Close Games

The single best indicator of how a team will perform from one year to the next, or the direction a team will likely move on the ladder, is how the results go in close games.

Those that have a very good record in close games tend to regress. Those that have a very poor record in close games nearly always improve.

In Rugby League terms, a close game is a match decided by six points or fewer – a one score game. While “luck” is inherently very difficult to measure, using close games as a metric does a very good job at quantifying it. In a one-score game, it doesn’t take much to turn the match – a poor decision here, a refereeing blunder there, the bounce of the ball, the direction of the wind.


  • Lucky teams (defined as those with a strike rate of 70% or better in close games in a given season) have seen their win tallies drop by an average of four the next year. Of the 13 teams that have qualified, 11 have had a drop in win total the following season.
  • Unlucky teams  (those with a 30% or worse strike rate in close games in a given year) have improved by an average of three wins. Again, of the 13 teams that qualified, 11 teams saw their win total improve.

In 2017, the obvious example is the Sydney Roosters, who went a remarkable 0-8 in close games last season on their way to a six-win finish. This year they opened the season with six wins in their first eight games.

Examining close games within the bounds of a season is also a good indicator of a team that should improve or a team likely to slide down the ladder. Those with a good record in close games aren’t necessarily “clutch” as the punditry would have us believe but more likely they have had a run of good luck. The reverse holds true for those on the wrong end of one-score games.

Keeping an eye on close games records can ensure value is found in both week-to-week and futures markets.

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