21 September 2014

Dream Team by Numbers

Everyone knows I like my numbers. Whilst I'm as aware as anyone that they don't always tell the full story, when you have a large enough data set then they should tell a pretty reliable story. Using the numbers that we've given on the shows throughout the first year of Super League Pod, I've compiled an alternative Dream Team, one supported by the numbers. This isn't my own Dream Team per se, I would take a more subjective approach for my own team, but many members might well cross over.

So, what was my criteria? Regular season games only. A player can only be chosen in their most frequent position played in the season. They have to have played in at least half the games, so minimum 14 appearances. All rankings given below apply to players meeting this criteria.

With a lot of strong performances and a number of different playing styles there does inevitably have to be some subjectivity in what to look for in each position. For outside backs I would favour attacking stats. For halves I will favour kicking and creative numbers. For forwards, work rate and efficiency will be more important. However, all round contribution will be considered too as a deciding factor where there was no clear stand out across all number categories.

Fullback - Morgan Escaré (Catalan Dragons)

14 players qualify for consideration at fullback. Oddly, two from Hull KR, because Ben Cockayne played most of his 16 games at fullback whilst Greg Eden qualifies for the list too.

Of those 14 players Morgan Escaré played the most games (all 27) and scored the most tries (27), his average of 1 try per game is the best for any fullback in the 2014 regular season. He was also third behind Eden and Rhys Hanbury for try assists (16).

He's midway down the list for total metres made but his average gain of 9.24 metres per carry was second only to Matty Russell.

Escaré scores a try on 10% of his carries (a try every 10.5 carries) - he leads fullbacks in this category and is second overall to only Joel Monaghan. When adding in try assists too, Escaré tops the list for all Super League players who have played at least 14 games - he either scores or creates on 15% of his carries. He also leads fullbacks (and is second overall to Daryl Clark) in terms of busts or breaks per carry - busting a tackle or breaking the line on 44% of his 284 regular season carries.

In terms of defence Escaré is middle of the pack, not the best but not the worst by any stretch. He's also midway in errors but gives away the most penalties per game of any regular fullback.

Ultimately, he is a player who makes things happen. If you don't enjoy watching him play then you're watching the wrong sport. His numbers well deserved his spot in this team.

Zak Hardaker also had good numbers in a strong season, but his season wasn't as good as the young Catalan player when assessing the numbers only.

Wing - Joel Monaghan (Warrington Wolves) & Josh Charnley (Wigan Warriors)

There are more wingers to choose from. 30 met the criteria. With more players there are more different wingers who top each of the stat categories.

With wingers though the most important job is scoring tries. Ultimately that's why Joel Monaghan and Josh Charnley made the cut - they were 2nd and 1st respectively in tries per game, the only two eligible wingers to score at a better rate than a try per game.

Monaghan was outright top scorer, getting 28 tries in 24 games at 1.17 tries per game. Actually he had a better strike rate in his fewer games at centre than on the wing, but he qualifies for this team as a winger and I couldn't leave the top try scorer out of the stats dream team. He also leads the way with a league leading number of a try every 9 carries (a try in 11% of his carries). His defensive numbers are also decent, being highly ranked in tackles per game and tackle success percent.

Charnley hasn't played a full season, only making 16 Super League outings. He still however managed to score 19 tries at a league leading 1.19 tries per game. Again, with a wingers job being to score tries, how can you leave out the most prolific winger this season. He also ranks top ten in metres, average gain and clean breaks amongst wingers, as well as making top ten in tackle success.

Other notable mentions for category leading numbers: Justin Carney - tackle busts (4.26 per game) and metres (135.68 per game), Joe Burgess - average gain (10.64 per carry) and clean breaks (1.35 per game).

Centre - Michael Shenton (Castleford Tigers) & Kallum Watkins (Leeds Rhinos)

32 players met the criteria of playing at least 14 games and their most common position being centre. Its a very hard position to pick as although all the players mostly played centre, quite a few that lead different categories do so because of the other positions they spent some time in - for example, Chris Bridge leads assists per game but played a lot in the halves and Dan Sarginson leads total metres but played a bit of fullback and wing, where metres are easier to come by with kick returns gains.

