MONEYBALL-style statistics that have been embraced by a growing number of NRL coaches indicate unwanted back-rower Zeb Taia has been Newcastle’s second-best player this season and has consistently outperformed the man signed to replace him, Beau Scott, throughout their careers.
Taia learned last week that the Knights would be unlikely to retain him because of salary-cap pressure, and the 27-year-old is expected to sign in the next few weeks with an English Super League club.
His departure will free up room to accommodate Scott, the St George Illawarra, NSW and Kangaroos back-rower who will link with Newcastle at season’s end on a four-year contract.
There was speculation when Scott signed in March that the deal was worth in excess of $400,000 a season, but regardless of the exact figure there is little doubt that he will cost the Knights more than Taia.
Yet an analysis of their respective careers, based on Sportsdata’s highly regarded Contribution Value Rating (CVR) system, strongly suggests that Taia offers more bang for your buck.
The CVR system was devised at the end of 2010 by Manly coach Des Hasler and number-crunchers from Sportsdata, the NRL’s official statisticians.
Hasler wanted a data base by which he could evaluate players not just in terms of metres gained, handling errors and tackles, but their total involvement in any game.
Hasler and his colleagues devised a system of 30 categories to break down and compare and contrast individual performances.
Under the CVR method, players receive three respective scores that rank their output per minute, per game and per season to give an overall score.
And in all three categories, Taia appears to have Scott’s measure.
This season Taia has a CVR game rating of 377.18, compared to Scott’s 254.21.
Taia’s CVR rating for each minute, which measures explosiveness and impact, is 5.27. Scott’s is 3.82.
This trend has been consistent throughout their respective careers.
The only season in which Scott outshone Taia in regards to their CVR ratings was in 2008, when the former earned a 357.65 rating and Taia 325.18.
To be fair, Scott will bring other qualities to the Knights that cannot be quantified in statistics.
He is regarded as the type of hard-nosed enforcer who can add an intimidatory edge to Newcastle’s struggling pack.
But Taia is a class player in his own right.
After a slow start to the season, the former Parramatta workhorse has regained the form he showed in 2010 when he represented New Zealand in the Anzac Test.
He has played the full 80 minutes in each of Newcastle’s five games, averaging 127 metres and 34 tackles per appearance.
His wholehearted displays may not have been enough to earn a new contract but they are best illustrated by his CVR rating, which is bettered only by one clubmate, acting Knights captain Chris Houston.
Houston’s game CVR rating is 385.7.
Taia (377.18) is next best, ahead of Akuila Uate (361.09) and Jarrod Mullen (346.97).
To put those numbers in context, only a handful of elite players across the competition have CVR game ratings of above 500, topped by Cronulla’s Paul Gallen (609.39).
Taia also came in ninth on Newcastle’s CVR minute ratings, which are dominated by impact players Adam Cuthbertson, Neville Costigan and Evarn Tuimavave, who are invariably used in short bursts.
It is unclear whether Knights coach Wayne Bennett places any faith in the CVR system, but other coaches are apparently using the data as a recruiting tool.