3 Dec 2020

Super League Grand Final 2020: Faster & Harder

Oli Lathrope has the stats you need from an unbelievable 2020 Betfred Super League Grand Final.

Boxer Tony Bellew described the players as “hard as nails”, former Great Britain international Jonathan Davies labelled it “uncompromising, tough and intense” and the golfer Lee Westwood said it was the most unbelievable game of rugby he’d ever seen.

And that was just a snapshot of the praise heaped on Friday’s Betfred Super League Grand Final from across the sporting world. 

Remember anything quite like it? I doubt it. St Helens and Wigan Warriors produced a thrilling conclusion to the most remarkable of seasons. 

Jack Welsby’s last-ditch opportunism will be played over and over again in years to come - Super League’s ‘Aguero moment’ as some have described it. 

Saints’ win at the KCOM stadium was their seventh Grand Final victory, and it is the first time they’ve gone back-to-back since 1999 and 2000.

Having lost on six occasions, Warriors now hold the unwanted record of losing the most Grand Finals.

But what made the match so special? We crunch the numbers from a night that no Super League fan is likely to forget. 

As you can see from the tables above, the 2020 Grand Final saw an increase in many stats.

Since the August restart, super.league.co.uk has been tracking the data and it all points to players having to work that much harder in matches this season.

We saw that in the Grand Final - too – particularly when it came to the defensive work they had to go through.

There were 858 tackles in the match; a rise on the number of tackles in the 2018 and 2019 finals. It is also a massive 196 tackles more than the 662 in this year’s NRL Grand Final. 

Some players deserve particular credit for their efforts. 

James Bentley’s 69 tackles was just three short of Morgan Smithies’ all-time record for the most tackles in a Super League match. 

Sam Powell (61) and James Roby (56) were two other players’ who put in heroic defensive shifts.

It’s also worth noting that despite the increase in the number of tackles, missed tackles actually went down from the 94 in the 2019 Grand Final to 80 this year. 

Roby, who won his second Harry Sunderland Trophy, didn’t miss a tackle in the entire game. In fact, he’s only missed five tackles all season with a completion rate of 99%.

The number of metres and carries also went up from previous Grand Finals – albeit by less significant numbers.  

Saints half-back Jonny Lomax made the most metres in the game with 198. 

There were some impressive numbers in terms of how much distance was covered on the night - Lachlan Coote leading the way with 9282 metres.

Since the August restart - which coincided with the introduction of six-again and the removal of scrums - the average number of metres and carries per game has grown. 

Metres per game average at 2771 – the highest figure since 2010. 

The number of carries is up by 9% to an average of 381.

We have also seen matches get faster in 2020.  

Perhaps evident most in the number of quick play-the-balls. Per game, the 2020 average is 63 – a rise of over 100% on the 2019 average of 31. 

We saw a huge 88 quick PTB in the Grand Final – more than double of the 42 in 2019 – and further evidence of the speed the sport has been played at this season.

Sky Sports’ Barrie McDermott has enjoyed how much quicker matches have become.

He said: “I like how six-again has quickened the game up and meant we aren’t scrutinising every decision around the play-the-ball.”

Part of the increase in stats could be attributed to the more time that the ball has been in play in 2020. 

On average, 2020 has seen the ball-in-play for 57 minutes and three seconds per match, which is a rise of almost four minutes from 2019.

The ball-in-play time in the Grand Final was an incredible 62 minutes and 16 seconds, which is over seven minutes more than the NRL Grand Final this year. 

Another example of just how much effort went into the match from the Saints and Warriors players.

We will have to wait and see if these trends continue into 2021. 

Much will depend on the decision of whether to stick with the new laws or revert back to what saw before lockdown. The prevalence of Covid-19 will surely play a role in that decision.

In the meantime, Super League’s players can reflect on a job well done in 2020 – they’ve given us some superb entertainment in a difficult year. Friday’s Grand Final was a fitting way to finish it off. 

By Oli Lathrope