Left, Right or Centre: Where Are NRL Teams Focusing Their Attacks In 2021?
The NRL season is almost three months old and we're starting to learn where most teams are at along with the style of attack they're all trying to master.
However, State of Origin footy is about to come through and tear up the form guide for six weeks so it's a good time to check in on the try location data for all 16 teams.
Try Locations: Left - 26%, Middle 13%, Right 61%
The Brisbane Broncos attack is improving. After finishing 16th in 2020 with 13.4 points per game, Kevin Walters has his side up to 16.4 points per game. Although, that is still only good for 15th in the NRL in scoring this season.
Thought this try best summed up the difference between the two sides in attack.— Jason Oliver (@JasonNRL) May 1, 2021
Titans had very little once the grubber stopped working but Broncos scored a few really well-worked tries.
This is a beauty. pic.twitter.com/IsNiKODJln
Still, the Broncos attack is developing nicely. Despite changing their halves pairing 4 times already and possibly a 5th in Round 12, the Broncos have strung together some nice moments that offer some encouragement moving forward.
The right side, in particular, has found success. Brisbane have scored 61% of their 31 tries this season down the right edge. It's the highest percentage of any side in any area of the field so there is a chance that opposing defences will soon catch onto their reliance on the right side in attack.
Try Locations: Left - 50%, Middle 26%, Right 24%
The Canberra Raiders attack is a mess at the moment. They've scored just 15.7 points per game over the last seven rounds for only one win.
Josh Hodgson copped a lot of the blame early in the season. His dominant style from behind the ruck was said to have stalled Jack Wighton and George Williams after the pair dominated with the ball without Hodgson last year. However, little has changed with Hodgson sat on the sideline or coming off the bench.
The Raiders have been forced to deal with injuries and suspension, but they have fielded enough quality in key playmaking positions to perform better than they have done over the last month.
Ricky Stuart has a lot of work to do with this Raiders attack. Their improvements may start in Round 12 with the return of Wighton. They already score 50% of their tries down his side of the field and going back to what has worked previously on the left edge must be a factor moving forward.
Try Locations: Left - 39%, Middle 22%, Right 39%
There isn't a lot to dig into when it comes to the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs attack.
They barely have one...
With 23 tries all season, the Bulldogs haven't constructed many repeatable actions. They have managed a handful against the run of play and have capitalised on some opposition errors but, for the most part, Trent Barrett hasn't been able to formulate a game plan that consistently troubles the opposition defence.
It all starts in the yardage game for the Bulldogs. They're 16th in running metres with only 1,500 metres per game. From there, they're the least efficient side in good ball scoring just 0.47 points per tackle inside the opposition 20-metre line.
They lack quality in key playmaking positions and won't have any until Matt Burton arrives in 2022.
Try Locations: Left - 45%, Middle 21%, Right 33%
The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks scored 49% of their tries down the right side in 2020 as Shaun Johnson picked defensive lines apart to register an NRL-high 23 try assists. With the Kiwi international limited to just three games so far in 2021, the Sharks have looked left for answers.
Of the 33 tries the Sharks have scored this season, 15 (45%) have come down the left edge.
Johnson is due back from his hamstring injury in Round 12. It's going to be interesting to see how the Sharks attack changes from here and whether or not they revert back to being right-side dominant with the ball in hand.
The right side looks to be where Will Kennedy is his most dangerous. Outside of a healthy Johnson, he is their most consistent threat in attack with eight tries and six try assists this season. If Johnson and Kennedy can start to link up on the right edge with Ronaldo Mulitalo or Sione Katoa (both also due back in Round 12), the Sharks might be able to make the most of the second-easiest remaining schedulein the NRL to make a late run at the Top 8.
Gold Coast Titans
Try Locations: Left - 51%, Middle 36%, Right 13%
The Gold Coast Titans scoring 51% of their tries down the left edge won't surprise many people. David Fifita accounts for nine of the Gold Coasts 45 total tries and 23 down the left edge this season on his own. However, to have scored just 6 tries down the right edge through 11 rounds is a genuine cause for concern.
Fifita is an excellent attacking threat, but the Titans have relied on him too heavily so far this season. Their 6th-ranked 23.6 points per game flatters the Titans. In reality, they've ridden the coattails of a freakish Fifita to some success, but have struggled to manufacture points when he isn't running through opposition right edge defences.
Scoring 23.6 points per game and 51% of tries coming down the left-edge might be enough for the Titans to sneak into the Top 8 - the Stats Insider Futuresmodel currently has them at 41.3% to play finals footy - but having just 13% of tries scored down the right side is something the top teams in the NRL will expose in September. The Brisbane Broncos, of all teams, did a great job of limiting Fifita's impact in Round 8 and the Titans struggled for points after an early kicking onslaught.
