Damned statistics: The magic number each club must defy in 2023

“Lies, damned lies and statistics,” as Mark Twain put to print in 1907.

A damned coincidence that rugby league got off the ground in Australia a year later? Probably. But if a numbers game was good enough for Jack Gibson to pinch from the NFL in 1969, then it’s good enough for us.

With Champion Data crunching the decimals, The Sydney Morning Herald presents the stats that defined each NRL club last year and what needs to be fixed in 2023.


Wingers and playmakers will always feature up high in error counts because they’re either trying things (think outlandish sideline touchdowns and aerial acrobatics), under unique pressure (defending sideline touchdowns and aerial acrobatics) or simply touch the ball more often. That said, Brisbane had three of the worst offenders in 2022, and add another in Reece Walsh this year.


The full 80 minutes – great rugby league cliché, just not so much for the Dogs last year. The last 20 minutes were easily their worst stanza across the course of 2022, conceding 217 points (nine per game) after a game’s hour-mark.


Cronulla finished second with just four wins against the other seven finalists, and couldn’t compete with South Sydney when it was sudden-death stakes last September. This is the next step for Craig Fitzgibbon.


Wayne Bennett has always set lofty standards, particularly when he first lands at a club. The Broncos narrowly missed the finals in 1988 when he first arrived, and did take some time before developing into the most-dominant team of the 1990s. The less said about his stint at Newcastle though, the better, and plenty see this first Dolphins campaign going the same way.


The Gold Coast had myriad problems last season, not least their left edge. Forty tries within 10 metres of their left-hand touchline accounted for a third of all tries scored against them.

Sea Eagles

Manly have been hunting a big man to add to their middle for a while now, no doubt because their hit-up metres were the lowest in the competition, making life tough for their playmakers and outside backs.


Melbourne were the most penalised side of 2022, infringing 172 times (6.6 penalties per game) across their season. A grain of salt, the top five in this statistic consists entirely of top eight sides, which says something else about what it takes to be successful in the modern game.


Goalkicking didn’t cost Newcastle many games last year, they managed that well before anyone stepped up to the tee. Still, the numbers are grim. Kalyn Ponga’s 80% strike rate was the best of a career that has included genuine struggles in front of the sticks, while new recruit Jackson Hastings hit them at an underwhelming 66% last year.


North Queensland caught the competition napping last year and did so with serious metres all over the paddock, second only to premiers Penrith for all metres run. Their 1419 metres conceded ranked third in the competition – recipe for success.


Canberra’s 385 possessions per game were the least of any team last year, and wasn’t helped by almost 30 errors on the first tackle – more than one each outing.


A great year delivered their first grand final appearance in more than a decade, but 2022 saw their far left edge leak a few too many. Ironically they sorted out the right-side defence that was a favourite target of oppositions when Blake Ferguson and Waqa Blake struggled as a combination.


Again, this comes with Provan-Summons-trophy-sized grain of salt. Two in fact. With a third to come if the bookmakers are on the money. Penrith’s 49 ruck infringements were the most of any team by some margin, well ahead of Canterbury, with 40 as the next most.


Souths finished the year with a wet sail, a tad ironic given they made the most errors of the entire competition during the last 20 minutes of games. The 48 penalties they conceded in that period also topped that unwanted statistic.


Defence. For the Dragons, it really was that thing around the field – their 40 missed tackles each game were comfortably the most of any side. Halves are targeted for a reason by opposition attacks and St George Illawarra’s were especially susceptible.


The Warriors’ differentials when it came to key statistics was brutal to say the least. The -50 swing in tries scored and conceded bettered only the Tigers (-55) and was effectively an inverse of Penrith’s +49 at the other end of the table.


Twenty-five times Roosters players were cited by the referees last year, the most of any club ahead of Canberra (23 players on report), daylight and then Cronulla (18). It all came to a head during that manic semi-final loss to the Rabbitohs when Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and co lost the plot.


The wooden-spooners struggled in so many areas last year, not least as soon as they got the ball with the lowest average kick return metres in the game. The underwhelming starts simply continued as their sets progressed (or didn’t) downfield, with their run and kick metres both ranking among the bottom three teams in the NRL.

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