Sports

The NRL’s salt of the earth



Before POPE hangs up its cassocks to enjoy Origin and, most importantly, the conclusion of the premiership season, there are a couple of other paths I’d like to take you down.

I’ve done a team of the 2022 season so far and a team of players having sneaky good seasons. Today is about the average and below average players of the NRL – the salt of the earth.

Calling somebody an average player has negative connotations in the Australian lexicon. That’s not my intention at all. Making it through a crowded field and into an NRL squad and then becoming an average player in an elite sporting competition is a significant achievement.

The players POPE has identified as below average, or replacements, are not reserve graders, they’re the regular first graders most in danger of being replaced by the next generation and having to haul-out to Hull KR. I suspect they’re all fervent supporters of expansion.

The mean boys

You’re about to see some really good players labelled as average, and a player who’s just been selected in an Origin squad labelled as below average.

Remember, this is data at a fixed point in time (the end of Round 12), and it will change. Average players will move in both directions in the coming months. Below average players will solidify an NRL spot or start looking for real estate in Hull.

I’m not going to narrate the selections. Instead, I’ll give you a little insight into POPE.

The first column is the mean POPE in the relevant position. The second column is the player in relation to it. 100 is dead-average and then it goes either way. All the ‘mean boys’ finished within a percentile of the mean. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was the only player to score 100 exactly. He should have an award named after him.

The third column is a benchmark effectiveness rating. One of the key building blocks of POPE is in its name – the proportion of engagements that are positive. The benchmark is set by the best players.

The fourth column is key – you can be a below average player overperforming or an above average player underperforming.

Take Kotoni Staggs, for example. His raw numbers indicate a slightly above average player executing below his capabilities. Then there’s Will Penisini, a slightly below average player overperforming slightly.

Player Mean POPE Variance Effectiveness (%) Under/over
1. Will Kennedy 624 99.7 88.63 -5.9
2. Ken Maumalo 597 99.3 85.19 -0.05
3. Kotoni Staggs 516 100.9 89.3 -5.24
4. Will Penisini 516 99.3 89.3 1.66
5. Cody Ramsey 597 99.9 85.19 -1.44
6. Matt Burton 466 99.8 85.84 -4.7
7. Sean O’Sullivan 462 100.6 85.07 7.14
8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 459 100 96.26 -4.11
9. Erin Clark 423 100.5 89 4.12
10. James Tamou 459 99.2 96.26 -1.64
11. Shaun Lane 456 100.2 86.56 4.03
12. Felise Kaufusi 456 100.2 86.56 6.01
13. Nathan Brown 448 100.5 96.98 -3.75

The replacement POPE

It’s the same method here just with a different class of player. You’ll note that Lindsay Collins is underperforming. I’m not sure if Origin is the arena for him to find form.

You’ll also note that Andrew McCullough, Corey Waddell and Elliott Whitehead are overperforming from a low base. That’s a worry for all three.

Jake Trbojevic’s numbers have gone off a cliff mainly because he hardly ever runs the ball anymore. Hint to Jake: Isaah Yeo is so effective because you’re never sure if he’s going to run or not. Trbojevic is underperforming slightly but not by enough to indicate he’s likely to rejoin the elite.

Player Mean POPE Variance Effectiveness (%) Under/over
1. Blake Taaffe 624 83.2 88.63 -15.36
2. Jason Saab 597 83 85.19 -5.02
3. Morgan Harper 516 89.4 89.3 -6.51
4. Patrick Herbert 516 89.6 89.3 -7.19
5. Enari Tuala 597 83.4 85.19 -1.7
6. Tyson Gamble 466 89 85.84 -6.41
7. Toby Sexton 462 88.3 85.07 -6.21
8. Blake Lawrie 459 92.5 96.26 -4.71
9. Andrew McCullough 423 95 89 2.99
10. Lindsay Collins 459 93.5 96.26 -4.35
11. Corey Waddell 456 94 86.56 4.58
12. Elliott Whitehead 456 94 86.56 2.78
13. Jake Trbojevic 448 91.6 96.98 -2.82



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