pointy end of the NRL season and have a good idea of what most teams like to do with the ball thanks to Stats Insider's own in-house, try location data.
For the likes of the Storm and Rabbitohs, they can search and consistently score points from sideline to sideline. However, the attack hasn't come quite so easily for other clubs, while some are only just starting to hit their straps as the fight for finals footy heats up.
With that in mind, let's take a tour of the league to see just what everyone's up to.
Try Locations: Left - 23%, Middle 18%, Right 60%
The Broncos attack has really struggled for most of the 2021 season.
They've not been short of attacking talent, but poor discipline with the ball and an NRL-low 22.9 tackles inside the opposition 20-metre line per game has seen the Broncos come up short with the ball more often than not.
Kevin Walters has only just clued onto the fact that fast and mobile forwards are the winning formula in rugby league at the moment. Having those forwards maintain possession and compress the middle defence is also something the Broncos have finally started to achieve. Their 37 points scored against the Cowboys in Round 20 should be replayed in the team room every day for the rest of the season.
When they do manage to build pressure and score points, a whopping 60% of Brisbane's tries come down the right edge. It's the highest proportion of tries in any area of the field across the competition.
Try Locations: Left - 34%, Middle 33%, Right 33%
The Canberra Raiders attack has struggled at times this season. Losing George Williams mid-season after building an attack around him over the summer has had a significant impact on their attack dropping from 22.1 points per game to 20.2points per game while the general trend of the NRL has seen points scored increase.
It took Ricky Stuart half the season to settle on how he could use both Tom Starling and Josh Hodgson too. Now that the pair are spending roughly 55 minutes on the field together, the Raiders are improving. However, Jack Wighton's disappointing season has taken the sting out of their left edge.
Canberra scored 47% of their tries down the left edge in 2020 and bumped that number up to 50% throughout the first 11 rounds of 2021. But with Wighton failing to have a consistent impact and Elliott Whitehead also missing time, the Raiders have lost that regular source of points with only 34% of their tries scored occurring down what was once a top-tier left edge.
Try Locations: Left - 40%, Middle 29%, Right 31%
Unfortunately, the Bulldogs aren't scoring many tries anywhere on the field.
Scoring just 12.7 points per game, the Bulldogs are last in the NRL in attack - by some distance. A turnover in halves throughout the season hasn't helped and another for Round 21 is unlikely to prove any different.
Kyle Flanagan's shortcomings have been exposed, Brandon Wakeham has put his career at risk after breaking Covid protocols, and Lachlan Lewis continues to move in and out of the side as he has done throughout his whole 42-game career.
The Bulldogs lack weapons in attack and what they do have hasn't been able to develop given the lack of cohesion in key playmaking positions.
Try Locations: Left - 44%, Middle 20%, Right 36%
Shaun Johnson's injury issues have played a major part in the Sharks attack this year. Scoring 46% of their tries down the right side throughout 2019 and 2020, the Sharks have managed to score just 36% of their tries down the same channel in 2021.
Johnson has only played 10 games this season and a hamstring injury has ruled him out for the rest of the season. Forced to search elsewhere for points, the Sharks have found success down the left edge. The unlikely combination of Connor Tracey at centre and Braydon Trindall at five-eighth produced points recently. Now paired together in the halves, the Sharks attack is changing form once again as they push towards the finals.
Gold Coast Titans
Try Locations: Left - 45%, Middle 34%, Right 21%
To score just 17 tries down the right side in 19 games highlights the Titans' issues in attack.
Their over-reliance on David Fifita down the left edge meant they had no answers when the opposition started to get on top. No team has struggled to wrestle back momentum more this season than the Titans. However, things are starting to change.
Fifita's shift to the bench is being slightly overstated. Starting a match on the sideline hasn't had as much of an impact as his move over to the right side. It has provided the Titans with more variation in attack and forces the defensive side to consider the full field.
For all of his struggles in recent years, Ash Taylor can still lay on a try for his teammates. His short kicking game is among the best in the NRL and his long-ball to outside men has never left him. With Taylor creating points down the left and Fifita now doing Fifita things on the right, the Titans look a lot more balanced in attack.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
Try Locations: Left - 37%, Middle 24%, Right 39%
It's no surprise to see the Sea Eagles scoring points on both sides of the field.