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
Try Locations: Left - 36%, Middle 30%, Right 34%
Tom Trbojevic returned for the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles in Round 6.
He has recorded 8 tries, 12 try assists, 32 tackle breaks and 11 line breaks in his 6 games while averaging 223 running metres per game. He's the most influential player in the game right now. His return - along with Canberra's demise - has shot the Sea Eagles up into the Top 8 where the Stats Insider Futures model expects them to stay through to the end of Round 25.
The Sea Eagles scored just 8 tries before Trbojevic returned. 5 of them (63%) came through the middle of the field as the Manly edges struggled to threaten out wide.
With their fullback pushing and pulling defensive lines out of shape without the ball and his quick hands setting teammates up with it, the Sea Eagles have scored 36 tries over the last six rounds: Left - 39%, Middle - 22%, Right - 39%.
The Sea Eagles are killing it across the field with Trbojevic at the back. Here's hoping he isn't forced to spend any time on the sideline again this season.
Try Locations: Left - 37%, Middle 28%, Right 35%
For some teams - like the Bulldogs - having a relatively even spread of tries scored across the field is a sign of a poor attack. For the Melbourne Storm, on the other hand, it highlights their dominance with the ball from sideline to sideline.
It doesn't matter where on the field the Storm set up, they find ways to cross the line. Many teams will set up on the right post and sweep to the left corner on 4th tackle. Melbourne can do that to a team if they wish. They can do the same down the right side if that is where the defensive frailties of the opposition lay.
No team is better at picking a player defending the goal line in the middle of the field and exposing them. They did it to poor Tom Starling in Round 11 and have repeatedly found success with Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Tui Kamikamica running block plays off the ruck five metres from the try line.
Left edge, right edge or through the middle, it doesn't matter. Melbourne's NRL-best attack scoring 33.6 points per game will find a way through.
Try Locations: Left - 42%, Middle 25%, Right 33%
Injuries haven't helped the Newcastle Knights in 2021.
Kalyn Ponga has only been able to get on the field five times this season while Mitchell Pearce isn't due back until Round 14-16 following his pectoral injury in Round 4. As a result, the Knights attack has failed to fire, scoring just 18.1 points per game.
The left edge is still Newcastle's favourite side of the field to score points. They found 45% of their tries down that side across 2019 and 2020 with 42% of their 36 tries scored through the left edge to start 2021. However, it's not the threat it once was.
Bradman Best, who has also been limited to just seven games, has scored just one try. Ponga's absence has contributed to that. So too has the limitations of Mitch Barnett in attack as Adam O'Brien tinkers with his back row combination.
Reshuffles galore haven't allowed the Knights to build any cohesion with the ball. With Ponga and Best due back in Round 13 and Pearce possibly returning a week later, we might finally start to get an idea of Newcastle's ceiling in attack from Round 14 onwards.
North Queensland Cowboys
Try Locations: Left - 54%, Middle 21%, Right 26%
Scott Drinkwater can certainly lay on a try for his teammates. While he only has ten try assists in his 11 games this season, Fox Sports Lab has him up with Cody Walker (22) and Chad Townsend (23) in Total Try Involvements with 21 already this season. He is beginning to link up with Valentine Holmes out the back and North Queensland's left edge attack is proving tough for opposing defensive lines to handle.
A whopping 54% of the Cowboys tries have come down the left edge so far in 2021. While it has proven to be a consistent source of points in recent weeks, they need to start threatening down the right side sooner rather than later. Becoming too one-dimensional with the ball will ensure they aren't a threat to the top sides in the NRL at the end of the season.
They're slowly rising up the list of possible Top 8 teams to be a 28.5% chance after Round 11. Improvements to their right side attack will go a long way to deciding whether or not Todd Payten tastes finals footy in his first full season as head coach.
Try Locations: Left - 43%, Middle 28%, Right 28%
The Parramatta Eels left edge attack scored 22 tries (50% of total tries) across the opening 11 rounds last season before managing just 9 (33%) from Round 12 through to Week 1 of the Finals. This year, they have managed 23 tries (43%) down the left edge through 11 rounds.
While the Eels have shown great signs of improvement to start this season with their middle charging up the field while Mitchell Moses and Clint Gutherson play career-best footy behind it, their hiccup against the Sea Eagles in Round 11 this year is a slight cause for concern. It's the time of year things turned for Parramatta in 2020 and they face the toughest remaining schedule of all 16 teams in 2021.
How the Eels right edge attack comes together when Dylan Brown returns in Round 13 is a massive determining factor. If he can add a spark to that side of the field and avoid Parramatta becoming too predictable in targeting the left edge, they should be able to avoid the late-season struggles of 2020 and pose as a tougher threat in September.
Try Locations: Left - 39%, Middle 25%, Right 36%
Unbeaten and barely breaking a sweat through the first 11 rounds of the season, the Penrith Panthers are the benchmark side of the competition. They already play with the best defence in the NRL and their attack still has a lot of improvement in it.
