5 Aug 2020

Faster & Harder: Six-again and no scrums

There was a high level of anticipation ahead of Betfred Super League’s return on August 2 and the double header at a sun-baked Headingley certainly didn’t disappoint.

St Helens looked mightily impressive in shrugging off Catalans Dragons, while Leeds Rhinos’ dramatic golden point winner, after looking dead and buried against Huddersfield Giants 20 minutes earlier, provided a fitting finale to a stellar day of Super League action.

So, no shortage of drama, but were the games helped by the new adaptations on the pitch, namely the six-again rule and no scrums?

The statistics are still emerging - but there are some which make for very interesting reading: more sets, more carries, more tackles, more missed tackles, more metres carried and much higher ball-in-play time were just some of the eye-catching trends to emerge from Sunday’s matches.

Warren Holmes has been crunching the numbers for superleague.co.uk

FASTER GAME

A relentless pace underpinned Saints against Dragons from the first whistle. The contest would become the second shortest game in Super League history, lasting 84 minutes and 30 seconds (the shortest, incidentally, was Hull KR vs Wigan Warriors in 2019, lasting 83 minutes and 24 seconds).

To put that in some context, the 2020 season average, pre-lockdown, was 90 minutes. In 2018, when shot clock was introduced, it was 96 minutes.

So, what does that tell us?

Before the six-again rule was introduced in the NRL, a penalty would create a 22 second stoppage in play on average. The early indication is that similar will apply to Super League – but what we do know for sure is that the first break in play between St Helens and Catalans Dragons came after a relentless 11 minutes before Saints’ Lachlan Coote finally allowed us to draw breath before slotting a penalty.

Sky Sports pundit, Jon Wells, enjoyed the ‘breathless’ spectacle.

Wells said: “I like it a lot – but I can say that because I’m not playing.

“I might have a different opinion if I had been playing, particularly in the middle.

“I watched the game from the touchline, and you could see the breathless nature of what was going on.

“It was high intensity and it’s clear the players will have to adapt.

“You have got to be very fit now to succeed at the top level of Super League.

“And I think that’s good: these are elite athletes.”

The ball was in play for roughly 13 minutes longer in each of the games over the weekend than in 2020 matches played pre-lockdown, or those in the 2019 season.

If those figures were to become the norm, Wells thinks a new style of prop might emerge.

“In the longer term you will start to see an evolution of what a big middle-man looks like,” he said.

“[Luke] Thompson – athletic, strong, durable – that’s the sort of player we will see much more of, and we will see less and less of the big impact players.

“There’ll still be a spot for them, because ultimately it’s the coach’s prerogative on how he wants to balance his side.

“There’s still an opportunity for someone like that to make a big impact on games - but it will be interesting to see if the coaches and clubs are brave enough to sign those genuine high-quality impact players.

“They may not be as fit - but they can turn a game on its head.”

Wells’ view is backed up Leeds Rhinos’ star, Luke Gale, who guided his team to a miraculous comeback against Huddersfield Giants with a drop goal in golden point.

“It [six-again] will have Super League coaches looking at their roster and maybe picking a fitter squad,” he said.

“I know my back-rower, Alex Mellor, was absolutely gassed at one point.

“He was out on his feet.

“I think it made for a more entertaining game, if I’m honest.

“There was more space to create and there were more opportunities [to score] as the opposition become tired and the line speed isn’t as quick towards the end of the game.

“So, I’m definitely happy with that side of the game.”

With the ball in play for such a longer period of time, it meant more tackles, more metres, more carries and, therefore, more opportunity to score points.

Ahead of Super League returning this weekend, it will be interesting to see if these numbers are replicated and superleague.co.uk will publish the findings next week.

In the meantime, expect another breathless weekend of drama at Headingley.

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