Written by Joshua Dean
In every Rugby League team, there are 13 players on the field at a time being seven backs and six forwards with many people believing that a successful team must have a great spine.
However is this true? What is the common factor in premiership-winning teams? Is it having that star-studded backline or the powerful forward pack? Do you need a superstar halfback to have success?
Let’s have a look back at the last 20 NRL Premiers and check the number of Origin players each position had in these sides. This should give us a better idea of what position is the most valuable to have in a successful Rugby League side.
Every State of Origin player from that particular season is taken into account. Remember that positions like wing, centre, prop and the second row has double the chance so they will be divided by two at the end.
These results are very surprising and somewhat shocking. The positions centre and second-row top the standings, even when it is divided by two. Hardly anyone would say that they are the two most important positions, however, the stats say otherwise. Having representative players in the second row and centre leads to success in the NRL, according to the research.
The wing position has the least value in this table, which is fairly reasonable considering that many believe it is the easiest position to play. This has started to change tho, with the high flying tries that have come into the game, making the wing position more valuable, but for now, it is the least.
It is quite interesting to note that two spots that make up the spine of a team, halfback and hooker, have only had five players each play in that position for both Origin and a Premiership winning side during the same season, making them the joint second least valuable position. This is crazy to digest as the halfback position, in particular, draws the most money in the NRL. However, this shows that it may not be as important as many may think.
— NRL (@NRL) August 3, 2020
Comparing backs to forwards, the backs had 30 total from five positions, whereas the forwards had 29 total from only four positions. This shows that investing in a quality forward pack might be more critical than a backline.
Using this research, if I was a recruitment manager of a brand new expansion NRL side down the track and the salary cap was around $11 million, I would invest it as follows:
$1.33 million on fullbacks
$500k on wingers
$1.76 million on centres
$1.42 million on five-eighths
$800k on halfbacks
$1.33 million on props
$800k on hookers
$1.76 million on second rowers
$1.25 million on locks
Looking at things like this could help NRL clubs find common factors in Premiership winning sides so that they can allocate their money more efficiently. It is fascinating to see that positions like centre and second-row dominated, even when we divided by two. This is something that has changed my perspective on the game of Rugby League. I always believed that it was the spine that was the most important, but it has not been the case here. Sure, having a world-class spine helps, but having a well-rounded and balanced team leads to a Premiership winning side, as seen in this research