Penrith have barely been tested. They cruise out to early leads and use the rest of the game to develop their more subtle plays and trick shots. Nathan Cleary has developed a new deceptive pass this season by trying it twice with his side up big before nailing it a third time for Matt Burton to score later in the season is just one example.
Their 33.1 points per game is 2nd in the NRL and as we can see from their splits - 39%/25%/36% - they're similar to the Storm in the way they dominate from sideline to sideline.
They're one of the best regular-season teams we've ever seen, and could be in the conversation for the best side ever if their attack continues to develop through to a Grand Final victory.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Try Locations: Left - 60%, Middle 18%, Right 22%
The South Sydney Rabbitohs are still heavily reliant on their left edge in attack. While that did prove to be Parramatta's downfall in 2020, that is unlikely to be the case for South Sydney. No team has scored more tries down the left edge than their 27 so far this season, and that is with Cody Walker spending time out of position and Latrell Mitchell sat in the stands for a month.
The Rabbitohs greatest weapon is still getting stronger and is arguably the best-attacking avenue in the NRL despite the Storm and Panthers boasting better attacks overall.
While Wayne Bennett has a lot of work to do in developing South Sydney's defence and heavy losses to the Storm and Panthers have lowered premiership expectations, a scintillating left edge attack will get the Bunnies through the regular season and into finals football.
St. George-Illawarra Dragons
Try Locations: Left - 31%, Middle 26%, Right 44%
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.
A healthy right edge threatens to be the Dragons' go-to part of the field but an injury to Zac Lomax, Ben Hunt's spell on the sideline and Mikaele Ravalawa's recent suspension have stalled that development. That has left Corey Norman and Matthew Dufty shouldering a lot of the creative load in attack, neither of which produce consistently.
While the opening five rounds of the season went better than anybody expected, the Dragons have scored just 15.6 points per game since Round 6.
Try Locations: Left - 32%, Middle 18%, Right 50%
To play without Luke Keary for the majority of the season, without James Tedesco at times, and with four different starting #9's already and still average 27.3 points per game is an incredible testament to the Sydney Roosters structures and preparation.
Structure has taken on a negative connotation in recent years but the Roosters are a prime example of good structure = good attack and bad structure = bad attack. No matter who fills in as Trent Robinson juggles injuries and suspensions, everybody knows where to be and when. Most notably, Sam Walker.
The 18-year-old has burst into first-grade without a hitch. While the Roosters didn't intend to play him this early, his time training with the top side ensured Walker was well-prepared to make his debut in Round 4. Since then, he has scored four tries and distributed ten try assists with his long-ball out wide already an elite feature of his game.
The Roosters split their attack a lot better last year with 40% of their tries scored down the left edge and 41% scored down the right edge. However, in a season that has become about developing talent and preparing for 2022, they can be forgiven for drifting down one side of the field more than the other. Particularly when it was Brett Morris camped out on the right wing for the first eight rounds.
New Zealand Warriors
Try Locations: Left - 37%, Middle 39%, Right 24%
Only the Storm have scored more tries through the middle of the field than the New Zealand Warriors' 16 so far this season. With massive bodies clogging up the centre-third and a somewhat disjointed spine struggling to produce until recently, it has been the Kiwi clubs best avenue for points in 2021.
That all looks set to change now, though.
Reece Walsh has changed the Warriors attack and allows them to play both sides of the field. He found success down the left edge against the Eels in Round 10. As the Tigers left edge struggled to make decisions in Round 11, Walsh played a part in the Warriors finding points down the right side. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck becoming more familiar with his role out wide will also contribute to the Warriors looking away from the middle of the field more and more as the season goes on.
Consistency has been an issue for the Warriors this season, but some consistency at 4pm on Tuesday's will soon translate into improvements on the field.
Try Locations: Left - 34%, Middle 24%, Right 42%
Wests Tigers are a prime example of a side that can capitalise on opposition mistakes and give the impression that they attacked well in that match when, in reality, the way in which they scored 36 points one week won't translate into points the next week.
That was the case in Round 10 when, after desperately moving Adam Doueihi out to the centres and Moses Mbye into the halves, the Tigers hung 36 points on a hapless Knights side. They weren't repeatable actions, though. A week later and with a mountain of possession early, the Tigers couldn't find the line often enough to build a lead and the Warriors ended up taking the chocolates. Doueihi, in particular, wasn't provided with regular opportunities with the football and didn't have the same impact he could have done in the halves.
While Wests have split their try-scoring across the field, it's difficult to point to one reliable avenue, shape, or even a player, that they can look to with the game on the line. Until they can settle on a structure and consistently employ the same players to run it, they'll remain on the outside of the Top 8 and looking in.
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.