By analysing stats from last season, we can begin to familiarise ourselves with players to look out for this season. Although this season is already nine games deep, by analysing a player’s full season, we can ensure reliable statistics. Here, we will focus on the centre position.
This data analysis will take into consideration all the relevant stats from the 2019 NRL season. We will only consider players who have played at least 10 games. We will assess a variety of skills to identify the best all round centres, deciding on a final two.
A centre’s playing style is rather balanced. They are equally as important in attack as they are in defence. The centre is often the link between the halfback/five-eighth and the winger – ultimately deciding the result of the play during an attack.
This first graph measures how many tries per game each player has. The size of each mark represents how many try assists the player has per game. These two stats are a good way of measuring their input in attack.
No surprise that Latrell Mitchell stands out the most. A standout few seasons ended with him forcing a move to the South Sydney Rabbitohs to play in his preferred full-back position. The 23-year-old possesses all the attributes that a world-class rugby league player needs, however his attitude often lets him down – as evident this season. He has 0.76 tries per game and 0.4 try assists per game.
Brent Naden of the Penrith Panthers has the second most tries per game, with 0.66. The 24-year-old was quite late in getting his NRL debut, however, since then he has seriously impressed. In 17 games he has scored 12 tries. Having only played 12 games last campaign, he is certainly one to look out for.
In our previous piece, focusing on the best wingers, we identified Brett Morris. In the analysis, we can identify his twin brother, Josh, as one of the best attacking centres in the game. At 33-years-old, the twins are showing no signs of slowing down. Josh Morris enjoyed a great season with the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks, before joining his brother at the Sydney Roosters for the upcoming season. He had 0.65 tries and 0.08 try assists per game.
One youngster to look out for is another Sharks player, Bronson Xerri. The 19-year-old has been surrounded by controversy this season, which is disappointing considering the great campaign he had last year. He scored 0.59 tries per game, making 0.409 try assists per game; the most within our sample.
Line breaks are another measure of attack. This means breaking through the initial line of defence, entering into the open field. The above graph measures each player’s line breaks and line break assists per game.
Once again Latrell Mitchell stands out from the pack. The now-Rabbitohs full-back had 0.56 line breaks and 0.44 line break assists per game. These fairly equal stats demonstrate how useful he is as a playmaker for his team, rather than just taking the defence on.
Jesse Ramien of the Sharks has the most line breaks per game with 1.05, and he also had 0.23 line break assists per game. The former Newcastle Knights man had a fairly average season in terms of scoring last term, but has since returned to the Sharks. The 23-year-old has enjoyed a much better start to the 2020 season.
Second on the line break assist front is another Roosters player, Joey Manu. The New Zealand international is almost utilised as a forward, in terms of his robust running tendencies and ability to break tackles. Standing at 192cm, he is certainly a tricky customer on the field. The 24-year-old has 0.36 line breaks and 0.28 line break assists per game.
Xerri and Naden also show up well here,with the former impressing more. Xerri has 0.18 line break assists and 0.81 line breaks per game, whereas Naden has 0.08 line break assists and 0.83 line breaks per game.
Centres are usually the most powerful back in the team. Running hard, along with the ability to break tackles, are important attributes in a centre’s game. Whether it’s working the ball back from their own half, or trying to force their way over the try line, power is one of the most important skills for a centre to have.
Jesse Ramien has the most tackle busts per game, with 4.41, but does not impress too much, with only 0.3 offloads per game. His now-teammate Josh Dugan stands out. The former St. George Illawarra Dragons and Canberra Raiders full-back, now playing at centre, had a great season for the Sharks last season. After a career riddled with injury, he was able to stay fit for the most part of last season. The 30-year-old racked up one offload and 4.08 tackle busts per game.
Kerrod Holland of the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs has the most offloads per game with 2.28. The 27-year-old has struggled to hold down a place in the team though, only managing 14 games this past season.
South Sydney Rabbitohs centre Dane Gagai has some pretty impressive stats here too. The Australian international has 0.2 offloads and 3.52 tackle busts per game.
Bronson Xerri shows up again near Gagai. The youngster made 0.27 offloads and 3.4 tackle busts per game. The Sharks man shows that his power matches his attacking ability.
Run metres are metres made whilst the player is in possession of the ball, while receipts measure how often a player receives possession of the ball. The players further above the trend line make the most metres in relation to the number of times they touch the ball.
Bulldogs centre Will Hopoate stands out incredibly in terms of runs metres made and receipts per game. He makes 154.54 metres per game from 25.88 receipts. He averages 9.14 metres per run. Hopoate clearly receives a lot of the ball, a lot more than the other centres in the league. This is the reason he has run more metres per game.
Naden shows up again here. He is one of the players highest above the trend line. The Panthers man makes 123.67 metres per game from just 13.75 receipts. The centre averages 11.55 metres per run. Xerri shows up well here too, making 123.86 metres per game from 15.09 receipts, averaging 10.15 metres per run.
Mitchell has the highest average metres per run with 11.59. He also makes 85.80 metres per game, from 14.40 receipts. These stats suggest that, although he is capable in terms of power, he does like to pass rather than take the tackle, creating chances for his teammates.
Dragons man Euan Atiken has similar stats to Xerri. However, he doesn’t possess the same skill set as the Sharks man. There have been calls to switch Aitken to a forward from many pundits, because his running is so powerful for a man of his size.
Ability to tackle efficiently
When defending, especially their own line, the centre position is an incredibly important position. They have to work well with their wingers to make good defensive reads. They have to decide when to jam in and shut the ball carrier down, and when to stay in the line and absorb the attack. In this section, we will use tackles and missed tackles per game, as well as tackle efficiency.
Two Melbourne Storm players impress on this graph. Marion Seve stands out the most with the highest tackle efficiency (89.09%). This is very impressive considering he still faces a high amount of tackles per game, with 12.67. In his rather late rookie season he also only missed 1.08 tackles per game. His teammate, Justin Olam, also shows up well. The 26-year-old misses the least amount of tackles, with 0.35 per game. His tackle efficiency is higher than average too, with 82.57%.
Aitken was impressive in defence last season. The Dragons centre attempted 14.08 tackles per game, with an efficiency of 86.75%, missing only 1.16 tackles per game.
The previously mentioned Ramien averages the most tackles per game with 15.65, missing only two tackles. This means his tackling is fairly efficient (82.10%).
All players in the top right quadrant deserve a mention, as they face an above-average amount of tackles, and have an above-average efficiency too.
Mitchell and Morris face fewer tackles per game, but are still very efficient. Morris’s value is 86.78% and Mitchell’s 84.77%.
Here are the five players that have stood out throughout the different categories we have analysed. Naden has the best attack rating, but he lacks in the creativity and power categories. Latrell is the most creative of the five, with all other categories being fairly balanced too. Ramien is the most powerful, but lacks in the creative and attacking areas. Aitken is the best tackler, but doesn’t really compare to the other four.
This data analysis has shown us how there are many different styles of centre in the NRL. Different players have stood out across the different areas analysed, but the two we have selected appeared well in almost every category. The obvious selection is Latrell Mitchell. He was a standout player last season, as he is adept in so many areas of play. The second choice, although he has found himself in controversy this season, is Bronson Xerri. The youngster had a great season, showing up well in all categories we looked at.