The NRL Match-Up: How does possession influence your top eight chances?

Posted: 16 May 2019 1:56 pm News

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We see how much possession a side needs to finish in the top eight.

With the NRL back bigger and better than ever, we thought we'd do what we do best at Finder and start comparing everything NRL. Each week we take a look at one aspect of the game, from the spectacular to the silly, to see who comes out on top.

With normal service resumed at AAMI Park tonight following last week's Magic Round, we take a look at the average possession of sides inside and outside the top eight.

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It may be a bit of a sporting truism, but you're always more likely to score when you have the ball. It seems likely that a side that dominates possession should fare better than one that doesn't, but how much of an impact does it actually have when it comes to making the top eight?

Roosters players 2014 Image: Supplied

Overview

In each of the last five seasons, the top 8 collectively averaged more than 50% possession, with the bottom 8 naturally averaging below 50% in the same period, suggesting the teams that have more of the ball are also more likely to be playing finals football.

Of the 40 teams that have finished in the top 8 over the last 5 seasons, only 12 of them averaged less than 50% possession over the course of the season. This means teams that end up with more possession than their opponents have a 70% chance of making the finals.

But if you take a deeper look at the stats, it's not always the case that more possession means a higher ladder position. We explore each of the last five seasons in detail below to see what average possession actually means for your team's chances of making the top eight.

2014

The resurgent Roosters claimed a second minor premiership and also finished the season with an impressive average possession of 54.19%. The Sea Eagles grabbed second with a measly 48.46% possession, but 6 of the top 8 ended with more than 50%.

In the bottom half, the Tigers were the surprising standout, with a season average of 53% possession, but still finishing the season in 13th. Both the Titans (44.88%) and Sharks (45.71) struggled to get much of the ball, which helped leave them in 14th and 16th respectively.

Top 8 average: 51.1%

Bottom 8 average: 48.9%

2015

Another season in which the top team dominated the possession stats, with the Roosters making it three minor premierships in a row, as well as consecutive years on top of the possession charts.

Surprisingly, 4 of the top 8 finished the season with less than 50% possession, but the big numbers posted by the Roosters, Cowboys (55.46%), Sharks (52.88%) and Dragons (52.68%) was enough to keep the top 8 comfortable above a 50% average.

The Panthers were the outlier in the bottom 8, with 53% possession, and were joined by the Warriors as the only other team outside the top half that enjoyed a majority of the ball.

Top 8 average: 51.4%

Bottom 8 average: 48.6%

2016

A possession clean sweep, with all teams in the top 8 finishing the regular season with more than 50% possession, and all sides in the bottom half ending with less than 50%. Despite the clean divide, no team really dominated the possession stats, with the Sharks finishing highest on 52.56%.

The Knights struggled with 46.96% on their way to a second consecutive wooden spoon.

Top 8 average: 51.2%

Bottom 8 average: 48.8%

Knights players 2016 Image: Supplied

2017

The 2017 season saw a tightening in terms of possession across the league, with the average top 8 possession only 1.4% higher than that of the bottom half.

Arguably the biggest surprise was the fact that both the top 2 finished with less than 50% possession, with minor premiers Melbourne Storm on 48.89% and the Roosters on 49.08%. They were also the only two sides in the top 8 not to record more than 50% possession.

Top 8 average: 50.7%

Bottom 8 average: 49.3%

2018

Continuing the trend established the previous year, possession in the 2018 season was the tightest it has been in years. Both the Roosters and the Storm ended the season with less than 50%, but again it was enough to see them clinch the top 2 spots.

The Panthers and Warriors joined them as the other teams in the top 8 with less than 50% of the ball, with 4 of the bottom 5 all averaging above 50%.

Top 8 average: 50.2%

Bottom 8 average: 49.8%

Tigers players 2018 Image: Supplied

Summary

While it's clear that enjoying a majority of possession means you're more likely to finish in the top eight, there seems to be a trend among the top teams, who are increasingly happy to concede the ball to their opponents.

Both the Roosters and Storm, the two most dominant sides in recent years, have finished the last 2 seasons with less than 50% possession, and only 1 side in the last 3 years has finished with more than 53% possession (the Cowboys in 2017).

It's a far cry from the possession-heavy Roosters team of 2014 and 2015 that clinched consecutive minor premierships while averaging more than 54% possession. So while having more of the ball helps your chances at making the top eight, it's what you do it with that separates the best from the rest.


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