The first one picks himself however. Michael Shenton is joint top for centres in try scoring with Joe Wardle (17) and joint top in assists with Chris Bridge (17). He has kept this up regardless of whether it was Justin Carney or James Clare outside him as well as shouldering the captaincy responsibility. He scored or assisted on 12% of all carries, best amongst centres. He also ranks well amongst centres in metres per game (6th), average gain (4th) and clean breaks (3rd). In addition he is 2nd in tackles per game for a regular centre and top in tackle success rate. In terms of getting scores for his team, there has been none better and all around he has also been the best. A nailed on pick in every team of the year for certain.

I could have given the second spot in this team to a lot of players but it went to Kallum Watkins. Before I explain why, honourable mentions must go to Joel Moon, Leroy Cudjoe, Vincent Duport, Mark Percival and Anthony Gelling, as well as Wardle, Bridge and Sarginson already mentioned - all leading or competing strongly across a number stat categories. 

It was Watkins however who all around was the strongest when the attack is complemented by defence and discipline considerations. Watkins is top ten amongst centres in almost all categories, top five in most of those. He doesn't lead many categories, modestly ranked in try scoring in particular, but he more than makes up for it with overall contribution. He is one of only three centres contributing at better than 1 in every 2 games for both scoring and assisting tries (others are Shenton and Gelling). In carries and metres per game only the two Wigan centres in the list do more, but then Wigan's game plan involves more centre play than anyone else. He features high in busts and breaks and is best in the group picked out above for penalties and missed tackles. In the end, it was this all round role that would contribute best to a team's success that got him the nod, although I could have argued a case for a number of centres to go alongside Shenton.

Stand off - Danny Brough (Huddersfield Giants)

17 players were eligible for consideration, but only 6 deserved serious thought - Danny Brough, Kevin Brown, Rangi Chase, Blake Green, Gareth O'Brien and Marc Sneyd. This is because they all averaged at least 1 try assist per game, no other regular stand off did, and creating tries is a key part of their job.

Brough created the most tries (31) and had most assists per game also (1.24). He was lower in tries scored than the others in the select six but he made more attacking kicks and his 9 40/20s put him comfortably ahead of the rest of the league in this momentum changing skill. 

Chase carried more ball, made more busts and breaks but ultimately couldn't help his side to the playoffs with his defence numbers down on the others and he made the most errors and penalties of the six. Brown scored the most tries himself but for the amount of involvement he had the numbers weren't quite enough, defence was poorer than most. Sneyd had the most assists per carry but didn't involve himself enough, also being below some others for defence numbers. Green was strongest in defence and made the fewest errors, but also played the fewest games and was least involved in the kicking game of the six. O'Brien earned his place in the thought process with some stand out performances but only led the way in fewest penalties.

Scrum half - Matty Smith (Wigan Warriors)

14 players were up for consideration for the number 7 shirt in this team. Most of the categories are topped by different players actually.

Per game:
Tries - Richie Myler (0.40 per game)
Tackle busts - Richard Horne (2.05 per game)
Attacking kicks - Josh Drinkwater (5.71 per game)
Carries - Danny McGuire (14.18 per game)
Metres - Danny McGuire (71.05 per game)
Clean breaks - Theo Fages (4.95 per game)
Errors - Luke Robinson (0.50 per game)
Offloads - Luke Gale (1.12 per game)
Penalties - Kris Keating (0.09 per game)
Tackles - Joe Mellor (23.73 per game)

Per carry:
Average gain - Richard Horne (5.91 metres per carry)
Tries/Assists - Liam Finn (try or assist every 6.8 carries)
Busts/Breaks - Theo Fages (bust or break every 3.3 carries)

Tackle success - Theo Fages (96%)

The two stats left out are the two that won Matty Smith the place - try assists and 40/20s. Smith led both, 25 assists (1 per game) and 4 40/20s. His 1.16 tries or assists combined per game also led the eligible group. His influence in helping his team get scores to win games was simply the highest, which earned him the place in this side.