Tom Trbojevic can play both sides and is free to roam as he pleases. He is making the last pass out the back of shape to Jason Saab or Reuben Garrick while also forcing the defence into tough decisions by taking the line on himself. Closer to the ruck, Trbojevic is popping up one out following failed shifts and charging over the line from there.
He is the difference between the Sea Eagles fighting to make the Top 8 or the Top 4. So long as the 24-year-old is on the field, they're a chance against anybody.
Try Locations: Left - 35%, Middle 29%, Right 36%
The Storm have scored 689 points in 19 games this season.
They're well on their way to posting the best for and against in NRL history and have done so with key attacking players spending lengthy periods on the sideline.
Ryan Papenhuyzen and Harry Grant - two of the best-attacking players in the competition - have missed 22 games between them. Melbourne are almost 80 points clear of South Sydney for second in the competition in points scored with Papenhuyzen and Grant only just starting to return to the side.
Cameron Munster has controlled the left side of the field while Jahrome Hughes commands the right. Both are elite ball players which is made easier with the running game the opposition defence needs to consider whenever one of the halves have the ball. With either Nicho Hynes or Papenhuyzen trailing out the back on both sides of the field, the Storm have been unstoppable from sideline to sideline.
Try Locations: Left - 47%, Middle 25%, Right 27%
The Knights scoring 47% of their points down the left edge may come as a surprise to some given how much time Kalyn Ponga and Bradman Best have missed this season.
Another possible surprise given their performance in Round 20: The Knights are 15th in attack scoring a measly 17.1 points per game.
However, with Mitchell Pearce returning and after Ponga and Best combined for two tries and three try assists last week, we're finally going to see the Knights attack at its most dangerous. The key over the last five weeks of the season is finding ways to score down the right side to avoid being caught out against the better defensive teams who will load up and look to shut down the left edge.
North Queensland Cowboys
Try Locations: Left 46%, Middle 24%, Right 30%
Scott Drinkwater is 7th in the NRL in try assists with 16 this season. He has been at the forefront of North Queensland's good games in attack. However, they've not been able to produce points consistently when Drinkwater isn't laying on tries.
Valentine Holmes produced some nice moments at fullback before being ruled out after Round 16. It took some time, but he added a different element to the Cowboys shifts with his quick hands and ability to shovel the ball out wide under pressure.
A lack of threat in the #11 and #12 jersey has made it easy for defences to slide, though. How that changes in Round 21 with Heilum Luki and Jason Taumalolo named on the edge remains to be seen. Drinkwater, in particular, is going to be licking his lips at the prospect of having a genuine attacking option short while Holmes returns this week to pop up out the back.
It has been a disrupted season for the Cowboys. Drinkwater's individual play has kept them competitive and ensured they're a chance down the left edge (45%). Inconsistent and down on firepower overall for much of 2021, some consistency in team selection over the last five rounds could offer some hope for 2022 and beyond.
Try Locations: Left - 45%, Middle 27%, Right 28%
Parramatta's reliance on Mitchell Moses has become clear in recent weeks. Blessed with a favourable draw to start the season, the Eels face a tough run home into the finals and have already dropped back-to-back games, largely due to their poor performances with the ball.
They have scored 45% of their tries down Moses' left side overall this season. He has linked up superbly well with Isaiah Papali'i and helped Clint Gutherson take his game to another level. When the Eels are plugging the middle before throwing a punch down the left side, they're one of the better attacking teams in the NRL. However, when forced to look elsewhere, they are coming up painfully short.
Dylan Brown has registered just one try assist all season...
A career year with the ball in hand by Reed Mahoney may have papered over some of the cracks earlier in the year.
Try Locations: Left - 41%, Middle 22%, Right 37%
It's difficult to get a good read on the Panthers right now.
They have only been able to name their first-choice spine once since Round 12. In that time, Jarome Luai, Tyrone May and Matt Burton have rotated through the halves, Api Koroisau has missed time at hooker and Charlie Staines played a forgettable game at fullback in Round 16.
The areas in which the Panthers have scored have remained relatively consistent. They scored 39% of their tries down the left edge across the first 11 rounds, 25% in the middle and 36% down the right edge. However, after averaging 33.3 points per game in that period, Penrith have scored just 20.3 points per game in their last eight matches.
