Backs ain’t forwards, clearly. Why the Roosters are losing the metres battle

The Roosters have one of the best backlines in the NRL, if not THE best. It’s devastating on either side of the ruck, and when they’ve gotten the ball on the back of a rolling pack, they’ve proven to be unstoppable.

Against the Bulldogs on Friday, though, they did the bulk of the rolling forward and the try scoring all but dried up.

Of the top six run-takers among the Roosters, five were backs: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (21 runs), Anthony Minichiello (19), Daniel Tupou (15), Michael Jennings (15) and Shaun Kenny-Dowall (13). Sonny Bill was the only forward who threw himself into that mix, and the only forward to crack triple-digits in metres made (109).

The backs taking runs seemingly takes some pressure off the forwards, but not really.

They just don’t the metres that a forward can, yet because they are often running it on the all important third and fourth tackles the Roosters are handing over the ball quicker and in worse position — and everyone has to defend more as a result. Meanwhile, the opposition defence only has to worry about tackling a back, which can usually be done with the two men behind the markers, while the Roosters defence has to tackle forwards.

The Bulldogs made 1,481 metres from 182 runs, at an average of 8.14 metres a run. The Roosters? They had just 11 fewer runs but made just 1,258 metres at 7.36 metres per run.

The Bulldogs made the metres because their forwards were their chief runners of the ball. And while a lot of who hits the ball up comes down to field position, the difference between the two clubs in their use of forwards on Friday was startling:

  • Of the 182 runs from the Bulldogs, (excluding hookers) 105 came from forwards — or 61 per cent of their runs.
  • Of the 171 runs the Roosters made, (excluding hookers) just 74 came from forwards — or 43 per cent.

Had the Roosters forwards matched the Dogs run-for-run, they probably still would have lost the metres contest though:

  • Of the 105 runs from the Bulldogs’ forwards, they made 884 metres at 8.41 metres per run.
  • Of the 74 runs from the Roosters’ forwards, they made 577 metres at 7.8 metres per run.

Regardless, the forwards made more metres per run than the backs, who took the ball up 57 per cent of the time:

  • Of the 93 runs from backs, they made 649 metres at just 6.98 metres per run.
  • Excluding the halves, those numbers aren’t much different: 83 runs, 590 metres and 7.1 metres per run.

A lot can be put down to the Bulldogs’ tactic of pinning the Roosters into the corners rather than seeking a repeat set. The forwards are typically slow to get back now — perhaps a by-product of the new rules and quicker game — and it was all-to-common to see SKD or Jenko take the ball up on the fourth or even fifth tackle. And while the Roosters forwards still made fewer metres per run than their counterparts, they still had more of an effect on the defensive line than their backs.

Anthony Minchiello had 19 runs against the Bulldogs and made 121 metres — an average of 6.37 metres a run.

It’s clearly not conducive to getting out of trouble. But is it Mini’s fault that he’s forced into a run off the first tackle? Or is it up to the forwards to gun it back and carry the team forward with the extra metre they can clearly make per run?

The Roosters need their go-forward back. Whether the rule changes and the speed of the game are affecting them is a fair debate — although everyone is playing under the same rules, and everyone else is getting back on attack.

And this season, the Roosters have been hammered up the middle.

In four of their five games the Roosters have lost the metres-gained battle handily. On average, they’re making just 1,179.2 metres yet conceding 1,388.6 — and that takes into account the Parramatta game in which they ran for 501 more metres than the Eels. Take that game out of the equation and the stat becomes much more dire: they’ve run it for 1,076.25 metres but conceded 1463.25 through those four games, three of them losses and one of them a freakish come-from-behind victory.

The Roosters dominated last year because they could make that 10 metres every tackle, but this year they have been well below their best. For their club to get back to where it needs to be, the forwards need to put their hand up more. That would involve getting back in attack, something they haven’t done much of this year, and certainly not against the Dogs.

There’s only so much you can blame on the game speeding up before you get left in the game’s wake.

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