A note on Theo Fages, who to his credit topped a number of categories. His downfall was the influence he had on the scoreboard. His 0.58 tries or assists combined per game was the lowest of the group so that is why he couldn't be considered seriously for this dream team, but credit to him and his development this year. A young player with a bright future, if his club don't push him out for signings with a name the owner likes more.

Prop - Chris Hill (Warrington Wolves) & Jamie Peacock (Leeds Rhinos)

A massive 67 players could be considered in this position based on the criteria set. So many players could stake a claim for so many reasons so I had to start from a basic position of work rate and efficiency. In the end that left me with four players to pick from. 

If I was picking a 17 then Andy Lynch and Eorl Crabtree would have made it in. Lynch was a close second in tackle success (98.03%), also second in missed tackles per game, third in total carries and in total metres. Crabtree was in a bunch on 97% tackle success and fourth in total carries and metres. An average gain over 7 metres per carry, leading in tackle busts (69) and being in the best ten for errors (only 0.19 per game) were a credit to him too. 

However, invariably one or both of Hill or Peacock was ahead of them in the categories mentioned. Peacock has just been a work horse week in week out, reflected in how many times his name has been called in our weekly round ups on the show. He leads all props in tackles (778 - 10th overall in Super League) and carries (519 - 1st overall in Super League). Unsurprisingly, he leads props in both areas on a per game basis too (37.05 tackles and 24.71 carries). He also leads props in metres per game (154.67m). He also tops the eligible props in successful offloads, with 2.33 per game. His efficiency in terms of tackle success and metres per carry are a bit down on other genuine contenders for the team but given his work rate you have to forgive him that really. His effort this year was phenomenal. 

Hill has been outstanding and with plenty of end product too. He tops all regular props in tackle success (98.14%) and total metres (3258m - 2nd overall in Super League), and he is second in total tackles (740), total carries (432) and metres per game (125.31m). If that wasn't impressive enough, he had 5 tries and 5 try assists in the regular season as well as leading eligible props in the tries or assists combined per game with 0.38 and in clean breaks also with 0.38 per game.

Hooker - James Roby (St Helens)

With most teams playing two hookers per game (actually, I prefer to call them dummy halves these days) we have 28 eligible for this side, but I am only picking one. Based on the stats James Roby has to be that one.

Before I explain why, I'll give a nod to Daryl Clark. His 13 tries, 96 tackle busts, 24 clean breaks and 121.67 metres per game led all hookers. His 10.86 metres per carry led all players to have played at least 14 regular season games. Also, credit to Shaun Lunt as an attacking threat with a hooker leading 1.13 tries or assists combined per game as well as Josh Hodgson for durability (played all 27 games, only hooker to do so) and attacking impact (11 tries and 11 try assists). Danny Houghton too gets a note for 1044 tackles (2nd in hookers) at 96% success.

But Roby's stats blow the rest away. He isn't as explosive carrying the ball as Clark, but other than that he is pretty much peerless amongst Super League dummy halves this regular season. He leads in try assists (20 / 0.77 per game). He leads in tackles (1054 / 40.54 per game - leads entire league) and marker tackles (210 / 8.08 per game). He leads tackle success (97%). He leads carries (513 / 19.73 per game) and dummy half runs (424 / 16.31 per game). He leads total metres (2985). In short, he leads all other regular dummy halves in the stats.

Second row - Liam Farrell (Wigan Warriors) & Gareth Ellis (Hull FC)

A total of 36 players played at least 14 games and predominantly started in the second row when they played. Only one had numbers that stood out on both sides of the ball - Liam Farrell. Picking a second was harder as finding a second player who performed equally well in attack and defence stats wasn't so obvious.

I will start with Farrell then. He was in the top 10 for all eligible second rowers in the following categories:

Tries (2nd with 12), tries per game (2nd / 0.57), assists (7th / 4), assists per game (9th / 0.19), missed tackles (1st / 12), missed tackles per game (1st / 0.57), tackle success (1st / 98%), tackle busts (8th / 53), busts per game (4th / 2.52), carries (3rd / 350), carries per game (1st / 16.67), metres (2nd / 2608), metres per game (1st / 124.19), average gain (7th / 7.45mpc), clean breaks (1st / 17), breaks per game (1st / 0.81). His only weakness was penalties, where he gave away second most in the group. Given that he ranks first or second in a number of attack and defence categories, his place in the stat dream team can be considered as nailed on.

