Headless without Head?

Yes we all know the Newcastle Knights cannot win when it matters (and when it doesn?t apparently see Round 4 v Warriors) without Andrew Johns and every scientific formula known to man has come to that conclusion but does the same ring true with the St. George-Illawarra Dragons and their halfback Mathew Head?

NSC has crunched the numbers and come up with the following results.

Before we get into the exact numbers, last year (stating this in hindsight is extremely convenient of course) I didn?t believe the Dragons could win the Premiership without their diminutive Number 7 on the basis that his absence forced Ben Hornby out of his natural and most effective position which is fullback.

Moving Hornby to half put him into a structured role and his whole attacking game is about being able to pick and choose the moments he chimed into the talent laden backline the Dragons have. Hornby roaming makes the Dragons even more dangerous when mounting attacking raids. Putting Hornby at first receiver took away a lot of the impromptu creativity the Red and Whites are so good at especially on the back of second phase play. Without Head in the side Hornby?s natural creativity was somewhat stifled and it took away a significant weapon come Finals time in 2005.

But we are talking about Mathew Head and not Ben Hornby in this case study, so what did the research tell us?

His career record from Round 25, 2003 to Round 8, 2006 with the Dragons reads:

38 Games: 22 Wins & 16 Losses.

For a Win Percentage of 58% every time Head suits up.

In the four seasons the Dragons have played from the year Head debuted the Dragons record reads:

82 Games: 46 Wins & 36 Losses.

For a Win Percentage of 56% since 2003.

Now Head made his debut in the final two games of 2003, so the 2003 season should be a write off if we?re looking for a definitive result of Head?s impact on the side in and out of the side.

Since Round 1, 2004 to Round 8, 2006 the Dragons with Mathew Head have had a record of:

36 Games: 21 Wins & 15 Losses. = 58% Win Percentage

Without Head since Round 1, 2004 to Round 8, 2006:

22 Games: 14 Wins & 8 Losses. = 64% Win Percentage.

That is a significant 6% swing in favour of a St. George-Illawarra team without Mathew Head in the side.

But that can?t be right surely? We?re here to prove Head?s importance to the Dragons much like the reliance Newcastle has on Andrew Johns being in the side in order to win.

There is no doubting Head is a vital member of the team but although without him in 2005 the Dragons won 12 from 15 games, the last of those losses was in the Preliminary Final against the Wests Tigers and that loss knocked them from the Premiership race.

So if the Win % is better without Head then what does Head bring to the team that they don?t have with him absent?

A closer look at Head?s impact on the attacking potency of the Dragons revealed the following:

With Mathew Head in the side from 2004 to Round 8, 2006 the Dragons scored 946 Points For in 36 Games at an average of 26.3 Points per Game.

Without Mathew Head in the side from 2004 to Round 8, 2006 the Dragons scored 564 Points For in 22 Games, at an average of 24.5 Points per Game.

This time the swing is towards Head as the Dragons scored 1.8 more Points per Game in each contest he participated in.

But apart from being a nice stat to look at what does it tell you? In fact which of the two statistics tell you the most? Do either of the stats tell you definitively his worth to the side?

In Joey?s case the stats look compelling but with Head they are just confusing.

So what does opinion say?

According to the stats having Head in the side is clearly going to be an offensive advantage to the Dragons and the numbers prove that. But without Head the team wins at a rate of 6% better than with him in the side.

I think the better statistical indicator is the St. George-Illawarra performance in Finals matches since Head joined the side.

In 2004 the team finished 5th on the table and came up against the Penrith Panthers in the Qualifying Final.

They lost that night 31-30 after sporting the Panthers a huge lead early on and somehow clawed their way back to almost win the game. Mathew Head played that night and last time I checked he is not paid to defend so you cannot pin the 31 points on him. But the 30 points for suggests the team sure can score some points with him directing traffic and without watching a replay of that game recently I seem to recall he was at the centre of that comeback.

In 2005 the Dragons were even more dominant in the regular season (after they pulled their fingers out after 4 rounds that is) and finished 2nd in the Minor Premiership.

They had to fight hard to oust the Sharks at WIN Stadium 28-22 in a game they certainly never dominated but by the same token they were never in danger of being beaten after the Sharks couldn?t capitalise a mountain of possession in the first half. Head did not play.

Then in the Preliminary Final against the surging Wests Tigers at Aussie Stadium, the Dragons just couldn?t get their attack into gear and were held to just two tries in the 20-12 loss. Again Head did not play.

So although the Dragons didn?t win with Head, they also didn?t win without him. But in my opinion they looked a far better attacking unit in that 2004 match (when they stopped missing tackles and actually had possession against the Panthers) than they did in their two 2005 outings.

So the opinion bottom line is the Dragons MUST have Mathew Head fit and firing to win a Premiership. Although the stats don?t definitively back that up they do point to an offensive deficiency without him in the lineup. And in the 2005 Finals scoring points looked the main area the team struggled in particularly against the eventual premiership winning West Tigers.

You may have noticed that Trent Barrett?s name has not been mentioned above. There is a reason for that ? as good a player as the skipper is he has failed to take the Dragons to a premiership since joining the side from the Illawarra Steelers in 1999. And if the odds saying he will be with Wigan next season are reliable then there is not much point discussing his worth to the team when he won?t be around next season and Mathew Head (in all likelihood) will be?

I?m sure Dragons fans will be disappointed when Barrett departs but they also know Mathew Head is the future of their team in the playmaking stakes and his track record of getting things done is not yet set in stone, which unfortunately Barrett?s seem to be with his probable departure to England.

For the record Head and Barrett?s League Player Ratings for 2006 are:

Mathew Head: 3 Games LPR by Game: 7, 7 & 5 (replaced at halftime in Round 8) LPR Total: 19 LPR Average: 6.3

Trent Barrett: 7 Games LPR by Game: 7, 7, 7, 6, 6, 6, 6 LPR Total: 45 LPR Average: 6.4

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ROUND 8 LEADERBOARD 60 ? Danny Buderus, NEW 60 ? Johnathan Thurston, NQL 58 ? Petero Civoniceva, BRI 58 ? Steven Price, WAR 57 ? Matthew Bowen, NQL