If you don’t like stats, look away now.
If you do, I was taking a look at what a team needed to achieve to be a Top 8 side in the last 10 years (2005-2014). Not just “be better” and other barely quantifiable things, but actually what kind of numbers you need to achieve to make the finals on average in the last decade.
What’s really interesting is that within the Top 8, the difference between a Top 4 and a Bottom 4 (5th-8th) side is much wider in defence than attack:
- Top 4 sides average 23.72 points for and 17.08 points against
- Bottom 4 average 22.02 for (1.71 less) and 19.91 against (2.83 less)
When you look at the difference between making the Top 8 (8th) and not (9th), the gap is extraordinarily small: 0.20 points for per game and 0.27 points against. That small improvement turns a 47.50% win ratio into 50%, which is what 8th position almost always achieves.
So how do Tigers turn into a Top 8 side again? First and obviously, you need to score more points than you concede:
- only 6 teams have ever made the Top 8 with a negative for/against
- only 8 sides have ever failed to make the Top 8 with a positive differential.
Tigers 2015 are running at 20.91 points for and 23.67 points against per game. That rate of attack is usually good enough to achieve 11th position. However that defence is typical of a 13th placed side. Unfortunately for us, the wooden spooners average an attack of 17.21 and defence of 28.47, which even in 2015 we are clearly ahead of, though we run last. This is a boom year for crap teams!
To make the 8 next year, our attack would only need to improve slightly (needs to be up 0.38 points per game) but our defence still needs substantial improvement (needs to be up 3.18 points per game). To put that into perspective, a defensive improvement of 3.18 points per game would turn the average 8th-placed side into a 2nd-placed side.
Even more importantly, the minor premiers concede an average 2.78 points less per game in defence than 2nd place, which is almost the same gap as between 2nd and 8th place averages. Weirdly, the minor premiers do not score more points on average than 2nd place.
So JT is right that defence wins competitions. The best sides over the last 10 years are significantly better defenders than attackers when compared with their opponents.
When I ran the numbers last week to compare Tigers sides over the past 16 years, the figures said attack 2015 was worse than average, but defence was better than average.
What this analysis tells us is that whilst the defence is better than last year (so far), it still falls significantly behind what is required of a Top 8 side. The attack however is not far off.
There is also a positive and eerie message amongst all these numbers. We require a 3.18 points per game improvement in defence in 2016 to achieve the average defensive record of an 8th-placed side. That happens to be EXACTLY the figure by which defence has improved per game from 2014 to 2015.
In other words, if our defensive record is steady for the rest of 2015 (i.e. no further blowouts like the end of 2014), and our attack is steady, then a similar defensive improvement next year would tip us to be right on the cusp of the Top 8. If such an improvement was achieved against in 2017, we could be a Top 2 side.