Otago Daily Times

Points surge night­mare for favourites

RUGBY LEAGUE

- Sports · College Sports · Rugby · National Rugby League · Rugby League · Wests Tigers · Canberra · Las Vegas Raiders

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

 ??  ?? Nathan Cleary
Nathan Cleary
 ??  ?? Ge­orge Wil­liams
Ge­orge Wil­liams

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