Kotoni Staggs (CTR): BRISBANE BRONCOS

Gun centre problem solved?

Kotoni Staggs has had sputtering start to his NRL career, which is saying something given he is only 24 and has played State of Origin and was (before injury) the NRL’s leading points scorer. Coming off an ACL injury in 2021, Staggs played all but one game in 2022 – a personal triumph for him – but is there more to the story that might be relevant?

In February 2020, prior to season commencement, I looked at the split between Staggs right and left side centre performance. The difference is startling.

GAMESMINSAVERAGE (NO GOALS)
RIGHT SIDE1378.542 FANTASY POINTS
LEFT SIDE1276.727.8 FANTASY POINTS
THIS IS ONLY CENTRE STARTS PRIOR TO 2020, WITH MINIMUM HALF A GAME PLAYED

The main reason for the chance is the deadly left arm fend, which is much more prevalent on the right side of the field. This creates tackle busts, along with opening gaps for additional running metres and try scoring. Here are some splits from this sample from 2019…

BUSTSOFFLOADSTRY %METRES
LEFT SIDE1.90.4518%85
RIGHT SIDE4.70.78100%113
SAMPLE FROM 2019 MATCHES ONLY, 11 ON LEFT, 9 ON RIGHT

These are some pretty damning stats, and it doesn’t take a genius to see that Staggs needs to be on the right edge. It isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, Staggs defense and decision making was notably worse on the right hand side…

TACKLESMISSEDERRORPENALTY
LEFT SIDE15.82.20.910.64
RIGHT SIDE142.71.450.78

Now, this would be reflective of a young, elite centre learning his craft. Enter – 2021/22, with the emergence of Herbie Farnworth, Staggs found a home at right centre. His 2021 campaign was brief but dazzling, displaying a 45.5 average with stats very reflective of his right side stats prior, while also showing the the scars of a player plagued by injury. He finally tore his ACL in Round 20, and that was that.

2022 saw Staggs complete an entire campaign (bar 1 game), but not without its setbacks. In Origin 1, Staggs tore his labrum, and was not the same player after with regards to his “power”. Staggs said “Every time somebody would go on my inside shoulder my arm just went dead and I couldn’t feel it, the feeling would come back later in the game and it just did that for the remainder of the season so I knew something was wrong with it.”

He also admits to being mentally impacted by the ACL injury, stating “To be honest my first games at the start of the season weren’t where I wanted to be, especially coming from an ACL injury as well. To miss just one game all year though, that was a bonus for me. But I think I was really trying to support my injury more than playing good footy — I had that in the back of my head, I didn’t want to do it again.”

You can read more via the fox news article…

Looking closer at the splits from 2022…

TRY %BUSTSMETRESTACKLESMISSEDFANTASY
PRE INJ.25%4.759916.83.1537.3
POST INJ.18%3.559618.13.7335

Now, priced at 36, you might be saying “Yeah cool Mark, so what”. Well, looking more closely at this, we have a settled backline and spine with a right edge of Reynolds, Staggs and Cobbo. Payne Haas has recovered from shoulder and ankle injuries, and looks set to return to be the leader of the pack. Prior to it all going down hill, the Broncos were a top 4 side and really have only improved in terms of their roster.

Staggs managed to average 37.3 with a drastically reduced try scoring rate and babying an ACL injury coming off 4 games of footy in 18 months. We saw Staggs increase his defensive workrate in 2022, probably to protect Reynolds. Here is a realistic and optimistic projection for Staggs in 2023:

REALISTICOPTIMISTIC
2022 BASE37.337.3
RUN METRES+1+2
REDUCED DEMERITS+1+2.5
INCREASED TRIES+5+10
NEW AVG44.352
INCREASED TRY SCORING BASED ON LB AND TRY – 50% AND 80% FOR SEASON RESPECTIVELY (2019 52% 2020 82%)

Now, I can hear you saying “Mark – 52 for a centre is ridiculous”. I agree. That said, in his last 10 matches of 2022, Valentine Holmes averaged 56.5. He did average 9.2 points per game in goals (bring the average down to 47.3), but it was his FIRST YEAR EVER PLAYING CENTRE and he STILL averaged 47.3 at a 60% try scoring clip. Rough stats for that 10 game stretch were 3.9 busts per game, 8.4 tackles per game with 2.6 misses and a whopping 175 metres per game. Interesting comparison between Staggs career (right and left including pre/post injury games) and this 10 game stretch by Holmes.

STAGGS CAREERHOLMES LAST 10
TRY RATE51%60%
METRES100175
BUSTS3.853.9
TACKLES16.58.4
MISSES2.82.6
FANTASY36.647.3

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Staggs is due for some huge regression in the try department, and with Walsh being added to an already potent attacking team there is every chance we see Staggs back to, or even improved on, his 2021 season of that 4 game average of 45.5, but with even more increased running metres, and likely some minor reduction in the try scoring.

You only need to look as far as Jesse Ramien, who is in a very similar mould to Staggs, plays the exact same position at right centre, and has registered a 46 and 41 respectively the last two years with about 4 tackles less per game than Staggs (1 less missed) 2022 average.

It comes with some risks, mainly related to injury and the Broncos shaky offseason, but if you want to start with a gun centre, I think Staggs is your man in terms of value. The fun potential upside is, if Reynolds was to go down, Staggs has the bonus of being a similar % career goal kicker to Walsh, and would be a coin flip at worst chance of kicking goals.

For overall players, Staggs also ticks every single box you are looking for from a bye planning perspective, including likely availability in Round 13 pending Origin selection if Turbo is injured.

PROJECTION: Low side 40-41, high side 45+
VERDICT: Caution

AMATEUR MARK

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