The Storm have pulled away in the premiership futures to be at 36.4% to the Panthers' 23.5%, but with Cleary returning in the coming weeks, the Penrith attack may yet return to its best.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Try Locations: Left - 56%, Middle 17%, Right 27%
Unsurprisingly, the 59 tries the Rabbitohs have scored down the left channel makes it the most fruitful avenue in the NRL. No team has scored more tries in any area of the field this season.
Souths are exploring more down the right side, though.
They scored just 22% of their tries down the right edge across the first 11 rounds of the season. While the left edge has still been the source of 32 tries throughout their current eight-game winning streak, the 18they have run in through the right side has accounted for 30% of their tries since Round 12.
Cody Walker has continued to drift over from his left edge at times. With Latrell Mitchell also back from State of Origin duty, the Rabbitohs have made use of his fast hands on the right edge too.
Souths were at risk of becoming a little bit one-dimensional to challenge the Panthers and Storm for the premiership. Now, they can keep up in attack and at least engage them in a shootout should it come to that in September.
St. George-Illawarra Dragons
Try Locations: Left - 32%, Middle 28%, Right 40%
"The St. George-Illawarra Dragons rank 9th in the NRL scoring 20.3 points per game.That ranking sums up their bang average attack to perfection with no clear, consistent threat in attack noticeable through 11 rounds." - Where Are NRL Teams Focusing Their Attacks In 2021?
No change here, really.
The Dragons now average 20.3 points per game despite Ben Hunt playing out an excellent year in the #7 jersey. With the 31-year-old now out until at least Round 25, the Dragons will struggle to produce even at a bang average level across the next four rounds.
One positive: Zac Lomax returns to the right edge in Round 21 where the Dragons have scored 40% of their tries.
Try Locations: Left - 35%, Middle 17%, Right 48%
The Roosters have been dealing with injuries all year and lost Luke Keary for the season in Round 3. Still, their well-drilled and next-man-up attacking structures have produced the fifth-best attack in the competition this season scoring 26.5points per game.
It's down their right side that the Roosters have dominated. Somewhat surprisingly, they're alongside the Storm for the most tries down the right side with 45 so far this season. Despite players moving in and out of various positions by the week and often mid-match, Sydney has continued to pile up points. Joseph Manu, in particular, has been superb for his 8 tries and 7 try assists. James Tedesco has also been excellent at plugging himself down the short side and catching the defence short for numbers.
A testament to Trent Robinson as a coach and for the necessity of structure in attack, the Roosters have defied the odds all year to be one of the NRL's most dangerous teams with the ball.
New Zealand Warriors
Try Locations: Left - 38%, Middle 34%, Right 28%
The key number for the Warriors attack is the 34% of tries they have scored through the middle.
It highlights a lack of creativity on their edges with a lack of cohesion also a big factor. Injuries and strange selections have put a very low ceiling on what the Warriors can achieve out wide, and since Reece Walsh's long ball hasn't been as effective, they have struggled to find points elsewhere.
Moving Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to the wing limited his involvement with little done to find different ways of bringing him into the attack. Now back in New Zealand, the Warriors have lost their best-attacking player in a side that has relied on individual moments of brilliance to keep them alive.
Chanel Harris-Tavita's influence on the side was grossly underrated before his injury. Back in the side for Round 21, the Warriors might be able to produce more repeatable actions out wide behind a pack that has produced the goods through the middle in recent weeks.
Try Locations: Left - 38%, Middle 21%, Right 42%
What could have been...
Adam Doueihi is the Tigers best-attacking player, yet Michael Maguire forced him out to the centres for six weeks. With 5 try assists in his return to five-eighth, Doueihi proved, once again, that he belongs in the halves.
The Tigers are at their best with the ball when Doueihi is touching it the 40 times he does per game in the #6 jersey compared to the 13 per game he managed in the centres.
While the Tigers have been relatively consistent in where they scored tries, how they're scoring them is the difference with Doueihi in the halves. Their current 42% down the right side should jump up over the last five rounds provided Maguire doesn't move his most influential player in attack away from the ball.
Did you enjoy this article? Join our free mailing list to get the best content delivered straight to your inbox, or join the conversation by leaving a comment below or on the Stats Insider Twitter or Facebook page.