Penalties have increased by an alarming 35.3 per cent this season, compared to the same period last year, as the NRL's crackdown continues.
The Raiders, Titans, Rabbitohs and Tigers have recorded increases of between 63 per cent and 70 per cent in the number of penalties they've conceded.
The lowest increases have been by the Sharks (16 per cent) and Storm (11.3 per cent), but they are off the highest bases, statistics provided by Champion Data show. The Sharks recorded 75 penalties and the Storm 71 up to round nine last year, compared to 87 and 79 respectively this year. Thirty three penalties in the round four game between these two clubs would account for much of the increase.
Penalties are also coming in huge blocks, a team receiving three of four consecutive penalties before the momentum shifts to the opposition, who are then punished by approximately the same successive number.
On some occasions, this is a reflection of the whistle-blower playing choreographer: gifting possession to the team behind on the scoreboard.
Not surprisingly, NRL referees boss Bernie Sutton has a different view.
Asked why penalties were coming in blocks, he said: “It depends on the circumstances of the game. Some teams are willing to concede penalties in certain field positions.”
Wests Tigers, in the early rounds, were winning games by conceding penalties on their own try line early in the tackle count and frustrating the opposition attack. Significantly, the Tigers have recorded a 69.6 per cent increase in penalties, from a low of 46 last year.
As a statistic, penalties are no different to missed tackles. As coaches say: “Quality stats are more important than quantity stats.”
Its not so much the penalties coming consecutively, but when and where a team receives the penalty. Penalties on the first and second tackle on a teams own line are not as damaging as penalties conceded on the fourth and fifth tackle.
A team receiving a penalty late in the tackle count, when coming out of its own half, is also punishing to the defence.
Piggyback penalties to a team coming off its try line can have a critical effect on a game; as do penalties against the attacking team when close to the opposition try line.
Also relevant is the number of times in a game that a team did not receive a penalty. Referees have been instructed to punish a team encroaching inside the 10 metres in defence, but the Dragons, who play the Rabbitohs again on Sunday, counted 25 times in their past encounter where Souths were inside the 10 but were not penalised.
Sutton points out that greater use of the sin bin had curbed the practice of teams deliberately conceding penalties.
“The sin bin has been used more this year than in any recent year,” he said. “There have been 30 cases this year, compared to 40 for the whole of last season.”
Sin binning two Wests Tigers players against the Warriors in round nine certainly had an impact on the Tigers, judging by the relatively low penalty count in Thursday nights match against the Cowboys where the referees spotted just 10 indiscretions.
However, in more than half the number of games where a team has lost a player to the sin bin this season, that team has gone on to win.
Furthermore, there have been four occasions where the team minus a player has outscored the opposition during the sin bin period, the Dragons achieving this feat twice.
The NRL would probably argue St George Illawarras table-topping position is reflected in them conceding the second least number of penalties (66), but the Bulldogs, at the bottom when the round began, have conceded only five more (71).
Roy Masters is a Sports Columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.
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