Otago Daily Times
Points surge nightmare for favourites
SYDNEY: The freewheeling nature of these NRL finals matches makes them the most unpredictable in years, which historically makes life tricky for favourites.
The NRL will have two teams from outside the top four play in the preliminary finals for the first time since 2009, the year Parramatta made its great run.
This year’s finals are easily the highestscoring in NRL history, the average match total of 56 points surpassing the 49 from 2001.
But the bad news for Melbourne and Penrith is that it does not bode well for teams which have dominated the season, as underdogs have caught fire in unpredictable highscoring games.
Of the four finals series to have an average match total of 44 or above, three times the winner has come from outside the top two.
In comparison, of the 10 series during the NRL era to have had an average total of 39 points or fewer, one of the top two has won eight times.
The highscoring series include the two highestscoring affairs of 2001 and 2005, when Parramatta dominated both seasons but did not lift the trophy.
All reason for the Panthers to be on high alert in Saturday’s clash with South Sydney, which has shades of the 2005 Wests Tigers about it.
‘‘Obviously their attack is just electric,’’ Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary said.
‘‘When they get the momentum they’re very hard to stop.
‘‘They’ve got superstars across the field, so we’ll definitely need to be defending well.’’
On the three occasions in 2001, 2009 and 2014 that the finals series has been higher scoring than the regular season, the winner has come from outside the top two.
That is again the case this year, the 2020 regular season averaging 41.76 points per game even with the new rules.
Which begs the question: Will this year be the first time since the Tigers 15 years ago that a team wins the title without being among the best defenders all year?
‘‘It’s a hard one to answer because we’ve never gone through something like this before,’’ Api Koroisau, whose Panthers are ranked first for defence this year, said.
‘‘The game has changed so much. This is probably the first year the game’s been so heavily focused on attack.
‘‘At the same time, when the s . . . hits the fan people rely back on their defence. It’s a muscle memory thing.’’
Souths and Canberra can see the upside, both Damien Cook and George Williams saying in the past week the uptempo football plays into their hands.
‘‘Yeah, it is [something that suits us],’’ Raiders half Williams said in the leadup to his side’s clash with Melbourne.
‘‘Everyone’s just playing the best attacking rugby league they can at the back end of the year.’’ — AAP