Pairing him could have been Elliot Whitehead who was best at try scoring and had high tackle numbers. It could have been Jon Wilkin who led the way in assists and some kicking categories, but this was only by virtue of playing in the halves a bit and they aren't key attributes for a forward when considering his fairly poor tackle success and metre making. It could have been Danny Kirmond who made the most tackles per game but he contributed little with the ball in all regards. It could have been Willie Manu who bust the most tackles but was average across the board. It could have been Larne Patrick who had the best average gain per carry but again didn't have much involvement across the board. It could have been Gareth Hock who led in offloads but he also led in errors and had the worst tackle success. It could have been Brett Ferres who was top in tries/assists per game combined but his all around numbers were average or below. 

In the end it was a player who was consistently above average in most areas without being best in any. From the 36 players to pick from, Gareth Ellis was 3rd in tries per game, 7th in assists per game, 11th in tackle success (but ahead of all the players listed above), 10th in busts per game, 6th in carries per game, 5th in metres per game, 8th in metres per carry and 10th in breaks. Overall it was that 95% tackle success combined with the all around strong involvement that edged it. 

The only other players I would be remiss not to mention are Zeb Taia and Carl Ablett. Both had reasonable above average placings in a number of areas without topping any, similar to Ellis, but respective tackle success of 91% and 92% weren't effective enough numbers for this particular dream team.

Loose forward - Joe Westerman (Hull FC)

There are 15 criteria meeting loose forwards and a few can have a case made for inclusion based on their regular season stats.

As a Wigan fan I would love to pick Sean O'Loughlin and I could have made a case for him too as he leads the 15 players comfortably in tries or assists combined per game and in both tries and assists per game separately too. He didn't have the best numbers in any other category though. His defence wasn't outstanding and the other attacking areas such as metres gained weren't much better than middle of the pack. For errors he had the most in the group - unsurprising as he is the most ball playing of the group but still a mark against him in this team.

So it is that Joe Westerman completes the inaugural SLP Dream Team by Numbers. Top ranked in total try assists (9) and second ranked in tries/assists combined (0.44 per game) behind O'Loughlin, he showed enough scoring involvement to satisfy that facet of the loose forward role. In defence his 93% tackle success was not top drawer but his effort of 916 tackles (rank 1) and 33.93 per game (rank 4) make up for that somewhat. He leads loose forwards in carries, both total (488) and per game (18.07). He has the most metres (2760) by some way and is second ranked with his 102.22 metres per game. He is top in total busts and total breaks, first in busts per game and second in breaks per game.

Others deserve a quick mention too. Grant Millington, good across the board and a very impressive figure of only 4 penalties in 23 games. Hep Cahill topped metres per game and per carry, but had a league worst 1.06 penalties per game. Young Leeds player Alex Foster, on loan at London, also deserved mention in a couple of categories - second in the group with 97% tackle success in a bad Broncos side is notable as well as his group leading number of a bust or a break on 19% of his carries, although he didn't see a lot of ball so his total numbers were not great - still, promise there for sure.

1. Morgan Escaré
2. Josh Charnley 3. Kallum Watkins 4. Michael Shenton 5. Joel Monaghan
6. Danny Brough 7. Matty Smith
8. Chris Hill 9. James Roby 10. Jamie Peacock
11. Gareth Ellis 12. Liam Farrel
13. Joe Westerman

So, there you have it. Your first SLP Dream Team by Numbers. 3 Wigan players (no bias from me I promise). 2 Leeds players. 2 Warrington players. 2 Hull FC players. 1 Catalan player. 1 Castleford player. 1 St Helens player. 1 Huddersfield player. 11 players from top 8 sides and 2 from outside the playoff places. Six featured in the journalist selected official Super League Dream Team, seven missed out from that side.

If you're interested in the source data you can drop us an email, but all the raw numbers are available from the official Super League website.

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