Super League: What the Opta statistics tell us ahead of the 2020 season
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 08/12/19 9:01pm
The start of the 2020 Super League season is just over a month-and-a-half away, and preparations are well underway for all 12 teams.
As part of pre-season, every team will be looking at how they can build on or improve from the 2019 campaign and what they can do to get the best out of their new signings.
Here, we examine the Opta statistics from the most recent Super League season and see whether they can give us any insights on what to watch out for in 2020...
How Wigan can harness Hastings' attributes
Jackson Hastings' importance for Salford Red Devils during his first full season in Super League has been well-documented, leading to Wigan Warriors snapping the half-back up for 2020.
But a deeper dig into the numbers underlines just why this year's Man of Steel was such a key component of the side which reached the Grand Final against all expectations.
Red Devils head coach Ian Watson structured his team around Hastings being given license to run at opposition defences, with the 23-year-old having more carries than any other player in the competition (633) and making the second-highest number of metres (4,149).
How the team benefited from that approach is underlined by Hastings making the joint-highest number of supported breaks (13), along with Salford full-back Niall Evalds, and providing a league-leading 38 assists.
Whereas Hastings seemed somewhat inhibited for Great Britain in Wayne Bennett's game-plan on tour over the winter - despite Watson's presence on the coaching staff - Wigan boss Adrian Lam could opt to utilise a more open approach with his new recruit at the heart of it.
Jones can get Hull FC on the front foot
While Hastings orchestrated things for Salford in the halves in 2019, he would not have been able to excel in the way he did had it not been for the work of the pack - in particular Josh Jones, who has moved to Hull FC for 2020.
A rampaging threat with the ball in hand, Jones made 3,897 metres and a league-highest 181 tackle busts from his 540 carries, but in many ways his most eye-catching statistic was that he was able to make more quick play-the-balls (91) than any other player.
That could be exploited to great effect by Hull to catch opposing defences out before they are set, particularly with Danny Houghton - who made 1,241 metres from dummy-half scoots in 2019 - playing at hooker.
The 26-year-old brings a strong offloading game to the KCOM Stadium as well, making a joint-highest 67 in 2019 along with Castleford Tigers front row Liam Watts.
That is something Lee Radford's side can thrive off, particularly with an already-dangerous back line having St Helens winger Adam Swift and the returning Mahe Fonua added to it.
But head coach Radford will be fully aware his side need to tighten up defensively in 2020, particularly on their own goal-line as they conceded more tries from under 10 metres out (74) than any other team.
Drinkwater brings kicking threat to Catalans
Josh Drinkwater is back in Perpignan after a single season with Hull Kingston Rovers and although they spent 2019 embroiled in a relegation battle the Australian half-back was still able to make an impression.
Part of the Catalans Dragons team which won the Challenge Cup in 2018, Drinkwater will be expected to take on a bigger role this time around - alongside fellow newcomer James Maloney - following the departure of talisman Tony Gigot and his in-play kicking could well come to the fore.
Along with putting in 250 kicks in play - the fifth-highest in Super League in 2019 - Drinkwater led the way with 10 try assists coming from kicks of the competition-highest 19 Rovers scored in the same manner.
In contract, Catalans only managed 11 tries from kicks in 2019 - the joint-second lowest - so the return of the 27-year-old could see the French side have an extra dimension added to their attacking game next season.
How the back three helped St Helens excel
It is no secret Lachlan Coote, Regan Grace and Tommy Makinson were all huge influences as St Helens stormed to the League Leaders' Shield by a record points margin and went on to clinch their first Grand Final triumph since 2014.
But a deeper dive into the numbers reveals just how important the trio were as Justin Holbrook's side swept all before them in Super League last season - something new head coach Kristian Woolf will undoubtedly be aware of.
Makinson saw more of the ball than any other St Helens player with 498 carries, from which he made a competition-highest 4,193 metres and crossed for 23 tries. Bit away from the headline stats, he led the way for Saints with 37 initial breaks and kept them rolling forward with 66 quick play-the-balls.
Coote, an off-season recruit from North Queensland Cowboys, provided a team-highest 25 assists - the second-highest in Super League - from full-back and was a constant threat on kick returns as well, racking up 1,069 metres to help put the pressure back on their opponents.
Along with his 20 tries, winger Grace made 851 metres on kick returns and was often leading the charge in the same manner as fellow wide-man Makinson with 33 initial breaks.
Where Huddersfield can improve
It is not just in the individual categories where some insightful numbers jump out, but the team statistics shed some light on where sides succeeded and struggled during the 2019 Super League season too.
Huddersfield Giants, for example, were one of the more hit-and-miss teams during the season, leaving head coach Simon Woolford exasperated with his side's inconsistency at times.
While Darnell McIntosh was in the top 10 for metres made from kick returns (843) and tackle busts (122), the statistics suggest the Giants overall adopted a slightly conservative attacking approach as they offloaded just 197 times - significantly fewer than any other team in the competition.
The Yorkshire outfit only managed 388 quick play-the-balls as well - the only side below 400 in this category - and scored fewer tries from inside their own half (five) than any other team in Super League, being one of only two teams in single figures in this category.
The addition of Kenny Edwards and James Gavet to the pack for 2020 should give them some extra go-forward, while Ashton Golding adds extra strike in the backs. Those signings might allow Woolford to employ a more open strategy in attack next year.